With some ute manufacturers now claiming towing limits of 3500 kg, Delivery looks at the implications for safe coupling and the benefits of the Bartlett Ball
When it comes to safe towing there’s a world of difference in what is legally permissible and what Delivery Magazine believes is safe and acceptable. While the marketing departments of the various ute manufacturers scramble to claim high towing weights of 3500 kg, the reality is that in many instances these “maximum” weights are exceeded and the ute and trailer combination then become illegal to operate, and, more importantly, potentially dangerous.
Although trailer sway controls are becoming more commonplace on vehicles as part of the suite of electronic intervention systems such as ABS, Electronic Stability Control and Traction Control, these systems can only attempt to redress the imbalance caused between the higher weight of the trailer and the towing unit. It’s a case of trying to fix or control the problem, rather than trying to stop the cause.
Part of the problem is the inadequacy of the chassis frame strength of a standard ute when operating at high-end gross combination weights. This results in the manufacturer needing to fit very solid rear closing members to cope with the high trailer weight and the stresses this places on the towing system. It also results in the closing member reducing the departure angle of the vehicle when travelling off-road. In extreme cases it could also require the chassis rails to be fitted with additional strengthening.
When claiming a maximum towing weight of 3500 kg, vehicle manufacturers are basing their tow packages on the use of a 50 mm towball. It is illegal to exceed a maximum towing weight of 3500 kg when using a 50 mm towball. A move up to 4500 kg requires an upgrade in the size of the towball to 70 mm. Increasing size again to 75 mm enables a maximum weight towing capability of up to 10 tonnes, usually with either a gooseneck or fifth-wheel coupling. JOST Australia does supply a dual-purpose hitch that combines a 50 mm ball rated at 3500 kg within a pintle hook housing adaptor to increase permitted maximum towing weights to 8000 kg.
As gross combination weights increase, such as with extended wheelbase caravans, horse floats capable of carrying three or four horses, or plant trailers, there comes a point where demanding towing applications require a stronger ball or towing system such as the Bartlett Ball coupling.
Bartlett Equipment of Hallam, Victoria, specialises in designing and manufacturing towing solutions, and today provides a range of equipment to cater for most heavy-duty towing applications. The company supplies everything needed for most heavy-duty towing applications, with a wide range of towbar kits, world-leading safety chain systems, brake equipment and connections, electrical fittings and trailer couplings. The company manufactures towbars starting from light truck applications all the way up to road train ratings, and they are suitable for towing both pig and dog trailers.
Designed by Geoff Bartlett in the 1960s, the Bartlett Ball coupling is designed to ensure that the coupling body (or coupling hood in the Bartlett system) will not lift off the ball. The ‘squat’ design of the Bartlett Ball is unique and addresses an aspect of standard towballs that needed improvement. Specifically, it reduces the distance between the centre of the ball and the underside of the mounting flange.
Bartlett couplings feature a considerably larger than standard towball, that in turn provides an increased bearing area. The ball is centred far lower and has a large base for better support. The Bartlett coupling hood is also extremely strong, rigid and compact, providing high vertical load bearing capabilities. These advantages are possible because the Bartlett locking mechanism doesn’t extend around the underside of the sphere, as occurs with a standard body as the hood is secured to the ball by the cap and threaded screw.
A Bartlett coupling offers even more advantages. For instance, the larger diameter ball also increases the contact area with the coupling hood to reduce wear and massively increase coupling service life. Further, the tight clearance between ball and hood eliminates fatiguing backlash during braking and acceleration, as experienced with all ring type couplings. This reduces stress on the transmission and driveline and is also more comfortable for the driver and passengers.
Bartlett’s range of towbars and coupling systems is designed to cover the full range of operator requirements, but the company also provides solutions for unusual applications, with its engineers able to design a custom solution to meet specific requirements. A custom fitting service is available, but the bars are also supplied in kit form for operators who elect to do it themselves because of their expertise, location, or both.
As towing weights gain more prominence in the light commercial market, safety and strength take on a new significance. The Bartlett Ball coupling is ideal for towing loads like skid steer loaders, elevating work platforms, plus other types of excavation equipment and harvesters.
You’ve got to hand it to Australians. We’re an enterprising bunch that continues to find new ways and solutions to old problems, such as how to couple up quickly between trucks and trailers when there was a variation in couplings. As an example, how do you match a Bartlett Ball to a Ringfeder or perhaps a Pintle Hook?
The time-honoured solution was to have all-three alternatives and to unbolt one and bolt on the other to the chassis closing member in order to suit the connection requirement. Thanks to Hitch Bros of Seville, Victoria, there is a better solution and you don’t have to bolt or unbolt anything.
Hitch Bros has developed the GarTh Hitch, which incorporates both a Bartlett Ball®, a Pintle Hook and a Ringfeder® and allows each of the couplings to be fitted to a single vehicle. A lone operator can swap between a Ringfeder and Bartlett Ball, and vice-versa, in a matter of minutes, using a single spanner.
The result allows vehicles to be fitted with any of the couplings, offering substantial benefits for large and small companies alike. There’s also the advantage that the GarTh Hitch can maximise the versatility of small companies that have a single vehicle and increase the scope of work they can carry out. Pricing for the combination GarTh Hitch is under $5000.