One of the worst things that can happen when you’re trailering is the potential for your trailer to sway precariously back and forth, then eventually fall on one side, bringing your vehicle down with it. Trailer sway is a serious and common issue for many trailer owners, and it can make driving and transporting your trailer a sticky, anxiety-inducing affair where you can potentially lose control of your vehicles. When you’re on the road for long periods, especially, you should be able to drive with your trailer at relative ease. Trailer sway can be caused by gusts of wind, or the passing of big rigs, but can also be caused by a multitude of things that you can fix yourself.
1. Not enough tongue weight–10 to 12 percent of the trailer’s weight must be on the tongue (where it hitches to your vehicle). This is the most common cause for trailer sway. You can weigh your trailer by taking it to a commercial scale (at truck stops). For example, if the gross weight of your trailer is 2000 pounds, the tongue weight on the hitch should be about 200 pounds. Remove some items or redistribute the weight as necessary. Place heavier cargo at the front of the trailer, center the cargo left-to-right, and use reinforcements to tie down the cargo and prevent them from moving around.
Related: How to Hitch a Trailer
3. Load capacity–do not overload your trailer. Keep in mind that your load capacity includes the weight of the trailer, tongue, vehicle, and your passengers.
4. Install a friction sway control device–they reduce the effects of sudden gusts of wind and sharp turning by applying resistance to the trailer and vehicle with respect to each other. When driving, stop and turn the adjustment handle a quarter of a turn in the clockwise direction, which adds more friction. Continue to do this until your trailer feels stable. They are available in three different styles and should be used in trailers that have a low tongue weight percentage. For trailers that are over 5000 pounds, sway control devices should be attached to each side of the trailer hitch.
5. Avoid windy conditions–if you can. But if you can’t, here are some tips for safe driving in these conditions.
- Gradually reduce speed when experiencing trailer sway–do not slam on the brakes.
- Steady the steering wheel–do not make sudden turns, and do not try to steer out of a sway situation.
- Do not increase speed, since higher speeds make trailer sway more severe.
- Apply only the trailer brakes to help reduce sway.
- Stop to evaluate the cause of the sway. It’s not a good idea to take a trailer on the road if you know that it’s suffering from a swaying problem.
When you’re towing thousands of pounds of weight, safety on the road should be a priority. Depending on the state and composition of your trailer, combined with the right conditions, things can get sour fast. If you have issues with trailer sway, keep these tips in mind, and be safe out there.