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Understanding Trailer Sway and How You Can Prevent It

by Sean Woodruff, on May 21, 2019 1:14:57 PM

No driver is immune to the dangers of trailer sway - not even the most experienced trailer towers. Trailer sway is caused by a variety of factors ranging from gusty winds to an improper weight distribution hitch. Fortunately, you can help minimize the risk of trailer sway by learning its key causes and taking the necessary measures to minimize risks. Below is a look at the most common causes of trailer sway and five simple steps you can take to prevent it.  

 
RV

 

What are the top causes of trailer sway?

There is no single leading cause of trailer sway. In some cases, multiple factors can combine to create a recipe for disaster for trailers. Some of the top causes of trailer sway are as follows:

1) High wind gusts

"Trailer sway can be a result of crosswinds...The front of trailers are aerodynamic to improve towing gas mileage, but the sides aren't. A 35-mph crosswind could put as much as 3,440 pounds of force pushing on the side of a large trailer."
- Nationwide

Crosswinds and winds over 20 mph greatly increase the risk of trailer sway. Empty trailers are particularly prone to swaying once winds exceed 20 mph. However, make sure that you do not assume that your risk of trailer sway is minimal just because you are carrying a heavy load.

2) Careless loading practices

Poor cargo loading practices can influence the weight distribution of your trailer. For example, if you fail to properly secure your cargo within the trailer, your load can shift to one area of the trailer and cause sway. The same result can occur if you purposely position all of your heavy cargo in one area of your trailer. 

3) A poorly adjusted weight distribution hitch

Failure to properly adjust your weight distribution hitch can affect your trailer's tongue weight, which can lead to swaying. Ideally, your trailer's total tongue weight should be in the middle range of your weight distribution. 

4) A combination of the factors above

Sometimes factors combine to greatly increase the risk for trailer sway. For instance, one trailer owner describes how downhill driving, windy conditions, and high speed combined to cause an accident:

"They had towed all over the country with no issues at all. Then one day they were coming fast down a hill, in a crosswind, when a big semi went by really fast. Fortunately nobody was coming the other way as they lost it and rolled everything several times. TT and TV totaled, pieces blocked both lanes, but no permanent injuries."
- Chuck and Gail, Trailer Owners and RV.net Forum Members

5) Uneven road conditions

Poor road conditions and construction work create challenges for all drivers. But they are especially dangerous for drivers towing trailers. Uneven pavement, unexpected depressions, and bumps can cause a trailer's tires to sway or gravitate to one side of the road. This can lead to damage to your vehicle and trailer, especially if you are navigating roads with median barriers that make correction difficult.

What steps can you take to prevent trailer sway?

"RVs are large vehicles. Surprisingly, they usually don't require any kind of training or special license to operate. As RVers it's up to us to learn the best ways to avoid trailer sway wrecks and other RV accidents on the highway."
- Rene Agredano, RVLife Magazine

As the owner or operator of an RV, it is your responsibility to take the necessary measures to prevent trailer sway. By taking the proper procedures before, during, and after you hit the road, you can help minimize trailer sway. Here are some key steps to follow to help you tow your trailer safely.

1) Maintain your trailer and your vehicle

"Before driving, make sure your vehicle maintenance and trailer maintenance are current. This is very important because towing puts additional stress on the tow vehicle."
- NHTSA

The path to preventing trailer sway begins with regular maintenance of your vehicle and trailer. Before you depart, make sure that your trailer and your vehicle have undergone the proper preventive maintenance.

2) Take time to practice driving

 

driving

 

Inexperienced drivers are more apt to be involved in RV related accidents. If you have never driven with a trailer, it is a good idea to practice driving on some back roads before you drive on a crowded expressway or other highly traveled road. 

3) Carefully map out your route

You can avoid many sway-causing factors by selecting a driving route that minimizes the risk for trailer sway. Sometimes this might mean choosing a route that is a bit less direct because it features the following:

  • Flatter roads that make it easier to control trailers
  • Minimal construction or bumps in the road
  • Wider roads that make navigation easier
  • Routes that are out of the path of high winds or poor weather

4) Drive at moderate speeds

Driving at moderate speeds can help reduce the amount of strain on your trailer and vehicle. Additionally, trailer sway is more likely to occur while driving at speeds greater than 45 mph. Refraining from speeding also helps you slow down when approaching uneven pavement and railroad tracks.

5) Avoid abrupt steering movements

While there might be isolated circumstances that call for a sudden steering maneuver, you should avoid abrupt steering movements. Sudden over-corrections can lead to trailer sway and cause side force on your trailer.

What is the single best way to prevent trailer sway?

As outlined above, there are many steps you can take to help minimize your risk of trailer sway. However, the single most effective step you can take to prevent trailer sway is to seek the expertise of an industry expert. A seasoned specialist in the trailer hitch manufacturing industry can help you evaluate your trailer and take the necessary measures to prevent sway.

For over two decades, the team of professionals with ProPride has worked tirelessly to eliminate trailer sway. Their ProPride 3P Trailer Sway Control Hitch has earned an impressive five-star rating by thousands of users in search of a proven solution to minimize trailer sway. We invite you to contact us at ProPride to discover how we can help you prevent trailer sway. We look forward to serving as your trusted resource for all of your trailer hitch needs! 

Topics:sway controlsway eliminationtongue weight scaletravel trailer

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