10-Minute Tech: Can It!

10MT-Yellow-can_on trailer hitch
Photo by Charlie Moore

Before hooking up our trailer for a 10-day trip, I greased the trailer ball and weight-distributing hitch. I told everyone who would listen to stay away because of the grease. As it turned out, I was the one who got grease on a good pair of shorts! I was so mad at myself that in anger I put a Bush’s Baked Beans stubby can over the trailer ball and said something like “Take that!” To my surprise, the can stayed in place without any additional hold-down. Now when I hook up the trailer, I put the can on a “post” formed by the ball mount. I have driven 600-plus miles with this can. Because it has decided to stay in place, I put a coat of yellow paint on it.

It looks like it’s going to stay with me for a while.

Charlie Moore | Mokelumne Hill, California



  1. You might want to rethink this situation. A can as a grease-smear deterrent sounds great and is a simple, effective idea. I also tow a heavy travel trailer using a 2 1/2-inch WD system. It got me to thinking about liability so I contacted my insurance agent for guidance. After a few days my agent emailed his research results. Do not leave the ball/draw bar anstalled in the receiver when not towing. He offered two of numerous examples of what can happen.
    1. A pickup with the hitch left in place was rear-ended after a sudden stop. The truck’s rear bumper was not damaged, but the full-size van behind was damaged. The hitch penetrated the van’s grille, oil cooler, radiator, a/c radiator and cooling fan. The van was cited for failure to maintain assured clear distance. But the van owner’s insurance company sued the pickup’s owner for negligence by leaving the hitch on the truck and won in court. The citation charging the van’s driver was dismissed. The court ruled that the hitch was sticking out nearly 2 feet from the bumper and there was no damage to the pickup’s bumper; therefore, there would have been no contact had the hitch not been in place. The pickup owner’s insurance company paid.
    2. In a public parking lot, an SUV had a heavy-duty weight-distributing hitch installed in the receiver — again extending just under 2 feet beyond the bumper. An elderly lady was carrying her large bag of groceries to her car and passed by the rear of the SUV. She tripped over the hitch and fell to the ground, striking her head. An ambulance was called, and the paramedics found her breathing and awake but incoherent. She died on the way to the hospital from internal cranial hemorrhaging. The SUV’s owner was charged with negligent manslaughter and found guilty. He served time and was sued in a civil action where he again was found responsible for the death.

    • I’ve managed to bang my shins several times on hitches that stick out as little as 6 inches. My camper hitch sticks out close to 10″, but my weight-distribution system stays on the trailer, not the hitch. My thought is that a vehicle striking the trailer ball is coming into contact with the hitch, which is mounted to the frame, not the bumper. The hitch mounted to the frame prevented damage to the bumper of the pickup. If the hitch would not have been in place, the van would have damaged the rear bumper of the truck. The damage to the van should have shown that the van owner would not have been able to stop if given the extra 2 feet with no hitch, which would have resulted in damage to both vehicles.

    • Did your insurance agent give you the sources for those two cases? I’d like to give that information to my insurance agent as well as my RV friends.

  2. Greasing the hitch ball is controversial. I grease mine and my combination weight-distributing/sway-control bars. Everything works fine and shows very little wear after nearly 14 years and more than 100,000 miles. All truckers grease their fifth-wheel and the trailer kingpin and release mechanism. Billions and billions of miles on that grease. Others say never grease. Why? No one has been able to answer that for me. Bottom line: You choose.

    • How do you respond to the idea that greasing the combination distribution/anti sway bars defeats the purpose by eliminating the friction?

    • The grease helps with smooth movement. On a tractor trailer with the fifth-wheel hitch dry, the trailer will actually “dog track,” as the weight on the hitch will be too great to allow the trailer to “follow” the tractor in the proper way. Lubrication is the way!

  3. The one ball that should never be greased is the Andersen Anti-Sway Weight Distribution Hitch. The anti-sway feature is built into the hitch ball. Grease will decrease the anti-sway abilities of the WD hitch. Since the ball and coupler move together, there is no friction, so no need for grease. The ball housing has a sleeve, and the ball shank friction inside this sleeve is what supplies the anti-sway; grease reduces the friction and defeats the anti-sway. The sleeve is replaceable and is free from Andersen if it wears. Weight distribution on the Andersen is achieved through tension chains mounted to the frame and a plate at the bottom of the ball. Outside of this, hitch grease is used by nearly everyone I have talked to.

    • Sounds like Anderson really has it figured out. I have their levelers and really use and like them. If I would have known about their hitches the last time I purchased, I certainly would have gotten them.

  4. Over thirty years and three trailers, I have never greased the hitch balls. Once we arrive at a campsite, I remove the ball, first placing a vinyl cover on it for ease of handling. Even an ungreased ball will stain your clothes, so I never leave them in place when not towing.

  5. The reason to grease a hitch ball and/or fifth-wheel is two-fold. One, if the ball is rusty, it can jam into the receiver and start to be unscrewed when making turns, Two, if the pivot point binds (fifth-wheel), it can push the tow vehicle and not allow it to return straight ahead position. Also very poor handling; just asked any semi trailer driver.

  6. I am new to RVing, and I grease the ball, but am curious about what is on the receiver. What is it and what is its purpose? It appears to be something like a large U bolt with a piece of metal between the two ends clamping down on the hitch.

  7. The U-bolt arrangement is a trick item I have seen but not tried yet. Basically, it is supposed to eliminate any rattle noises and slapping between the receiver and hitch when in motion. Google it. I have also seen them through Amazon and RV-accessory suppliers. As for the prohibition of hitches in receivers when not towing, it makes sense to a small number of instances but shows how inattentive most people are, as well as how some people will try to wiggle out and transfer blame for every stupid thing that they themselves do. I use the EZ-Sway2 system on my new Rockwood. Works well unless you overload your tow vehicle or imbalance your camper weight, like any trailer. In my situation the lubrication can help as others here have said: with helping prevent corrosion or “pinching” — unless designed to be dry. IMHO, grease or silicone works for me.

  8. Follow-up comment to my post: Sad for real on the story of the older woman dying from a simple fall over something she probably didn’t see with arms full of groceries, I get it. Even my small hitches used for small towing are painted bright fluorescent colors, but the “beast” for the camper comes off ASAP after blocked and locked for the trip or storage. Not sure I’m good with leaving it in tongue and driving off of receiver.


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