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Dangerous Trailer Loads: How to Determine if You Are Hauling a Safe Weight

 Overloaded trailer

Double D Trailers LogoBrad Heath has decades of experience hauling heavy trailer loads.  That’s why he was amazed when he saw this truck and trailer combination driving down the road.  “The driver is hauling approximately 26,000 lbs with only a 3/4 ton pick-up truck!” Brad explained.  “It’s probably not the safest load out there and an accident waiting to happen.”  So how can you determine if you are hauling a safe load with your truck and trailer combination? Read carefully, because this information may be the difference between an enjoyable day out with your horses and roadside disaster! 

Don’t Make This Common Mistake When Looking at Towing Ratings

It’s simple - don’t assume you are hauling a safe load until you have considered all of the factors in your towing set up.  If you know that your vehicle has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 9,000 lbs and your new trailer model weighs only 6,000 lbs, don’t assume you are ‘good to go.’  This is the most common mistake made by consumers and can lead to some dangerous situations.

“What happens is that vehicle manufacturers tend to brag about how much their trucks can pull or tow, but they generally fall really short when it comes to the capacity of the hitch and the tongue weight the hitch is capable of carrying,” Brad explained

This is like having a large suitcase made of the strongest material in the world.  It is capable of holding an enormous amount of weight, but when you try to pick it up, the handle breaks immediately. 

“Remember that the load is only as safe as the weakest link.  If you have a vehicle that can haul 12,000 lbs but the hitch is only rated to carry 500 lbs, you better not have any more than 500 lbs on the tongue weight or you are running the risk of getting into a serious accident!”

You Don’t Need A Monster Truck to Haul a 2 Horse Trailer

One of the biggest reasons that people run into issues with their truck and trailer combination is that they purchase their vehicles in the wrong order.  It’s better to buy the trailer first and then find a truck that can handle the load safely.  To illustrate this point, we are going to take a look at a recent Double D Trailers customer named Michael.

Michael is working with Brad to design a Bumper Sport 2 Horse.  The base weight for this model is 3,200 lbs and Michael is planning to use his F-150 truck for hauling.  Sounds like a great combination, right?  Let’s look at the specifics…Floorplan of V-Sport 2 horse trailer

During the design process, Michael decided he wanted to add an additional foot of length, additional width, ramp, awning, tack trunk, and some other miscellaneous options.  He’s designing his own custom trailer, so this should be perfectly fine.  The only problem is that he already owns a truck that is poorly matched to his new trailer.

Each of these additional features increased the weight of the trailer incrementally.  Once you add in two horses (approximately 2,200 lbs), saddles, and other gear, he is looking at a new total weight of 6,800 lbs.  His Ford F-150 has a towing capacity of 9,000 lbs.  Brad chuckled, “So you would think we’re in great shape, right?” 

In reality, this is a poorly matched truck and trailer.  The hitch on Michael’s truck has a max gross weight of only 5,000 lbs and a max tongue weight of only 500 lbs.  “Why in the world a manufacturer like Ford would create a truck that can haul 9,000 lbs, and then put a hitch on the back that can only handle 5,000 lbs and a tongue weight of 500 lbs is beyond me,” Brad exclaimed.

Using the Tongue Weight Tool from Double D Trailers, Brad estimated that the tongue weight on Michael’s design would be over 1,500 lbs, well beyond the capabilities of Michael’s truck hitch.

(Learn more about how to calculate your trailers tongue weight here.) 

Tongue Weight Tool 1 

Even a weight distribution system on the hitch would not be enough to pull the trailer safely. The capacity with a weight distribution hitch increases to 10,500 lbs max towing weight, but the maximum tongue weight is still only 1,050 lbs. A weight distribution system on a hitch helps a vehicle handle a larger hauling load by taking some of the weight off of the tongue and distributing it onto the other axles.

weight distribution hitch

The weight distribution system on this truck trailer combination includes brackets on the tongue of the trailer, chains and weight distribution bars.  It’s important that the hitch is at the correct level so the truck and trailer are level with each other.

