Trailer Sway – How to Prevent, Control and Mitigate Motion While Towing
What Is Trailer Sway?
Trailer sway is a condition that can occur while towing a trailer, where the trailer starts to oscillate (or “sway”) back and forth. This can be caused by a number of factors, including improper loading of the trailer, crosswinds, a sudden gust of wind, uneven road surfaces, or even passing trucks. If not corrected, it can lead to the trailer jackknifing or even flipping over.
What Causes Trailer Sway?
There are many factors that can contribute to trailer sway. These include:
- Speed: The faster you’re going, the more likely your trailer is to sway. This is because, as speed increases, so does wind resistance.
- Improper Loading of The Trailer: If the trailer is not properly loaded, with the weight evenly distributed, this can cause it to start swaying back and forth.
- Crosswinds: If there is a strong crosswind while you are driving, this can push on the side of the trailer and cause it to start swaying.
- Sudden Gusts of Wind: A sudden gust of wind can also push on the side of the trailer and cause it to start swaying.
- Poorly Maintained Trailer Tires: If your trailer tires are old, bald or otherwise in poor condition, they may not be able to grip the road as well as they should, causing your trailer to sway.
- Sudden Lane Changes or Braking: If you make a sudden lane change or have to brake sharply, your trailer could start to swing out behind you.
- Unsecured Cargo: If your cargo is not properly secured, it can shift around and cause your trailer to sway. Make sure all of your belongings are securely fastened before hitting the road.
- Road Conditions: Potholes, bumps and uneven roads can all contribute to trailer sway. Be aware of these conditions and take them into account when driving with a trailer attached.
Prevent Trailer Sway from Occurring
There are a few things you can do to help prevent trailer sway. First, make sure that your load is evenly distributed. Second, use weight distribution hitch with a swaybar. This will help distribute the weight of the trailer more evenly between the tow vehicle and the trailer itself. Finally, always use proper safety chains when hooking up your trailer.
- Properly Load Your Trailer: Make sure that you distribute the weight evenly in your trailer so that it is less likely to start swaying.
- Drive Slowly in Crosswinds: If you are driving in strong crosswinds, go slower than you normally would. This will help to keep the trailer from swaying.
- Be Aware of Gusts of Wind: If you are driving in an area where gusts of wind are common, be extra cautious and be prepared to slow down if necessary.
- Use a Weight-Distributing Hitch: A weight-distributing hitch helps distribute the weight of your cargo more evenly across all four wheels of your vehicle . This helps reduce the risk of Trailer Sway
- Use Anti-Sway Bars: Anti-sway bars help keep your trailer from swaying back and forth by providing additional stability.
- Increase Following Distance
- Don’t Make Sudden Lane Changes or Braking Maneuvers
- Avoid Passing Other Vehicles on The Highway
- Check Your Tires: Make sure your tires are properly inflated and have enough tread to grip the road.
- Secure Your Cargo: Be sure to secure all of your belongings before hitting the road. This will help prevent them from shifting around and causing your trailer to sway.
Use Proper Weight Distribution Hitches
There are three main hitch types used for towing: weight-carrying (WC), weight-distributing (WD), and fifth-wheel hitches.
- Weight-carrying hitches are the most common and are often used for lighter loads.
- Weight-distributing hitches are designed for heavier loads and help distribute the weight evenly between the tow vehicle and trailer.
- Fifth-wheel hitches are typically used for larger trailers. They mount to the frame of the tow vehicle and provide better stability than other hitch types.
How to Distribute Weight
When towing a trailer, it is important to make sure the weight is distributed evenly. This will help prevent sway and motion while the trailer is in tow. To do this, check that your cargo is loaded evenly from left to right. Additionally, make sure 60% of the weight is in the front of your trailer and that it is even left to right.
When towing a trailer, it is important to remember three critical numbers: your curb weight, payload capacity, and gross vehicle weight rating. This will help you prevent trailer sway and ensure a safe journey.
- The first number you need to be aware of is your truck’s curb or empty weight. This is how much your truck weighs when it’s unloaded. Next, you need to find out the maximum capacity for your trailer. Knowing both numbers will help you prevent trailer sway while driving.
- Load stability is key to safe towing and, as such, payload capacity is one of the most important numbers to consider when selecting a trailer.
- The second important number is your payload or cargo capacity, which is how much your truck can carry. This includes not only the weight of the trailer itself, but also the weight of the cargo you plan to transport.
- Your trailer sway is a result of your gross trailer weight rating (GTWR) being more than your gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). The GTWR is the combined weight of the tow vehicle and trailer. The GVWR is the maximum amount your tow vehicle can safely carry, including the weight of the people and cargo in it. So, if you’re hauling a heavier load than what your tow vehicle was designed to carry, you’re putting yourself at risk for trailer sway.
