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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Which Hitch?

I recently graduated to the bigger rigs from towing just a small pop-up camper to a 25-foot Aerolite trailer. I tow this with my 1998 Ford F-150 Extended cab, four wheel drive truck, which came with a heavy duty towing package. This business of tongue weight, gross weights and how it all works together has me thoroughly confused. I have been towing things for about five years now but never anything so large. I experienced some sway when an oncoming semi passes and it is pretty scary to say the least. Winds seem to do this also. I usually settle down after the first fifty miles or so and seem to anticipate these situations better. I know from reading that tongue weight along with tires, etc., is all very critical but wonder how it all fits together? Should I pack my refrigerator or carry food in the rear of my pickup? Also is it to my advantage to carry more in the rear of my truck instead of inside the trailer? Generally it is just myself on these trips so I am not packing a whole lot of gear. I wish there where a small scale available for sale to check my own tongue weight each time I go out. I do not have a weight distribution hitch nor a sway control. I was told I did not need them by the dealership. It is rather inconvenient to just hop in the truck and trailer and visit my nearest truck stop to weight the tongue prior to each trip. There just has to be a better way!
Richard, (Racine, WI)


Richard, obviously, a hitch is the crucial connection between tow vehicle and trailer. Choosing a hitch is determined by weight rating. It is paramount to know exactly what your trailer weighs when fully loaded and what the capacity of your tow vehicle is. Then simply choose a hitch that falls within those parameters. Is it that simple? Just about.

All good service facilities that install hitches will first ask you about the total weight you will be towing. Next, they will ask you about tongue weight. Tongue weight is that percentage of the total weight that will be placed directly on the hitch assembly. It usually amounts to approximately 12 to 17% of the total weight of your loaded trailer. Any cargo stowed in the tow vehicle behind the rear axle must also be considered and added to the tongue weight when trying to determine the hitch required. It is better to equitably distribute the weight of all cargo inside the trailer rather than add additional weight to the tongue.

There are two basic types of hitches: weight carrying and weight distributing. Weight carrying hitches literally carry the weight of the trailer on the hitch and rear axle of the tow vehicle, like yours does now. The maximum weight or limiting factor, for weight carrying hitches is 3,500 pounds. By far the most common type of hitch today is the weight distributing, or load equalizing hitch. Always mounted to the frame, this type of hitch, by its design, distributes the weight to both axles of the tow vehicle. Weight distributing hitches are the preferred method of towing all but the lightest forms of travel trailers. If your trailer, with all cargo, canned goods, personal gear, etc., weighs more than 3,500 pounds you will need a weight distributing hitch. Quite possibly you will also need a sway control. But it is vital that you have the complete towing configuration (truck and trailer) weighed, loaded as if to travel.

Aside from having the correct towing equipment, knowing your towing weights will also enable you to properly inflate the tires. Once your typical weights have been determined there is no need to continually measure the tongue weight unless you drastically alter the towing configuration. As long as you remain below the capacity of your truck and have a properly installed weight distributing hitch and sway bar, your towing concerns should be alleviated and you can then enjoy the benefits of towing that RV.

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