It often takes a major failure of a safety-related vehicle component or accessory to highlight or even repeat a past safety message to other owners.
A towbar failure because of severe corrosion reported recently by New Zealand’s leading towbar manufacturer, Best Bars Ltd, is a good example.
According to their press statement, the towbar snapped while attached to a boat trailer. Thankfully, the failure occurred in a parking lot and not on the open road where the consequences could have been a lot worse.
In this case, the failure has been attributed to the towbar being constantly exposed and submerged in salt water while launching and recovering the boat.
Best Bars CEO Stephen de Kriek said all towing motorists needed to be vigilant about checking their towbar, towbar tongue, towball, coupling and trailer regularly.
I can’t argue with that statement, but I would also add owners should spend time using fresh water to hose down the parts of the tow vehicle that have been exposed to salt water.
Salt water contamination can’t be helped when launching or retrieving a boat in the open sea.
But, like the trailer itself, a thorough wash-down can help reduce long-term corrosion issues to both vehicle and towbar.
The other important point is that a towbar should be fit for purpose.
A genuine bar should have the NZ Standard 5467 design reference, recommended towing weights and downward tongue load etched on to a tamper-proof metal label on the towbar. This ensures both high-quality and appropriately treated materials are used, plus the correct braked and un-braked loads are towed.
It is not a current legal requirement in New Zealand to meet the design rule reference. This means not all towbars sold are manufactured to the same high standard.
It is also very important for owners to ensure the towbar is the correct match for the towing vehicle to help stop stress on the bodywork. The towbar must be fitted so that it transfers the towing forces to the structure of the towing vehicle without any distortions of the towbar or the towing vehicle’s bodywork.
Six tips for towers:
■Ask for the towbar condition and security to be checked thoroughly at the vehicle’s next service or WoF inspection.
■If a vehicle fitted with a towbar is involved in a rear-end accident, owners should ask for the towbar to be checked as part of any initial damage assessment. If there are any signs of damage or distortion to the towbar or tongue, you should have it replaced.
■Check yourself by hooking up the trailer and looking for any excessive movement or flexing around the body or towbar. Check general condition of chain(s) and coupling.
■New owners should check the towball and coupling are compatible. There are two towball sizes now in use, 1 inches in diameter and — a newer ball — 50mm. Sizes should be stamped on top of the ball.
■When replacing towbar fastenings, ensure high tensile steel materials are used.
■Never assume a towbar fitted for a bike rack is capable of towing a far greater weight.