When Michael talked to the Ford dealership, the salesmen cleverly recommended that he upgrade to a much larger and more expensive F-350 dual rear wheel truck model so he can pull the load!  Really, this shouldn’t be necessary for only a 2 horse trailer.

To solve the problem, Brad suggested several modifications to the trailer design to bring it back into a reasonable range.  “We needed to get rid of the width option (reducing the weight by 405 lbs) and reduce the length addition to 6 inches instead of 1 foot.  Because the axles are in a fixed position, if we take 6 inches off of the overall length of this trailer, it greatly changes the dynamics of the trailer and tongue weight.”

After plugging in the new numbers into the Tongue Weight Tool, Michael’s new trailer design would have a tongue weight of 1,240 lbs.  “Ford has a hitch that is capable of hauling 1,200 lbs all day long.  That gets us back to where we need to be with a safe hauling load.” 

Tongue Weight Tool 2

If Michael had purchased his trailer before his truck, he would have been able to consider other models that would have better matched his load. 

Buy Your Trailer First…Then Find a Truck to Match

This situation is all too common with trailer designers and manufacturers across the United States.  “Our recommendation at Double D Trailers is to first spec out the trailer you’d like to purchase, what your needs are for your family and your horses, and then buy a tow vehicle that is capable of safely hauling the load.” 

Brad explained that 9 times out of 10, trailer designers are forced to alter their designs to fit the limitations of a certain tow vehicle.  Since trucks are often traded in every 3-5 years while a good trailer can last 20+ years, it makes much more sense to build your dream trailer and then find a truck that is a good match.

“There is significant variation among the tow vehicles,” Brad explained.  Michael’s F-150 was not a good match for his 2 horse trailer, but Brad’s own personal vehicle, a GMC Sierra would have been able to handle the load.  “My GMC Sierra’s hitch can handle 12,000 lbs with a weight distribution system and a tongue weight of 1,500 lbs.”  It would have easily handled the initial design of Michael’s trailer.

 hitch specifications GMC Sierra

The hitch specifications on this GMC Sierra truck show that it can handle 12,000 lbs maximum trailer weight and 1,500 lbs tongue weight with a weight distribution system. 

It Pays to Know If Your Truck is Overloaded

If you are using an inadequate truck to haul a large load, you are certainly asking for an accident on the road.  “We do like to stay within the manufacturer rating of the capabilities of the hitch as far as safety,” said Brad.  “If you exceed those ratings, a hitch could break, the load could become unsafe, it could become unhooked, or the load could topple.”  In addition, you could lose control of your vehicle in regards to braking and steering.

Since horse trailers can range greatly in weight from 2,500 lbs base weight to over 12,000 lbs with some of the large living quarters horse trailers, it is important to know your numbers.  “If you’re wondering about your set-up and already own a trailer and truck, take it to a scale.”

Scale weigh stations are often available at truck stops, self-storage lots, or roadside weigh stations.  It only costs around $5.00 to use and you can drive your entire loaded trailer, horses and all, onto the scale to get an accurate reading. 

An even easier option is to use the Double D Trailers Tongue Weight Tool to get a good idea of your values.  “It is going to give you a really close estimate of what your tongue weight is.”

Overloaded trailer

If you are hauling an unusual load like the hay bales shown above, you should check not only that you are hauling a safe load, but also that you are hauling a legal load.  “Authorities aren’t going to look at what the vehicle is rated to haul, they are going to look at how much you’ve paid the state, and that you’ve paid for enough weight to cover the load!”  The DMV can charge a significant amount per pound that you are over if you have not purchased the correct license to haul oversized loads on public roads.

In the end, it all comes down to “Safety, safety, safety!”  Brad explained, “Make sure that your break away systems, emergency chains, and cables are all hooked up correctly.  Be sure that the tow vehicle is more than adequate to safely pull your load, and that it’s rated by the manufacturer to do that.”  If you don’t pay attention to these numbers, you may be asking for an accident next time you hitch up your trailer!


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