I’m going to take a risk here and sound a little formal and stilted with a recommendation. If you pull a travel trailer, you need a weight distribution hitch. Yeah, they’re expensive, sometimes difficult to install, and they’re heavy. And yet, when properly installed, a weight distribution hitch will make all the world in the difference in how a trailer tracks and a tow vehicle handles.
A weight distribution hitch performs several functions at once for your tow vehicle. If you’ve ever been going down the highway and noticed a V shape between a tow vehicle and camper, that’s called trailer sag and it’s dangerous. Using stabilizer bars a bit like wheelbarrow handles, a weight distribution hitch shifts the weight of the trailer forward from your rear bumper to a point more toward your back wheels. That levels your tow vehicle and keeps the front tires from lifting, which improves steering and tire life.
Pay Attention To The Weight Rating
Weight distribution hitches come in different weight ratings, just like any other towing accessory. You’ll want to make sure that your hitch is sized properly for both your tow vehicle and trailer. We have a hitch rated for 12,000 pounds of towing, which is more than we’ll ever want to haul with our truck. It easily stabilizes our 5,600 pound trailer, like it’s not even there. Also keep in mind that most have fittings that to be torqued to specific settings. Not everyone has a 400 ft/lb torque wrench. This might be one time it’s better to let the pros handle it.
How It Differs From a 5th Wheel Hitch
A fifth wheel hitch is mounted, literally, right over the back wheels. A fifth wheel hitch is not only extremely tow stable but it allows the back of your truck to pivot under the nose of the trailer, which means you can turn sharper. People who are really good with fivers can turn them nearly within the length of the trailer, which is awesome for getting in and out of tight spaces. There’s another type of hitch that mounts over the back tires of a truck called a gooseneck hitch which is similar but slightly different than a 5th wheel hitch.
Whoa! Trailer Sway!
A good weight distribution hitch will also have integrated sway control. Trailer sway is one of those gut wrenching moments in life where the routine can turn disastrous. I guarantee, if you ever experience trailer sway, even once, you will never leave home without sway control. It’s terrifying to have your trailer and truck doing the Dance of Death and it’s hard to settle down, even when you know how to handle it. Here’s a video showing the most common causes of trailer sway and the aftermath. Notice that almost every time it was the trailer going over first and then flipping the tow vehicle.
Here are a few common sway conditions:
Mismatch trailer/Tow vehicle
Weight too far back on the trailer (notice how many were long loads)
Downhill stretches (trailer pushes the tow vehicle)
Passing a big truck
Not All Have Sway Control
Not all weight distribution hitches have integrated sway control, so you want to shop carefully. For some sway control is an optional friction bar that mounts on two smaller connectors. Those may work to control sway but most friction bars have to be unhooked before you back your trailer and some people bend them on tight corners. It’s easy to forget and friction bars get bent and broken routinely. If that happens when you’re on the road, you’re back to white knuckle driving, especially in the mountains.
Spend The Money
I know it hurts but spend the money to get a decent weight distribution hitch with integrated sway control. A good one will last a lifetime and you’ll never have to worry about mountains or big trucks blasting by. Just figure that as part of the cost of buying a travel trailer and it’s a need unique to that style of camper.
It Doesn’t Change Inertia
One caution I’ve noticed with a weight distribution hitch is that it doesn’t change the laws of physics. With ours the drive is so smooth it’s easy to forget you have a trailer back there at all. A weight distribution hitch will not do much of anything to decrease your safe stopping distance. You’ll still need to increase your following distance and give yourself plenty of room for a comfortable stop. Our brake controller for the trailer brakes gradually increases the trailer brake response so there’s a moment when you step on the brakes and not much happens. 14,000 pounds of steel and camper going highway speeds is not something to mess around with. Slow down. You’re on vacation. This is supposed to be fun, so don’t die.