What Is A Weight Distribution Hitch?
A weight distribution system is a load-leveling device that helps to balance the trailer’s tongue weight over all four wheels of the towing vehicle. Sometimes called a load-leveling hitch, the weight distribution hitch uses a reinforced ball mount and spring bars that extend from the ball mount and are secured to the trailer tongue. The distribution supports the downward force of the tongue weight. This configuration forces less strain on the hitch ball and rear axle. As the weight is distributed more evenly toward the front axle, the trailer tongue stays in line with the tow vehicle. The result of these hitches is more control and a smoother ride.
What Are Some Myths Regarding WD Systems?
There are many myths concerning the use of weight distribution hitches. Let’s explore a few.
Myth 1 - A Weight Distribution Hitch Will Increase Payload or Towing Capacity.
A weight distribution hitch will allow you to tow to the maximum capacity of your vehicle, but not beyond that. Many trailer owners think that because a distribution trailer hitch is built with control arms, you can increase payload capacity. No weight distribution hitch will not help you exceed the maximum towing capacity for your vehicle.
Every vehicle and every hitch is rated to handle a maximum towing weight. The manufacturer determines these weight limits, which are printed for a reason. Do not exceed your gross trailer weight limits.
You should only try to pull the weight your truck, SUV, or hitch is rated for. If you try to pull beyond your gross vehicle weight rating, you risk ruining your truck’s rear end or, worse, causing an accident on the highway.
Myth #2 - A Weight Distribution Hitch Reduces Tongue Weight
Whenever you hitch your trailer to the receiver-mounted ball on the back of the tow vehicle, there is a downward force caused by the weight of the trailer’s tongue. The tongue weight is ideally 10-15% of the trailer weight. Many people think a WD hitch will make a trailer tongue weigh less, but this is false.
A weight distribution hitch takes the weight of the tongue and distributes it more evenly over the wheels of the towing vehicle. It does not lighten the tongue weight as much as it levels or spreads it. (Think of it this way, a block of metal weighs 25 lbs and is shaped 5”x5”, but if you changed the dimensions of the metal block to a different height, length, and width, the weight would remain unchanged). A trailer tongue weighs what it weighs, but a weight distribution system doesn’t lighten the mass, it just levels it to help the truck tow it safely.
Myth #3 - A Weight Distribution Hitch Eliminates Trailer Sway
According to the NHTSA, trailer sway is the number one cause of light-duty trailer accidents on American highways (55,000 accidents annually). Since trailer sway is such a critical issue for trailer owners, it pays to know exactly what and what doesn’t cause trailer sway.
Trailer sway is when outside (sideways) forces act on a moving trailer. When wind gusts, (either natural winds or unnatural, like when a semi-truck passes from the opposite direction) happen, the trailer reacts to those forces. The trailer begins to move back and forth across the lane rather than only moving forward as it is supposed to be doing.
While a weight distribution hitch will force your trailer to follow your tow vehicle more uniformly, a WD system does not keep your trailer from swaying.
Many weight distribution hitches have sway control features. Usually, this refers to friction plates that act as a countermeasure when it detects that sway is occurring. As the semi passes by your trailer, and the force of that passing pushes your trailer sideways, the friction plates make it harder for the trailer to keep swaying or move too far away from the center.
No weight distribution system PREVENTS sway. It can only address the situation as it is happening.
Myth #4 - A Weight Distribution Hitch Means No Safety Chains Required
This myth is not true and is one of the biggest. Most states have strict regulations on using safety chains, even with WD systems. (The only trailers that do not need safety chains is a 5th wheel hitch, but they are a good idea regardless).
Safety chains are essential because the connection between a ball and a trailer coupler can fail. Should the trailer coupler become disconnected from the hitch ball, the chains keep the trailer linked to the tow vehicle and help the driver keep control while looking for a place to pull over. (Please note that safety chains should be crossed under the hitch for maximum benefit).
Myth #5 - The Weight Of The WD Hitch Doesn’t Matter
Every weight distribution hitch weighs a certain amount (most are 45 - 75 lbs). Even though a WD system may level the weight of the trailer tongue over the four wheels of a tow vehicle, it doesn’t mean you should ignore the weight of the hitch. If you plan to tow to the maximum amount of your vehicle’s GVWR, you might need to calculate the hitch weight to ensure you do not exceed the limit.
Myth #6 - Most Weight Distribution Hitches Are Pretty Much The Same
It does matter which WD system you slap on the back of your truck. Weight distribution hitches, like cars, trucks, or SUVs, have towing limits. Be sure to purchase a weight distribution hitch designed for towing the trailer weight you intend to pull.
What should you look for in purchasing a weight distribution hitch? Well, a great way to start is to examine online reviews and testimonials. You want a distribution hitch that is built solidly, with effective components and doesn’t take a college degree to install. Many companies like Curt, B & W, or DrawTite have been in business for a while, and are leaders in weight distribution hitch manufacture. It never hurts to watch online videos watching the installation process, so you can be confident the first time you hook one up.