WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION HITCHES – FACTS AND FICTION.

sameeKen Wilson from Truck Friendly caravan road safety program looks at the misinformation and facts on these towing aids.

 

“I support the correct use of any safety towing aid as an extra safety measure, when needed. However: – I recommend that drivers FIX THE PROBLEM AND NOT THE SYMPTOM of any towing problem.” Ken advises.

 

“If your vehicle and / or its suspension is not up to the task, your van is not loaded properly, or you are overloaded, a WDH WILL NOT FIX THAT.

 

The problem will still be there, so fix the problem first, then see if you need a WDH as an extra safety feature and fine tuning. Many experienced caravanners do not use them, while others find them a great help to towing safety. It is personal choice.

 

Some vehicle manufacturers do not recommend the use of WDH’s on their vehicles for numerous reasons, including possible chassis damage, interfering with stability control, and air suspension etc., while some other manufacturers recommend, they be used if towing near maximum capacity. So do your homework. Non-compliance with the manufacture’s instructions may void warranty and / or your vehicle insurance.

 

FOR EXAMPLE: – My Lovells GVM, GCM and braked towing capacity upgraded 200 Series Landcruiser is one such vehicle. I need to use a WDH when towing near the 4-ton limit and take weight off the rear axle.

 

Several manufacturers do not recommend their use despite those same vehicles being used in many online ‘how to’ videos by industry ‘experts’.

 

A panel beater I spoke to advised that he has seen numerous vehicles with chassis damage caused by towing a ‘too heavy’ van, with that damage not covered by the vehicle insurer.

 

FIRSTLY, they are weight distribution hitches (WDH’s) or load levelers as some call them.

 

THEY ARE NOT ANTI-SWAY BARS.

An anti-sway bar is designed to help reduce caravan sway, that left and right, sideways movement of the caravan under tow that can result in a caravan rollover. Caravan sway is covered in other articles.

 

So, anti-sway bars are vastly different and do a different job to weight distribution hitches, however, combinations (WDH / anti-sway) can be purchased but are rare. A simple walk around your average local caravan park will usually find only one or two mechanical anti-sway devices on average. You will find plenty of weigh distribution hitches.

I use one such combination the ‘E2 Trunnion’ combined WDH and anti-sway bars from Titan RV in Qld. These are a great unit and work very well with the Black Jack electric jack making them a one finger attachment, and detachment.

I find I have a very stable rig when towing despite the very uneven roads in south western Queensland.

 

Taking advise from someone who does not know what they are even called is also not recommended.

WDH’s are often recommended by well meaning, but often uneducated people on some social media sites as the answer to almost every towing problem known to man. They are not.

A WDH is NOT a substitute fix for poor tow vehicle suspension.

A WHD is NOT a substitute fix to a poorly or overloaded caravan or tow vehicle.

If buying a second hand caravan, do not blindly attach any weigh distribution hitch the previous owner used, as it may not be needed by or may not be suitable for your vehicle. Get professional advice on any new van set up. Social media advise from uneducated people who have not even seen your set up is extremely foolish.

What they do has been covered to death on other internet, social media and Facebook articles.

 

Ask most people how a weight distribution hitch works, and they will tell you that they transfer tow ball weight from the rear wheels of a tow vehicle onto the front wheels, therefore improving ride level and restoring steering and braking.

WHILE BASICALLY CORRECT, THAT DESCRIPTION IS, WHAT THEY DO, AND NOT HOW THEY WORK.

 

A subtle difference I know, but it is vitally important to understand, how they do what they do before fitting one.

 

ALSO – they DO NOT reduce the tow ball weight.

 

So, how do they work?

 

Basically, they torque the vehicle’s tow bar by levering a 100mm or 4 inch (approx.) vertical receiver to the extent that it applies enough torque to override and compress the vehicles spring tension on the tow vehicle’s suspension to the front of the vehicle some 4 to 5 meters forward of the tow hitch.

 

You may want to read that again.

 

Try and do that without a very long leverage bar and a lot of stress on components and fittings.

 

These extreme forces can cause damage to the tow bar, mountings, fixings and vehicle chassis of any vehicle that is not designed to tolerate such forces.

Drivers of any vehicle that has WDH’s fitted should also be extremely careful going through culverts or gutters etc. with them connected, as sudden shock will apply extreme stress on some components and fittings to breaking point.

 

Understanding this, will also help knowing NOT to over stress them when tensioning them. If you need to use extreme force to engage them at your preferred tension, then maybe you need to look at other suspension or loading problems and causes.

 

I give the example of a boat with a small outboard motor fitted to the rear / transom.

 

By pushing forward on the top of the outboard motor and pulling back on a part of the motor shaft only 100mm further down try and dip the bow of the boat further into the water.

 

The stresses are extreme, and if using leverage bars, you risk damaging the outboard mounting or transom.

 

While spring tensions and distances vary, this is about the same as the stress WHD’s puts on the tow vehicle components and fittings to lower the vehicle front suspension.

 

NOW try the same again and keep the boat bow at the same position when waves come and hit the front of the boat trying to lift it. This can be like driving over a culvert or gutter with WDH’s suddenly increasing the stress shock on components.

If a big enough wave hits the boat, you may rip the transom and motor off the boat if you can grip the motor firm enough.

 

Weight distribution hitches are a popular and safe towing aide when used properly, on the right vehicle, for the right reason, and adjusted correctly.

 

Do not just fit one because your friend has them. Get a suspension / towing professional to check your particular vehicle and caravan set up to see, if there is a problem, and the correct way to fix the problem.

FIX THE PROBLEM, NOT THE SYMPTOM, as the problem will still be there causing other issues.

Check out the Truck Friendly web site for more towing tips and advice.

 

Stay safe.

Cheers

Ken Wilson

#truckfriendly

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