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Hitches, Anti-Sway Bars, Weight Distribution Hitches and Chains

How to stop the fish-tailing and snaking of your caravan.

Hayman Reece
Weight Distribution Bars   




Weight Distributing Hitch(springs and levers that transfer part of the imposed mass back onto the front wheels of the towing vehicle and, to a lesser extent, the caravan).

There are various terminologies used for stabiliser bars such as weight distribution hitches, anti-sway bars and load equalisers. 

When a caravan is placed on the ball of the tow hitch it places a lot of weight on the rear of the tow vehicle and changes the axis whereby there is less weight on the front of the tow vehicle raising the front wheels.  This makes steering and braking less effective.   Loss of traction can also be an issue especially for front wheel drive vehicles.

By using better heavy duty springs or incorporating air bags to raise the rear of the tow vehicle will have no effect on the weight distribution.  Some sway control devices do not necessarily act to assist with weight distribution.

Fitting a weight distribution device of the correct type and size will mean that the tow vehicle becomes level.  For example, weight distribution hitches are available in various load capacity eg: 550 lbs (250 kg), 750 lbs (340 kg) and 1000 lbs (450 kg) capacity ball load weights. Always buy the product that has the manufacturer’s plate stating the maximum towing load and ensure this is adequate for your purposes. 

The heavy duty hitch receivers available can mount onto the vehicle in several positions enabling the load to be distributed over a wide area of the vehicle. 

Towing aids such as level riders or weight distribution bars can be fitted to most vans, campertrailers etc.  It is advisable to seek the professional advice from your caravan dealer as to the best type you require for your car and caravan combination.

When towing adequate stopping distance between yourself and the vehicle in front should be allowed and braking or acceleration should be smooth and gentle.  This is particular important in wet or slippery conditions. 

Avoid applying the brakes of the tow vehicle if the caravan begins to sway.  If the caravan is fitted with an electric brake system this can be operated by using the manual control.  A constant speed should be maintained or even slight acceleration until the swaying stops and the caravan straightens out again behind the tow vehicle.



Poly-Air Bags for Leaf and Coil Springs

Will Poly-Air Bags assist with weight distribution ?

When you push down on the handles of a wheelbarrow the front rises.  That's what happens to the towing vehicle when you connect the caravan - the front wheels tend to lift, therefore reducing steering control.

Adding poly air bags is like stiffening the legs of the wheelbarrow. Certainly worth doing if the originals are too weak/soft.  But it does not address the real problem which is, like the front of that wheelbarrow, the front wheels of the car tend to lift.Poly Air Bags

A weight distributing hitch addresses the latter problem and is necessary to have.

Safety Chains – how many chains do I need ?

The safety chains (that must comply with Australian Standards) fixed to the front of the ‘A’ Frame of a caravan or camper trailer are attached to the tow bar on the tow vehicle.  There is normally a space or hole where it can be attached usually with a ‘D shackle”.  These D shackles also have a rating so for heavy vans it is important that the shackles are of equivalent strength to the chains to restrain the weight of the van in the event, if for some reason, it were to become separated from the ball of the tow vehicle.  Occasionally tow balls have been known to split or bolts holding the tow ball come loose. 

Trailers between 2.5 ton and 4.5 ton GVM are required to have one chain fitted if the trailer weight is less than 2,500 kg (loaded) and two chains for trailer weights exceeding 2,500 kg (loaded).

The chains should be short but have enough slack to still permit tight turns.  If two chains are required they should be crisscrossed under the tongue to prevent the front of the drawbar from hitting the ground if the coupling becomes disconnected.

Most caravan manufacturer’s normally assist with the correct set up prior to you leaving the yard.  However, when packing your caravan for a holiday or trip thought should be given to where items are placed in the van.

If you have any doubt as to the weight of your caravan once you have packed all your gear and food for that long awaited holiday, spend a few dollars and take it over a weigh bridge.  You may be surprised just how much you have loaded it up.  Overloading not only causes safety issues but is also likely to pose problems for you with your insurer in the event of a mishap.

If in any doubt please consult with a towing equipment specialist.  For further information you can also obtain the National Caravan and Recreational Vehicle Towing Guide from the Caravan Industry Association in your state or territory.


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