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How to Safely Use Trailer Hitch Extensions

How to Safely Use Trailer Hitch Extensions


Trailer hitch and truck bed extenders have become more prevalent in recent years, offering a quick and easy solution to hauling long loads and transporting equipment. They make your load significantly safer and tuck away easily when not needed.

Trailer hitch

Below we will have a brief explanation of trailer hitch and truck bed extenders, and discuss how to use and secure them safely. Read on for more.

Trailer hitch extensions

A trailer hitch extender is a device that lengthens your tow ball hitch receiver past its normal range. A standard receiver usually has a 2 x 2″ fitting. The extender slides into the receiver and is often kept secure via a clevis pin. 

There are several reasons you may wish to use a trailer hitch or truck bed extender. Some of these applications may include:

  • Increase trailer distance from your boot or cargo tray
  • Extend the storage length of your roof racks or tray
  • Gain boot clearance for a bike rack or spare tyre bar
  • Provide clearance from trailer or caravan accessories

Some trailer hitch extenders can extend your load length capacity by up to four feet, while a truck bed extender usually extends a cargo bay by two-feet.

What vehicles can fit a trailer hitch or truck bed extender?

Any vehicle with 2 x 2″ hitch receiver could benefit from a trailer hitch extender, whether that be an:

  • Small truck
  • SUV
  • Utility
  • Van
  • 4WD

Some smaller passenger vehicles with a 2 x 2″ receiver can also extend a roof racks capacity and create clearance for things like bike racks.

Hitch extender or truck bed extender?

Although trailer hitch and truck bed extenders serve a similar purpose, there is a slight difference in their applications.

Trailer hitch extenders

Trailer hitch extenders fit onto the 2 x 2″ receiver that is primarily designed for your tow ball. They can serve a range of utilities and for purposes mostly concerned with increasing your vehicle’s load and storage capacity.

Truck bed extenders.

Rather than being an extension of your trailer hitch, a truck bed extender acts more like a raised cage that extends the length of a rear vehicle tray when the rear cargo barrier is lowered. This item lengthens the load capacity beyond the tray, while still keeping cargo secure. This will not be the focus of this piece, but it is important to understand there is a difference.

Safely securing overhead loads

When you extend a vehicle’s loading capacity beyond its original design, you also start influencing the physics of your vehicle while in motion. This can influence a number of factors:

  • Load torque
  • Centre of gravity
  • Weight distribution
  • Wind drag

All these things add potential danger to you, your vehicle’s occupants and other motorists’ if you don’t understand how the size, weight and length of a load affect your vehicle, and how to secure loads correctly.

Improperly secured loads

If your overhead load is not secured properly, you are significantly increasing the chances of a severe or even fatal accident. Your cargo moves at the same speed as your car. If this load is not secured tightly from your trailer hitch extender to the front of your vehicle, the inertia created essentially turns your cargo into a kinetic missile.

If long loads become loose, they can be catapulted through the air creating a potentially lethal situation where your load can:

  • Pierce the window of another vehicle at the front or rear of the car
  • Disperse your load across a major or minor roadway creating accidents
  • Hit vulnerable motorbike riders and cyclists
  • Create an accident for your own vehicle
  • Seriously injure or kill pedestrians 

The legal implications of these accidents can be severe, including hefty fines and licence restrictions for driving with unsecured loads. There are even more severe outcomes if the accident is fatal.

Securing overhead loads

It is a legal requirement in most western countries that all loads carried on the outside of your vehicle be securely tied down during transport. An overhead load has a higher risk of falling off your vehicle than something that is stored in a tray or trailer. 

It is essential to use reliable restraints when attaching a long load across your roof. Traditionally ropes have been a staple for securing loads. However, if you are not so familiar with correct knot tying, then this may not be the safest option for you.

Elastic octopus straps may be reliable for light loads, but they are renowned for becoming brittle, worn and eventually snapping under pressure. For bigger loads like metal pipes or timber, you may need something more robust and trustworthy.

The best way to secure your load is by using ratchet tie-downs. These straps are durable and reliable, and the mechanical buckle means there will be no knots that work loose. They are also easier to unfasten than a rope hitch and can be easily checked between journeys.

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Remember to pay extra attention to securing the front of your cargo. The front end of your load will be taking the majority of the weight when your vehicle is breaking. Many people underestimate the amount of force a moving vehicle creates.

Weight distribution

Depending on the type of vehicle you have your hitch extender on, it is essential to pay attention to the distribution of the weight of your cargo. This is especially true when using a hitch extender.

When you use a hitch extender, you reduce the ‘tongue weight capacity” of of the hitch. As you are taking the weight of your load further out from the receiver than designed, you are increasing the amount of pressure distributed upon it. 

A hitch extender reduces your car hitch’s weight capacity by 50%

An example of this would be, a trailer rated for 1,000 lbs tongue lowering to 5,000 lbs after using a trailer hitch.

This may not affect you so much if you are supporting a kayak or surfboard, but it must be taken into account when tying down heavy loads like metal pipes or metal. It’s easy to become complacent when you use something regularly, but not being vigilant with an overhead load is too costly to risk.

Another consideration when loading across the roof of a vehicle is that the added top weight increases your vehicle’s chance of tipping on corners or when having to avoid obstructions or vehicles suddenly. Always be aware of your vehicle’s capabilities and never exceed the recommended capacities.

Quite often, it is a legal requirement to place a high visibility flag or warning marker on any loads that exceed the normal confines of the vehicle. If other people can’t see your extended load, there is a risk they drive into it. 

Even if this is not a legal requirement of your local government, it is safer to do so, and it acts as a courtesy for other drivers. This same rule applies if you are using a trailer bed extender. 

Use any action you can to increase the safety of an overhead load. The alternative could be a lot more costly than just merely losing your cargo.

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