What is Tongue Weight?
Every time that trailer is hooked up to a hitch ball, the trailer’s tongue (helped by gravity) applies a static force downward. The tow hitch exerts an upward force, and when the truck (tow vehicle) moves forward, applying a force to both the truck and the trailer. As the truck travels, there are forces that push against the forward movement (wind resistance) and from the sides of the trailer (wind forces). With all these forces at play, it is easy to get one out of kilter.
Most experts believe that the tongue weight needs to be 10 - 15% of the fully loaded trailer weight.
If the weight of the tongue weight is too light, then there is not enough downward force to keep the trailer stable on the ball of the hitch. This situation can cause the trailer to sway (be subject to wind forces pushing on the trailer's sides). In extreme situations, the trailer could disconnect from the ball, jackknife, or travel across lanes. (I had a friend driving along the Interstate when she noticed the trailer she thought she was towing pull up alongside her. Weirdest thing, it was).
If the weight of the tongue is too heavy, the towing vehicle will be hard to steer, and the braking forces will not function correctly. This situation happens because the trailer lifts the rear of the trailer and pushes the front vehicle. This means that you might want your trailer to turn left, but if it moves straight, it acts as an immovable force.
How Do I Calculate Tongue Weight?
If you have access to a truck scale, call them and see what they would charge to weigh your fully loaded trailer, boat, or camper. Simply pull the tow vehicle into the scale (keeping the wheels off the scale. Weigh the truck and the trailer. Write the figure down. Then, disconnect the tow vehicle from the trailer and weigh the fully loaded trailer. Subtract the trailer weight from the gross weight. The resulting number is the tongue weight.
How do I Reduce the Tongue Weight on a Trailer?
There are a couple of things that you can do to reduce the tongue weight of your trailer.
Redistribute the Load
As mentioned, simply shift some heavier items toward the back of the trailer. Ensure that the load is even from side to side, and try to place the heaviest items over the axles. Ensure you secure the load, so it stays stable during transit.
It is essential to follow the 60/40 rule when loading a trailer (60% of the load should be over or in front of the trailer’s axle).
Too much weight at the rear of the trailer will cause the trailer to fishtail, which is not something you want to experience while towing. This means the towing vehicle may need more power to pull things along. More power means less gas mileage.
Ensure that the Height of the Trailer Hitch/Ball is Right
Ensure that your hitch ball is level with the trailer. If you find that the ball is too high, lower it, which can reduce the tongue's weight load. Having a hitch that is too high will put more pressure on the trailer’s axles, and a hitch that is too low will put more pressure on the tow vehicle. The best solution is to ensure that the tow hitch and trailer are as near to level as possible.
What to do if Shifting Things Doesn’t Lighten the Tongue Weight Enough?
Here are your options if rearranging doesn’t create enough weight reduction.
Lighten Your Trailer with Less Stuff
If you rearrange the load on your trailer and still need more weight reduction to be at the 15% mark, it may be time to make some hard decisions. Make some quick calculations on what you really need to bring along. Do you need the BBQ grill on the boat, or does the car on the trailer need to be stuffed with everything from your apartment? It might be time to downsize.
Have Your Truck Fitted with a Higher Class Hitch
Most truck manufacturers can advise you if the trailer hitch on your pickup will be heavy enough to tow the boat, camper, or trailer you have. You may need to invest in a hitch upgrade, moving up in class so that the hitch can handle additional tongue weight.
In addition, many manufacturers recommend a weight distribution hitch that shifts the trailer's weight toward the front axle of the towing vehicle. These specially designed hitches can help your truck haul more weight by distributing the pounds more evenly between the trailer and the towing vehicle.
Be sure that your truck is equipped to tow the weight that you are thinking about carrying. Some trucks are just not designed for towing much of anything, and many customers have been very disappointed to find out that the promises some salesperson made turned out to be untruths.
Buy A Bigger Towing Vehicle with a Bigger Hitch
There is a difference between the towing capacity of a half-ton pickup and a whole ton. If you can afford to, you might want to consider upgrading your truck to accommodate your trailer’s weight. Remember that you will have truck payments, less fuel economy, and some issues down the road as the new truck gets older.
What is the Difference between Different Class of Trailer Hitches?
There are several levels of trailer hitches, so it is vital to know the differences.
Class 1 Trailer Hitch
This trailer hitch class is most commonly used for small light-duty trainers, small john boats, or bike racks. Class 1 has a maximum towing capacity of 2000 lbs. If you see a hitch on the back of an SUV for Gramp’s scooter, this is likely a Class 1 hitch.
Class 2 Trailer Hitch
A Class 2 trailer hitch has a towing capacity of around 3,500 lbs. Again, you will find these on all kinds of cars and small SUVs. They are designed for hauling small trailers, boats, or cargo containers.
Class 3 Trailer Hitch
A Class 3 hitch has a towing capacity of up to 8,000 lbs. This unit is often the hitch you will find on the back of a pickup and help tow boats, small campers, and the like.
Class 4 Trailer Hitch
This hitch is installed on full-sized pickups or trucks and is used to haul larger trailers or boats. They have a maximum towing capacity of up to 10,000 lbs. Many pickup owners like having Class 4 hitches on the back of their trucks.
Class 5 Trailer Hitch
This is one of the trailer hitches that have a max towing capacity of 18,000 to 20,000 lbs. They are designed to haul horse trailers, large recreational vehicles, and commercial trailers.
More significant hitches, like gooseneck or fifth wheel units, are set in the truck's bed, which better distributes the heavy weight of the trailer more forward over the rear axles of the pickup. Most fifth-wheel units are attached to the beds of three-quarter-sized pickups or higher.