We ask a lot of our tires and brakes, especially while towing.
They must carry, control, and restrain the combined weight of your truck, trailer, and load. And…they’ve gotta do it up and down steep grades, across long stretches of road, day after day.
Your brakes and tires are designed to do that – and they can – for their promised lifespan and load capacity.
But, you know what they can’t do??
…they can’t promise anything when you tow with too much tongue weight.
What does too much tongue weight look like?
If you hook up your trailer with more than 15% of your GTW (gross trailer weight) situated on the tongue of your trailer you will have:
- too much of your load situated ahead of your trailer’s axle
- an unlevel tow set-up that looks more like a “V” shape, referred to as “jack knife”
- conditions in which rear tire overload will most likely occur
- conditions in which your braking system may be compromised
3 SIGNS TONGUE WEIGHT IS AFFECTING YOUR TIRES
Even if the weight of your total load is within your tires’ load rating, if you carelessly situate your trailer’s cargo in a way that lays too much tongue weight on the rear of your truck, the back tires of your truck will be shouldering more weight than they are designed to handle. Too much tongue weight while driving on the road can easily cause tire overload. Here’s the signs to look for:
TIRE DEFORMATION OR TIRE FLEX
Overloading is when your tires are carrying more weight than they can safely handle.
When overloaded, the tires’ contact pad (where the tire touches the pavement) will become longer and wider. Which means, with every rotation, the tread and sidewall of the tire will have to flex and unflex as they pass through the contact zone.
Flex of your tires is a sure sign that you are overloading.
Why is this so dangerous?
Answer: Tire flex compromises the integrity of the tire and also causes heat, leading to tire blowout.
YOUR TIRES ARE NOT GRIPPING SURFACES PROPERLY
Do you feel like you don’t have enough control or stability while towing?
Bad news: overloaded tires can’t grip driving surfaces properly, leading to poor handling, vehicle instability and reduced fuel economy.
Overloading your tires is the main cause of tire blowouts and failures.
Afterall, the more you drive with overloaded tires, the higher the heat build up – which can cause structural components to break down and lead to tire failure.
3 SIGNS TONGUE WEIGHT IS AFFECTING YOUR BRAKES
Any type of frequent heavy braking, with heavy loads, at higher speeds, will run down your brakes and make them less effective. However, excessive tongue weight can put your braking system at immediate risk. Here’s the signs to look for:
LOSS OF TRACTION
As you drive, excessive tongue weight can beget enough force to push your back tires around. This is especially dangerous when turning corners and curves.
Your braking system won’t be able to adequately restrain the weight of your truck and trailer if your tires are unable to find enough traction.
LESS EFFECTIVE STOPPING
Leaving too much weight on the hitch can also cause a dangerous situation where the tow vehicle doesn’t have enough weight on the front wheels to control your rig. When you hit the brakes – and there’s too much weight on the hitch – your trailer will dive forward, causing the front of your truck to lift even more.
What happens next?
You’ll lose most of your braking and steering at the same time. And, all the weight you’re towing behind your truck will be fully unrestrained.
OVERHEATING & FAILURE
Towing heavier payload with excessive, or unbalanced, tongue weight will definitely put strain on your brakes. Towing under these conditions requires higher braking force which will translate into higher braking temperature.
Too much heat can overheat your brakes to the point that the brake fluid begins to boil.
If your brakes get that hot, they will not work!
HOW TO REDUCE STRAIN ON YOUR BRAKES AND TIRES
TOW WITH CORRECT DROP OR RISE
If your trailer rides lower or higher than your truck, a specific ball mount can be used to make up the difference and ensure the trailer is level. When loaded, both your truck and trailer must be level with the ground for safest performance.
You’ll need to make some calculations to determine how much of a drop, or rise, your ball mount requires to meet the height of your loaded trailer:
Drop Length Formula (for trailers that ride lower than your truck)
- Measure the distance from the bottom of your trailer’s coupler to the ground (be sure your trailer is loaded and sitting level with the ground while you measure).
- Subtract this number from the height of your hitch receiver (distance from the top of the inside of your truck’s hitch receiver to the ground).
- This is the required drop length of your ball mount.
Rise Length Formula (for trailers that ride higher than your truck)
- Measure distance from the bottom of your trailer’s coupler to the ground (be sure your trailer is loaded and sitting level with the ground while you measure).
- From this number, subtract the height of your hitch receiver (distance from the top of the inside of your truck’s hitch receiver to the ground).
- This is your required rise length of your ball mount.
Pro tip: Be sure your trailer is exactly level with the ground by placing a level on the top of your trailer’s coupler. Use the crank on your trailer jack to adjust the height, up or down, until the level is plumb, then take your measurement.
CALCULATE YOUR TARGET TONGUE WEIGHT
For conventional trailer hitches, the recommended amount of tongue weight is 10% – 15% of your loaded trailer’s weight.
Target Tongue Weight Formula
- Find your GTW (Gross Trailer Weight. This is the weight of your trailer, plus the weight of the cargo you’ve loaded onto it. GTW can also be referred to as GVW, Gross Vehicle Weight).
- Multiply GTW by (0.1).
- This is the minimum of your target tongue weight.
- Multiply GTW by (0.15).
- This is the maximum of your target tongue weight.
ACCURATELY ADJUST YOUR TARGET TONGUE WEIGHT
Once you’ve calculated your target tongue weight, you’ll need to situate and secure your load onto your trailer accordingly.
USE BETTER DRIVING TECHNIQUES
- Allow for longer stopping distances. Be more attentive to vehicles stopping suddenly ahead of you when towing, and begin braking sooner than if you weren’t towing.
- Don’t ride your truck’s brakes on long downhills. Shift the truck’s transmission to a lower gear to help slow the vehicle and take some strain off of the brakes. Applying the brakes at intervals to keep the speed in check (as opposed to constant application of the brake pedal) will help keep the brakes from overheating.
- Adjust trailer brakes according to load. For example, if your trailer is equipped with brakes, you’ll want them set to use a lot of force when towing a heavy load, but when the trailer is empty, the trailer’s brakes need to be readjusted for that lighter weight, so the trailer’s tires aren’t locking up and skidding.
PERFORM BRAKE AND TIRE MAINTENANCE
- Check your truck and your trailer tires.
- Your truck tires may require higher pressure for towing, as recommended in the owner’s manual.
- Your trailer tires may have dry rot or cracking, especially if your trailer has been stored outside and/or hasn’t been used for a season.
- Don’t forget to check the wheel lug nuts on your trailer and truck are tightened to the specified torque.
- Check your brakes.
- Make sure your brake pads have plenty of life remaining before hitting the road.
- If your trailer has brakes, it’s also a good idea to have those checked, as well, and to keep the wheel bearings greased.
Properly loading your trailer to maintain proper tongue weight is vital when it comes to preserving the integrity of your tires and brakes. You can tow with complete and total peace of mind when you follow our simple tips!
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