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Reese Trailer Hitches Trailer Towing - Sway No More

Posted in How To on January 1, 2009
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The Reese SC spring bars slide in the brackets, allowing the trailer coupler to move back and forth so the surge brakes work properly. Friction pads beneath the spring bars provide the automatic sway control.

Four-wheelers love to show off, and they love big pickups that can tow their toys and trailers. One only need to roll into any big gathering of off-road enthusiasts to see such packages firsthand. Towing, for both work and play, is a big part of many 4x4 pickup and SUV owners' lives.

But with nearly every fullsize pickup sold today requiring the use of a weight-distributing (weight-equalizing) hitch to tow trailers weighing more than 5,000 pounds, there are a lot of wheelers who are towing larger trailer loads driving on very thin ice-legally speaking.

The problem arises from the confusion with tow ratings and what they actually mean. For example, all single-rear-wheel Ford Super Duty F-250/350 pickups have a trailer towing limit of 5,000 pounds unless the pickup and trailer are equipped with a weight-distributing (W-D) hitch. That requirement/towing limitation is noted in the owner's manual, the Ford towing guide, and on its website.

Dodge, GM, Nissan, and Toyota place similar trailer-towing limits on their fullsize pickups and SUVs. The normal trailer weight limit before the use of a W-D hitch is required is 5,000 pounds; a few pickups can tow as much as 7,500 pounds using a standard shank and hitch ball. But those are the exceptions-not the rule.

On smaller vehicles such as midsize SUVs and crossovers, a sway-control device and/or a weight-distributing hitch is required equipment on trailers weighing as little as 1,500 pounds.

Tow a trailer that exceeds those limitations without your truck and trailer being "properly-equipped" and you now risk being hit with a whole new level of legal problems should your tow vehicle/trailer be involved in an accident where property and injuries occur.

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Towing And Negligence
When asked about towing liability issues, Dean Holleman, Vice President and Managing Attorney of Boyce Holleman & Associates in Gulfport, Mississippi, says "Any person who tows a trailer would be responsible to know that the towing vehicle has certain limitations which should not be exceeded.

"If the accident is caused by the vehicle being used to tow something it was not designed to tow, this in itself could be an act of negligence by the tow [vehicle] driver, and under the theory of negligence he could be liable (and most probably would be held liable)."

When it comes to negligence, or the failure of the driver's "duty to tow only that which the vehicle is designed to tow," the legal problems escalate way beyond the price of replacing or repairing damaged vehicles and property.

Richard Burke, Jr., a highly respected Chicago attorney who runs Clifford Law Offices, says the vehicle owner may also be found guilty of "wanton disregard," which is a level of negligence jury's tend to punish by placing a very high "punitive damage" dollar amount as part of the judgment. Such a punitive judgment could cost the offender millions.

Burke, Holleman, and other vehicle accident attorneys agree if there's an accident and the towing vehicle isn't properly set up, the injured person "would probably win any ensuing lawsuit."

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A further legal issue related to towing a trailer without the vehicle being properly equipped is that your insurance company could see your act as a blatant disregard for driving in a safe manner. Proving to a jury the vehicle isn't properly equipped for towing a certain amount of weight is easy to do in court according to John Kneeland, a retired New York State judge. "If the owner's manual clearly states certain pieces of equipment must be used when towing trailers above a certain weight, and that equipment isn't being used, it makes the driver appear negligent."

Towing The Line
To avoid such legal towing issues, all one needs is to answer "yes" to these three simple questions:
Is your tow vehicle really rated for the weight of the trailer in tow?

Have you closely read the towing section of your vehicle's owner's manual?

Are both your tow vehicle and trailer properly equipped according to the vehicle manufacturer's instructions?

If the trailer in tow is heavier than the vehicle manufacturer's stated limit, and/or the tow vehicle isn't "properly equipped" to pull that weight of trailer as dictated by the vehicle manufacturer, from a legal standpoint you are pretty much hung out to dry if any sort of accident happens when that trailer is in tow.

