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Old 07-23-2014, 10:02 PM   #1
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Very Scary Tow Car Breakaway

A dear friend sent me this photo of his Jeep Cherokee which recently became detached while driving on I-95.

The story goes that they were driving down I-95 when a motorist drove up beside them madly honking his horn. Not understanding what the motorist was trying to tell them the wife looked out her side view mirror and saw their Cherokee visible in her mirror. Screaming at her husband (the driver) they watched as the Jeep hit the retaining wall and very slowly came to a stop. They were astonished realizing the miracle that the car never crossed the 4 lanes of heavy traffic and that they were going about 25 mph when things finally came apart.

EVERY SAFETY FEATURE FAILED!!! The Air Force One braking system apparently never actuated! Upon inspection, both Base Plates had come loose from the car taking with it the bumper and Break Away mechanism and all the attachments including the Safety Cables and the Air Force One connections (which is why it failed to actuate.) All bolts for the Base Plates were gone...either sheared off or came loose on their own and everything was still attached to the towbar, now dragging behind the motorhome. I assume there was some poor Base Plate installation practices involved here as the system wasn't more than 18 months old.

The moral of this story is to regularly inspect your towing gear. Shake things from time to time to see if things move that shouldn't.

The amazing thing is, only damage was metal...the car was totaled due to age and mileage.

Take this as a reminder to CHECK YOUR STUFF!!
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Old 07-23-2014, 10:07 PM   #2
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I take it the were no cables going form the tow brackets to the frame? I have those on mine should this happen. Good thing no one was hurt, and it did not become a missile and cross the median.
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Old 07-23-2014, 10:07 PM   #3
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The problem with just about every setup (including mine) is that the safety cables and breakaway cable all connect between the receiver and the baseplate. Ideally there should be either a safety cable and/or breakaway cable run between the MH frame and the toad frame. That way even a receiver or baseplate failure would be covered as well. I'll have to ponder a solution.
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Old 07-23-2014, 10:12 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by PushedAround View Post
The problem with just about every setup (including mine) is that the safety cables and breakaway cable all connect between the receiver and the baseplate. Ideally there should be either a safety cable and/or breakaway cable run between the MH frame and the toad frame. That way even a receiver or baseplate failure would be covered as well. I'll have to ponder a solution.
Mine is a bit different, I have the coiled cable that run from the MH hitch to the baseplate, one for each side, but I also have a second cable on each side that runs from the baseplate to the frame of the towed. Mine came with the cables for the frame. I remember when I received the baseplate, there was no mention of the cables, yet they were in the box. BlueOx had a second sheet of paper in the box that explained what the cables were for, so I assumed (And I now know I should not have), that all baseplates came with them. I am going to guess this is something new since mine is a little over a year old, and probably due to what happened to the OP's friends.
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Old 07-23-2014, 10:14 PM   #5
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The aluminum, plastic and styrene bumper came clean off.
Remember back in the 50s when tow bars and tow trucks hooked their cables and chains to the heavy steel bumper of the car to tow it.
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Old 07-23-2014, 10:16 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by UsualSuspect View Post
I take it the were no cables going form the tow brackets to the frame? I have those on mine should this happen. Good thing no one was hurt, and it did not become a missile and cross the median.

Yup - I've had three base plates on three different vehicles and they all had the safety cables that attached to the frame. I think someone really screwed upon this installation. Glad no one was hurt.
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Old 07-23-2014, 10:44 PM   #7
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I'm in the middle of installing a baseplate. Came with no cables attaching it to the frame!
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Old 07-23-2014, 11:25 PM   #8
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How do the cables attach to the frame?
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Old 07-23-2014, 11:34 PM   #9
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I have to believe that other than no cable attaching the base plate to the vehicle frame, there was some other failure due to poor or improper installation of the base plate. I have installed 4 Blue Ox base plates on 3 Fords and one Honda CRV and I just don't see them coming off without some sort of catastrophic event. If you use the Locktite as instructed and torgue the bolts properly, it seems it would stay put.

On most new cars, it is nearly impossible to check base plate bolt tightness once you put the face back on the car. So, you better use the loctite and torque the bolts.

I tried to install the short cable from the base plate to the frame of my CRV but just could not find any place on the Unibody to attach the cables.

