Balls. Can’t live with ’em, can’t decide whether to grease ’em up or not.
People who don’t own any kind of RV would not believe the debates trailer owners get into over the greasing or non-greasing of balls.
But you know the dilemma. When you first get your trailer hitch, it’s all showroom shiny and new and pretty. Might even be covered in chrome for that extra shine-pride feel.
Shiny, Happy Hitch Balls
And that’s just great. The miles go by, your ball is shiny, and everything’s right with the world.
But as the miles go by, that shiny ball’s going to get scratched, both in the kitten-claw surface way, and in some cases deeper than the surface level.
How come? It’s not like anyone’s going out there at night when everybody’s asleep and notching the ball with a pen-knife, right?
Prrrrobably not, but the fact is that the ball and the coupler are in metal to metal contact, so they’re going to scratch each other simply by being in use.
Add to that of course any gravel particles on the road that zing up and ding the ball while it’s in use. Simply by doing the job it was intended to do, your ball is going to get scratched.
That’s where the madness starts.
Because then people ask whether or not they should grease their balls, and the English language more or less goes into meltdown.
On the one hand, so to speak, why would you not grease your trailer hitch ball? If your car’s wing nuts were in constant exposure to wind, rain, dust, gravel and metal-to-metal contact, you’d grease your nuts, right?
You understand the principles of friction and damage through external impact, so grease your nuts to protect them from the rigors of their daily job.
Sadly, it’s not quite that simple – and it wouldn’t be, even if it were wing nuts we were talking about, rather than trailer hitch balls.
Here’s the dilemma. Greasing up your trailer hitch ball might at first seem like a great and logical idea. But then you need to think it through.
To Grease, Or Not To Grease
Your ball might suffer metal-on-metal damage from being in constant travelling contact with your coupler. If your coupling is loose, you’re going to get rotational motion, scratching the ball from impacts as you go over the ground.
If you get a tight coupling, you might get metal-on-metal friction scars over time and travel. So, you’d think using grease to soften the connection between the two components would be a great idea. Right?
Welll, maybe, but it’s also possible that a coating of grease on your ball will trap dust, gravel, small stones and dead bugs on the surface of the ball. And as anyone who took elementary woodshop can tell you, what you have then is a kind of greasy, gritty sandpaper, the trapped foreign objects acting as the sand to additionally abrade the metal where the two parts meet.
So while it might seem like a great idea initially, there are questions that keep the debate raging – to grease, or not to grease?
The Raging Debate
Now, there are people who insist of course that any protection from metal-on-metal contact has to be good. That it’s a natural reaction to maintain the parts of your vehicle in working order, and that the alternative to greasing is to slowly watch your once-shiny trailer hitch ball get more bitty and gritty, and eventually to watch it succumb to rust year on year, until eventually you don’t trust it and have to get it replaced.
You wouldn’t treat an animal that way, they say. Why would you do it to a ball?
And round and round and round we go. Greasy sandpaper versus endless rust and the slight sense of moral decay that comes along with knowing a problem is there, and deliberately not doing anything about it.
Like most things in life, nothing much gets done while this debate rages. Greasers and non-greasers find it tough to see each other’s point of view, and undoubtedly use the greasing or non-greasing of trailer hitch balls as a general indication of Us and
Them, probably expanding it to a judgment on each other’s characters, parentage and whether the other side were brought up right.
A New Angle
There. Is. An. Answer.
There’s an answer that will keep the greasers happy, and which will put the non-greasers’ fears to rest.
It turns out that the answer is all about seeing the problem from a slightly different angle.
Yes, it’s true, if you grease the ball, you’re going to create a kind of sludgy chemical sandpaper to do even more damage.
But it’s better than doing nothing, say the greasers.
This may or may not be true. But it’s not better than doing everything.
It’s Got Groove, It’s Got Meaning
Grease, it turns out, is the word, just as generations of musical theatre fans have told us it is.
Grease is a very specific thing – it’s a thick, oily substance used as a lubricant. The thickness and the oily quality are what give it its grit-catching qualities and lead us inevitably on to chemical sandpaper and the apocalypse of damage feared by the non-greasers.
Here’s the thing though:
All greases are lubricants.
Not all lubricants are greases.
We’re guessing the dark clouds just parted and you saw the light, didn’t you?
If you use a non-greasy lubricant, you can get the anti-damage capabilities of standard grease – or better – without the sticky, attracting-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink qualities that come along with grease.
We’d suggest looking out for a thing called “Dry Graphite Lubricant.”
Dry, you understand. Not greasy.
Dry graphite lubricant bonds almost instantly to metals, plastics and rubber. It forms a dirt-repelling barrier, so it won’t turn into chemical sandpaper the way standard greases can – problem solved for the traditional non-greasers.
It protects the surface to which you apply it from both pressure and the friction that can be an issue for your ball when attached tightly to the coupler. It will withstand temperatures up to 850 degrees F, and extreme pressures, so unless you’re planning to holiday in Hell itself or the inside of active volcanoes, you should be good.
And if you are planning to holiday in either of those places, believe us when we tell you you have bigger problems than a scratched or rusted ball.
And you’re not about to wait for three days for the dry graphite lubricant to dry before you dare to take your trailer out – it dries rapidly at room temperature, and it dries in a hurry like the Devil’s chasing it.
So if anyone asks you whether they should grease their trailer hitch ball, what are you going to tell them?
That’s right. You’re going to tell them no, they should dry graphite lubricate it instead, and grab themselves a happier life.
The Importance Of Timing
Now all of this comes with a few additional notes.
Timing, as in most things, is important when it comes to lubricating your ball.
Do it early and do it reasonably often, would be the best advice. Do it early and you stand a reasonable chance of stopping the majority of the usual scratches from forming in the first place. What does that mean?
Means you get to enjoy the chromegasm of a shiny new trailer hitch ball for longer, that’s what.
If your ball already has some rust on it, you can get away with dry graphite lubricating it. What happens then is you protect the ball from any additional irritants exacerbating the rusting.
If, on the other hand, you’ve been a fervent non-greaser up to this point and your ball is already covered in rust, don’t waste your dry graphite lubricant on it.
It’s a miracle shield, it’s not a fountain of youth – it can’t re-grow metal for you. But be advised, get a new trailer hitch ball, and then dry graphite lubricate the Dickens out of it. There’s a solution now which can stop your ball going rusty in the first place.
The Power Of Hats
It’s also true that while dust and grit are one threat, and the friction of constant metal-on-metal contact is another, moisture is also a big component in rusting your trailer hitch ball to an early death.
For that, while the lubricant barrier is good, you can also invest in a simple ball cover to protect it from the elements when it’s not actively in use. Think of it as a rain hat for your hitch ball, keeping the shiny ball dry. Between the lubricant and the hat, dry is good for your ball.
We aim always to bring harmony where there has been division. So let’s just say that in the question of whether you should or shouldn’t grease your trailer hitch ball, everybody’s right, and everybody’s wrong.
If you leave it unlubricated at all, you’ll suffer ball-death by rust, friction and scratches.
If you slather it in grease, you’ll suffer ball-death by sludgy chemical sandpaper on metal.
But if you lubricate it with dry graphite lubricant, early and regularly, you can not-grease it, but still keep it safe from all the perils of the road. If you add a ball-cover to it while it’s not in use to protect it from the moisture in the atmosphere (especially at low levels, like dew), you can combat the liquid ball-death of rust even further.
That way, by taking a two-step approach, you can keep your ball shiny, good as new, and active for much longer than either of the other options.