This is a tough question to answer and certainly a subjective one. Essentially a weight distribution hitch is a safety device that improves the stability and road handling capabilities of the towing vehicle. This type of hitch will also dampen the bounce that happens at the rear of your vehicle when towing. When you are adding a significant weight to your rear suspension and tow ball like a heavy caravan plus the load you have packed in the caravan, a weight distribution hitch can evenly spread that weight across the vehicle and the front axels.
There are a significant number of variations of towing vehicles and trailers so one of the considerations when deciding if you need a WDH or not will be the visual appearance of your rig. If you see your vehicle sitting low in the rear end when you hook up your caravan a weight distribution hitch may help improve overall vehicle handling, safety and towing capabilities.
So, to help you weight up and explain the advantage and disadvantages we have outlined a few key towing tips to help you decide if this would benefit your towing style.
As we said before when it comes to a conversation about a weight distribution hitch, there is a fair deal of debate surrounding the pros and cons of this towing system. While many have their reasons why it is a must-have for heavy duty towing the same can be said for why having one could potentially hinder your towing setup.
What Exactly Is A Weight Distributing Hitch? (WDH)
There are various terminologies used for a weight distribution hitch some call it a stabiliser bar, anti-sway bar or load equalisers. Weight distribution hitches link the caravan to the tow vehicle in combination with the coupling to improve the tow ability of a caravan. This set of springs and levers (hitch) helps to distribute the weight between the caravan and the tow vehicle by transferring part of the imposed mass back onto the front wheels of the towing vehicle and, to a lesser extent, the caravan.
When a caravan is placed on the ball of the tow hitch it places a lot of weight on the rear of the tow vehicle and changes the axis whereby there is less weight on the front of the tow vehicle raising the front wheels. This makes steering and braking less effective. Loss of traction can be a significant concern, especially for front wheel drive vehicles. By using better heavy-duty springs or incorporating air bags to raise the rear of the tow vehicle will have no effect on the weight distribution. Some sway control devices do not necessarily act to assist with weight distribution either.
Always Buy The Product That Has The Manufacturer’s Plate Stating The Maximum Towing Load And That It Is Adequate For Your Purposes.
Fitting a weight distribution device of the correct type and size will mean that the tow vehicle becomes level. You are able to choose a weight distribution hitch to suit your towing rig, for example, the capacity of the ball load weights will come in various load capacities eg: 250 kg,340 kg and 450 kg.
The advantage of a heavy-duty hitch receiver is that it can be mounted onto the vehicle in several positions enabling the load to be distributed over a wide area of the vehicle. Towing aids such as level riders or weight distribution bars can be fitted to most vans, camper trailers etc.
How Do You Know If You Need A WDH?
Typically, you will see these hitches utilized for heavy or long caravans. There is generally no need for one if you have a stable, balanced and light ball load. If you are still unsure measure the front and rear unladen heights of the vehicle and the (level) front and rear heights of the caravan as this should give you the ideal scenario you’re aiming to achieve. You can then measure the wheel arches of your tow rig from the top of the arch to the middle point on the wheel. Measuring the van is not as easy because you’ll need to get the jockey wheel perfectly level. When you measure the front side and rear side, you should come up with an identical figure.
Then, when you hitch up the van, re-do your wheel-arch measurements to see if the difference is more than 20mm. With a weight Distribution System, the ball weight remains the same, however, what you will notice is that the weight will now be spread across the vehicle’s chassis and dispersed evenly through to all 4 wheels.
Primary Disadvantages Of Using A WDH
From a safety perspective, WDH systems are not always the best option due to the significant loads they transfer through the vehicle’s towbar and frame especially in the event of a front-end collision, the structural damage is often tripled. You will notice prominent manufacturer warnings on their hitches, stating the risks of using this system and instructions on how to release the spring bars when negotiating driveways or spoon drains. Many people ignore this warning and still use the WDH under tension and risk vehicle and towbar damage. In addition to this if you choose to use a hitch that is not rated or approved by your vehicle manufacturer or designed for your towing setup and you are involved in an accident your insurance company will likely not cover you.
The Hayman Reese Weight Distribution Aid
The Hayman Reese weight distribution kit is one of the most popular Weight Distribution towing aids in Australia. These systems have the versatility of accommodating various sized A-frames and coupling positions. These kits improve safety, handling, control and comfort when towing. They also ensure despite the extra load that the towing vehicle maintain its safe driving capacity, optimum steering and braking.
- Classic kits are most often used for camper trailers and trailers where the coupling is positioned at the bottom of the A-frame or those with a 4”/5” or 6” high A-frame.
- Standard kits are better suited to trailers, camper trailers and caravans that require more clearance around the base of the A-frame. Perfect for 5” or 6” high A-frames with the coupling positioned in the middle or top of the A-Frame.
