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Weight Distributing Tow Hitch - Level-Headed Towing

Posted in How To on July 1, 2007
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Sometimes, using the correct 10 to 15 percent tongue weight results in a stupid-looking stance of the tow vehicle, its rear end forced down by the trailer's weight and the headlights pointing skyward. Not only does it look dumb, it is. The dynamics of the tow vehicle are thrown off, negatively impacting steering, stopping, and handling overall. If the trailer is then tilted forward as a result, its handling and braking could also be compromised, making a bad scenario worse. Add to that the now-misaligned headlights, potentially overloaded rear tires (and perhaps also the rear axle), and numerous other drawbacks, and it should be obvious that unless you make a living photographing crashes along the highways, you better stay clear of such tail-dragging rigs going down the road.

A weight-distributing hitch uses spring bars chained to the trailer tongue to transfer weight from the rear to the front of the tow vehicle. When set up correctly, the tow vehicle will sit as level as without a trailer, just a bit lower, which does wonders for stability and vehicle control. While this weight-distribution thing may look complicated, there is nothing hard or tricky about it. And that includes the installation.

When a tow vehicle squats down too much in the rear, it is because the tongue weight is more than the rear suspension can handle. Common fixes include helper leaves and airbags, which indeed can bring the vehicle back to a level stance again but which do little or nothing for spreading the load to the front of the vehicle. Unless using a fifth-wheel or gooseneck hitch, trailer tongue weight is very different from a load placed in the bed or inside the vehicle. Tongue weight places the load behind the axle, using leverage to effectively make the load heavier than it really is. Plus it takes important weight off the front axle in the process, which upsets the braking system, front-end alignment, and may even make the steering quite ineffective.

Rather than looking like a clueless driver with way too much trailer and testosterone just waiting to become a statistic (nature has a way of weeding out the weak), why not fix the problem? A weight-distributing hitch does exactly what its name implies by transferring some of the weight to the front of the vehicle, making it sit nice and level with all its functions intact. How? By lifting the rear of it, much like lifting by the handles on a wheelbarrow. This may sound odd, but look at the photos and you'll see how it works. Yes, there's a little more work involved when hooking up or unhitching the trailer with a weight-distributing hitch, but the extra minute or so is time extremely well spent when considering the rewards.

A weight-distributing hitch requires a special ball mount with provisions for a pair of spring bars, and Valley Industries, for example, has versions made for tongue weights ranging from 300 to 1,500 pounds to work with trailers weighing 5,000 to 15,000 pounds. Once you know the needed weight range (gross trailer weight as well as tongue weight), it's merely a matter of buying the correct package for the task and setting up according to the instructions. Installation is easy, and the photos should help explain the steps that are involved. Making a potentially ill-handling vehicle combination more safe and sound doesn't get much easier than this.

PhotosView Slideshow

7. Following the instructions, select the appropriate amount of chain links to hook onto the lift brackets, then swing the brackets into position using the included handle. This is where the lifting force on those "wheelbarrow handles" comes from. It may seem like completely opposing forces since the spring bars are lifting the same basic area that the trailer's coupler is pushing down on, and because the chains are putting down force on the trailer tongue. Well, it may seem that way at first, but it works. If everything is set up correctly, the tow vehicle will settle down evenly, front and rear. Compare with the measurements taken at the beginning, and if the front has dipped more than the rear, use one more chain link, which lessens the lift. If the rear is too low, shorten the effective chain length. You should be able to get within 1/2 inch both front and rear. Now, go enjoy the newfound stability of your tow vehicle and trailer.


Valley Industries
Lodi, CA 95240

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