Understanding Trailer Load and Preventing Dangerous Sway

Trailers are amazing pieces of equipment that make life easier for anyone hauling large cargo. Toys, boats, machinery, and even lawn equipment find themselves loaded up onto a trailer so that owners can move them along from place to place with utter convenience. But purchasing the correct weight distribution system/hitch, making sure a trailer is hooked up properly, and practicing responsible driving habits to prevent dangerous sway are key factors that drivers must consider before hitting the pavement.

Keeping Sway in Line

In some cases, despite proper knowledge and preparation, sway happens. Trailer sway occurs when the unit begins frantically moving side to side. And make no mistake, it can be deadly. The trailer, or vehicle itself for that matter, can quickly get out of control, becoming a hazard to those passengers on-board and in traffic. In an extreme case, this can cause a life-threatening accident to the vehicle operator or anyone else nearby.

“There is a long list of things that can cause sway when towing. The most common being cross winds, draft from passing vehicles, road conditions, and improper tow vehicle vs. trailer weight distribution,” said Lisa McCrory of NTP-Stag, an RV parts and accessories distributor.

So, never hook up and go overconfident—double check to make sure all safety measures have been followed. Because even if it feels like the trailer is the only thing swaying, and the side force feels manageable, the total combined weight of the load could actually work against the entire vehicle. That can mean loss of control, tipping, or even a deadly accident. Luckily, there are a few things that can be done to prevent such dangerous sway.

Use What Your Mama Gave Ya… In This Case, the Right Towing Products!

First and foremost, purchasing the right towing products and understanding exactly how to use them is imperative. “We understand that in some cases a hitch was purchased online and the end user simply didn’t follow the instructions that were provided. Maybe the end user wasn’t given proper instructions from the installing dealer. Or, better yet, there wasn’t a demo of how to use the hitch. Point being, be sure you understand how to use the system you have. And we highly recommend going to a parking lot to practice maneuvering the trailer with a spotter before you are in a campground and get yourself in a pickle trying to get into a tight site,” continued McCrory.

Additionally, improper weight distribution system setup can cause absolute chaos.

“It’s important to have the correct hitch for a) what’s being towed and b) for your specific vehicle/trailer. Review your vehicle owner’s manual and trailer specifications to determine if it’s rated to pull the trailer and then determine what rated hitch is needed to tow with,” McCrory added.

Load with Care

Second, don’t underestimate the importance of properly loading a trailer. Sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people stuff ‘er to the brim and then wonder why there’s a problem. Even if the load is well within bounds, the positioning of that load can inspire sway to take place. The idea is to keep the weight properly distributed so that the trailer remains as level as possible. An unstable load equals an unstable trailer, and is a direct contributor to many accidents that involve trailer sway.

Invest in the Right Anti-Sway Products

The next step is picking up some anti-sway devices equipped for the rig. As mentioned, there are contributors to trailer sway that are almost unavoidable. No one knows when the wind is going to blow, or when a large semi will come barreling from behind—leaving a mighty gust that can send the trailer into a frenzy. With any luck, the trailer may become stable again on its own, but it’s highly unlikely. And one would be foolish to count on it. Thankfully, numerous anti-sway products are designed to stabilize a trailer. Most do so by using friction devices, much like brake pads, in order to slow the swaying motion to an eventual stop.

Trailer sway control can be approached in two different ways. It can respond reactively to sway control or proactively. Meaning that either the function is to stop it after it begins, or before it can even start. Reese, a long time supplier of trailering equipment, prefers a proactive battle plan with their dual-cam design. But more traditional reactive setups certainly are readily available from many aftermarket suppliers across the towing market.

“The Husky Center Line TS system offers weight distribution with integrated sway control in a single unit. The six different kits available contain everything you need (minus tools) to install, including a preassembled ball,” said McCrory.

Ultimately, these choices come down to personal preference. But no matter what, this isn’t an area to be shy of spending a few extra bucks. Be sure to go with a reputable brand, as it quite literally can be the difference between life and death.

Get the Rig Setup Right & Drive Safe

No doubt, load capacity and weight distribution are the key factors when trailering. The ratings aren’t just a suggestion, rather the max amount of stress that can be handled by the designated piece. The trailer, sway control devices, and the vehicle itself are all subjected to these ratings—and it shouldn’t be underestimated. Balance is the key to life, and it’s definitely the key to safe trailering. If necessary, seek professional assistance to get the rig setup right before ever hitting the pavement. And when the time comes to cruise the open road, remember to keep it in line, keep it level, and above all else keep it safe.

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