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Ask Dave: Is it better to have the front of the trailer a bit too high or a bit too low?

Answers to questions about RV Repair and Maintenance from RV expert Dave Solberg, author of the RV Handbook and the managing editor of the RV Repair Club. This column appears Monday through Saturday in the RV Travel and RV Daily Tips newsletters. (Sign up for an email reminder for each new issue if you do not already receive one.)

Dear Dave,
I cannot find a hitch receiver that makes my camper completely level. I have tried five types with different drops. None is right on the money. I finally settled on one that puts the camper an inch higher in the front than if it were completely level. So my question: Is it better to have the front of the trailer a bit too high or a bit too low? —Emma Jean H.

Dear Emma Jean,
Although there is no standard hitch height, as all vehicles are different, most manufacturers try to establish a 17” height which will avoid bottoming out in most cases. The goal is to get the hitch height as close to level as possible. If you are having trouble finding a drop hitch that will do that, I would suggest looking at the various adjustable hitches such as the Curt Adjustable Channel Mount model that can go down as far as 10-1/8”.

If your tow vehicle is level, a one-inch drop in the trailer hitch is acceptable as long as it is not bottoming out when driving out of fuel stations and such. This is only if the vehicle is level. If not, there is most likely too much weight on the tow vehicle hitch. That means the front will be light and affect steering and stopping distance, and put additional stress on the rear axle/tires.

It is not advised to have the trailer hitch higher than level as this means the trailer is pitched back and weight distribution is shifted. This will cause the trailer to sway more often when introduced to wind gusts.

Consider the weight

One other very important consideration is the weight carrying capacity of your tow vehicle and the actual weight of your trailer as well as hitch weight. I would recommend searching your tow vehicle manufacturer’s towing chart to find out your towing capacity and then take 10 percent off that number for safe towing. You don’t want to be at maximum weight when trying to stop on a hot day, in rain, or trying to get up a 6 percent grade.

Next, get your trailer weighed with all the “stuff” you plan to take. Every trailer has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). You should make sure you are 10 percent below max here, as well. You should be able to find the rating on the data plate typically located on the tongue. You can get your rig weighed professionally by individual wheel position here.

Otherwise, use a CAT Scale found at most larger truck stops. Place your tow vehicle front wheels on the first platform, back wheels on the second, and trailer on the third. Make sure you have a full tank of gas and all passengers that will be traveling with you. If you are using a weight-distribution hitch, you will need two more weights. Drive off and disconnect your weight distribution hitch and put the bars in the back of your tow vehicle. This will verify the hitch is set correctly. Next, drive off the scale and disconnect the trailer and weigh just the tow vehicle. This will tell you what the weight is on the tow vehicle hitch.

Make sure you let the attendant know you are weighing your rig and will be doing three trips through. And, keep in mind this will not provide individual wheel position weights, which are important for weight distribution and tire safety. Not all trailers are built with proper weight distribution. Click here to find a weighing location near you.

Dave Solberg worked at Winnebago for 15 years developing the dealer training program, as marketing manager, and conducting shows. As the owner of Passport Media Creations, Dave has developed several RV dealer training programs, the RV Safety Training program for The Recreation Vehicle Safety and Education Foundation, and the accredited RV Driving Safety program being conducted at rallies and shows around the country. Dave is a leading expert in the RV industry and author of the “RV Handbook” as well as the Managing Editor of the RV Repair Club, a one-stop go-to online resource for RV enthusiasts. 

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Michael
1 month ago

I have found that on the CAT scales I have used, if you scootch over to one side carefully, you can weight the wheels on the other side. Weigh the whole axle and subtract one side to give you the wheel weight on the other.

Wayne Harris
1 month ago

Your instructions under how to weigh using a CAT scale seems to be incomplete. What needs to be subtracted from what to get the desired weighs?

volnavy007
1 month ago

To get the correct numbers for tow weights, I sent the VIN to the manufacturer and they sent back a sheet with the official numbers which I put in my 3-inch loose leaf binder with all the other important documents.

Roger Sleight
1 month ago

So the simple answer that I believe you’re looking for is that it’s better for the front to be higher.

Tom Herbert
1 month ago
Reply to  Roger Sleight

I read just the opposite. Higher in the front shifts trailer weight to the rear which may create more sway.

david shipp
1 month ago
Reply to  Roger Sleight

I would hope this article does not cause some of the perfectionists to get over concerned. While every thing in this article is accurate, he does not give any tolerances. One inch up or down is not going to create an issue EXCEPT: When the tongue weight pushes the rear of the tow vehicle down it can and will create steering problems that are dangerous. If it is not weight that is causing the trailer to be un-level then “down in the front” will make no problem as long as “down in the front” doesn’t cause something to drag when going over rail road track and other hills/bumps or rises, in the road. By the same token, if the non – level is not caused due to weight, and is simply by where the connection is, then low in the back is not an issue either. Keep in mind I said an inch or so. High in the front can cause problems with the back of the trailer dragging some times, especially when backing down a hill to a level area. Having the hitch for the trailer level best, Not absolute!

Roger Marble
1 month ago

While weighing the trailer you should also get the weights for each axle. Very few RVs have their weight split evenly between axles or side to side on each axle. While knowing your individual tire weights is best so you can ensure you are not overloading any one tire. Getting “4-corner weights” is not always easy, but you can at least confirm individual axle weights. Tire inflation on all trailer tires should be the same and based on the heaviest loaded tire.

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