Are Weight Distribution hitches and sway control sometimes a bad idea? - Escape Trailer Owners Community

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Old 11-30-2016, 01:41 PM   #1
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Are Weight Distribution hitches and sway control sometimes a bad idea?

Are there any rules of thumb to help decide if a weight distribution or sway control hitch is a good idea for a particular tow vehicle and trailer combination?


To give some context, I'm buying a 17b which will be towed by a Volvo XC90 with a 5000lb total towing capacity and a 500lb hitch rating. I can see why reducing sway and why distributing weight to the front wheels would be good. The drawback is that even the lightest sway control device offered by Escape is 84lb, according to Amazon.


As a hypothetical, say my tongue weight was 420lb without a weight distribution hitch. By getting a weight distribution hitch, the total tongue weight would be 504lb. Is this combination safer than not having the weight distribution hitch, despite exceeding the technically allowed vehicle spec for tongue weight?


I've seen a 17b that had a factory tongue weight listed as 352lb. If you throw in a storage box which allows 100lb, you could easily get to 420lb or above before the weight distribution hitch.
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Old 11-30-2016, 01:44 PM   #2
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You transfer some of the tongue weight to the front of the car and the rear of the trailer. I know it seems counter intuitive to add weight to disperse weight, but it works.
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Old 11-30-2016, 03:04 PM   #3
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I don't think it is a question of it ever being a bad idea. The better question is whether it is necessary for your trailer/vehicle combination and therefore worth the money and hassle of extra equipment. I'm not saying that sometimes it isn't needed, but I get the impression that since Escape offers it as an option that many buyers (especially those with little or no towing experience) feel that they should get it. If it makes them feel better that is worth something too.

All I can offer is that we tow a 19 with both a 2005 and 2007 4Runner with a weight carrying hitch without issue. The 4Runner is rated the same as yours with 5000/500 capacity. The trailer weighs in at ~3,600 lb (tanks empty but otherwise ready to camp) with a 360 lb tongue weight and tows very well. We did add a single friction sway bar for good measure.

This is a great article on weight distribution:
Common Weight Distribution and Sway Control Questions | etrailer.com
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Old 11-30-2016, 03:15 PM   #4
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My 17B tongue weight is 320 - 340 lbs ( no storage box ). The ride in my RAV4 is way more comfortable with weight distribution hitch. Dragging the WDH to the RAV4 is not comfortable, but worth the effort.
Makes tow and trailer feel like a unit.
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Old 11-30-2016, 04:10 PM   #5
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The anti-sway bar we added to our Reese WDH for our stick trailer had a warning about not using it in the rain and I can confirm it would bind if you tried it wet. I wasn't aware there were better anti-sway mechanisms out there when I got it. Despite the reported issues on later model Andersen WDH hitches, I love ours. Even if I should have to replace the collar insert in time, it does both WD and anti-sway and is so much lighter than the heavy Reese WDH we had. It is also quieter. My Reese used to transmit every groan and bang forward to our truck, making quite a racket.

I wonder if Andersen has resolved their issues that caused them to bind. At one time they were installing these hitches on 80% of the trailers they built (as per Dennis). Also according to Dennis, our hitch was manufactured before they made the change in materials/design that caused the problem. Any other satisfied Andersen users out there or am I the only one? Any news on whether they have fixed the issue with current Andersen hitches?
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Old 11-30-2016, 06:30 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Bobbito View Post
Any other satisfied Andersen users out there or am I the only one? Any news on whether they have fixed the issue with current Andersen hitches?
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Picked ours up in the fall of 2014 and haven't had any issues. Good that it doesn't care about being wet as we camp year round in the NW
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Old 11-30-2016, 07:49 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by paulk View Post
Are there any rules of thumb to help decide if a weight distribution or sway control hitch is a good idea for a particular tow vehicle and trailer combination?


To give some context, I'm buying a 17b which will be towed by a Volvo XC90 with a 5000lb total towing capacity and a 500lb hitch rating. I can see why reducing sway and why distributing weight to the front wheels would be good. The drawback is that even the lightest sway control device offered by Escape is 84lb, according to Amazon.


As a hypothetical, say my tongue weight was 420lb without a weight distribution hitch. By getting a weight distribution hitch, the total tongue weight would be 504lb. Is this combination safer than not having the weight distribution hitch, despite exceeding the technically allowed vehicle spec for tongue weight?


