How Tongue Weight Works And How To Balance It In Your RV

Why Is It Important When Towing Your Boat or Travel Trailer?

  • Too much tongue weight forces the rear end of the tow vehicle downward into a V and this can compromise steering whereas too little tongue weight pulls the rear end of the tow vehicle upward into a peak and this can compromise braking.

Gross trailer weight and tongue weight are important specifications to consider when selecting towing equipment. If you exceed the towing capacity of your vehicle, you do not only compromise your safety, stopping ability, vehicle, and trailer control, but you also risk damaging your engine, transmission, rear axle brakes, and wheel bearings, not to mention you will void the warranty of the vehicle.

Furthermore, RV insurance policies generally do not cover the issues related to the violation of tongue weight and towing capacity constraints.

Gross trailer weight is the weight of the trailer when it is fully loaded. So any weight you add to the trailer adds to the gross trailer weight.

Gross trailer weight can easily be determined by driving a fully loaded trailer onto a vehicle scale such as CATS. For convenience, it is helpful to know the gross weight of your vehicle and the empty trailer, that way, you will not have to unhitch a loaded trailer in order to obtain the gross trailer weight.

If the tongue weight is too high, there will be surely a problem with the responsiveness of your tow rig. On the other hand, if it is too low, there is a strong likelihood that the travel trailer or RV will sway.

To be safe, you should follow the vehicle manufacturer and the travel trailer manufacturer’s instructions regarding tongue weight. After determining the tongue weight and towing capacity of your vehicle, you will then need to pick the right hitch.

We cover this in our comprehensive article about trailer hitches. in that article, we explain to you how to select the right type of hitch. There are different types of hitches to choose from including ball pitch and tri-point as well as tow bar hitch. It also pays to keep in mind that even if your tow weight is under the limit of your vehicle, the towing experience will still be quite deficient and slow.

To measure the tongue or nose weight, you may need a special scale or you can also make use of a regular digital bathroom scale. A vehicle scale can also help you measure the nose weight of your RV or travel trailer.

Regarding the relationship between tongue weight and vehicle stability, we can say that the most important factor in trailer stability is going to be having 60% of your total weight ahead of the axle, and what you are looking for is about 10% tongue weight. Therefore, if you have 2,500 pounds on your trailer, this means that you want to have about 250 pounds in the hitch.

The Tongue Weight Of A Trailer Should Be What Percent Of The GTWR?

  • The Tongue Weight Of A Trailer Should Be What Percent Of The GTWR? Ensure that the tongue weight is set to between ten and fifteen percent of the total weight of your trailer. This ensures proper stability. In case the towing vehicle is not equipped with rear suspension, then make sure you use a leveling hitch.
  • There is also the tongue weight that you need to include in the calculations of your towing capacity. So when we ask ourselves: the tongue weight of a trailer should be what percent of the GTWR, the right answer is that the tongue weight should be between ten and fifteen percent of your loaded trailer. So, when calculating your towing capacity, make sure that this number is within the aforementioned limits. So, when towing an RV of 3000 pounds, you need to ensure the hitch and its mounting are capable of handling the tongue weight of a minimum of fifteen percent of the 3000-pound weight of your trailer or RV.

Too Much Tongue Weight…..Or Too Little

One of the absolute most dangerous aspects of hauling travel trailers is to have too much tongue weight, or too little. Apart from saving on hauling bills from the dealer or from an RV repair service, having the proper tongue weight will help you like this below.

What negative tongue weight basically is, you want to bring your weight on the trailer so the tongue comes down on the back and there’s weight pushing down on the back wheels of the truck. If it is pulling up on the back wheels of the truck you could lose control on the open road and do like a jackknife roll. It is dangerous.

Therefore, you want to ensure that the travel trailer is putting the weight down on the truck. You do not want the tires on the wheel wells, you do not want it that far on. But you want it far enough that you’re pushing down on those back tires so you have control of your truck.

Of course, you do not want too much weight but you definitely do not want it pulling up. When you see it leveled, it means that it is fine and the tongue weight is within boundaries.

