Your trailer tongue weight can make or break your towing experience. Too little and you’ll be susceptible to trailer sway; too much and your tow vehicle may reach its max towing capacity, possibly leading to mechanical failure and reduced control behind the wheel.
The good news is that you don’t need a physics degree to determine your proper trailer tongue weight. All you need is a scale and some elbow grease.
Tongue Weight: What Is It?
The force a trailer applies to the hitch of a towing vehicle from below is known as the tongue weight. It’s important because it helps keep your towed trailer stable as you travel down the road and can also help prevent dangerous trailer swaying.
It’s easy to underestimate the importance of tongue weight, but a few simple calculations can make all the difference when hauling your travel trailer or 5th wheel. Understanding trailer weight ratings, Gross Trailer Weight (GTW), payload capacity, and more can help you safely and efficiently tow your home away from home.
To find your trailer’s tongue weight:
- Start with a bathroom scale.
- Elevate the scale at hitch ball height with a box or cinder block, then place your trailer’s tongue directly on top of it.
- Please ensure that you stay within the maximum weight capacity of your scale. You can also purchase specialty scales designed specifically for measuring trailer tongue weight.
These are especially helpful if you have a large or heavy trailer that doesn’t fit on a standard bathroom scale.
How Can I Manage Tongue Weight?
Tongue weight may seem obscure, but it’s one of the most critical factors in safely towing. When your trailer’s tongue is too heavy or too light, it can impact steering and cause dangerous swaying during travel.
You can use a standard bathroom scale or a tongue weight scale explicitly designed for this purpose to check your tongue weight. Many people will even check their tongue weight before every trip to ensure they are in the correct range.
If your trailer’s tongue is too light, you can use sway control accessories to help eliminate the problem. However, a weight distribution hitch is the best way to manage your trailer tongue weight. A WDH doesn’t change the tongue weight but redistributes the weight of the trailer’s rear axle onto the towing vehicle’s front axle. It reduces the force on your tow vehicle hitch and trailer tongue and improves handling and sway control.
How Does Tongue Weight Affect Towing?
Understanding trailer tongue weight is critical to safe and effective towing. Tongue weight is a downward force exerted on the trailer coupler, and it can also be influenced by upward forces, such as when you shift cargo to the front of your trailer. Aim for 10% to 15% of your Gross Trailer Weight (GTW or GTWR for fifth wheels and goosenecks) as the recommended tongue weight.
Too little tongue weight can cause your trailer to sway back and forth while driving, which is dangerous for you and other drivers on the road. If you have too much tongue weight, it can cause the rear of your tow vehicle to lift, and this can cause instability and affect how responsive your tow vehicle is when braking and turning.
What Can I Do About Tongue Weight?
Although tongue weight may sound silly, it’s crucial in safe towing. If too much of the trailer’s weight is on the tongue, it can overload the rear vehicle tires and cause a dangerous condition known as trailer sway.
The recommended correct tongue weight is between 10% and 15% of the trailer’s actual (loaded) weight. Pull your towing vehicle on a truck scale without the trailer attached to find the tongue weight and write down the number. Then, connect your trailer and weigh it, subtracting the towing vehicle’s weight from the total.
Remember that tongue weight can change depending on your haul, so checking it before each trip is essential. A weight distribution hitch can help by distributing some of the weight off your tongue and onto the other axles, ensuring it’s within the proper range for safe towing. Installing a sway control accessory, which can further reduce trailer sway when traveling at higher speeds, is also a good idea.