I've seen a 17b that had a factory tongue weight listed as 352lb. If you throw in a storage box which allows 100lb, you could easily get to 420lb or above before the weight distribution hitch.
I towed my 17B with a 2013 Honda Pilot and now with a 2016 VW Touareg TDI and both tow without any issues without using a weight distribution hitch or sway control. The Touareg owners manual prohibits a weight distribution hitch, the tongue weight allowed is 616 lb and max tow cap is 7700.
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Old 11-30-2016, 07:54 PM   #8
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If your headlights are blinding oncoming drivers or lighting up the sky, you need a weight distribution hitch or at least rear airbags.
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Old 11-30-2016, 07:58 PM   #9
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The Touareg owners manual prohibits a weight distribution hitch
Does it? Can you quote exactly what it says about WDH? I've seen similar claims about WDH being "prohibited" for other vehicles, but when you read the text, it actually say "not recommended", which isn't the same thing.
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Old 11-30-2016, 08:32 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by David H View Post
The Touareg owners manual prohibits a weight distribution hitch...
Quote:
Originally Posted by gbaglo View Post
Does it? Can you quote exactly what it says about WDH?
Yes, yes, and we have been through this before:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian B-P View Post
...
After a couple of clicks the actual 12-page section of the 2015 VW Touareg manual can be downloaded. This looks like legitimate VW content.
It contains a clear statement of a hitch weight limit of 616 pounds (only 8% of the 7716 pound trailer limit) and this warning:
Quote:
Never install a “weight distributing” or “load equalizing” trailer hitch on your vehicle. The vehicle was not designed for these kinds of trailer hitches. The trailer hitch attachment can fail, causing the trailer to tear loose from the vehicle.
There's lots more detail about the Touareg in that earlier thread (which was supposed to be about the Honda Ridgeline), if you follow the quote link.
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Old 11-30-2016, 09:26 PM   #11
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Interesting that it would have a 616 lb. tongue limit, but not be strong enough for a WDH.
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Old 11-30-2016, 10:15 PM   #12
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Interesting that it would have a 616 lb. tongue limit, but not be strong enough for a WDH.
I wouldn't say "not strong enough" - I would say "not designed for forces in the direction caused by a WD system". Also, the force on the hitch by a trailer of known mass (less than 7715 pounds for the Touareg) and known tongue weight (less than 616 pounds) in weight-carrying mode is predictable. The torque on the hitch due to a WD system - especially if misadjusted and especially when going over humps or through dips - is unknown, and some manufacturers are reluctant to commit to handling those forces beyond their control.

It is common for WD users to make it easy to hook up by raising the tongue with the trailer's jack - after coupling - so that there is little to no force on the spring bars. This illustrates that every time the rig goes over the top of a hump (tug's rear wheels up compared to the other axles) the WD transfers much less load. Conversely, every time the rear axle dips down compared to the other axles - such as through a dip at a driveway entrance - the WD transfers much more load. The forces involved are huge: the chain on each spring bar is typically under a tension greater than the load transferred to the front axle. Get carried away on WD bar stiffness and adjustment, then go through a dip, and there could easily be a couple thousand pound-feet of torque applied to the receiver socket by the WD system.

The original poster has a Volvo XC90. It is similar to the Touareg in many respects, but with somewhat lower towing limits. The current XC90 manual does not prohibit WD use; it doesn't mention WD hitches at all.
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Old 11-30-2016, 10:20 PM   #13
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Interesting, given your explanation, that they don't "prohibit" towing a trailer, since how it is loaded, tire inflation, etc. are all outside their control.
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Old 11-30-2016, 10:37 PM   #14
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Interesting, given your explanation, that they don't "prohibit" towing a trailer, since how it is loaded, tire inflation, etc. are all outside their control.
Good point... but it is reasonable for the tow vehicle manufacturer to assume that the trailer will have suitable tires (inflated as required by the tire manufacturer), be loaded within the trailer's limits, have brakes as specified by the tow vehicle's limits, and otherwise be within an expected range of values. Some (probably most) manufacturers even dictate a tongue weight as a fraction of the trailer weight.

I think (based on discussions in various forums) that while most people generally get the idea that tires need enough air, many WD system users have no clue how a WD system works. That user ignorance could be scary to vehicle manufacturers considering their potential liability, and some vehicle owner's manuals resort to instructing users how to adjust a WD system, presumably in an effort to avoid wildly inappropriate settings.

