One of the biggest mistakes pickup owners make in towing is exceeding the truck’s hitch tongue weight.
This leads to overloading the truck’s rear suspension, creating significant handling, braking and potentially serious business 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, which is noted in the owner’s manual, and every hitch shank has a load limit on the shank as to how much it can safely support.
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 ¾- and 1-tons with 2-inch receivers generally max out at 1,200 pounds.
The newer HD pickups with 2 1/2-inch receivers may be 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 9,700 pounds, you should have between 970 and 1,115 pounds on the tongue (hitch ball), with 12 percent being ideal as that gives you a little leeway toward being too heavy or too light.
Too little tongue weight leads to trailer sway — and too much adversely affects the pickup’s braking and steering.
The easiest way to ensure tongue weight is set in accordance to the pickup manufacturers’ requirements is to use a scale such as those offered by Sherline or using a built-in hitch unit from Weigh-Safe.
Sherline’s scales are capable of reading tongue weights up to 5,000 pounds, although the 2,000-pound-capacity model is sufficient for most pickup trailer towing applications.
The easiest, fastest way to check tongue weight is to use Weigh-Safe’s adjustable-height drop-shank system. It has a built-in scale that shows tongue weights up to 1,500 pounds.
Using Sherline’s scale requires placing the scale under the trailer coupler and slowly lifting it with a floor jack into the coupler until the jack is supporting the weight of the trailer tongue.
For both weigh systems, read the dial on the scale. If the weight is too high or too low, adjust the position of the load or equipment on the trailer until the number is correct.
If a piece of equipment is going to be hauled on the same trailer all the time, it’s good to paint or mark the trailer bed to indicate where the bucket edge or a tire needs to be positioned to keep that weight balance correct.