A weight distribution hitch can be handy regardless of the size and weight of the trailer. What’s more, if the gross trailer weight is over 5,000 lbs., you are required to have a weight distribution hitch.
This type of hitch helps to stabilize the trailer and distribute the weight evenly. In turn, this improves handling as you drive.
What about backing up? Can you back up with a weight distribution hitch? The answer to this question depends on the type of WDH. Keep reading to find out what types of weight distribution hitches allow you to back up and how to find the right one for your vehicle and trailer.
What Is a Weight Distribution Hitch?
A weight distribution hitch is one that spreads the trailer tongue’s weight from your car’s bumper to its axles. It is quite a bit more complex than the standard weight carrying hitch and highly recommended if you’re towing a big and heavy trailer.
Generally, it is recommended to go for a weight distribution hitch if the overall weight of the trailer exceeds 50% of your vehicle’s towing capacity, as it makes it both safer AND increases the total weight you can tow.
For example, a trailer that’s far below its maximum weight is unstable and will sway as you drive. Also, it could swing uncontrollably back and forth, potentially causing an accident.
If there’s too much weight on the tongue, the hitch will dive. Your car’s bumper will also dive, which has the effect of lifting the front wheels. This affects steering and braking, representing a constant danger to the passengers and surrounding vehicles.
Recommended read: Benefits of Using a Weight Distribution Hitch
Enter the weight distribution hitch. While it can’t increase your car’s towing capacity, it can transfer some of the trailer’s weight to its rear and front axles, and thus improving handling. Some of the weight might be transferred to the trailer’s axle as well. This will raise the level of safety for you and other vehicles on the road.
Gross Trailer Weight
The gross trailer weight (GTW) is the overall weight of your trailer, whether it is empty or stacked with firewood or hauling jet skis.
For the purpose of determining which weight distribution system to buy, you should only consider your regular GTW. The easiest way to determine that is to weigh your trailer on a public scale. Make sure to disconnect the trailer when it is on the scale to get an accurate reading.
The tongue weight is the force that the trailer tongue exerts on the hitch. Ideally, it should be between 9% and 15% of the trailer’s GTW. If it’s below 9%, the trailer might sway and become hard to control. Conversely, if it is above 15% the hitch might sink and compromise your car’s handling.
If you have a small trailer, you can measure the tongue weight with your bathroom scale. For example, your trailer weighs 500 lbs. so you’d want the tongue to weigh around 12% or 60 lbs. Place the trailer’s tongue on the scale and read the weight. If it’s above your target weight, move some cargo back and behind the trailer’s axle. If it’s below the target weight, move some cargo forward and ahead of the axle.
If you have a big trailer, the tongue weight is going to exceed the weight limit of your bathroom scale, but you can buy a tongue weight scale.
Can You Backup with a Weight Distribution Hitch?
The answer is both yes and no; it depends on the hitch. Some models completely prohibit reversing. Some only allow backing up in a straight line but there are others that allow reversing.
If you have a weight distribution system with sway control, then you should avoid reversing as much as possible. If you decide to back up anyway, disengage the sway control and spring bars beforehand.
If your system doesn’t have a sway control system, you shouldn’t have any problems backing up. However, be careful not to make sharp turns as you may jackknife the trailer.
How to Pick a Weight Distribution Hitch
There are various types of weight distribution hitches and you’ll need to select one that’s right for your car and trailer. Also, they differ in terms of weight capacity, so you should take that into consideration. Finally, weight distribution hitches can be expensive. They start at around $200 and up to a grand or so. I've spent a significant amount of time researching the market and here are the top 5 hitches I recommend you invest your money on.
While that article covers the topic in a lot more depth, here’s a quick rundown of what you need to consider when buying a weight distribution hitch.
Overall Weight Capacity
The overall weight capacity of the weight distribution system is perhaps the most important thing to consider when buying a weight distribution hitch. If you pick a system with an overly low weight capacity, you won’t be able to tow your trailer.
On the other hand, going for the biggest and strongest model may not be recommended, either. Some experts say that going 10-15% above your GTW is the best option, while others recommend going up to 50% above.
