Tongue Weight & Trailer Loading A Balancing Act

Ford Towing Bobcat_BWS9577Positioning equipment on the trailer is critical to getting a pickup’s tow setup correct

by Bruce W. Smith/Senior Editor

One of the biggest mistakes pickup owners make in towing, other than not using a weight-distributing hitch, is exceeding the pickup’s maximum recommended tongue-weight.

This leads to overloading the truck’s rear suspension, creating significant handling, braking and potentially serious liability issues.

Moving a piece of equipment, such as a 9,000-pound Bobcat compact loader, six inches forward or back on a tandem-axle equipment trailer can change the tongue weight 600 pounds.

So load positioning is critical if you want to be in compliance with the pickup manufacturers’ towing guidelines.

Every pickup has a set limitation on how much tongue weight can be placed on the hitch (noted in the owner’s manual), and every hitch shank has a load limit (noted on the shank) as to how much it can support.

Changing the position of a piece of equipment on the trailer by a few inches can change tongue weight by hundreds of pounds.Changing the position of a piece of equipment on the trailer by a few inches can change tongue weight by hundreds of pounds.

The two capacities ratings are not always equal, but the lowest number always takes precedence.

For instance, the majority of ½-ton pickups only allow 500 pounds of tongue-weight while Âľ- and 1-tons with 2-inch receivers generally max out at 1,200 pounds.

The newer HD pickups with 2 1/2-inch receivers are usually rated to support up to 1,700 pounds tongue weight.

Vehicle manufacturers also require 10- to 15 percent of the trailer’s loaded weight on the hitch ball.

So if you are towing a loaded trailer that tips the scales at 10,000 pounds, there should be 1,000-1,500 pounds on hitch ball.

To determine that weight, use a scale. Two come to mind: one from Sherline, the other Weigh-Safe Hitch.

Sherline’s small scales are capable of reading tongue-weights up to 2,000 pounds. The Weigh-Safe Hitch’s built-in scale handles loads up to 1,500, which is sufficient for most pickup towing applications.

If the tongue-weight is too high or too low, adjust the position of the load  on the trailer until the number falls in line with the 10- to 15-percent range.

To save time in the future, if a piece of equipment is going to be hauled on the same trailer, paint a mark on the bed to indicate where the bucket edge or a tires need to be positioned to keep that weight balance correct. – Bruce W. Smith