It stands to reason that when you hitch up a trailer or caravan there is an addition of weight to the rear of the tow vehicle and an imbalance of weight may occur which will affect the handling of the vehicle. At high speeds, this motion can be exacerbated and pose a serious safety concern. When the majority of the weight is in the rear and not over the front axles it can reduce your braking distance and steering control. This uneven weight distribution can also increase fuel consumption and tyre wear. If you are looking to prevent sway Hayman Reese provides a range of weight distribution and sway control system for a variety of towing scenarios.
Will Poly-Air Bags Assist With Weight Distribution?
To illustrate the concept of poly air bags we usually explain that when you push down on the handles of a wheelbarrow the front rises. This is what happens to the towing vehicle when you connect the caravan – the front wheels tend to lift, therefore dangerously reducing steering control. While poly air bags certainly are a safety feature you should add if the originals are too weak/soft it, unfortunately, does not address the real problem of the front wheels of the car lifting. A weight distributing hitch addresses the latter problem and is necessary to have.
Safe Towing Tips
- When towing be mindful of adequate stopping distance between yourself and the vehicle in front. Braking or acceleration should be smooth and gentle as this is particularly important in wet or slippery conditions.
- Avoid applying the brakes of the tow vehicle if the caravan begins to sway. If the caravan is fitted with an electric brake system this can be operated by using the manual control. A constant speed should be maintained or even slight acceleration until the swaying stops and the caravan straightens out again behind the tow vehicle.
- Overloading not only causes safety issues but is also likely to pose problems for you and your insurer in the event of an accident. So, when packing your caravan for a holiday or trip, thought should be given to where items are placed in the van to evenly distribute the weight. Once you have packed all your gear and you have any doubt as to the weight of your caravan check the laden weight at a weighbridge. You may be surprised just how much you have loaded it up.
How Many Chains Do I Need?
Safety chains must comply with Australian Standards and are fixed to the front of the ‘A’ Frame of a caravan or camper trailer and are attached to the tow bar on the tow vehicle. There is normally a space where it can be attached with a ‘D shackle”. These D shackles should also be correctly rated and able to restrain the weight of the van in the event it became separated from the ball of the tow vehicle. Occasionally tow balls have been known to split or bolts holding the tow ball come loose.
Trailers between 2.5 ton and 4.5-ton GVM are required to have one chain fitted if the trailer weight is less than 2,500 kg (loaded) and two chains for trailer weights exceeding 2,500 kg (loaded).
The chains should be short but have enough slack to still permit tight turns. If two chains are required, they should be crisscrossed under the tongue to prevent the front of the drawbar from hitting the ground if the coupling becomes disconnected.
Here Are Some Commonly Asked Questions About Towing And Weight Distribution
How Do I know Which WDH To Choose?
It is advisable to seek professional advice from your caravan dealer as to the best type you require for your car and caravan combination. A professional fitment centre will ensure that your WDH is compatible with your vehicle and van. What you can do is first establish the nose weight of the caravan and the weight of the van fully laden. Then select the WDH that will accommodate that load range. The heavy-duty WDH system will require a specific tow ball tongue, two torsion bars, retaining pins, two A-frame clamps and a levering tool.
What Should I Expect To See Once I Have Fitted A WDH?
When the back of your vehicle drops down and the front lifts up it makes the entire towing set up unsafe, steering unpredictable and the rig unstable so the aim of a WDH it to transfer the weight to make the vehicle and van balanced and level. The number of chain links and the angle of the hitch used will dictate how level you can make the two. It is unlikely you’ll replicate your pre-hitching wheel arch measurements but if they have dropped by roughly an equal amount, and the van is level, then the WDH is properly installed and will be effective in increasing your towing safety.
How Can I Prevent Sway?
We often hear complaints about managing weight distribution and trailer or caravan swaying. What can be done to correct or reduce sway is generally making sure weight is evenly distributed, however, there can be other influences on swaying such as towing speed, type of suspension and of course tyre pressure. You will notice exaggerated sway when travelling at high speeds when passing trucks and when there are high crosswinds. It is possible to have a Sway control system fitted which is designed to complement weight distribution systems, helping to keep you safe while towing.
If I Have A WDH Fitted Do I Need To Alter The Suspension In My Vehicle For Towing?
This is not always necessary because a caravan or trailer coupling has a ball weight which when connected to the vehicle is held by the suspension over the back axle. Using a weight distributing hitch will return the vehicle to its normal height once the load has been redistributed to all the wheels. If you are loading something on a more permanent basis or fitting a heavy accessory it may then be necessary to replace the standard springs with ones that have a higher carrying capacity. This will just provide better support and not transfer any load away from the axle to compensate for the additional weight being carried. You really do want to ensure optimal traction, braking and steering control. Make sure the vehicle’s rear axle is not overloaded if it is you may need to look at transferring the ball weight when towing.
If in any doubt, please consult with a towing equipment specialist. For further information, you can also obtain the National Caravan and Recreational Vehicle Towing Guide from the Caravan Industry Association in your state or territory.