Too Much Tongue Weight

The following problems can occur if the vertical load is too high, and exerts too much downward force.

  • The trailer hitch is overloaded, material failure or structural failure can occur.
  • The rear axle of the towing vehicle is overstressed.
  • The front axle is relieved due to the pressure, which can affect the steering ability of the vehicle. In front-wheel drive vehicles the traction decreases (tires spin on the mountain).
  • The towing ball coupling on the trailer can be damaged.
  • With the tandem axle, the front wheels are overloaded
  • The braking distance can be extended.

Tongue Weight Is Too Low

Tongue weight is very low, as in the picture above. This can happen in some large travel trailers that include a toy hauler, and the equipment and gear are all in the back of the travel trailer.

  • The travel trailer tends to sway, poor handling of the convoy (towing vehicle and trailer)
  • The front axle of the towing vehicle is excessively loaded.
  • Relief of the rear axle (in rear-wheel drive traction loss).
  • The travel trailer can accidentally decouple from the towing vehicle.
  • Damage to the ball coupling possible.
  • With the tandem axle, the rear wheels are overstressed.
  • The braking distance can be extended.

The Right Level

The only way to calculate the vertical load is to weigh it. But how to do it? There are in the special scales or trailer hitches with integrated scales. But even with a normal personal scale, you can check the pressure on the trailer hitch of the towing vehicle.

To get a really accurate result, it is important that the towing ball coupling of the caravan is at the height of the trailer hitch when measuring. If it is too high or too low, deviations can occur.

In the case of a double axle (tandem axle), it is particularly important to measure the vertical load at the level of the trailer hitch, because when lifting or lowering the drawbar both axles are loaded differently and the measured value can change massively.

How To Measure Tongue Weight And Ensure It Is Properly Setup?

An easy way to check that you have achieved proper tongue weight before hitting the road is the following.

Check the height of the trailer coupler using a tape measure or yardstick before you begin loading your items.

Always load heavy items first placing them at the front of the trailer and as low as possible.

Load and secure your remaining items to prevent them from shifting during transit.

Recheck the height of the coupler once you have finished loading your items. The coupler should be at least one inch lower than before. If the coupler is dropped less than one inch you need to reposition more weight toward the front of the trailer.

tongue weight

Travel trailers and boat trailers with too little tongue weight tend to do what? Sway Control and Tongue Weight Relationships

Apart from weight distribution hitches, there is something more you can do to improve sway control, and this is related to the tongue weight.

Travel trailers and boat trailers with too little tongue weight tend to do what? I would like to address travel trailer owners in this specific topic because I am seeing many of them who are unaware of a product that does sway control, whether it is a sway control hitch, wherein the whole hitch mechanism that is designed to limit or prevent sway on your travel trailer, or likewise, aftermarket products add-ons that will help you to control the sway.

Sway is one of the biggest concerns when it comes to travel trailers, normally when the nose weight is too low. Apart from weight distribution hitches, that I relate in another article, another thing that controls sway in travel trailers is tongue weight.

You must have 10 to 15 percent of your actual trailer weight as tongue weight. Following this rule will help you to control sway.

If you are heavily loaded in the back of the travel trailer and you have very little tongue weight, I guarantee that you will have a sway issue when trucks or other vehicles with high mass pass you, side winds, sudden wind streams, and situations like that.

Therefore, I want to reinforce that you are careful and load properly to the tongue, of 10 to 15 percent of the trailer weight. Furthermore, you can investigate sway control devices, either sway control hitches or aftermarket add-ons sway control products.

Anthony Foxx

I am Tony, an RV designer and RV developer. I create bill of materials for RV manufacturers for travel trailers and fifth wheels. I worked as a freelance transportation consultant for Lyft. As an RV development consultant, I create customization trees for RV manufacturers who want to offer a solution to prospective customers to design their custom RV with variant configuration. Apart from this, I sell in Indiana trailer hitches, hitch balls, goosenecks and weight distribution systems where I provide advice to customers who want to know which is their towing capacity, which hitch ball should they utilize and how to deploy a weight distribution system. I do my best to explain all these processes and their installation, here in RV Favorites.