And most vehicles do prohibit - or at least strongly advise against - towing at all with many vehicle models. Not models that most of us would consider for towing, of course.
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Old 11-30-2016, 10:49 PM   #15
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My 17B tongue weight is 320 - 340 lbs ( no storage box ). The ride in my RAV4 is way more comfortable with weight distribution hitch. Dragging the WDH to the RAV4 is not comfortable, but worth the effort.
Makes tow and trailer feel like a unit.
Your tongue weight appears to be very near the limit of a RAV4 and that is before any reduction for load in the vehicle (which I believe is a rare requirement by a manufacturer but appears to be the case for this particular vehicle). Also your trailer weight as a percentage of tow vehicle weight is probably quite high. It is not surprising that you need a WD hitch in this instance for a better towing stance and overall handling. The Volvo XC90 is a more substantial tow vehicle. On paper it should tow a 17B comfortably without a WD hitch. The good thing is that an owner can try towing without one and then add it only if they feel necessary.
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Old 11-30-2016, 11:02 PM   #16
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The good thing is that an owner can try towing without one and then add it only if they feel necessary.
Agreed.
In my case, I've towed for more than eight years with WDH with no issues ( Toyota dealership has inspected the hitch receiver recently and reported it is good to go ). I've towed short distances without the WDH and didn't find that comfortable.
I use a Sherline tongue scale and stay under the maximum. Not sure what the point is in having a maximum if you never get close to it.
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Old 11-30-2016, 11:06 PM   #17
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7th Heaven was towing a 21 with an XC 90 for some time before opting for more power with a 2nd Gen Sequoia. For a 17 it should be just fine, however a WDH would probably improve the towing experience and add a margin of safety IMO.
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Old 12-01-2016, 07:02 PM   #18
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Interesting that it would have a 616 lb. tongue limit, but not be strong enough for a WDH.
You really have to understand the engineering mechanics at work when a WDH is attached to a vehicle. And each vehicle is different in the way the hitch transfers the tongue load and all the dynamic stresses to the vehicle body. The Touareg has been designed considering all these factors by the manufacturer to safely have a load of 616 lb on the tongue without a WDH. In addition the same vehicle in Europe has to meet specific requirements written in the traffic acts in the UK for example for not only towing a trailer but for how the tow and trailer are attached. Not required in NA or even considered important, that's why there are sometimes abominations of tow and trailer on the road risking everyone's safety.
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Old 12-05-2016, 01:26 AM   #19
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Before starting this thread I didn't realize that some tow vehicle manuals give specific guidance with respect to weight distribution hitches. It seems to me that to transfer weight to the front tires of the tow vehicle, a large amount of torque must be applied to the hitch in a direction that isn't shared with non-WD hitches. If a hitch isn't designed and tested to withstand that torque, then it would be hard to say whether it was safe or not.

My XC90 manual does not mention weight distribution hitches at all, so my original thought was that as long as I kept the total tongue weight below 500lb, that I could choose a weight distribution hitch or not. On further reflection though, I think the safer assumption is that when a manual does not mention weight distribution hitches, it would be best to assume the hitch is not capable of withstanding the torque safely. I would think that for tow vehicles which mention weight distribution hitches and which allow them, they would give specific guidance about allowed tongue weight in either scenario.
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Old 12-05-2016, 01:43 AM   #20
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I spent six years trying to get Toyota Canada to explain the paragraph in the manual for my RAV4, which said WDH is "not recommended". I finally got a phone call from Toyota Canada in which they explained that because Toyota doesn't make an OEM WDH and because they don't have a relationship with a company that makes a WDH for the vehicle, they cannot recommend a WDH. If they had a relationship, that would involve designing and testing WDHs on all their vehicles, together with the hitch manufacturer.
Examples of Toyota warnings and cautions in the manual are pictured. The portion on WDH isn't on a field of yellow or otherwise emphasized graphically.

So, I'm saying you are reading too much into the lack of reference to WDH by some manufacturers. And, as I pointed out before, on the web it seems that the term "not recommended" can easily become "prohibited" as it is reposted.
I have a Class 3 hitch receiver for WDH on my RAV4. It was installed at the dealership prior to delivery. Toyota Service inspected it recently and wrote that it is good. I'll dig out the service receipt tomorrow for the actual wording.
When I was purchasing the WDH receiver, I spoke to the company ( Hidden Hitch ) that makes it. They design and build hitches that work with specific vehicles and wouldn't be in business if they regularly failed.
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File Type: jpg RAV manual 2.jpg (170.8 KB, 4 views)
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