Should you cross your trailer chains, and why?

If you want to start a great camp fire debate, ask whether you should cross your trailer chains! In all seriousness though, today we are going to discuss why we believe you absolutely should cross your trailer chains. After this, when the argument does arise again you’ll  have some talking points.

Crossed trailer chains
Should you cross your trailer chains or leave them straight?

What’s the purpose of trailer chains?

Lets start right at the beginning. Trailers have had chains as a mandatory safety requirement for many years, and the reason is simple.

Regardless of tow hitch types, they can, and do fail on the odd occasion, along with the tongues. This can happen on the trailer end, or on the vehicle end, and essentially what happens is your trailer de-couples from the tow vehicle, and takes off in any direction it pleases to.

When you have trailer chains though, they (hopefully) catch the trailer drawbar as it drops, and keep it attached to the tow vehicle, giving you enough time to safely pull over without sending the trailer head on into another vehicle. 

You might still end up with some damage to your trailer, and to your tow vehicle, but its going to be a whole lot better than having the trailer come off all together.

Of course, if your tow bar, or drawbar fails, trailer chains aren’t going to do a thing, but these are much less common events.

Trailer chains
What should you do with your trailer chains?

So, why should you cross trailer chains?

They don’t bind up when you turn

If you don’t cross your trailer chains, and you keep them straight, when you go around a corner the outer chain will get pulled taught, and if its not long enough you can put a lot of stress on things. When you cross your chains, the length hardly changes as it crosses over under the tow attachment point.

Jack knifed camper
Even on full lock, your chain length stays very similar if they’re crossed properly

It helps to catch the drawbar

If you do have a major incident, where your trailer hitch breaks, and the drawbar drops, crossing the chains ensures a much higher catch rate.

Straight chains have a gap between them, which makes it highly likely that the drawbar will fall straight through your chains and onto the ground, digging in and causing all sorts of damage.

Crossed trailer chains that are the right length will catch the drawbar on its way down, and give you the best chance of pulling up with minimal damage.

It reduces swaying if it does fall down

Trailer sway is sketchy in any scenario, and it can be quite confronting to see it happen. If your trailer does happen to fall down and you are relying on your chains to keep the trailer attached to the tow vehicle, its best that the chains are crossed as it helps to alleviate trailer sway. 

Straight chains have a huge potential for the trailer to swing back and forth, and that can make an already bad situation much worse. Crossed chains keep the trailer much more central and stop the trailer yaw.

Trailer swaying
The last thing you want is a trailer to start swaying

Do you have to cross your trailer chains?

If you want to know whether its a legal requirement to cross your trailer chains, it gets a bit more interesting.

There’s some very vague comments made about safety chains ‘should support the drawbar and prevent it dropping to the ground’, which can be interpreted however you want. I don’t think there’s a requirement, but it is a good practice for the above reasons.

Crossed chains on a trailer
Crossing your trailer chains is good practice

Keep your trailer chains short

One of the most important things you can do with trailer chains is to run them nice and short. Not so short that you have issues turning and binding up, but short enough that they are actually going to catch the trailer before it hits the ground.

Often trailers come with awfully long trailer chains, and there’s nothing wrong with moving the shackle up the chain to make a better length.

Shorten the chains
We shorten our trailer chains to make them a better length

So, should you cross trailer chains?

I don’t see why you wouldn’t cross your trailer chains. Are there actually any good reasons?

What do you do, and why?

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  1. Gary Scoby Smith says:

    Great Advice Aaron

  2. Hey John,

    Good eyes, and yep, I had a better look at the shackles and can confirm they don’t have any WLL or grade on them. Interestingly, they are stamped as Hayman Reece, and I suspect that they would be rated to 1200kg, but without it being stamped its a bit unclear.

    I’ll grab some new lifting shackles in the next major town

    All the best

  3. John Phillips says:

    Hi Aaron,
    Thank you again for another great article.
    I was intrigued that the chain and shackles as depicted appear unmarked and unrated respectively.
    It should have been the registering authority that pointed out the requirements of meeting the Australian Design Rules (ADR’s) and WA’s Vehicle Safety Standards. This is possibly moot as WA’s DOT’s circular to industry CI-119C (2017) refers t0 all new trailers. I have included an extract from this circular.
    “All new trailers that are presented for licensing must comply with the requirements of Vehicle
    Standard Bulletin – Building Small Trailers (VSB1). VSB1 summarises the construction
    requirements for caravans and trailers necessary to meet the Australian Design Rules
    (ADRs), and trailers built to meet the requirements in this bulletin are accepted as meeting the
    ADRs. The chain requirements are specified in ADR 62.
    VSB1 stipulates that marked safety chain must be used. This particular requirement had
    been relaxed to some extent when it was difficult to source chain that met the required
    standards. Suitable chain is now widely available and this requirement will be enforced for
    new trailers.
    Trailers under 2500 kg ATM must be fitted with at least one chain – trailers over 2500 kg ATM
    must be fitted with two chains.”
    It would seem sensible if safety chains are appropriately marked that Dee or Bow shackles should also be rated as appropriate.
    Note eequirements are not the same in each state.
    Regards John