Properly Equipped
Some truck owners mistakenly think that changing to a military-syle pintle hitch, replacing the factory hitch with a heavier-duty version, or changing the drawbar and/or the hitch ball will increase their vehicle's towing capacity. Not. It's the vehicle manufacturer that sets the limits and equipment requirements on how much the vehicle can safely tow. Those limitations and requirements are based on the vehicle's ability to maintain control, brake, and maintain drivetrain integrity based on the chassis and other vehicle design elements-not on the class rating of the hitch itself.

Look in the owner's manual of the '07 Toyota Tundra Double Cab 4x4 equipped with the towing 5.7L V-8 and optional towing package, and you'll see the truck can tow a 10,300-pound trailer. But the Tundra owner's manual clearly states that any trailer weighing more than 2,000 pounds requires the use of a "sway control device," and trailers weighing more than 5,000 pounds require the use of a weight-distributing hitch.

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GMC, Chevrolet, Dodge, and Nissan 1/2-ton pickups and SUVs have similar towing caveats noted in both the owner's manuals and on the factory websites related to tow ratings.

The reason for such devices is quite simple: A weight-distributing hitch maintains the vehicle's steering stability and body control when a trailer heavier than the towing vehicle tries to push the tow vehicle around during cornering, hard braking, through dips in the road, or in windy conditions. More importantly, the W-D hitch helps maintain driver control in the event of accident avoidance maneuvers.

Old Problem
Installing and using a W-D hitch isn't a big deal for conventional A-frame trailers like those used under travel-, car hauler-, and box-type trailers that use electric brakes. The dilemma with W-D hitches arises when they are used on trailers that have surge-brake-type systems.

Tighten all the bolts to spec on the pole-tongue adapter and spring-bar brackets.

In order for a surge-brake system to operate, the trailer-ball coupler has to move fore-and-aft an inch to activate the trailer-brake master cylinder enclosed in the coupler. Conventional W-D hitches that use the chains to adjust the load-leveling bars can interfere with that coupler movement.

Hence, makers of surge-brake-equipped trailers don't recommend those type of W-D hitches be used on their trailers. This is especially true of boat trailers, where surge-type brakes are the norm. This dilemma puts boat owners and anyone else who pulls a trailer weighing in excess of 5,000 pounds loaded, in a real legal bind.

On one side, the vehicle manufacturers require the use of a weight-distributing hitch. On the trailer-manufacturer side, such hitches are frowned upon because they can-and do-impede the reliable function of surge-type brakes. This has been an issue for decades.

New Technology
Now some new W-D hitch innovations provide solid solutions to this dilemma. The Equal-i-zer Sway Control Hitch from Progress Manufacturing, and the new Reese SC from Cequent Towing Products, are both designed and recommended for use on all trailers that use surge-type brakes.

The Equal-i-zer design allows the spring bars to be held in place with a clamp bracket, allowing the bars to slide in position so the surge-brake coupler can move back and forth, activating the trailer brakes.

The new Reese SC goes one step further by not only allowing the spring bars to float in position but also adding special brake-pad-like friction pads to provide automatic sway control without interfering with the surge-braking process. It's a very slick system and ideal for boat trailers.

Easy Installation
We installed the Reese SC W-D kit to see how it works on a big trailerable boat package, which are the types of trailers most prone to sway issues and not being towed with W-D hitches. We chose a Chaparral 270 Signature Series Cruiser with a dry weight of 7,450 pounds and a fully-rigged trailered weight of 9,200. That places the trailer well over the Tundra's-and most other brand's pickup's-"weight- carrying" towing capacity of 5,000 pounds, thus requiring the use of both a weight-distributing hitch and a sway-control device. (All Toyota pickups, SUVs, and crossovers "require" the use of a sway-control device on trailers that weigh more than 2,000 pounds.). Reese's SC hitch easily fulfills those requirements. The kit retails for $560 and is available in 600-, 800-, 1,200-, and 1,500-pound tongue-weight ratings.

