Weight Distribution Hitch: 5 Things You Need to Know Before Buying
Going for a longer trip with your family and bringing your travel trailer with you? It’s time to invest in a weight distribution hitch.
When towing a heavy travel trailer it’s absolutely essential to make sure there’s no sway between your car and the trailer. Safety is the number one priority.
You don’t want to drive across the country with a trailer that sways and bounces from side to size while doing 65 mph on the highway.
In comes a weight distribution hitch. Let’s take a closer look at why a weight distribution hitch is absolutely essential if you want to tow a heavy travel trailer.
Why invest in a weight distribution hitch?
The point where your car and the travel trailer meets is called the hitch. When you connect the trailer to your car, you’re shifting a ton of weight to the hitch.
This can result in an effect where the front of the car is angled up and the rear of the trailer is angled up as both seemingly sink down into the middle.
The front wheels of your truck won’t stick to the road – they might even lift up off of it with enough weight! And the rear axles of the trailer will be in the same position, leaving all of the weight of the trailing on fewer wheels than expected.
To avoid this problem, weight distribution hitches are designed to level the weight and steady the ride. They use springs and levers to level everything by spreading the weight evenly to either side of the connection.
This lets all wheels meet the ground as normal, and provides for a much easier ride. It’s vastly safer and allows any truck to haul up to its maximum capacity without tipping or tilting on the road.
They sound like perfect tools that can fix this major problem, but only if they work properly. Like any piece of equipment for travel, it’s built for a specific function according to specific parameters.
The wrong type of hitch won’t work as well as one that’s made for the right truck and the right trailer. Make sure you understand the key differences before buying one.
1. Check your weight
The main factor that can cripple a sturdy truck and trailer combo is the weight distribution. No matter how much your car weighs, if enough pressure is put on one end of it, the other end will raise up. A front-heavy cab with a flat rear can be lifted off the ground the same as a mid-engined car might when enough weight is pressed onto the rear axle. The same goes for a trailer. Depending on what gets put on it, the weight can shift dramatically, which is especially dangerous if the trailer in questions is carrying another vehicle.
Weight distribution hitches are made to balance the weight between the two objects, the car and the trailer, so that there is no distinguishable disparity. This means that a car weighing 3 or 4 tons can haul a load up to its maximum carrying capacity, which might be even higher, without running the risk of buckling at the mid point. A weight distribution hitch will not increase the load a car can haul, that’s determined by the engine and the drive. But it can help the car reach up close to that limit, which it couldn’t do with a normal, direct hitch.
Understand the weight you’re working with and what you will be hauling. Weight distribution hitches come in all sizes and allow all kinds of hauls to be made. Weigh what you’re carrying, make sure it’s within your car’s limitation, and get a hitch that can correspond between the weight of the car and the maximum weight of the load.
2. Unnecessary sway
There’s a number of dangers that take place when hauling significantly heavy loads. The most significant which causes the most damaging wrecks is sway. Your car naturally sways on the road, whether it’s hauling a heavy load or not. It’s the reason why we can’t take our hands off the wheel. Roads can lie at a slight angle or have a banking around turns. A motorized set of wheels is fine because it can drive through it. Free, neutral wheels on a trailer don’t have that power. They just go wherever they have to go.
A weight distribution hitch with a sway bar can help manage that sway. Swaying is just the weight of a load shifting horizontally unsteady of laying vertically. As you turn, even slightly, the load in the back will try to match that turn and end up over-turning in most cases. A sway bar will lock the hitch in place when the angle of turning is too steep or too little – effectively locking the hitch in place unless the whole car is turning. It’s great for keeping everything in a straight line without worrying about rolling over or being jerked off the road suddenly. Preventing sway takes a load off the mind from the load that you’re hauling.
3. Take a break
The heavier a car gets, the stronger its brakes need to be. Light cars will have a fairly quick stopping distance, and better brakes can reduce it even further. Stopping in an instant isn’t ideal, there has to be a slowdown to prevent whiplash. Most heavy duty trucks will have a longer stopping distance at high speeds due to the weight of their bodies and engines. A truck carrying a significant amount of weight may not stop at all. Especially if the front wheels aren’t always touching the ground.
Weight distribution hitches will conjoin the weight of the car and trailer together so there’s no gaps. When you brake, the whole thing brakes and slows to a stop. There isn’t an unexpected clang as the trailer maintains its speed after you reduce yours. No more getting rear ended by your own camper or being pushed forward by the weight of major equipment as it tries to overtake you. Additionally, weight distribution hitches can have assistive springs which add additional stopping power to the trailer. You’re still using your own brakes and wheels to slow to a stop but the hitch will keep the trailer under control. Would you rather have brakes or not? That’s the question you need to ask when considering getting a weight distribution hitch. And the answer is always yes.
4. Heavy lifting
A weight distribution hitch doesn’t just help you carry heavy loads – it is one. Properly built and proportioned hitches can weigh over 80 pounds. They aren’t quick fixes, they’re part of the long preparation that should be accounted for. Just like packing for time in the wild or preparing a piece of equipment to roll off the trailer and start a big job, assembling the hitch should be considered part of the tasks that need to happen in order to get things moving.
It’s not a slap-job where you insert a rod and then simply slide pins into place. Standard hitches like that lack all the necessary security and function that a weight distribution hitch offers. A weight distribution hitch required tools to hook it up. At the minimum you’ll need a socket wrench and torque wrench to ensure that the bolts are fixed in place and adjusted. If the trailer you are hitching to has predrilled holes you will need to make sure they are lined up before the fastening can be done. If it doesn’t, you may need to drill them yourself to line up with the necessary alignment of the hitch.
Once assembled, the careful act of balancing the angle of the shaft and the ball shank has to occur. Finding the right level to place it on will give you the desired weight distribution which in turn will ease the ride and stop the weight from collapsing between the truck and the trailer. Once everything is adjusted, the hitch will lay steady and the ride will be even from one end to the other. Unhitching can be an involved work. You may be tempted to just leave the whole thing on, since you may end up using it again. But a weight distribution hitch, like all tools, should be stored in a proper place when not in use. Just consider the act of attaching and assembling the hitch as a warm up and do it when it’s needed.
5. Price is right
Weight distribution hitches do a lot to make hauling heavy equipment over long, winding distances easier. And that comes at a price. While it is a necessary tool for anyone taking expeditions, or who has to transport heavy machinery for work, it’s not a tool that can be skimped on or bought cheap. It’s also not something you can grab at the last minute most of the time. Since each hitch has to be made for a specific function and capacity, finding the right one can take time and more than one trip to local auto stores.
The good thing about the high cost is the high quality that matches it. A good weight distribution hitch will last as long as you need it, so long as it’s used properly. They only break if the instructions aren’t followed or the load is too heavy. A well maintained hitch can take hundreds of journeys and haul thousands of pounds as needed. Consider the functions you need your hitch to perform in order to get the best one.
For example: do you plan on backing up with the hitch attached? That’s not a universal feature. Or how about a sway bar? Also not part of the basic design. Some are easier to fit but have much lighter carrying capacity. Are you hauling a whole RV or just a couple of dirtbikes on a trailer rack? Or is it a land moving excavator? Consider the overall usage in your future plans and splurge on the hitch that fits your needs. They can range from as low as $200 to as high as $1,000. Make a note of all the specifications and see if there is a supply store nearby or online to bring the hitch straight to you.
Final thoughts on weight distribution hitches
Having the right tool can help you get out more and encourage you to take more on your way. Whether you’re hauling for work or for fun, hal the right way and give yourself and your equipment the smooth ride it needs.