The main problem with systems that are rated far above your GTW is that they won’t have good shock absorption and they’ll transfer vibration to the trailer. Over time, this might damage both your trailer and your car.
Ball and Shank
Next, you’ll need to pick the right ball and shank that match your weight distribution system. Hitch balls are rated 2,000 to 30,000lbs and you should never go with one that’s rated below your weight distribution system.
You’ll also need to pick the right size. The most common hitch ball sizes are 1-13/16”, 1-7/8”, 2”, and 2-5/16”.
The shanks come in various sizes as well, most commonly ¾”, 1”, and 1-1/4”. If you intend to install a weight distribution system, you’ll have to go with a 1-1/4” shank.
There are two main types of weight distribution hitches – round bar and trunnion. The main difference between the two is in the way they attach to the head.
Alternatively, you can go with the Andersen Weight Distribution Kit. It is a bit more sophisticated. In terms of supported tongue weight, it sits between round and trunnion. Here’s a bit more on each type.
Round bar hitches are generally a bit harder to install, as they require clips to keep them in place. They typically slide up into the head. Furthermore, experts recommend them for lighter loads and smaller trailers. These systems are easy to adjust to the angle of the ball mount.
Round bar systems tend to be slightly more affordable than the trunnion variety. They are recommended for trailers with 600 to 1,200 lbs. tongue weight. Round bar systems are great for flat and well-maintained concrete roads.
As opposed to round bar systems, trunnion hitches are installed from the back or the sides. They are easier to install as they don’t need clips to hold them in place. Most people agree that trunnion systems should be used with bigger and bulkier trailers. Trunnion systems are less prone to ground clearance problems than the round bar variety, making them a better choice for low-clearance trailers.
Trunnion systems are generally a little more expensive and recommended for tongue weights of up to 1,700 lbs. When cornering, trunnion systems lift one bar up and put some extra pressure on your car’s front wheels. This helps handling, especially on macadam and gravel roads.
Andersen Weight Distribution Kit
An Andersen Weight Distribution Kit comes with shock absorbers and chains instead of spring bars. This almost completely eliminates bounce, making for a far smoother ride. The Andersen system includes the trailer ball and friction sway control. It uses a nut to tighten the shocks and chains. The supported tongue weights are between 200 and 1,400 lbs.
Sway control is an important aspect of a weight distribution hitch. Only the most affordable models (designed for the lightest trailers) don’t have sway control. There are four basic types – friction bars, dual cam stabilizers, two-point sway control, and four-point sway control. The quality of the sway control system is reflected in the price.
Friction bars offer basic sway reduction and are best used with compact trailers. You shouldn’t use them with large and heavy trailers.
Dual-cam stabilizers are the next step up. Usually, you’ll see them on smaller setups with lightweight trailers. You may also see them used with flatbed-style trailers.
Two-point sway control is a good option if you have a large trailer that’s longer than 24 feet and has a long overhang behind the rear axle.
Four-point sway control gives the ultimate stability. You should use it if your trailer is over 30 feet long.
Most people would also take the budget into consideration. You can find basic weight distribution systems that are designed for ultra-light trailers for around $200. These models are usually not equipped with sway control or any other fancy features.
At the other end of the spectrum, weight distribution systems with advanced sway control can cost up to $1,000. These are usually heavy duty systems made for the biggest trailers.
Another thing to consider when buying a weight distribution hitch is availability. Though they’re good to have with compact trailers and mandatory for big ones, they might be hard to obtain. Car dealerships and RV parts stores may not keep them in stock nowadays, or at least not in any variety. You may have to order one online or through a local dealer.
Is it possible to backup with a sway bar?
Friction sway control bars work better going forward than the reverse (backing up straight is fine). However, they are not designed to work when turning backward. Due to the different force that appears to be applied to them when in reverse, it is possible and likely to cause damage to them.
What’s the Takeaway?
So, can you backup with a weight distribution hitch? Generally yes, though you should be careful.
Backing up with a weight distribution hitch works pretty much the same as backing up with a regular hitch. However, you should always disengage the sway control before backing up.