Common Weight Distribution and Sway Control Questions

If your trailer's swaying has you white-knuckling the wheel, if steering and stopping your rig is a harrowing experience, or if your tow vehicle's headlights are pointed toward the sky, you probably need a weight distribution hitch. A weight distribution hitch (or weight distribution system) helps to ensure a smooth, level ride and allows you to tow at the maximum capacity allowed by your hitch. It also helps to correct tow vehicle sag, improve steering and stopping, and—when used with sway control—correct trailer sway.
Read on to learn:
  • What is a Weight Distribution Hitch, and How Does It Work?
  • When Do You Need a Weight Distribution Hitch?
  • Does a Weight Distribution Hitch Increase Towing Capacity?
  • Can Weight Distribution Be Used with Surge Brakes?
  • What Are the Components of a Weight Distribution System?
Weight Distribution Hitch
Weight Distribution Hitch
Weight Distribution Hitch

What is a Weight Distribution Hitch, and How Does It Work?

What is a Weight Distribution Hitch?

A weight distribution hitch is a system designed to create a level, stable ride when you tow a trailer. Basically, a weight distribution hitch will help keep your towing setup level and make sure the weight of your trailer doesn't cause undue stress on your vehicle.
Vehicle and trailer without weight distribution
Without a weight distribution hitch: the additional weight of the trailer on the vehicle's rear axle causes the vehicle's back end to sag and the front end to point upward.

What Happens to Your Vehicle When you Tow a Trailer?

To understand why a weight distribution hitch works, it's important to understand what happens to your vehicle when you tow a heavy trailer behind it. When you tow a trailer with a standard, rear-mounted hitch, your trailer's tongue weight is transferred to the rear axle of your tow vehicle. This can weigh down your vehicle's back end and cause the front end to point upward, especially on vehicles that have suspension designed for everyday comfort. If this happens, your vehicle's rear axle will bear the weight of not only the trailer, but much of your tow vehicle's weight as well. What's more, the lessened weight on the vehicle's front axle can diminish your steering, traction, and stopping power. Your view of the road may be limited due to the awkward angle, and you may experience increased trailer sway.
Vehicle and trailer with weight distribution
How Does Weight Distribution Help?Weight distribution systems use spring bars to help combat these issues. Spring bars apply leverage to either side of your setup, which transfers the load at the rear of the vehicle to all axles on your tow vehicle and trailer. This even distribution of weight results in a smooth, level ride, as well as the ability to tow at the maximum capacity of your hitch.
Weight Distribution Hitch Correction

When Do You Need a Weight Distribution Hitch?

Your tow vehicle's owner's manual should provide you with tow weight specifications and information regarding weight distribution use. For instance, the 2018 Chevy Traverse owner's manual states that weight distribution and sway control are required when towing a trailer over 5,000 lbs.For safety and liability reasons, you should always comply with manufacturer instructions. If you choose not to, and a problem arises, your insurance company may not be there to help (especially for a commercial business) since you chose to ignore manufacturer recommendations.Even if you are within the towing limits set by your equipment, vehicle manufacturer, etc., there are other indicators that you may benefit from a weight distribution hitch, including:
  • Your trailer weight (GTW) is more than 50% of your vehicle's weight (GVWR)
  • The rear of your tow vehicle sags when the trailer is hooked up
  • You experience trailer sway
  • Your tow vehicle's headlights point upward
  • You find it difficult to steer or stop your rig
  • You want to tow to the highest capacity allowed by your trailer hitch
Weight Distribution vs AirbagsA common question we receive is whether weight distribution or airbags are needed when the rear of the vehicle sags beneath a load. The recommendation is as follows:Vehicle sag due to load in the truck bed: airbagsVehicle sag due to trailer connection: weight distribution
Weight Distribution Hitch - Truck Towing Trailer

Does a Weight Distribution Hitch Increase Towing Capacity?

If your hitch is rated for use with weight distribution, the weight distribution system will allow you to tow at the maximum capacity of the hitch. Weight distribution doesn't "increase" your hitch's capacity so much as it allows the hitch to be used at its maximum capacity. Check the hitch's ratings to determine your towing capacity with and without weight distribution. Note that only designated Class III, IV, or V hitches may be used with weight distribution systems.You should also note that a weight distribution system does not increase the towing capacity of your vehicle. Your towing system will only be as strong as its lowest-rated component. You should always abide by the stated towing capacities of your vehicle and towing equipment. Failure to do so can result in equipment damage or failure.Keep in mind that not all hitches are designed for use with weight distribution systems. Always check the trailer hitch's weight rating label for a weight distribution towing capacity. If there is no such capacity listed, then a weight distribution system cannot be used.
Weight Distribution Sticker Label - With vs Without Weight Distribution
Example: The top sticker indicates that a weight distribution hitch may be used. Using weight distribution will allow you to tow up to 12,000 lbs rather than 8,000 lbs. The bottom label indicates that a weight distribution hitch may not be used.
Weight Distribution Hitch

Can Weight Distribution Be Used with Surge Brakes?

