It’s nerve-wracking when the trailer you’re towing sways back and forth. One of the common culprits behind this stressful situation is an improperly installed weight distribution hitch.
While a standard hitch can tow heavy loads, it can’t effectively distribute your trailer’s weight, resulting in uncontrollable swaying that makes driving risky.
What Is a Weight Distribution Hitch?
A weight distribution hitch, also called a stabilizer hitch or WD hitch, improves weight distribution when hauling a trailer. It distributes the weight across the trailer’s axles and the vehicle’s rear axles.
Gross Trailer Weight and Tongue Weight
To understand how weight distribution hitches work, let’s define gross trailer weight (GTW) and tongue weight (TW).
GTW is the trailer’s total weight, including cargo, fuel, and anything else inside your trailer, while TW refers to the portion of your trailer’s weight that’s pressing down on the hitch. It should be about 10% to 15% of the gross trailer weight.
How Does a Towing Weight Distribution System Work?
Excessive TW causes the trailer hitch and the vehicle’s rear axles to dive, and the front portion of the tow vehicle to point upward. These conditions reduce braking efficiency, which can be dangerous when carrying heavy cargo.
On the other hand, if there’s too little relative TW, the trailer becomes prone to swaying.
The WD hitch distributes the trailer’s weight evenly to prevent any mishaps caused by reduced braking and swaying. It does this with the help of adjustable spring bars that are connected to the trailer frame and the vehicle’s hitch receiver.
A WD hitch usually has a lead screw that you can adjust to increase the tension applied to the spring bars. By placing the bars under tension, you can redeem the rear portion of the vehicle from the dive. This forces the front of the vehicle down, which means your vehicle’s front axle won’t carry any additional weight.
Do I Need a Weight Distribution Hitch?
Check your owner’s manual to know whether your vehicle needs a stabilizer hitch. For example, the 2018 Chevy Traverse manual states that weight distribution and sway control are needed when towing a trailer that’s over 5,000 pounds.
But even without referencing your vehicle manual, you’ll likely need a special hitch if your GTW is more than 50% of the vehicle’s weight. You’ll also need it if your ride’s rear sags or your headlights are pointing upwards after connecting the trailer.
It’s important to note, however, that some manufacturers do not recommend the use of a weight distribution hitch due to various reasons. These concerns include possible chassis damage and potential interference with stability control. If you’re in doubt about anything, you can ask a trusted mechanic for advice.
It’s important to note, however, that some manufacturers do not recommend the use of a weight distribution hitch due to various reasons. These concerns include possible chassis damage and potential interference with stability control.–Anthony Harlin, ASE Certified Master Automobile Technician
Can I Tow More Weight Using a Weight Distribution Hitch?
No. Installing a weight distribution hitch doesn’t mean you can carry more cargo or exceed the maximum capacity stated in your owner’s manual.
The only way to increase your ride’s towing capacity is by re-engineering the vehicle. This hitch only ensures that the trailer’s weight is distributed evenly for road safety.
Can I Back Up With a Weight Distribution Hitch?
It depends on the specific hitch you installed. Newer WD hitches usually allow backing up, but you must exercise caution at all times. Ensure that the sway control is disengaged before backing up so that it won’t affect your steering while you’re maneuvering your vehicle.
What’s a Sway Control Kit?
Although weight distribution hitches help control swaying, it doesn’t necessarily focus on that. A trailer sway kit helps prevent the trailer from swaying.
The kit’s exact components vary, but it usually includes an anti-sway device that you can incorporate into your hitch. It works like a shock absorber because it resists the swaying motion that occurs while driving.
The main purpose of the sway control kit is to minimize trailer sway in windy and challenging conditions. Most weight distribution hitches have a hole for an anti-sway device.
Installing one will require drilling or bolting, so ask a professional for help if you’re not familiar with anti-sway devices and how they function.
Choosing the Right Weight Distribution Hitch
There’s no shortage of WD hitches on the market. Here are some factors to consider to get the best one for your ride:
The first thing you’ll have to look at is the hitch’s GTW and TW rating. Make sure that they’re above the actual weight of the load you’d be towing.
However, remember that it shouldn’t be too high from the rating. Otherwise, the hitch might fail to level out your trailer’s weight.
Spring Bar Type
There are normally two kinds of spring bars available: round and trunnion.
Round bars offer more clearance space for hooking up a trailer, while trunnion bars allow for better weight distribution. Trunnion bars are usually square or rectangular and are more rigid compared to round bars.
The pros and cons of these spring bar types vary depending on the actual hitch setup.
WD hitches prevent swaying because they level out your trailer’s weight. However, if you think your trailer is still swaying after installing a standard hitch, you might want to check out sway control kits that can help stabilize your ride.
Some weight distribution systems come with a sway control device, so you might want to check out that option.
Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.