how to test for proper weight distribution on a trailer



When it comes to towing a trailer, ensuring proper weight distribution is crucial for maintaining stability and safety on the road. A well-balanced trailer not only enhances the overall performance of the towing vehicle but also minimizes the risk of accidents caused by swaying or fishtailing. Testing for proper weight distribution is an essential step before embarking on any towing journey. In this article, we will explore various methods and techniques to accurately test the weight distribution on a trailer, ensuring a smooth and secure towing experience.

Understanding Weight Distribution

Weight distribution refers to the manner in which the weight of a trailer is distributed across its axles. A well-distributed load ensures that the weight is evenly dispersed over the trailer's tires, allowing for better control and stability on the road. Proper weight distribution is essential to prevent hazardous situations such as fishtailing, where the trailer starts to sway uncontrollably from side to side.

The Consequences of Improper Weight Distribution

Improper weight distribution on a trailer can have serious consequences. When too much weight is placed towards the front or rear of the trailer, it can cause instability and affect the tow vehicle's steering, braking, and acceleration. An unbalanced load can also put excessive strain on the trailer's suspension and tires, leading to premature wear and potential failure. Additionally, an imbalanced trailer can negatively impact fuel efficiency and increase the risk of accidents, particularly in challenging driving conditions.

Methods to Test Weight Distribution

There are several methods available to test the weight distribution on a trailer. Let's discuss each of these methods in detail:

1. Tongue Weight Measurement

One of the most straightforward ways to test weight distribution is by measuring the tongue weight. The tongue weight is the downward force exerted on the hitch ball by the trailer's coupler. This measurement provides valuable information about the load distribution between the trailer's axles and the tow vehicle's rear axle.

To measure the tongue weight, you'll need a specialized tongue weight scale or a bathroom scale setup. First, ensure that the trailer is on level ground and the towing vehicle is parked on a flat surface. Then, follow these steps:

1. Attach the trailer to the tow vehicle and ensure it is level.

2. Position the scale under the trailer's coupler, ensuring it doesn't interfere with hitching or unhitching.

3. Slowly lift the trailer using the scale until it's just off the ground.

4. Record the weight displayed on the scale.

It is important to note that tongue weight should typically be around 10-15% of the trailer's total weight for conventional trailers and around 15-25% for gooseneck or fifth-wheel trailers. Adjustments may be necessary to achieve the ideal tongue weight.

2. Axle Weight Measurement

Another method to test weight distribution is by measuring the weight on each axle of the trailer. This provides an accurate assessment of how the load is distributed between the trailer's axles. To perform this test, you'll need a dedicated platform scale or individual wheel weighing scales. Here's how to proceed:

1. Position the trailer on a level surface and ensure it is unhitched from the tow vehicle.

2. Place the scale(s) under each axle or individual wheel.

3. Slowly lower the trailer onto the scale(s) until it is fully supported.

4. Record the weight displayed on each scale.

Comparing the weight on each axle will help identify any significant weight imbalances. Adjustments can be made by redistributing the cargo or utilizing weight distribution systems to achieve a balanced load.

3. Visual Inspection

While not as precise as measurement methods, a visual inspection can still provide insights into weight distribution issues. Perform a thorough visual inspection of the trailer to identify any signs of imbalance. Look for the following indicators:

1. Tilted or uneven trailer stance

2. Excessive sagging of the suspension

3. Excessive weight on the rear or front of the trailer

4. Uneven tire wear

5. Any noticeable swaying or bouncing when towing

If any of these signs are observed, it indicates the need to assess and adjust the weight distribution accordingly.

4. Sway Test

A sway test is an effective way to evaluate the weight distribution dynamically. This test is particularly useful for assessing the trailer's stability during towing. Follow these steps to conduct a sway test:

1. Ensure the trailer is loaded with the typical cargo it carries during travel.

2. Hitch the trailer to the tow vehicle and ensure the connection is secure.

3. Find a safe and open area to conduct the test, away from other vehicles or pedestrians.

4. Gradually increase the speed of the tow vehicle to approximately 30-40 mph.

5. Pay close attention to any swaying or fishtailing movements of the trailer.

6. Gradually apply the brakes and observe the trailer's response.

If the trailer exhibits excessive swaying, fishtailing, or inefficient braking, it suggests an improper weight distribution. Adjustments should be made to distribute the load evenly and optimize stability.

5. Professional Assistance

In some cases, it may be beneficial to seek professional assistance to test for proper weight distribution on a trailer. Experienced RV technicians or towing specialists have the expertise and equipment needed to accurately assess weight distribution issues. They can provide valuable recommendations or even install weight distribution systems to ensure a safer towing experience.


Ensuring proper weight distribution on a trailer is vital for maintaining stability and safety while towing. By testing the weight distribution using methods such as tongue weight measurement, axle weight measurement, visual inspection, sway test, or seeking professional assistance, you can identify any imbalances and make the necessary adjustments. Remember that a well-balanced load not only enhances the performance of the tow vehicle but also minimizes the risk of accidents caused by swaying or fishtailing. Regularly testing and maintaining proper weight distribution will contribute to a smooth, secure, and enjoyable towing experience.


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