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Old 05-10-2018, 06:21 PM   #1
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'03 SMB with factory installed hitch receiver fell off

Hope that got someone's attention. We have been wandering aimlessly across this great land towing a 1976 Airstream. Airstream weighs 7200# with all of our stuff in it. We have towed it for around 160,000 miles maybe more but had no problems until we were traveling north from AZ on a heavily used two lane road. Wife heard a high pitched noise (load leveler bars sliding across the pavement) and I could see that the trailer was traveling on an independent course just behind the van.

Good news is that the trailer slid to a stop as though I had parked it on the shoulder. There was a mash up of iron still attached to the A frame hitch and a 10" deep ditch that ran from the pavement to the gravel shoulder. Fortunately the shoulder followed the cant of the pavement and it did not hit a rock. Chains and emergency brakes were not activated because the hitch insert and supports that were attached to the van frame broke off from the mountings. This was part of a factory installed tow kit.

Only thing that may have contributed to the broken steel is the 4" drop for the hitch that is attached to the receiver. It may have caused undue stress on the steel and caused it to break free of the van. Just glad it did not happen as we were driving through Phoenix in heavy traffic.

The hitch receivers are rated I, II, III & IV. The stock hitch receiver is rated as a II. I have since installed a class III which is close to 1/4" plate steel. If you tow a boat or trailer and are interested check the "ears" that Ford uses to attach the receiver to the frame. It looks like the "ears" (where it is bolted to the frame) had been torn or fatigued to the point that a crack formed at the right angle formed by the "ears".

The cracks will not be easy to see as I had looked at the hitch assembly several months before. You will need a good light and look on both sides of the area that the plate steel is bent to form the "ears". All of the bolts were still in in place and not loose. Please post if you see any cracks on other hitch receivers.
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Old 05-10-2018, 06:24 PM   #2
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Wow, glad everyone is safe.

Assuming you took any, I think if you posted some pics it might help people understand the situation and the severity of what happened.


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Old 05-10-2018, 07:20 PM   #3
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Dang! Haven't heard of that happening before!

Glad you guys are OK.
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Old 05-10-2018, 08:59 PM   #4
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Yikes!! Yes, Glad everyone is okay and it sounds like property damage was minimal. Cannot say the same for the pucker factor and soiled shorts I would have had!

Any pictures of what the hitch looked like after failure? I am trying to understand "what" fell off..
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Old 05-10-2018, 09:17 PM   #5
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Considering all the things that could have happened we should have won the lottery that day. The road that runs from Parker, AZ to Vegas is 95. The trailer was mostly off of the pavement but about 6" hung over the solid white line. Lots of tractor trailer rigs passing other tractor trailer rigs as they rolled past us at 60mph to 70mph.. Fortunately no one touched the trailer. The kid I talked to at AAA spent 30 minutes trying to find the place we were parked off the side of the road on google.

Hung up and called Foremost. They figured everything out in about 10 minutes but it took 4 hours to get towed back to Needles. We were worried about keeping the flairs going and getting the trucks to slow down and move over that the only pics that Elena took were of the back of the trailer straddling the 40' trench the hitch dug.

No parts in Needles so I rented a U-Haul pickup to tow the trailer. Elena drove the van. Got to the RV parts store I have used before. Receiver assembly arrived the next day. Considering...it could have been a lot worse.
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Old 05-11-2018, 09:51 AM   #6
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Where are the Pics? Wow - unbelievable luck & glad you are ok!
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Old 05-11-2018, 12:28 PM   #7
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How bizarre. I'm not following on the "ears" you talk about.... The factory Ford receivers I've seen all have full rolled flanges, which bolt the frame rail flange. The "ears" sound like the bolting tabs I've seen on aftermarket receivers.

The tab style mounts, I could see fatiguing if the hardware came loose, which would allow them to flex. But otherwise, even 1/4" plate has extremely high shear ratings, so I can't imaging them breaking without some sort of fatigue preceding it.

Anyways, glad you're ok. I can't believe how much bad luck you've had with things breaking. You might have me beat at this point, but most things I've broke were far from random....
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Old 05-11-2018, 02:40 PM   #8
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You are correct. The tabs that are at a right angle to the plate steel that support the receiver are what broke off - all four of them but the bolts were not a factor.

Once the trailer stopped I dug all of the iron (receiver, hitch and ball, weight distribution bars, front of the A frame) out of the dirt so that I could see what was broken. It truly was a mash up of parts but about 1/3 of the iron had to be dug out of the dirt.

I was preoccupied with getting the A frame, ball platform, bars and stinger exposed so that I could determine whether the trailer was towable. By the time I thought of taking a photo I had jacked up the tongue and the other parts were set aside.

We then became concerned about someone hitting the trailer so I parked the van about 20 yards behind it. After parking the van we stayed in the back setting flairs and hanging red "flags" off the trailer and van.
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Old 05-11-2018, 06:00 PM   #9
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I hope that this problem is limited to Fords. Many of vans have a similar receiver. If you are not sure what it is, look just below your rear bumper. You should see a 2"X2" receiver. It is what the "stinger" slides into.

The 2" square tube is welded to a round/oval tube that runs parallel to the bumper. The round tube is welded to plate steel on each end. The plate steel is bent at a right angle forming a "tab" with four holes on each side and hopefully 8 bolts that hold them to the frame.

The failure happened where the plate steel is bent at a 90 degree angle. It is the right angle that creates the four tabs where this failure occurred. Could have been an isolated incident but anyone who tows with a drop hitch more than 2" might check maybe once a year if you are towing a heavy boat or trailer maybe more.
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Old 05-12-2018, 12:18 PM   #10
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I had a 31í 1973 Airstream. They definitely arenít light! Any pics of the front of the trailer and hitch carnage?


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