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Weight Distribution Hitch and Sway Bars
Weight distribution hitch and sway bars are designed to keep your trailer from fishtailing. They work by transferring the weight of the trailer from the back axle to the front axle. This helps keep the trailer from swinging side to side.
How to use them: Weight distribution hitch and sway bars work by transferring some of the weight of the trailer from the front axle to the rear axle, which helps to keep the trailer from swaying back and forth.
How they work: Weight distribution hitch and sway bars work by connecting the two axles of your trailer together. When one side of the trailer starts to swing out, the weight is transferred to the other side and prevents it from swinging out as well.
Advantages: Weight distribution hitch and sway bars are very effective at preventing fishtailing and they are relatively easy to install.
Disadvantages: Weight distribution hitch and sway bars can make your trailer harder to turn and can cause wear on your tires if they are not properly adjusted.
Check Tire Pressure and Tread
It is important to check your tire pressure regularly. You can do this with a tire pressure gauge. Most gauges will have both PSI and BAR readings.
To get an accurate reading, make sure to check the pressure when the tires are cold. This means checking them before you’ve driven for at least three hours or driven less than 1 mile.
How to check tread depth:
- Tread depth is how much of the tire’s surface is in contact with the ground. The minimum tread depth is 4/32 of an inch, or 3.2 millimeters.
- You can check your tread depth with a tread depth gauge or by using a penny test. To do the penny test, insert a penny into the groove of your tire’s tread pattern with Lincoln’s head upside down and facing you. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, then your tread depth is less than 4/32 inch and it’s time to replace your tires.
- What to do if tires are low on pressure or have bald spots:
- If you notice that your tires are low on pressure or have bald spots, it’s important to take care of them right away. Low tire pressure can lead to decreased fuel efficiency and increased wear on the tires. Bald spots can cause the tires to overheat and fail.
- If you have low tire pressure, fill the tires with air to the recommended PSI. If you have bald spots, you’ll need to replace the tires.
Drive Slowly and Carefully
If you are driving in bad weather or on a windy day, take extra care to drive slowly and carefully. This will help to prevent your trailer from swaying.
Other tips: In addition to driving slowly and carefully, there are other things you can do to prevent trailer sway.
- Make sure your trailer is properly loaded : An overloaded or unbalanced trailer can be more prone to swaying. Be sure to distribute the load evenly throughout the trailer, and secure it so that it doesn’t shift while you’re driving.
- Use a weight-distributing hitch : A weight-distributing hitch helps distribute the weight of the trailer more evenly between the tow vehicle and the trailer. This can help reduce sway.
- Install anti-sway bars : Anti-sway bars help keep the trailer from moving side-to-side, and can be particularly helpful if you often tow a heavy load or drive in windy conditions.
- Maintain a speed of 55 miles per hour or less.
If Trailer Sway Does Occur, There Are a Few Ways to Stop It
If trailer sway does occur, the most important thing to do is to remain calm and avoid over-correcting.
If you find yourself in a situation where your trailer is starting to sway, the first thing you should do is slow down. Then, gently steer in the opposite direction of the sway until it subsides. If necessary, apply brakes lightly to help slow the trailer down.
Trailer Sway Can Be Mitigated by Using a Weight Distribution Hitch
A weight distribution hitch is a specialized hitch that helps to distribute the weight of the trailer more evenly between the tow vehicle and the trailer. This can help to prevent or reduce trailer sway.
Advantages: Weight distribution hitches can be very effective at reducing or eliminating trailer sway. They can also help to distribute the weight of the trailer more evenly, which can be helpful in preventing tire wear and improving fuel economy.
Disadvantages: Weight distribution hitches can be expensive, and they may require special installation. They also add some weight to the tow vehicle, which may affect its performance.
- Don’t overcorrect: If you start to feel your trailer swaying, resist the urge to overcorrect. This can make the situation worse and cause an accident.
- Slow down: The first thing you should do is slow down. This will help reduce the wind resistance that’s causing your trailer to sway.
- Use brakes judiciously: If you need to use your brakes, do so gently. If you apply your brakes too hard, it can actually make the situation worse by causing the trailer to swing around more. Instead, apply them gently so that you can slow down without making things worse.
- Steer into the sway: This means that you should turn your steering wheel in the direction that the trailer is swaying. This will help to counteract the motion and keep the trailer from swinging too far.
- Pull over: If you can, pull over to the side of the road and stop. This will give you time to assess the situation and figure out how to fix it.
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The above information is for informational purposes only, and should in no way be relied upon as legal advice.