Did the bolts just fall out or were they torn out of the frame of the car?
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Old 07-23-2014, 11:54 PM   #10
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Might be like this man's jeep, my short safety cables just attached to the base plate and not the car. I ran longer cables and attached them to the subframe at the engine cradle attachment. Didn't like the method that road master used. Sure happy nobody was hurt in the incedent.
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Old 07-24-2014, 12:25 AM   #11
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How do the cables attach to the frame?
On mine there are 4 total cables. 2 of them are the usual coiled safety cables with hooks on both ends that you attach from the MH hitch to each side of the baseplate. There is also 2 additional cables, 1 on each side, permanently attached to a hole in the baseplate, and I wrapped around a crossmember and secured with the supplied hardware.
I am towing a heavy diesel truck that has a full frame, and is not unibody, that may be the difference. Just my opinion, but they should be required. I also bought an extra breakaway cable and ran that from the MH frame to the MH hitch and attach the towed breakaway cable to it. I figure if the hitch comes off hopefully the breakaway will apply the brakes and not hit anyone, or at least slow it down enough to minimize any impact.
I am probably overtly paranoid because my towed is so heavy, I could not live with myself knowing I did not do what I could to prevent someone from getting killed or hurt in the highly unlikely event there was a failure.
I will try and take a picture of it tomorrow if it is here, for some reason it seems to be the first vehicle out when folks are looking for wheels in the morning for work.
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Old 07-24-2014, 12:54 AM   #12
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We had a very similar situation on I 40 in the Smokey Mountains. Rainy afternoon, people passed us honking and waving. I looked in the rear view monitor to see the right tow bar had come lose, and all holding the toad was the left tow bar and cables. Fortunately was able to slow down gradually, and pull to the shoulder.

Examination revealed that the lock pin on the top was gone, it must have been sheared off. The cross bar was slightly bent. I had additional pins, was able to get the cross bar back on, even if tight and install a new cross pin.

At the next rest area, I called Roadmaster, and spoke to an engineer. He ask me some questions and determined that the system was not properly installed. The allowable angle between the toad and the mh was beyond the acceptable angle. When I hit a dip or bump in the road the angle had swung past the max and it sheared the pin.

When I purchased my new toad, I had taken it to an authorized installer, who had ordered the brackets for my new pickup. After a few minutes they came out and told us they had the wrong parts. So we drove home, came back 10 days later and got the "correct" parts installed....yea right.

Long story short: when we got home I took the cross bar to a machine shop, who with a press straightened it. I took all the brackets off the pickup. I reinstalled the base plate/ pin brackets upside down (pins still pointing up), and it all came into spec. Have been about 25,000 miles since, no issues. The spec from Roadmaster specified that on level ground the angle between the hitch and the toad connection needed to be 3 degrees or less. My first installation was quite a bit more than that.

So, even if an "authorized" guy is doing something, it doesn't always mean it is done right.
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Old 07-24-2014, 01:53 AM   #13
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Well it could have easily been a less than proper installation -- and possibly with the manufacturer's blessing. When I installed a Blue Ox baseplate on our Suzuki XL-7 there was an 1/8th of an inch gap on each end. I called Blue Ox technical support twice, and twice got the same input to just take a hammer to the "wings" on the base plate and bend them into shape.

Well, I just could not accept that as a viable solution to the problem. Particularly since two of the bolts could not be installed correctly without a remaining gap. Consequently, I had two 4x4 pieces of steel plate made at a local steel distributor and JB Welded them to the frame. This filled the gaps perfectly and gave me perfect bolt alignment for a solid fit. Eight years later everything is solid as a rock.

But, as noted earlier, Blue Ox has both the hitch and the retainer cables attaching to the same base plate. There is no secondary attachment to the actual frame. I can now see an obvious problem with this approach when you look at that Jeep picture. At least I do check the baseplate for any looseness by pulling and pushing the connector posts up and down before attaching the tow bar arms. Hopefully, this will catch a problem before the catastrophic failure demonstrated here.

And, as I learned early on, you NEVER allow any of the safety cables or electrical wires to rest on the top of the tow bars. They can get wrapped around the release arms, unlocking them and allowing your toad to travel forward and backward during the tow. I was shocked to see my toad running up behind the coach whenever I applied the brakes. Fortunately, I was just a bit away from the storage facility and still in town. I would imagine that such an error could shear the baseplate bolts at highway speed.
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Old 07-24-2014, 07:34 AM   #14
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Very scary indeed. Glad you posted this.

I connected the BlueOx base plate to our Honda CRV using the supplied safety cable to the frame, but the frame really consist of sheet metal and sharp edges. If I ever loose the base plate I sure hope the sharp edges don't cut the cables or the cables cut/pull through the metal.
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