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  • Five Things You Need To Know About A Weight-Distributing Hitch

Five Things You Need To Know About A Weight-Distributing Hitch

Tim Esterdahl
Feb 5, 2016
Photographers: Tim Esterdahl
If the words “weight-distributing hitch” cause you to scratch your head, listen up because it is a required piece of equipment for every truck in the country that tows a considerable amount of weight. There is also a strong likelihood you have been towing incorrectly.

1. It’s a Required Piece of Equipment

Every truck manufacturer, whether it is for a midsize, 1/2-ton, or heavy-duty, requires a weight-distributing hitch when using a bumper trailer hitch ball. Most mid-size and half-ton trucks require it at 5,000 pounds, while heavy-duty trucks usage can vary from 6,000 to 8,500 pounds. The key word here is required, and it is listed in the owner’s manual as a way to shield the manufacture from liability.
What would a 5,000-pound load look like? For example, hooking up a double-axle trailer (2,200 pounds) and loading a car (4,000 pounds) would require you to use the hitch.
Also, most pull-behind camper RVs require the use of a weight-distributing hitch, and this is commonly where you see these types of hitches. However, they should be used with towing anything more than 5,000 pounds.
Photo 2/4   |   This adjustment allows for altering the hitch angle.

2. Installing the Hitch Takes Time

Installing a weight-distributing hitch isn’t a “slap it on and go” project. Each one is different and takes time to install and set up correctly. For example, for this story, we received a Reese Weight Distribution Hitch with a 12,000-pound gross tow weight. This hitch is rated to tow an impressive 12,000 pounds with a maximum tongue weight of 1,200 pounds. It also allows for many fine adjustments, like a 15-degree hitch angle range (by using the teeth at the top of the hitch) and an adjustable trailer hitch ball height.
However, in order to adjust it, you will need to have tools and, preferably, some help, since the entire hitch weighs more than 80 pounds. And you will need to make sure you have the right tools like a full range of sockets and a torque wrench.
Plus, you will need to make sure the trailer you are using either has predrilled holes or you have a drill on hand to drill holes, since the hangers are mounted onto the frame. Drilling holes isn’t tough as long as you lay out all the parts, but if you are borrowing the trailer, this could be an issue.

3. You Need the Right Trailer Hitch Ball and Shank

Another factor to consider is making sure you have the right ball. Just because your truck and the weight-distributing hitch are rated to tow a certain weight doesn’t mean your ball can handle the load.
Photo 3/4   |   Most weight-distributing hitches have hangers that need to be permanently installed on the trailer.
Trailer hitch balls come in different ratings, from 2,000 pounds to 30,000 pounds. Make sure you get the right one for the job and make sure you have a torque wrench that can torque it to the proper specs. For our test hitch, we purchased a trailer hitch ball rated at 10,000 pounds, which also meant we needed to torque the 1-13/16 nut to 250 ft-lb. It also meant we had to purchase a new torque wrench since our model only went to 100 ft-lb.
Plus, make sure you get the right-size trailer hitch ball for the coupler. Trailer hitch balls typically come in three different sizes: 1-7/8 inches, 2 inches, and 2-5/16 inches.
Finally, make sure you have the right shank on the trailer hitch ball. Shank diameters range from 3/4 inches, 1 inch, and 1-1/4 inches, and are commonly denoted by Class I, II, II, IV and V. With the weight-distributing hitch, you must use a 1-1/4-inch diameter shank.

4. Buying a Weight-Distributing Hitches Can be Pricey and Hard to Find Locally

Buying a new weight-distributing hitch isn’t often a spur of the moment purchase. First, the hitches run from $200 to nearly $1,000. Next, make sure you buy the right one for the load you plan on towing since they can range in capacity. Also, there are styles that clamp on and ones that screw in, as well as ones that come with sway bars. Finally, there are ones that don’t allow backing up and ones that do.
Second, many auto parts stores and dealers don’t stock them on hand. In fact, out of all the manufacturers, Nissan was the only one that even offered one through their dealership. We called auto parts, RV camper, and farm equipment stores within 250 miles of us and we couldn’t find a hitch.
Photo 4/4   |   Adjusting a weight-distributing hitch requires the correct use of many tools, including this massive torque wrench.

5. A Weight-Distributing Hitch Is Necessary For Safety

Why go get a weight-distributing hitch? Simple, it improves safety. With the weight-distributing hitch properly set up, your load is evenly distributed over the axles on the trailer which gives you more stability and control.
It also gives your tow vehicle and trailer a more level ride. A squatting truck and trailer hookup doesn’t just look bad, it can be dangerous. When your tow vehicle and trailer squat, your brakes and steering won’t react quite as well nor will your headlights illuminate the road right in front of you (they will point higher into the sky). Also, minor bumps and dips are amplified and you can more easily bottom out. Finally, the trailer can sway more, as well has have more body roll.
While weight-distributing hitch usage is pretty well known to be low, the reality is it should be much higher. Just because you think your truck can “handle it” doesn’t mean it will when you need it most like in bad weather or in an emergency situation.

Sources:

Ram Truck Division
ramtrucks.com

Reese
reeseprod.com

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