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Monday, March 8, 2010

RV Travel Trailer Tongue Weight

We have a 1996 1/2-ton Chevrolet truck with a 5.7 liter engine and a 3.73 axle ratio. Our owner's manual says we can safely tow 7,500 pounds. We are now towing a 1997 Wilderness travel trailer, (no slideout), and are having no problems whatsoever with towing. Our ride is smooth and we never feel a big strain on the engine. We are thinking about selling our trailer and getting a new Wilderness with a slideout. The UVW on this trailer is about 6,400 pounds, but the hitch weight is substantially higher than with our current trailer. My question is, how important is hitch weight and what happens if your hitch weight is too much for your tow vehicle? I have heard from other RVers that if the hitch weight is too high, your front wheels on your tow vehicle may come off the ground at times and it will be hard/unsafe to drive. What are your opinions on this?
Ellen, (Butler, MD)

Ellen, knowing the correct hitch weight, or "tongue weight" as it is sometimes called, is crucial in order to establish a safe towing configuration with any conventional travel trailer. More prevalent in years past, inadequate tongue or hitch weight was a significant contributor to trailer sway. With today’s engineering standards being more defined, this probable cause from the past has been lessened quite a bit.

Still, in terms of most hitches, the ideal tongue weight should be about 12% of the total weight of the fully loaded trailer. Some of the larger trailers may have tongue weights nearing 17% of the total. Anything less than 12% could have a tendency to be the cause of trailer sway.

If the tongue weight is extremely heavy, such as your fear, the majority of stowed objects may need to be positioned aft of the axles rather than in front of them. In any case, it will be necessary to have your towing configuration properly weighed on a platform scale to determine the optimum positioning of all the stowed gear. All this assumes you are using a weight distributing hitch, by far the most common type of hitch today. As a point of reference, refer to this weight capacity chart:

Class Type Capacity
I Weight Carrying 2,000 GVW
II Weight Carrying 3,500 GVW
II (torsional) Weight Distributing 3,500 GVW
III Weight Carrying 5,000 GVW
III Weight Distributing 10,000 GVW
IV Weight Distributing 10,000 GVW
V Weight Distributing 15,000 GVW

Always mounted to the frame of the tow vehicle, 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. The weight distributing hitch works in concert with tongue weight and all but eliminates your concern of putting too much weight on the rear of the truck. A properly adjusted set of spring bars, in conjunction with a properly sized weight distributing hitch, will shift a portion of the tongue weight to the front axle of the tow vehicle. Your front tires will never leave the ground!


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