By following these step-by-step instructions, you will install the entire 3P hitch in under 2 hours and be on your way to the safest, most enjoyable towing experience possible.— ProPride Instructions Manual
We agonized over what type of anti-sway hitch to get for our Airstream. Given our seven month waiting period, we had lots of time to think about it. By and large, it seems that people who own ProPride hitches are extremely happy with them; those who don’t tend to dismiss them as expensive and superfluous. Without a doubt, ProPride’s high price tag – approximately triple the next best option – is hard to swallow. Some days I’d emerge from a research binge convinced that we definitely did not need the ProPride. Other days, I’d reach the exact opposite conclusion. Only when I consciously omitted cost from the analysis did the choice become clear. That is to say if money was no object, I’d of course want a ProPride 3P hitch. When it came down to it, we felt the ProPride would provide increased safety and peace of mind which was, for us, worth the extra expense. To paraphrase some random user’s comment on airforums.com, “why would you spend over $100,000 on a trailer and then compromise its safety by getting anything less than a ProPride hitch?” This logic resonated with me. The argument is entirely contingent on one’s belief that the ProPride is the best and safest hitch on the market, and the only one that completely prevents trailer sway from occurring. If you’re not convinced, the argument is much less persuasive. Hours of YouTube videos and blog posts have made a believer of me. This overview of the most popular hitches on the market also helped push me toward the ProPride.
So anyway, we bit the bullet, took advantage of the 0% interest for 18 months deal offered at the time, and ordered it. Aaaand one big decision just led right into another one: how were we going to get the thing installed?
I was really surprised to find that ProPride doesn’t have much of a dealer network. They do have an informal “installation network“, but none that were near us. Our Airstream dealer didn’t install them, and none of the “truck and hitch” shops that I contacted in my area were even familiar with ProPride. One asked me to send them the installation guide so they could give me an estimate. While I certainly appreciated their willingness to give it a go, I wasn’t too keen on paying $125 an hour to essentially be a guinea pig. Plus, I really got the impression from reading around that most ProPride owners installed it themselves. One lady on airforums implied she was in her 60s or 70s and installed it herself – and that if she could do it, anyone could. Challenge accepted, I thought to myself.
Edit 5/30/2022: The hitch installation shop I referenced above has since been added to ProPride’s installer network. That must have happened in the time since I contacted them in early October 2021. Might be a good option for anyone in the Austin area who is not interested in installing the hitch themselves.
The honest answer to the question posed in this post’s title is “it depends”. Conceptually, it’s definitely easy. In practice, it really depends on how much experience you have with this sort of thing. Jill and I had very little relevant experience and therefore have to laugh at ProPride’s claim that the installation would require less than two hours. It might only take two hours if I had to install it again right now, with my initial experience fresh in my mind, on the same Airstream and Ram truck. Swap those out with a different RV and/or truck and I still would count on closer to four hours. Being brand new to the whole process, and lacking some essential tools, it took us an entire weekend. Some of that time was spent running back and forth between our house and Home Depot or AutoZone but, yes, it took an entire weekend.
Despite all the time it required, I’m still pleased we did it ourselves. We learned a lot in the process, it gave me a good excuse to buy some new tools, and I think it positioned us well for performing future maintenance on the hitch. If you’re contemplating installing one yourself, I definitely encourage you to do so – even if you don’t consider yourself particularly handy. The installation instructions are better than what Ikea has conditioned us to expect, there are a number of detailed YouTube installation videos available to watch, and you can always call ProPride directly for additional help. We’ve talked to them about a half dozen times now for pre-sale questions, installation guidance, and post-installation questions. That said, if you’re on the mechanically inexperienced end of the spectrum, I wouldn’t recommend installing it completely by yourself. Neither Jill nor I would have been able to do it on our own. It was tremendously helpful to have a second pair of eyes and hands to interpret instructions, hold components in place, apply resistance when torqueing down bolts, and doing other such things.
Paying It Forward
There are, of course, a few things I wish we had known or understood better before we started our installation. They’re documented below, in no particular order. We hope they’ll make the installation endeavor a bit easier for other first timers out there!
The ProPride installation manual that’s available online – unlike the newer version that ships with the unit – doesn’t list out all the tools required in a single location. It’s nice to know exactly what’s required before you begin, so the complete list is below including one that isn’t included in the manual but is still, in our opinion, essential.
- Measuring Tape
- 15/16” Socket, Ratchet, and Open End Wrench
- 9/16” Socket, Ratchet, and Open End Wrench
- 3/4” Socket, Ratchet, and Open End Wrench
- 11/16” Socket and Ratchet
- 1-1/8” Socket and Ratchet
- All Purpose Grease / Grease Gun
- Torque Wrench capable of applying 200 foot-pounds of torque
- Cheater Bar: A cheater bar is a length of pipe that effectively extends the handle of a wrench in order to provide additional leverage. When applying the required 200 foot-pounds of torque to the hitch bar bolts, you have to simultaneously apply a counter force to the opposite end of the bolt. Using the ProPride-supplied breaker bar, Jill was simply unable to apply enough counter force to enable me to torque the bolts all the way up to 200 foot-pounds. To get there, we had to make yet another unplanned trip the hardware store and buy a 1″ x 30″ piece of galvanized pipe. Slipping this pipe over the breaker bar provided Jill enough leverage to hold the bolts in place while I torqued them down. I highly recommend having a piece of pipe available that can serve this purpose before starting your installation.
Tips & Other Pointers
Level vs Parallel: The ProPride manual stresses that you should perform your installation on level ground. But most driveways are not perfectly level, nor should they be if watershed is important to you. I have since decided that more important that perfectly level ground is that your RV just be parallel to the ground. Of course, if your driveway is particularly steep, it still may not be the best location to do this installation. Ours only has a very moderate slope.
