In The Tow: Setting Up Pickups To Tow Heavy Trailers
How to get a weight-distributing hitch perfectly adjusted for a safer – and more legal – tow
by Bruce W. Smith
Most contractors who transport equipment with their pickups know there’s a better way to tow heavy trailers than on the factory receiver hitch.
A pickup transporting a compact loader, ride-on trencher, backhoe loader or any other equipment that weighs more than 6,000 pounds adversely affects ta heavy duty pickup’s ride, braking and handling.
This brings safety into the picture.
But the majority of contractors and landscapers suffer through such vehicle performance issues (and associated liability issues!) caused by trailer-tongue overloading.
They do so because they either 1) don’t want to invest in a proper weight-distributing hitch, or 2) don’t know how to properly install a W-D hitch.
Today’s heavy duty pickups have trailer weight limits at which point the vehicle manufacture requires the use of a wW-D hitch.
For example, Ford Super Duties require a W-D hitch on trailers that weigh more than 8,500 pounds.
Toyota Tundra’s require them on trailer loads more than 5,000 pounds as does, Ford, Ram, Chevy and GMC.
But putting on a W-D hitch requires a separate hitch from what comes factory.
So we asked hitch installation expert Joe Riexinger, Central Regional Trainer for Cequent Group, to show us how to install a W-D hitch on a heavy-duty pickup, in hopes it’ll motivate those owners who want to enjoy the benefits such a setup brings to towing equipment trailers.
Riexinger walked us through the steps using a Reese Titan Weight-Distributing Trunnion-Style W-D hitch (17,000-pound capacity) and our 2011 Ford F-250 Super Duty, Project Super Crew, as the towing vehicle.
Ford mandates the use of a W-D hitch on all trailered loads exceeding 8,000 pounds on single-rear-wheel F-250/F-350 diesels. (See “2011 Ford Towing Guide” or the label on the receiver hitch.)
Ford also limits the trailered load, using a W-D hitch, to 14,000 pounds on the F-250 Crew Cabs and 17,500 pounds on F-350/F-450 Crew Cabs. (Dodge/Ram requires a W-D hitch be used on trailered loads exceeding 5,000 pounds on all their heavy-duty models.)
Hence our need to get our Super Crew “properly equipped” as it says in the owner’s manual.
FEEL THE NEED
Just to give us a sense of a “before” and “after” driving experience, we loaded a new Landoll LT1020 equipment trailer with a Bobcat S750 skid-steer loader.
The combined weight of both loader (8,730 pounds) and trailer (3,150 pounds) came to 11, 880 pounds.
That’s well under the Super Duty’s maximum towing capacity, but well over what can be legally towed on the factory hitch, or as the pickup manufacturers refer to “conventional towing” mode.
We hit the road for a short test drive to see what the truck felt like towing on-the-ball as many contractors do every day.
The immediate feel is one of both twitchiness and lightness; the steering responded way too fast.
Steering input had to be slow and deliberate at city driving speeds or else trailer sway and directional control was upset, and driving through dips in the road required 100-percent driver concentration to stay in full control.
As for braking, let’s just say a lot more pedal pressure than normal was required to slow down the nearly 20,000 pounds of truck and trailer. As speed increased to that of highway/interstate levels, the conditions became markedly worse.
We duplicated the driving route after the Reese Titan W-D hitch was installed. The ride and handling were better with the Bobcat in tow than the F-250 Crew Cab delivered without a trailer. Steering control and braking were back to normal with nary a hint of trailer controlling the pickup.
The difference towing with and without a weight-distributing hitch is nothing short of remarkable.
THE PERFECT SETUP
Setting up a W-D hitch on your pickup and equipment trailer is actually pretty straightforward:
To have the front of the pickup sitting within an inch of where it was without a trailer attached and the loaded trailer sitting level or slightly nose-low when it’s attached to the ball on the W-D hitch head.
This requires a little measuring and adjusting during the initial hitch installation.
For example, our Super Duty, which has a 4-inch suspension lift and 35-inch tires, measured 45 inches from ground to the top lip of the front fender and 46 inches at the same location in the rear without the trailer.
Riexinger says keeping three simple rules in mind will help make a WD setup easy:
• Use the hitch head height to level the trailer.
• Use the hitch head’s tilt adjustment to level the spring bars.
• Use the spring bars to raise/lower the front of the tow vehicle.
When Riexinger finished the Reese W-D installation, the front fender height was a ½-inch higher and the rear a ½-inch lower with the loaded trailer attached, showing the distribution of the trailer’s tongue weight was nearly perfect.
The great part is, once the W-D hitch is set up properly, you can hook up the same trailer/load just as fast as you can a standard trailer tow setup.
And towing stability, which improves towing safety, is dramatically better than you’ll find using the standard hitch.
(For additional photos, see the gallery below.)
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