Every travel trailer out there has one mechanism responsible for doing two things—getting level and getting onto a hitch ball.
Getting level requires two types: side-to-side leveling and front-to-back leveling. Side to side leveling is accomplished using levelers under tires on one side. The front-to-back leveling and connecting your trailer and disconnecting your trailer requires the very thing you are reading this article about: a jack.
A jack is a vertical mechanism (leg) installed on the front of the trailer, on the tongue. It has the capability to raise and lower the tongue/front of the trailer. Without a jack, one would have to lift it by hand, which is basically impossible (Unless you’re Arnold Schwarzenegger. And you aren’t). Therefore, you need a jack for your trailer.
Types of Jacks
Your travel trailer probably already has one. If it didn’t, that would be really weird—and what else is that trailer missing? LOL!
You either have one of two types of jacks on your trailer. A manual jack or an electric jack.
Personally, I have an electric jack. My business partner, Kelly, had a manual jack for her first three years of full-time RVing. Three. Miserable. Years (If you ask her). I have happily had an electric jack for the duration of my 5 years of full-time RV life. Kelly finally got one. Her back thanks her for it.
What’s the difference between the two? It’s mostly pretty obvious, but we will dive into the specifics:
Manual Trailer Jack
A manual jack is a jack with a hand crank to lift and lower the tongue. The only motors are your own amazing, or not so amazing, muscles. The number of revolutions you have to turn it all depends on how much of a grade you are on, or how high/low your hitch is.
Some un-level places will make you feel the burn more than others! My friend Kelly may or may not have thrown a few r-rated comments out while leveling her trailer from front to back in the past!
That’s it. It’s simple. You crank it up, you crank it down. The good news is that there are fewer parts to break, though you may feel it the next day in your back.
Manual Jack Pros:
- Potentially more durable
- You get a little workout
- Less expensive
Manual Jack Cons:
- Physically harder to use
- Electric jack
Electric Trailer Jack
Now we’re talking! An electric jack does the work for you. It’s a gear-driven mechanism that only requires the strength of a single finger to work it. You either select “up” or “down” (So nice).
That’s all it takes. The jack obviously has to be connected to your battery in order to work. It runs off of a 12-volt power source only. It has more moving parts than a manual jack. This kind of jack should be quite durable, but still has more chances of breaking.
Say you are dry camping and you kill your battery. Of course, you wouldn’t because you already know how to avoid this, right? But say you do.
What do you do? Well, the manufacturer’s thought of this as well. Your electric jack should have a manual hand crank that you can use to override the electric jack. So even if you are a clunkhead and kill your battery, you can still get hitched up.
Still, a working electric jack will be way easier to use than a manual jack. Especially if you have a bad back, arthritis, etc.
Electric Jack Pros:
- Easiest to use
- Manual crank if you lose power
- Remote options available
- Won’t throw out your back
Electric Jack Cons:
- Must know a little about electric to self-install
- More expensive
- More parts that can break
What Size Jack Do I Need?
Not all jacks are created equal. They come rated in pounds of lifting capacity. Your rig is of a certain weight and you have to get a jack capable of lifting the weight of the front of your trailer.
This is likely going to be the most difficult part of getting a new jack, manual or electric. You’re going to HAVE to know how much your trailer tongue weight is. The best way to know is to weigh your trailer and weigh your tongue weight.
If you know yourself and you know you simply will not properly weigh your tongue, then here’s a hack: Tongue weight should not be more than 15% of total trailer weight.
But it easily could be more if you have a lot of heavy stuff placed near the front of the trailer, and don’t forget full propane tank and battery weight. So, if you know how much your trailer weighs fully loaded (but you will again, have to weigh your trailer to know this), you can guesstimate how much your tongue weight is.
If you use a weight distribution system then tongue weight is NOT all that you need to know. If you use a WDH, you likely are going to use the jack to lift the back end of your truck and trailer to a certain degree to connect and disconnect the weight distribution hitch.
This means you also need to know how much the back end of your truck weighs. You won’t be lifting it off the ground, mind you, but your jack will need to be able to handle the tongue weight as well as the truck end weight.
Check with your vehicle manufacturer to estimate how much load is on your back axle.
Once you have an idea of what your tongue weight is plus a portion of what your truck end weighs, you can decide on how heavy-duty of a hitch you need.
It’s always better to have too much jack than not enough jack. Otherwise, breakage could occur.
Jack Leg Extensions
Some jacks have a ‘drop’ leg that brings the bottom of the jack closer to the ground before you even start lowering it. Why is this a good thing? Because first, it will save you power—either manual or electric.
Some people opt to simply stack boards or levelers under the jack.
This seems like an OK thing to do, but we strongly recommend against it. This makes the front of your travel trailer much more unstable. If your rig rolls, it can fall off of the levelers/blocks, causing damage or even injury. (Don’t believe? Just ask Marshall, haha.)
Therefore, a leg extension is a good idea as a general rule.
Some jacks come with extensions (Such as Kelly’s Husky Super Brute). Others do not. However, if you tend to only stay in level spots, you can get an after-market drop leg (such as the Fastway Flip)
It’s kind of ridiculous, but some jack manufacturers, I suppose, try to save money by not adding a ‘foot’ to the jack. In this case, the jack leg is simply a hollow tube. Now imagine putting that jack down in the dirt.
Exactly, it’s going to sink. Again, there are aftermarket ‘feet’ that you can purchase and add to your jack. They are especially useful if you dry camp a lot off of pavement.
Hitching and Unhitching Your Travel Trailer
Hitching up and unhitching is not a difficult process, really. We even explain how to do so.
Otherwise, here are some important things to remember:
- Always make sure your trailer is chocked before disconnecting.
- Keep your chains connected to your vehicle while disconnecting. This way if your trailer rolls, it can only go so far.
- Use a chain holder to keep chains from dragging.
- Always cross your chains. This will hold the tongue off the ground in the event of a disconnect.
- If you have an absorption fridge (the majority of trailers do), you need to be level all around to keep from killing your fridge or worse, from it catching fire.
- Be sure your trailer doesn’t make the back of your tow vehicle sag. If it does, you need a weight distribution system.
- Frequently check the tightness of the bolts that hold your jack onto your hitch.
- Don’t pile up a bunch of levelers or boards to prop up your jack. It could easily fall off and cause damage.
A Key Takeaway
Every travel trailer has a jack. Whether you get a manual one or an electric one is really just personal preference. Just remember that a manual jack will be harder to manage, and an electric jack has the capability of breaking more often. Yes, manual jacks can also break, of course, but it’s less common.
Make sure you get a jack that is heavy-duty enough to handle your tongue weight and possibly to also lift part of the back end of your tow vehicle.
You can’t overdo it but you sure can under-do it! Don’t under-do the jack weight rating, or you may break your jack.
Well, that’s about it in a nutshell! If you are looking to replace your trailer’s tongue jack, go for it. We recommend electric for ease of use, but not everyone wants or needs one. Go with your gut and make sure you get one that can do the job!
Have you recently purchased a new jack for your rig? What did you get? Leave a comment below!