A properly loaded trailer is much easier to control. The most common reason for losing control of a trailer is improper loading. Review your trailer owner’s manual before loading cargo. Every trailer is designed differently and understanding how the trailer was engineered to carry the load is vital for safe trailering.
The information below provides general guidelines for loading, rather than guidelines for loading a specific type of trailer. For example, a trailer built to carry a cement mixer may have specific axle placement for weight distribution that requires the load not be placed as described below. Reading your trailer’s owner’s manual should always be your first step. Instructions in your trailer’s owner manual supersede the instructions below and should be followed precisely.
Proper weight distribution on both the tow vehicle and the trailer (and its component parts) are essential to properly loading a trailer. Improper loading can lead to additional stress on the tow vehicle and/or trailer, leading to excessive sway or loss of control.
Balancing Load Weight
Balancing your load weight from side to side is equally important to achieving proper weight distribution. Once loaded properly with regard to front to back weight disbursement and side to side, you will then want to ensure the load is secured. Improperly secured cargo can shift around during transit creating stress on the trailer making it harder to control. Cargo securement straps come in varying sizes and styles, and it is important to use the correct size and style to avoid a strap failure and damaged cargo during transit. See Cargo Securement for more information.
The first rule of thumb is never overload a trailer with cargo. At the same time, it is also critical not to underload the tongue weight. Tongue weight is the downward weight applied by the towable equipment on the hitch ball. Generally, tongue weight is about 10-15 percent of the gross trailer weight for light- medium-duty trailers. Check your trailer owner’s manual as the manufacturer sets the appropriate tongue weight.
Tongue weight can be underloaded if the weight is not distributed properly from front to back. An insufficient hitch load can lead to dangerous trailer sway. As a general rule, to achieve proper tongue weight place approximately 60% of the load forward of the axle and 40% behind the axle.
Tip-Over Performance is extremely important to consider when hauling tall cargo. Tip-over refers to the amount of centrifugal force the trailer can sustain when going around a turn before losing its load or rolling over (verbatim from the Trailer Handbook). The faster you go around a corner the more centrifugal force is created. It is imperative to slow down when turning.
To ensure your combination is properly loaded, you must weigh the vehicle
For additional help with measuring trailer tongue weight see U-Haul’s Safe Trailering “Measuring Trailer Tongue Weight” resource here.