The Big 7 Misconceptions About Weight Distribution Hitches

If you’ve read my article on the hidden danger of a weight-distribution hitch, you might be wondering what else you thought you knew that isn’t true!

I’m a big fan of weight-distribution hitches. If you’re towing with a half-ton truck, I’m 99.5 percent positive you either need or could benefit from one. But there are a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding RV weight-distribution hitches.

Let’s knock down a few!

Myth 1: Using a Weight-Distribution Hitch Decreases My Tongue Weight!

This myth is like a cockroach: It’s nasty, dangerous, and hard to kill. The purpose of a weight-distribution hitch is to restore weight to the front axle that was transferred to the rear axle of your tow vehicle when the tongue weight was applied to the hitch.

To accomplish this, all weight-distribution hitches apply a moment, a kind of rotating torque, to the trailer ball. In doing this, it also transfers some (not much) of the hitch weight to the axles of your trailer.

This can be a difficult concept to grasp (believe me, I know!) – but a weight-distribution hitch doesn’t reduce the tongue weight of your camper as it sits alone! Think of this as the static tongue weight.

If that’s not making any sense, then just understand that you can’t “cheat the system.” If your tow vehicle is rated for 1,000 lbs hitch weight with a weight-distribution hitch, you can’t sneak in some extra pounds by subtracting the transferred weight.

Myth 2: Using a Weight-Distribution Hitch Increases My Towing Capacity!

Credit: Projects YouTube Channel (click to watch!)

No, it doesn’t. (This is just a different re-phrasing of the first myth.)

Repeat: A WDH/equalization/load-leveling hitch does NOT magically reduce your nominal tongue weight!

Your maximum towing capacity is set by your Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR). The equation is GCVWR – GVWR (tow vehicle) = maximum towing capacity.

(There are other conditions that determine towing capacity as well.) Notice that this condition doesn’t include anything about weight distribution. Again, you can’t “cheat the system.”

When a manufacturer says Truck X or Hitch Component Y is rated for Z lbs, they’re referring to the nominal, static weight. So if your travel trailer has a tongue weight of 780 lbs with the tongue jack placed on a scale and the trailer leveled, that’s the number you use.

Don’t try to out-smart the system by subtracting the extra weight on the trailer axles from the tongue weight. That’s not how the system is designed.

A weight-distribution system can optimize your system and enable you to take advantage of your tow vehicle’s full capacities (e.g. towing more than 5,000-6,000 lbs), but it never arbitrarily increases your capacities beyond what’s given.

Myth 3: I Don’t Need a Weight-Distribution Hitch Because I Have a Long-Wheelbase Truck

There’s an old guideline about tow vehicle wheelbase-to-trailer-length, and it goes something like this:

  • 110 inches of tow vehicle wheelbase can tow 20 feet of trailer without WDH.
  • For every extra foot of trailer, you add 4 inches to the tow vehicle wheelbase.

This rule of thumb was first published in the book “How to Select, Inspect, and Buy an RV” by JD Gallant of the RV Consumer Group. It’s not based on physics; it’s based on some statistical analysis of reported accidents.

I honestly haven’t done enough research or analysis to have my own opinion. I will say that the RV community seems to think that the rule of thumb is far too conservative and doesn’t account for all factors.

Plus, the math falls apart if you’re towing an extra-large camper (you’d need a stretch limousine to tow a 37-fter, for instance). So take it with a grain of salt.

Anyways, wheelbase length is only one factor in deciding if you need a WDH. Again, if you answered “Yes” to any of my original questions in the first section, you should carefully consider a WDH!

(Plus, trucks with long wheelbases, especially with crew cabs, tend to have lower payload capacities anyway).

Myth 4: So Long As My Tow Vehicle and Camper Are Leveled, I’m Good to Go!

No. No no no no. Ride leveling and weight distribution are related, but distinct concepts. When you tow with a weight-carrying hitch, you are transferring weight from the front axle of your tow vehicle to the rear axle. No exceptions. Full stop.

Now, if you’re towing a lightweight mini camper with a heavy-duty truck, then the weight transfer may be negligible (Archimedes has a short lever). If you’re towing with a long-wheelbase truck (aka, long bed, crew cab), then the weight transfer will be reduced. But the transfer is happening, and it will negatively affect your handling and braking.

Using an airbag suspension to level a tow vehicle does virtually NOTHING to distribute the axle weights. In fact, in some cases, it makes the problem worse! Airbags improve squat due to heavy payload in the truck bed. They don’t fix the teeter-totter effect.

