It is an exciting day when you purchase your brand new horse trailer, RV, or boat. You can’t wait to load up the truck with supplies and drive off into the sunset towards certain adventure. Before you head for the hills, you need to consider the very important issue of trailer tongue weight. If your tow vehicle and hitch aren’t correctly suited to your hauling load, your trip could be cut short by a deadly disaster on the road.
What is a ‘Tongue Weight’?
If you were to walk up to your horse trailer, RV, or boat and physically lift the front where you normally connect the hitch, the weight you are holding is called the tongue weight. Most trailers are too heavy to actually lift, but you get the idea. For horse trailers, it is a good idea to have the tongue weight at 10-20% of the empty trailer’s gross weight.
If the tongue weight is too light, there is a risk the ball could pop off or the trailer could experience a condition called trailer sway. If the tongue weight is too heavy, the steering of your vehicle will be affected.
Brad Heath of Double D Trailers shared his thoughts on the matter, “All too frequently while traveling, I see trailers hooked to inadequate tow vehicles. You have seen them too…back end squatted down with the front tires up in the air and the vehicle wavering all over the road. It’s the type of load you want to quickly get away from for fear they are going to wreck any second.”
Regardless of the type of load you’re hauling, an incorrectly hitched trailer can result in deadly accidents on the road. “Know your load, know your weight, and make certain your tow vehicle and hitch are adequate for the load being carried,” Brad explained. “Otherwise, an accident can quickly happen resulting in severe injury or death.”
This issue becomes even more important when you consider the type of load you are hauling. Brad said, “With RVs, it’s even more important since the center of the load is higher off the ground and typically the rigs are much longer. Having a high center of gravity combined with the length can easily result in loss of control unless being towed behind an adequately equipped tow vehicle.”
Make Sure You Are Using An Adequate Hitch
Brad explained that the most common mistake he sees in the horse trailer industry is owners using an inadequate hitch. “Newer model vehicles are well equipped to carry great loads, but often the hitch on the vehicle isn’t,” he shared.
It is important to remember that the load is only as safe as the weakest link, so it’s important to examine the rating of the hitch, ball, and ball mount.
This bumper pull horse trailer is being safely pulled by a motor home because the owner was sure to check the tongue weight of her trailer and use an appropriate hitch.
Brad shared a recent example of advising a customer on the correct hitch and ball mount for their new trailer purchase. “Just yesterday, I was advising Leslie and Michael Faircloth in Florida on their hitch needs prior to arrival of their new Double D Trailer,” Brad shared.
This first photo shows the hitch label on their Chevy Tahoe. “Notice it can carry 10,000 lbs but the vertical tongue weight is only 1,000 lbs. The trailer she is purchasing will weigh about 6,000 lbs loaded and the tongue weight will be 850 lbs, so the hitch is sufficient.”
This hitch label from a Chevy Tahoe can carry a tongue weight of 1,000 lbs.
This second photo exposes the problem with the ball mount (the part that sides into the vehicle hitch in which the 2 5/16” ball attaches.) “This part is rated for only 5,000 lbs and a tongue weight of 500 lbs.” If Leslie and Michael use this hitch with her fully loaded trailer, the hitch will be grossly overloaded and very dangerous!
The ball mount for this hitch is only rated for a tongue weight of 500 lbs. This would be dangerous to use with a trailer with a tongue weight of 850 lbs.
It is important to understand that hitches often display two different ratings on their label. The ‘weight-carrying rating’ is the weight a hitch can safely carry on its own. The ‘weight distribution rating’ tells you the amount of weight a hitch can carry with the aid of weight distribution bars. If you do not have these weight distribution bars on your tow vehicle you may be overloading your truck every time you hook up.
For Leslie and Michael, Brad ultimately recommended a weight-distributing hitch rated for 600 to 1,200 lbs. Luckily, Brad is able to draw on his many years of experience hauling various types of loads to provide expert advice to his clients.
How Do You Find Your Trailer’s Tongue Weight?
The old way to find your trailer’s tongue weight required you to weigh your trailer at a weigh station. One site even suggests you might use a bathroom scale for lighter vehicles. This method becomes impossible with heavier horse trailers or RVs where the tongue weight could easily exceed 800 lbs.
To avoid the hassle of finding a weigh station, a new tool from Double D Trailers can help.
This tool from Double D Trailers will help you calculate the tongue weight of your trailer without the hassle of driving to a weigh station.
Brad explained, “It is vital to have a safe load and you can’t determine your equipment needs (hitch, ball, etc) until you know the tongue weight.” While most manufacturers list the base model weight for their trailers, they never list the tongue weight. “I am unaware of any manufacturer that posts trailer tongue weights publicly, and most of the solutions I hear are ‘take it to a scale’ and weigh it to determine the tongue weight.”
This tool will allow you to enter just three quick values to find the tongue weight of your trailer. From there, you can choose the appropriate hitch, ball, and ball mount. “Simply follow the hitch manufacturer ratings as well as the vehicle manufacturer ratings and make sure your equipment is adequate to handle the load,” said Brad.
Here’s how the tool works. First, you will need to enter your trailer’s weight. This information is often listed on your manufacturer’s website or in the vehicle’s user manual. Next, measure the length of your trailer’s body excluding the hitch area.
To use the tool, you will need to measure the body length of your trailer, boat, or RV minus the hitch area.
Finally, measure the distance from the center of the front axle to the back of the trailer and click on ‘calculate.’ Voila! You have your trailer’s tongue weight!
Last, to use the tool, measure the distance from the front axle center to the rear of your trailer structure.
This fantastic new tool will save you the hassle of visiting a weigh station to find your trailer’s tongue weight. It will also allow you to make sure that you are using the correct type of hitch to safely pull your load.
Brad summed it up, “The tongue weight calculator seems to take in enough variables that the results are extremely close. By everyone working together and sharing this tool, hopefully we will be able to prevent many accidents in the future!”
Please feel free to share this widget on your website. There is an easy option to ‘embed this widget’ directly on the tool. Consider the tongue weight the next time you hitch up your trailer, RV, or boat to make sure that your new adventure is a safe one.
- Have you examined the tongue weight specifications on your hitch, ball mount and ball?
- Have you witnessed any dangerous situations on the road where a trailer was being improperly hauled?