The first thing you need to understand is that a weight distribution hitch (sometimes referred to as an equalizer kit or sway bars) is a kit that is used with the receiver hitch on your vehicle to help distribute the tongue weight of heavy trailers. It can only be used with some hitches. Class 1 and Class 2 hitches have a 1-1/4” receiver opening and are mostly available for cars and smaller SUV’s with only a lighter weight carrying rating, so a weight distribution hitch would not be possible. The Class 3, Class 4 and Class 5 hitches are available for larger vehicles that are able to tow more weight. The majority of these hitches have a 2” receiver opening and two weight ratings: a weight carrying rating and a weight distributing rating. The weight carrying rating is the maximum trailer weight you can tow when you are using a standard shank and hitch ball with the receiver hitch on your vehicle. The weight distributing rating is the maximum trailer weight you can tow when you are using a weight distributing hitch with the receiver hitch on your vehicle. The weight distributing rating is typically higher than the weight carrying rating because the weight distributing hitch helps distribute the trailer tongue weight to all of the axles of the trailer and towing vehicle.
When pulling a large and/or heavy trailer the tongue weight (weight on the hitch ball) tends to sag or lower the back end of the towing vehicle causing weight to come off the front tires. Think of a “V” the first line of the “V” being the back end of the towing vehicle and the second line of the “V” being the front end of the trailer, obviously less dramatic than being up in the air like that, but you understand the visual. When this happens it may reduce your visibility, steering and ability to break effectively which can all lead to a dangerous ride. The excess tongue weight on your hitch can also bend or break the receiver hitch on your vehicle as you tow. The weight distributing hitch combats the excess tongue weight by distributing some of the tongue weight over all the axles of the trailer and vehicle. It especially adds weight back onto the front axle of the vehicle improving the visibility, steering, and braking as you tow the trailer.
Weight distributing hitches come in many different styles and capacities which we will talk about in an upcoming post. We will also cover when you need to use a weight distributing hitch and how to select the proper one. The capacities of weight distributing hitches range from 250 lbs to 1700 lbs tongue weight and 4000 lbs to 17000 lbs gross trailer weight. Which brings up another question, what is the difference between Gross Trailer Weight and Tongue Weight? Well, Gross Trailer Weight is the entire weight of the trailer including the weight of the trailer, the cargo and any fuel or water you have in the trailer. The Tongue Weight is the amount of weight that is placed directly on the hitch, this is usually 10-15% of the Gross Trailer Weight. Tongue weight can be measured with a scale you can purchase but is more commonly figured out by calculating 10-15% off the Gross Trailer Weight. For example if your trailer weighs 5000 pounds, then your Tongue weight should be between 500 and 750 pounds. Of course the tongue weight can vary depending on how you load the trailer but you typically want it to be in the 10-15% range. Too much or too little tongue weight can actually contribute to sway problems.
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