If you don’t believe me, watch the evidence yourself.

Myth 5: I Need to Restore All the Lost Weight to the Front Axle

When you use a weight-distribution hitch, it helps restore some of the lost weight of the front axle. Engineers call this FALR (Front Axle Load Restoration).

At 100% FALR, all the weight has been restored. Some weight-distribution hitches can restore more than 100%, in effect reversing the problem and transferring some of the rear axle weight to the front! (Which could be extremely dangerous).

In the past, most pickup truck manufacturers recommended 100% FALR. Today, the typical recommendation for half-ton pickup trucks is 50%. Ram recommends 66%; Toyota still recommends 100%; Ford recommends 25-50%. These numbers are for 2021 half-ton pickup trucks, but they may vary by model.

Partial load transfer improves payload capacity and rear sag without compromising traction or tracking. At 100% FALR, most pickup trucks might sway at high speeds or in high winds. You’ll also be prone to oversteer, which is more dangerous than understeer.

P.S. If your tow vehicle’s manual says one thing and your WDH manufacturer says another, generally, go with the vehicle’s Owner Manual. Unless your Owner’s Manual says to go with the WDH manufacturer. The chicken or the egg?

Myth 6: Since I Have a Weight-Distribution Hitch, I Don’t Need to Worry About Sway Control

Sway control is NOT the same thing as weight distribution! This causes more confusion than the proper pronunciation of the word “anemone.”

  • Yes, using a weight-distribution hitch will often improve your trailer tracking.
  • Yes, the proper tongue weight for your trailer will reduce trailer sway (especially at speeds over 45 mph).
  • Yes, many WDH systems are sold with an integrated sway control mechanism;

But not all weight-distribution hitches have integrated sway control. They are two separate systems.

Most of the time, sway control is just about friction (Hensley hitches are an exception). These friction mechanisms make it harder for your trailer to pivot side-to-side. That way, when a semi passes you at 75 mph, the thousands of pounds of force pushing on your camper sidewalls from crosswinds don’t cause your camper to fishtail. And if you do sway, the friction damps the oscillations.

Most sway control bars are adjustable, so you can increase or decrease the level of friction depending on the weight of your towable RV and the driving conditions. For instance, you will typically want to reduce the sway control when reversing or driving on icy or slick roads (since if a trailer slips it could easily overwhelm the tow vehicle).

Myth 7: I Can Just Ignore the Weight of My Weight-Distribution Hitch

Hang on … this is gonna get dry for a few sentences.

As you probably know from reading other articles, the maximum towing capacity of a tow vehicle is based on SAE J2807 standard.

Per SAE J2807 (February 2020 version), the “typical weight” of a weight-distribution hitch ranges from 55 to 75 lbs depending on the target tow weight rating.

In other words, a certain weight is assumed for a typical weight-distribution hitch. Unfortunately … that’s not always the case.

If you’re using a high-end weight-distribution hitch such as:

  • Weigh Safe True Tow
  • ProRide 3P
  • Hensley Hitch

… which can weigh up to 200 lbs, then you probably have to account for the extra weight of your hitch equipment.

For instance, the ProRide 3P hitch weighs 195 lbs. If a “typical” WDH weighs 75 lbs, then you need to subtract 120 lbs (195-75) from your tow vehicle payload capacity and hitch capacity.

Example: Your truck has a maximum hitch capacity of 900 lbs. Your camper has a tongue weight of 820 lbs. Sounds good, right?

… except you’re towing with a 200-lb WDH, so you should really subtract an additional 125 lbs. Since your actual hitch capacity is 900 – 125 = 775 lbs, so you’re actually overloaded!

(I’m making some generalizations here that I’m not going to explain. What I’m suggesting is a rule of thumb, not something required by a legal code or standard).

If that sounds like an arithmetic nightmare, then just do the conservative thing and don’t try to tow at your maximum capacity!

RV Weight Distribution Hitch – Takeaways

There’s a lot of information in this article! Here are my top takeaways in no particular order:

  • You probably need a WDH if your camper weighs 5,000 lbs or more when loaded.
  • Check your tow vehicle’s tire pressure before towing! Compare that inflation pressure to their load capacity based on load index tables.
  • Pick a weight-distribution hitch with a weight capacity just above (not below) the maximum loaded weight of your trailer.
  • When weighing your camper and tow vehicle on a certified scale, weigh your rig with the hitch you will be using! Check GAWs for both tow vehicle and trailer.
  • Don’t trust airbags to fix your weight distribution problems.

Drive safe out there!

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