Determining the right hitch bar height: Even though the ProPride manual spends a significant amount of effort to help you determine the correct hitch bar height, we still made a mistake. As a result, we had to back out the hitch bar bolts, adjust the height, and re-tighten. This isn’t the biggest deal, but it’s worth emphasizing what the manual already stresses: don’t fully torque these bolts down until you’re sure you’ve selected the right height. The only way to know for sure is to hitch up and verify that the height of the frame of your RV at the front and rear ends are within about 1″ of one other. In our case, the nose of our Airstream ended up about 1.25″ lower than the tail so we opted to re-adjust. The reason for this mistake was that we didn’t account for the “settle” or “squat” of our truck under load when we calculated our hitch bar height. This video – linked in the manual – goes into some detail about how to account for the settle of your tow vehicle.
Make sure you have a 1-1/8″ socket. It’s not the most common size. We had multiple socket sets, but none that contained this particular size.
Make sure you have both deep and standard sockets. More than once, we needed a deep socket and only had a standard one for a particular size, or only had a deep socket when we needed a standard one. I wish I had noted when this happened, but I didn’t. If you have both deep and standard sockets for the sizes listed above, you should be good.
What are “zerks”? You could, of course, google this just as we did, but since I’m writing this post I figured I’d include a definition. Zerks are small inlets that allow you to inject grease with a grease gun. The ProPride has two zerks, one on each outer spring bar bushing.
Applying 175+ foot-pounds of torque: This is a lot of torque and takes more strength than you might expect. At one point I started to worry that my brand new torque wrench was defective. To verify that the wrench was fine, I initially torqued one bolt to a much lower amount than actually required. That way, I was able to confirm that the wrench was just fine before applying the full amount of torque.
Extending Your Safety Chains: After your installation is complete, you’re likely to notice that your safety chains are now too short. The easiest path here is to just order ProPride’s extension kit. It includes everything you’d need, including a 7-pin cable extension. In our case, the 7-pin cable was already long enough, so we were reluctant to buy the kit. We just needed two 6″ lengths of chain and two clevis links, both of which are available at Lowe’s or Home Depot. What’s a “clevis link”, you ask? One of these things. They allow you to connect two lengths of chain together. However, much like the chain itself, you need to make sure the clevis links you buy have a breaking strength that’s sufficiently high to restrain your trailer in the event of a hitch failure. In our case, our Airstream has a GVWR of just under 10,000 pounds; therefore, we needed chain and clevis links with a breaking strength of at least that amount. Unfortunately, you won’t find the term “breaking strength” on any chain or links, which is very confusing if you’ve never shopped for something like this before. Instead, the term I most commonly found was “WLL”, or “Working Load Limit”. WLL is equal to a chain’s breaking strength plus a “safety factor” of three. Therefore, to convert WLL to breaking strength, you just divide by three. As far as trailer safety chains are concerned, my layman’s impression from some quick online research is that breaking strength is all you need to worry about. Plus, the only places I found that sold chain with a WLL in excess of 30,000 pounds were specialty outlets that did not cater to retail consumers. For about $20, we found chain and links with a breaking strength of approximately 18,000 pounds (WLL = ~6,000) from Home Depot.
Hitching Up: One complaint I heard about ProPride hitches is that occasionally it can be difficult to back the stinger into the receiver of the main hitch unit. We too initially had this problem, but only the very first time we tried to hitch up. The trick we discovered that has facilitated a perfect track record of problem-free hitch ups ever since is twofold. First – and this one is perhaps pretty obvious – make sure the receiver is at the right height. In other words, when the stinger is two to three inches away from the receiver, bend over and visually confirm that the height of the stinger is about halfway between the top and bottom of the inside of the receiver. If it’s centered, you’re done. If not, just raise or lower your tongue jack to get it centered. Secondly, and perhaps less obviously, ensure that the angle (pitch) of the receiver matches the angle (pitch) of the approaching stinger. This is a bit difficult to express in writing, so bear with me and keep reading. The angle of the main hitch receiver can be adjusted by raising or lowering the weight distribution jacks. When you raise the jacks, the mouth of the receiver rotates down toward the ground. When you lower the jacks, the mouth of the receiver rotates up toward the sky. Therefore, you can adjust the hitch receiver opening such that it is positioned at same angle as the stinger, allowing it to be fully inserted as you back up. It took several frustrating failed insertion attempts before Jill pointed out that the angle of the receiver appeared to be preventing complete insertion of the stinger. She was absolutely right. All we had to do was lower our jacks a bit – which pointed the mouth of the receiver skyward – and the stringer went right in! We then took note of the ideal jack height for hitching up and set the jacks to this height every time we hitch up. We’ve never had a failed hitch up since.
How high should I raise my jacks? We have a 3/4 ton Ram 2500. When we lowered the weight of our Airstream on to the truck’s hitch, the front truck axles did not move by any perceptible amount. This made it a little difficult to assess how much weight to redistribute and, correspondingly, how far to raise our jacks. I called ProPride who indicated that the only way to ensure proper weight distribution with heavy duty trucks is to head to the scales. They also recommended raising the jacks to 4″ as a starting point. We haven’t been to the scales yet, so we started at 4″ and later moved to 3.5″, which in our estimation provides a slightly better ride quality.
Hopefully the information here is helpful for other ProPride newbies out there! As I said previously, I definitely recommend self-installation if you are at all inclined to do so. It’s a good learning experience. And, of course, we highly recommend ProPride hitches. Even though we have nothing to compare them to, so far we’ve been very happy. Our Airstream always feels rock solid under tow, hitching up is fast, easy, and predictable, and I especially love that we never have to bother with taking off our weight distribution bars and then putting them back on again as required by alternative hitches.