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How To Choose The Right Weight Distribution Hitch

Article by Steve Smith - Caravans Plus

What is a Weight Distribution Hitch?

The first question many new caravan or camper trailer owners ask is "Do I need one of those towing hitch things".

Maybe you do, maybe you don't.

First lets clarify what those 'towing things' are called. Unfortunately there are many names and this adds to the confusion.

The names you may have heard are:

  • Stabilisers
  • Load Levellers
  • Equalisers
  • Weight Distribution Hitch or WDH or Hitch
  • Anti Sway Device

    The word Stabilisers has been used in the past to mean the same as Load levellers and Equalisers but in relation to Caravans it is now more commonly used for preventing the caravan tipping or being unstable when people are inside. So stabilisers, corner steady, corner jacks all do the same thing.

    Load Levellers, Equalisers and WDH all do the same thing, they attempt to prevent the rear of the tow vehicle sagging when the weight of the caravan or trailer is added to the tow ball. Load Levellers and Equalisers are usually more basic, while the Weight Distribution Hitch (WDH) is generally accepted to offer adjustable ball heights and be used with larger weights. Hitch may also be used as an abbreviation for Weight Distribution Hitch.

    An Anti Sway Device has a completely different purpose. Rather than trying to level-up the Vehicle/Caravan combination, its purpose is to stop trailer sway. They can be combined in the one unit, and a WDH can also reduce sway, but the Anti Sway device is usually considered an extra, specifically added to address a sway problem that still exists if a WDH has failed to prevent sway in all circumstances. The type of sway they seek to correct is caused by poor design, poor weight distribution within the caravan/trailer, or sometimes poor alignment of wheels. Persistent swaying is covered in the article titled "How to Stop your Caravan Swaying."

    If your caravan/trailer does not cause the tow vehicle to sag at the rear and does not sway at high speed or on rough roads then you probably do not need a WDH. For passenger comfort you may find a WDH reduces front to rear rocking in the tow vehicle, but this is not usually considered a safety issue.

    The combination below has a problem, see the gap above the front wheel.

    This rig needs a WDH

    How do you know if you need a Weight Distribution Hitch?

    First, lets get rid of one myth. If your tow vehicle or tow bar specifications indicates a maximum tow ball weight, then the use of a WDH does not increase what tow ball weight you can apply. You must remain at or below the lowest tow ball weight specified.

    Your caravan should place about 10% of its weight on to your tow ball. Your tow vehicle will also have maximums that should be adhered to. Incorrect ball weight is dangerous because it reduces your cars steering and braking ability. You can correct your ball weight by either using a Weight Distribution Hitch or a Ball Weight Scale to reorganise your load.

    All of these products are designed to maintain a correct level between the caravan and tow vehicle. This is crucial because if the weight is not evenly distributed the front of the tow vehicle and the rear of the van will tend to lift.

    Looking at the above diagram you will notice that if the rear of the tow vehicle sags, the front of the tow vehicle lifts. This is the major problem as it reduces the effectiveness of your steering. While it may look nice to have the caravan/ trailer itself looking level, it is really the tow vehicle level that is critical. This will result in excessive trailer sway, poor handling, and difficulty braking - not to mention abnormal tyre wear.

    To give you an idea of price variation a short selection of weight distribution devices is shown below. More info follows on the differences so you can work out what YOU NEED, not what someone wants to sell you.


    Using stronger springs or pump up shock absorbers on your tow vehicle may address the level issue, but don't forget about the harder ride with stronger springs, or extra pressure on components if using shock absorbers to take weight they were not designed for.

    The right hitch for you depends on a few things:

    1) How much weight your caravans puts on your tow ball.
    2) How much room you have on the A-Frame to mount the hitch.
    3) The type of brakes your caravan/trailer has.
    4) The height of your tow ball.

    The image below shows what you want for safe towing.

    Weight Distribution Hitch added

    1) How much weight your caravan puts on your tow ball.

    In order to select the correct Weight Distribution Hitch (WDH) you firstly need to determine how much weight the caravan puts on your vehicles tow ball.

    Note: Exceeding your vehicle's maximum tow ball weight is illegal and dangerous, and could result in non-coverage by insurance company, so an accurate reading is important.

    Some caravans have the Ball Load written on the compliance plate, its worth checking there first. If it is not recorded then you will have to measure the weight yourself.

    Knowing the ball weight is not only important when choosing your WDH, but if you load your van differently make sure you have spread the weight evenly, as a ball weight of 10% of the vans fully loaded weight is considered ideal.

    Tow Ball Scales: A couple of products make it quick and easy to accurately measure your tow ball weight. By removing the guesswork you can feel confident that your van and tow vehicle are functioning in the safest and most economical way, every single trip.

    Towsafe Ball Weight Scales - Weights up to 350kg

    TowSafe™ Ball Weight Scales - Weights up to 350kg

    7 In Stock Now.
    $94.00
    $62.00
    View
    Hayman Reese Ball Weight Scales - Weights up to 350KgFree Shipping

    Hayman Reese™ Ball Weight Scales - Weights up to 350Kg

    12 In Stock Now. Free Shipping.
    $69.00
    View
    Towing Load Indicator - Weights up to 400kg

    Towing Load Indicator - Weights up to 400kg

    6 In Stock Now.
    $129.00
    $111.00
    View

    There are some really cheap tow ball scales out there, but the accuracy of the ones we have tested, is less than the cheaper bathroom scale method shown below.