Only specified weight distribution hitches can be used with surge brakes. Most chain-style systems are not compatible with surge brakes as they do not allow for enough back and forth movement of the trailer to activate the actuator.Some manufacturers have rated their chain-style weight distribution systems as surge brake compatible, but you should note that adding friction sway control bars to these systems will make the system incompatible with surge brakes. To make sure your brakes operate at maximum effectiveness and are not prevented from compressing, it is recommended that you do not use a chain/snap-up bracket system with your surge brakes. You can shop for weight distribution hitches compatible with surge brakes. You can also browse systems compatible with electric brakes.
Weight Distribution Hitch Components

What Are the Components of a Weight Distribution System?

A weight distribution system requires 5 main components in order to operate:
  • Class III, IV, or V trailer hitch receiver rated for use with weight distribution
  • Weight distribution shank (slides into trailer hitch)
  • Weight distribution head assembly
  • Spring bars
  • Frame brackets
Trailer Hitch Receiver

1. Trailer Hitch Receiver

The trailer hitch receiver attaches to the frame of your vehicle and provides the receiver opening that the weight distribution shank slides into.
Weight Distribution Shank

2. Weight Distribution Shank

The weight distribution shank slides into your trailer hitch receiver and provides an attachment point for the weight distribution head assembly. Shanks are available in many lengths, drops, and rises to ensure your trailer is level with your vehicle.You can purchase a weight distribution hitch with a shank, or you can purchase a hitch without a shank and purchase the shank separately. Purchasing a shank separately would be a better choice, for instance, if you require a greater rise or drop than provided by the standard shank included in the kit.For more on finding your hitch rise or drop, check out our article here.
Weight Distribution Head Assembly

3. Weight Distribution Head Assembly

The head assembly type will differ between systems, so most won't look exactly alike. However, all head assemblies will attach to the weight distribution shank, provide a place to mount the hitch ball for trailer hookup, and provide the spring bar attachment point. The head assembly will also be used to fine-tune the amount of leverage applied to the system.Many standard head assemblies have built-in platforms for mounting friction sway control bars. Friction sway control bars mount to a smaller ball on the side of the weight distribution head. Some heads only have ball holes for a right-side attachment. Others, like those pictured below, have dual platforms so that you can mount a sway control bar on either side (or both sides) of your trailer.Many premium systems also feature sway control points in the head assembly itself for the most stable ride.
Weight Distribution Head Assembly
Weight distribution head assembly
Weight distribution head assembly with hitch ball and spring bars
Weight distribution head assembly with hitch ball and spring bars attached
Weight distribution head assembly with dual sway control
Weight distribution head assembly with dual sway control attachment points
Weight Distribution Spring Bars

4. Spring Bars

Spring bars apply leverage to your towing setup, thereby distributing the load on the rear of your vehicle to all the axles on your tow vehicle and trailer. Spring bars come in round, trunnion, and square shapes. Check out our article, Confidently Choose Your Weight Distribution Hitch - Here's 5 Tips , for help on choosing between them.
Weight Distribution Frame Brackets

5. Frame Brackets

Frame brackets mount to the frame of your trailer and are used to hold the spring bars in place.Various types of bracket designs are available. Standard weight distribution systems use a bracket and chain system to secure the spring bars to the trailer. However, many higher-end systems have specially designed sway-control brackets for additional trailer control.
Weight distribution standard snap-up bracket
Standard snap-up bracket
Friction sway control bracket
Friction sway control bracket
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Related ProductsWritten by: Amber S.Updated: 5/1/19

Questions and Comments about this article

Jerry Mestas 01/10/2020

My 2016 F150 eco-boost has sway control on it already. I understand it’s on all the time and less I turn it off. I hear conflicting ideas, regarding leaving it on and having a sway control arm on my hitch. Is it good to run both together or one or the other. Just purchased a new trailer 24 foot64181

Reply from Jacob H 01/14/2020

I would not recommend using both when towing a trailer with a mechanical anti-sway device. The sway control arm is going to be a superior option compared to that of what the truck can do because the sway control arm can be fine tuned to whatever trailer you are towing. The truck is just going to be automatically applying the brakes appropriately to get rid of the sway. So, with that being said, I would turn off the trucks anti-sway feature and solely rely on the sway control arm to do the work and I think you will be very pleased with the results.54473

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