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How To Properly Load Your Trailer

Updated: Apr 28

If you are a trailer owner, or are thinking about getting a trailer soon, there is one big, important detail you need to be aware of. Weight! What exactly are we talking about? I'm not simply talking about max weight capacity but how that weight is distributed across the trailer! In this post, we'll discuss the methods you can use to properly load your trailer so you can rest assured your trip won't end in disaster on the highway!

Weight Distribution

Now that we're on the road with a destination in mind, let's talk about the magic ingredient for a happy trailer: weight distribution. Imagine your trailer as a seesaw. For a smooth ride, you want the weight balanced just right. Too much weight in the back and your tow vehicle ends up playing tug-of-war with the trailer, making steering a nightmare. Too much weight in the front and, well, let's just say your brakes better be in tip-top shape.

Option 1: The 60/40 Method

Here's the golden rule: Aim for 60% of the weight to be loaded in the front half of the trailer, just ahead of the axles. Think of it as prime real estate for your heavier items. Lighter things can fill in the gaps around the back, creating a balanced and stable load. This even weight distribution keeps your trailer tracking smoothly behind your car, making the whole towing experience way less stressful (and way less likely to end in disaster) when on the road.

Option 2: The Precise Method

While the 60/40 weight distribution rule is a solid starting point, there's an even more precise way to load your trailer: focusing on tongue weight. This refers to the downward pressure exerted by the trailer on the hitch of your tow vehicle. Getting the tongue weight just right is crucial for safe and stable towing especially if you are planning on taking your trailer off-road. You'd be surprised what a little too much tongue weight can do to your frame!

Here's how to find your sweet spot:

  1. Consult your owner's manuals Both your tow vehicle and your trailer will have a recommended tongue weight range expressed as a percentage of the trailer's total weight (usually between 10% and 15%).

  2. Invest in a tongue weight scale These handy tools are relatively inexpensive and take the guesswork out of the equation. Simply place the scale under the trailer jack when it's disconnected from the tow vehicle and lower the jack until the trailer rests on the scale. Voila! You've got your tongue weight reading.

  3. Adjust your load accordingly If your tongue weight is too low, your trailer might sway excessively. On the other hand, too much tongue weight can put undue stress on your tow vehicle's hitch and suspension. By shifting cargo around within the trailer, you can fine-tune the weight distribution until it falls within the recommended range.

Sure, the 60/40 rule is a great rule of thumb, but for the ultimate confidence and safety on the road, mastering the art of tongue weight measurement is the way to go!

Stopping Trailer "Death Sway"

OK, so you didn't get your trailer balanced very well... Now you're hitting the road and are wondering what you can do, if anything, should your trailer does start the death sway, right? The good news is, there are things you can do if you do find yourself towing a trailer in full death sway!

  1. Keep Hold of the Steering Wheel You want to keep both hands on the wheel because you may be in the fight of your life. When your trailer begins to death sway, especially with lighter tow vehicles, it can turn into a situation where "the tail is wagging the dog". Basically your trailer will start to rock your vehicle back and forth should it get too far out of hand.

  2. Take Your Foot Off the Gas & Slow Down Naturally Speed is a big factor in trailer death sway. As you pull your trailer along, say at 25 MPH, should a gust of wind hit the trailer from the side, you probably won't notice too much. Why is that? Gravity. Gravity is keeping your trailer firmly planted to the ground and less likely to move side to side. So, if gravity is a constant, why would speed make a difference? Great question! Enter other forces! So, gravity does keep your trailer grounded but the force exerted by your tow vehicle makes it move in a different direction which makes it harder for gravity to keep your trailer grounded. The easiest way to see this play out is picturing your trailer hitting a pothole at highway speed versus hitting the same pothole at 25 MPH. At the slower speed, gravity has enough time to pull your trailer tire down into the hole whereas, at highway speeds, your trailer wheel may not even touch the ground before it impacts the other side of the pothole. Let me say that again, your trailer just went a significant distance while off the ground. It may only be inches, but you just traveled a distance with half the traction you normally would have had on your trailer.

  3. Do NOT Hit the Brakes The trailer is in full death sway now. You are starting to panic as it gets harder and harder to hold the wheel and keep your vehicle on the road. Your first instinct might be to jam on the brakes and bring everything back under control. Well, you'd be wrong. Remember the tail wagging the dog? You hit the brakes on your vehicle and your trailer isn't going to care. In fact, it might keep pushing in whatever direction it's facing when you hit the brakes which could send your vehicle into a tailspin! If you have a trailer brake controller and working trailer brakes, you can and should bring the trailer back behind the vehicle by using the trailer brake applicator. If you don't have working trailer brakes or a trailer brake controller, you should allow the tow vehicle and trailer to slow down naturally. Just take your foot off the gas, do not touch the brakes, and gradually slow down while holding the vehicle and trailer on the road as best you can.

Securing Your Cargo Like a Pro

Now that your trailer is a picture of balanced weight distribution, let's talk about keeping everything in place because, let's face it, nobody wants a rogue Yeti Tundra 75 Cooler turning your scenic highway drive into a demolition derby. Here's where the fun part of securing your cargo comes in.

The key is to think like a professional mover. Use a variety of straps and tie-downs to create a web of security. Think crisscrossing straps, ratchet straps for the heavy hitters, and don't be shy about using more than you think you might need. Remember, it's always better to be safe than sorry, stranded on the side of the road with a trailer sitting in the back of your vehicle.

What Else?

Achieving your ideal 60/40 weight distribution will all but eliminate the chances of trailer death sway. You will also want to be sure to secure your load as it may shift in transit and compromise your ideal weight distribution. You will also want to consider reducing your speed while driving. As I mentioned above, in my attempt to explain physics, the faster you are moving, the more likely you are to have your trailer take flight and begin to swing around behind you. Take it easy, it's not a race, as the goal is to reach your destination safely, right?

A Few Extra Tricks for a Smooth Sailing Journey

We've covered the big two: weight distribution and cargo security. That's all there is to it, right? Wrong! Here are a few bonus tips to make your trailer adventure even smoother:

  • Double-check your lights. A busted taillight might seem like a minor detail, but it can land you with a ticket and a serious safety hazard.

  • Take it slow and steady. Remember, you're not a race car driver. Increase your following distance and take corners with care.

  • Plan your route. Avoid narrow, winding roads if you can, especially when you're a towing newbie.

Of course, when you don't load your trailer correctly, you get a bad case of "trailer death sway". Just ease down in speed and hang on until you can regain control

Happy Trails!

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