    Bathroom Scales: A set of bathroom scales placed under the caravans tow point will tell you the weight on your tow ball.
    Most bathroom scales will not read high enough so follow the below trick to get your Ball Load.
    You should use a spacer to hold your van at the same height as when hooked to your car.

    Bathroom scales to measure ball weight

    A) Place a piece of timber between a your bathroom scales and something like a brick to get to same height.
    B) Rest the spacer 300mm from the brick and 600mm from the scales. Use a pipe or narrow piece of timber to concentrate the weight at the correct location.
    C) Place the Caravans tow point on the spacer. Multiply the weight on the scales by 3.

    If the scales read 100kg then the Ball Load is really 300kg (100kg on scales plus 200kg on brick).
    Therefore you would need a hitch rated above 300kg.

    If your ball weight is less than 125kg, and the height of your caravan coupling is close to, or within 50mm lower than your tow ball before hitching up, then one of the less advanced units may be quite adequate. If you have mechanical brakes on your caravan/trailer you should read on.

    2) Space on your Caravans A-Frame.

    Some Weight Distribution Hitches have 2 options for the bar length:
    a) 30 inch bars are the standard.
    b) 28 inch bars can be used if you have an obstruction (such as a jockey wheel) on your A-frame. They have the same weight ratings.

    In some older caravans the jockey wheel clamp may need to be relocated.

    Check for obstructions on your A-Frame. Measure back from the centre of your tow ball or coupling.

    Check for clearance on A-Frame


    3) Type of Brakes on your Caravan.

    If you have electric brakes on your caravan then you can use ANY of the Weight Distribution Hitches we sell.

    Weight Distribution Hitches will inhibit manual override brakes working properly. You can still use the Hitches but you need to allow for harder braking. Of the more basic hitches, the CA type will allow better braking as the bars also slide in the brackets. The styles with chains will work, provided the chain is not too short when under tension.


    4) Is your tow vehicle higher than normal?

    Many tow vehicle will need an adjustable tow ball mount that allows the tow ball to be set at a higher or lower level than would normally be the case. There is no allowance for adjustment on the smaller hitches, but once you get to over 150kg rating they generally come standard with adjustment for height. There is an adjustable towball mount that can be used with the lower rated kits.

    TBHA30D: ARK Adjustable Height Towball Mount with Tow Ball - 2500kgs

    TBHA30D: ARK™ Adjustable Height Towball Mount with Tow Ball - 2500kgs

    $117.00
    View

    Towball height can be varied with the PRO Series, EAZ Lift Series and the Hayman Reese Classic or Round Bar Series. Some kits are sold with a shank (the part that slides into the towbar receiver on the vehicle) and some kits can be purchased without the standard shank so that even greater offsets can be achieved by buying an offset shank separately.

    If you need an offset shank, you should only buy a hitch that has NO SHANK, otherwise you will have an extra shank that we cannot accept back.


    5) Is your A-frame deeper than 100mm

    The traditional Weight Distribution Hitches were designed to suit 100mm deep A-frame and allowed for normal turning circles with the WDH left connected. With more caravan A-frames being made with 150mm deep steel, some manufactures recess the coupling to acheive the clearance.

    Round bar style

    Above: The round bar style provides a more universal solution.

    Determine (1) which hitch suits best and then (2) how to install and adjust your hitch.



    Selecting the correct Shank

    Because each brand and design is different, you will need to see what offsets can be achieved with each shank. I've put together some colour coded diagrams that tries to make these easier to compare.

    The following set of diagrams allows you to compare all different offsets possible, but the same detail is included with each WDH detail page shown using the link above "Show Towing Kits". You only need to read-on here, if your preferred Hitch does not cover the offset you need.

    EAZ Lift kits normally do NOT have a shank included (special deals excepted). It is important to note EAZ Lift define their vertical offset as measured to the centre of the tow ball or coupling, that is why the image shows the coupling rather than a tow ball.

    Shank offsets for EAZ lift

    At the time of writing, PRO Series were only available with a standard shank. These are considered the best value if the vertical range is suitable. If other brands are on special they may be better value at the time. The PRO series is made for CAMEC by Hayman Reese so all the NEW Style (since 2011) Reese offset shanks are compatible.

    These vertical offsets are measured between the centre of your hitch receiver and the base of the tow ball. This is the most common method to measure as there are different height tow balls available.

    PRO series shank selection guide

    The current selection of REESE hitches come in two different styles. The first I will look at is the CLASSIC style, it is very similar to the ORIGINAL Hayman Reese hitch with some improvements in particular sway control. They were released in 2011 and the shanks cannot be interchanged with earlier models.

    The offset is measured to the base of the tow ball on all REESE shanks.

    Hayman Reese Classic Shank selection guide

    The second REESE style is the ROUND BAR style, which are very similar to the EAZ Lift range. These provide the ability for a tighter turning circle if the Caravan A-Frame is set higher. They are also better suited to A-Frames that are 150mm deep. Because the Ball mount is different on this series, the offsets vary from the CLASSIC series.

    Reese Round Bar Shank offset guide


    Read the next article on How to Stop your Caravan Swaying and see the spectacular caravan crash video.

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  • What did we forget? Share your knowledge.

    A lot of modern caravans are going over to the Hitchmaster style of hitch. What about an article on them and what WDH you can use with.

    by Reg, 20 Sep 2017

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