We used the 800-pound tongue-weight version as the Sherline tongue-weight scale we used showed our test Chaparral was placing 795 pounds of downforce on the Tundra's hitch, which is also well-above both the vehicle manufacturer's weight-carrying tongue-weight limit and that of the factory hitch. Installation took about 30 minutes and required basic handtools with the exception of the 1/2-inch hex-head drive socket we had to track down to attach one bolt in the kit. (That bolt design may change with newer kits.)

A Dramatic Difference
We towed the Chaparral without the W-D hitch just to see how it felt. Unnerving is the only word that best describes a very short drive around the immediate vicinity, which included crossing railroad tracks, uneven pavement, and negotiating sudden dips and sharp curves. The steering felt light and at times very twitchy; hard braking felt unsettling; and some trailer sway could be induced at slower speeds by any unevenness or the slightest dip.

After installing the Reese SC W-D kit on our Tundra/Chaparral package, we hit the same roads, driving over railroad tracks, through harsh dips, over broken pavement, and we even rolled onto the Interstate so we could be passed by tractor-trailer rigs. We also tried inducing trailer sway by swerving sharply on a test track at speeds around 35 mph and did several "panic" stops from much higher speeds.

What a dramatic difference between towing with and without the W-D hitch. The Tundra handled and rode better with the 9,200 pounds in tow than it did without a trailer, and showed remarkable stability and control even during hard braking and during our induced-sway maneuvers. We're sure the same dramatic improvement in driving differences will be felt by any tow vehicle/trailer combo where the Reese SC is used.

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Value Of a W-D Hitch
"A weight-distributing hitch will do that," says Joe Riexinger, the Southern regional sales manager for the Cequent Towing Products group. "It transfers a lot of the tongue weight from the rear of the tow vehicle towards the front and also towards the rear of the trailer. This levels out the tow vehicle and places more weight over the front tires for greater steering control.

"Our new weight-distributing hitch also provides that additional automatic sway control so the tow vehicle is much more stable when it goes through dips, over bumps, or is hit with sudden side winds like those caused by passing big rigs."

The Reese SC, installed and in use. This weight-distributing hitch works superbly with heavy boat/trailer packages.

Another nice feature of such a setup is once it's adjusted for your tow vehicle and boat trailer it's no more complicated than towing on-the-ball. You just drop the trailer onto the W-D hitch ball, lock it in place, swing the spring bars into their brackets, make your normal trailer chain/light connections, lower the trailer jack, and off you go. No big deal.

(One trick to make lifting the spring bars into their brackets easy is to raise the rear of the truck up, using the trailer jack, with the trailer locked on the hitch ball. This takes some of the leverage pressure off the spring bars as they are lifted up onto their brackets.)

A properly equipped tow vehicle and trailer package is the first step to getting the maximum enjoyment out of both. It's also a matter of being both safe and legal while towing. Now there's no excuse for anyone to tow a surge-brake-equipped trailer any other way.

Vehicle Tow Rating Examples
Tow ratings can be very misleading if one doesn't read the "fine print." Here are a few examples of vehicles to show the difference between "maximum towing capacity," which requires using a weight-distributing hitch system, and conventional, or "weight-carrying" towing capacity using the factory-supplied hitch and standard drawbar/hitch ball:

Maximum Trailer Towing Capacity
Factory Hitch Weight-Distributing Hitch
2008 {{{Ford}}} F-Series Super Duty 5,000 lb 12,500 lb
{{{2008 Ford F-150}}} SuperCrew 2WD 5,000 lb 9,500 lb
2008 Chevy {{{Silverado}}} HD CC5.3L 4WD 7,500 lb 13,000 lb
{{{2008 GMC Yukon}}} 4WD 5,000 lb 8,200 lb
{{{2008 GMC Sierra}}} {{{CC}}} Short Bed 5.3L 2WD 5,000 lb 8,500 lb
{{{2008 Toyota Tundra}}} DC 5.7L 4x4 5,000 lb 10,{{{300}}} lb
{{{2008 Dodge Ram 3500}}} QC 5.9L 2WD 5,000 lb 16,200 lb
{{{2008 Dodge Ram 1500}}} QC 5.7L 4WD 5,000 lb 8,400 lb



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