I’ve never been very good at poker. If you’re anything like me, the first time you heard someone mention a weight distribution hitch, you nodded right along, saying “Oh, yeah, of course, a weight distri-uh hitch. Yeah, I know what that is. Totally.” I had no idea what a weight distribution hitch was the first time someone mentioned one. I didn’t know what it was used for or why anyone would want to bring one up in everyday conversation. If you’re in the same boat, I’m sorry to say I can’t give you any pointers on bluffing. I’m horrible at it. But, what I can do is give you a brief, 30,000-foot fly-over crash course in weight distribution hitches and hopefully spare you the embarrassment next time they’re brought up at the water cooler. Not to mention, the next time someone asks you about a WD hitch (cue fancy acronym), you might be able to teach him a thing or two.
Let’s start with a basic definition. A weight distribution hitch (also called a load-equalizing hitch) is essentially a hitch designed to distribute the tongue weight of a trailer across all four wheels of the tow vehicle. “Slow down there, guy. You already lost me.” All right, when a trailer is hooked up to your truck, it puts a certain amount of weight on the rear axle. This is called the tongue weight. The job of a weight distribution hitch is to even out that weight over the entire truck so that both trailer and vehicle ride more levelly. This gives you more control on the road and makes the job of towing easier on your vehicle. “All that in one hitch? Dang!” Weight-distributing hitches are perfect for towing slightly heavier loads such as RVs and larger trailers, and while they’re not as capable as 5th wheel hitches or gooseneck hitches in terms of weight capacity, WD hitches do offer better sway control than a normal trailer hitch when towing larger rigs. That being said, the amount of added sway control is minimal. For proper sway control, a sway control unit should be used.
If you’ve ever seen a weight distribution hitch, you might have wondered, “What sort of medieval torture device is this and from what dimension does it hail?” The truth is, weight distribution hitches aren’t all that complicated once you get to know them. First of all, just to clarify, when the term “weight distribution hitch” is used, the part referred to isn’t actually a full hitch in the sense that it mounts directly to the chassis of your vehicle. The unit known as a weight distribution hitch is more closely related to the ball mount portion of the hitch system, in that it mounts to the hitch receiver using a shank. You’ll recognize a weight distribution hitch by the two spring bars that project out from the hitch head and the two chain assemblies that connect to these. Without a trailer attached, these metal bars would look almost like wheelbarrow handles coming out of the back of your vehicle, and in a way, they’re actually meant to function sort of like that. When you hook up a trailer to a weight distribution hitch, the trailer’s coupler, or tongue, rests on the trailer ball just like it would on a normal ball mount and trailer ball. Instead of all the weight being on the trailer ball, however, the spring bars mount onto the A-frame portion of the trailer and lift up on the back of the vehicle, causing more weight to go to the front. Pretty cool, right? Weight distribution hitches are also extremely adjustable and can be used on virtually any vehicle with a class 3 to 5 trailer hitch.
There are two basic types of weight distribution hitch, both having to do with the type of spring bar they use. One is called a round bar weight distribution hitch and the other is a trunnion bar. As you can probably guess, the spring bars of the round bar WD hitch are round in shape, while the trunnion bars are square. To be honest, there isn’t much difference between the two in terms of performance. The way that the spring bars attach to the hitch head is slightly different, but it really comes down to a matter of preference whether you choose round bar or trunnion bar. Tell that to the guy who boasts about his type of weight distribution hitch being the best.
“So how do I hook up one of these here fancy hitches to my pickup?” The installation of a weight distribution hitch is a little more complicated than hooking up your average ball mount, but then again, so are most things (Just put the shank in the receiver tube and slide in the pin. How hard could it be?). For a complete step-by-step walkthrough on how to install a WD hitch, the video below is an excellent resource. Travis Mai, covers all the bases on how to set up your weight distribution hitch and explains it in very clear terms. When you’re installing yours, remember to go slowly through each step and don’t be afraid to go back a few steps in order to correct a mistake. Again, weight distribution hitches are very adjustable.
If you’d like more info on weight distribution hitches, you might have a tough time finding any concrete resources (Wikipedia has yet to respond). Hitchinfo.com is an excellent website for all things towing and is likely to provide any answers you might be looking for.