When you’re towing something much heavier or lighter than usual, you’ll need to make adjustments to your weight distribution hitch. Fortunately, adjusting a weight-distribution hitch for safe towing is fairly straightforward.
But if you need more guidance on how to connect your hitch in the first place, check out this article on how to hitch up a weight distribution hitch.
Now, let’s get into how to adjust your hitch.
The Initial Measurement and Installation Phase
During the initial installation, you’ll take several measurements to establish a baseline. That baseline will help you determine how to adjust your hitch to transfer more or less weight to your tow vehicle’s front axle.
Find Your Hitch’s Setup Table
Your weight distribution hitch comes with a technical manual that includes a setup table. In that table, you’ll find a simple formula to help you calculate the acceptable range of measurements when adjusting your weight distribution hitch.
Your hitch’s setup table is critical when calculating whether or not you’re ready to tow your travel trailer safely. If, for some reason, you misplaced your manual, consult your hitch manufacturer’s website to find the setup table for your hitch model.
Take an Initial Measurement
Take your initial measurement with your trailer and tow vehicle disconnected. At your tow vehicle’s front tire (driver’s side), measure the distance from the ground through the axle’s center and up to the arch of the wheel well. Record your measurement.
Attach Your Trailer and Re-Measure
Now, lower the tongue weight of the trailer onto the hitch and latch the coupler. Don’t connect your weight distribution hitch yet, but go back and take a new measurement at the same spot on your tow vehicle. Your second measurement should be higher as the weight of your trailer takes some of the weight off your tow vehicle’s front axle.
The difference between these two measurements is what your weight distribution hitch will eventually correct. This also helps you avoid exceeding your gross axle weight ratings (GAWR) or other important trailer weight ratings.
At the least, adjusting your weight distribution hitch should cut the difference between your two measurements in half. In some cases, you’ll be able to level your setup and get back to your initial measurement.
Consult your technical setup table to abide by the acceptable ranges for your specific hitch model. Always go by the book here. You should follow whatever the manual advises.
How To Adjust A Weight Distribution Hitch
If you find that your travel trailer isn’t within the acceptable range of measurements, you can make adjustments in two areas: the number of links in the lift chains or the tilt of the ball mount head—sometimes you’ll need to do both.
How To Adjust the Lift Chains on a Weight Distribution Hitch
Your first adjustment point is to reduce or increase the number of links in the lift chains that connect the yoke hooks to the spring bars. This is the most logical place to start. You can make adjustments with the trailer still coupled to your tow vehicle.
When these lift chains engage the spring bar arms, they create an upward force. That force redistributes the hitch weight to the front axle of the tow vehicle. The number of chain links between the spring bars and the bracket yoke hooks determines the amount of upward force applied by the weight distribution system.
Fewer chain links create more upward force, while more chain links reduce the amount of upward force in the system. That said, most hitches require a minimum of five chain links for even leveling (again, read your specific hitch manual to confirm this).
The number of chain links on both chains should always be equal.
In some cases, adjusting the length of your lift chains will get your measurements within your manual’s acceptable range, so measure again before you make changes to your hitch’s second adjustment point.
To make the adjustment, you will need to start by raising the tongue of your trailer while it is still connected to your vehicle. Every hitch will have a different parameter for how much you raise the tongue to make adjustments, so go back to your manual here.
Once you’ve raised the tongue, remove the pin brackets and swing the yoke hooks down with your slide handle. Adjust the number of chain links evenly on both sides before using the handle to flip the yoke hooks back up and secure them with their pins. Then you can lower the tongue.
How To Adjust The Tilt of the Ball Mount Head on a Weight Distribution Hitch
If adjusting the lift chains isn’t enough to get your measurements where they need to be, your second point of adjustment is the tilt of the ball mount head. To do this, place blocks on both sides of your trailer’s wheels and safely detach the spring bars and lift chains before uncoupling your trailer from your tow vehicle.
With your tow vehicle safely out of the way, pull the pin on the hitch head. With it removed from your tow vehicle, loosen the top bolt of the hitch head assembly. Once it’s loose, adjust the tilt of the ball mount head by adding or removing washers on the spacer rod.
Adding washers increases the tilt and transfers more weight to the front axle of your tow vehicle (reducing the distance from the ground to the bottom of the wheel well). Removing washers has the opposite effect (decreasing tilt and transferring less weight to the front axle).
Re-Attach and Re-Measure
Once you’ve made adjustments at either of these two points, you’ll need to re-measure. For the latter, that will require you to first couple the trailer and tow vehicle and then reattach the spring bars and lift chains.
Once this is done, take another set of measurements. If you need to, refer back to the formulas in your hitch’s technical manual to see if you’re within your hitch’s acceptable range. If you don’t get it right the first time, repeat until your measurements are within that range.
Please remember that coupling and uncoupling your trailer can be the most dangerous part of adjusting a weight-distribution hitch. Always ensure you are safely chocked so your trailer’s wheels don’t shift or roll when you detach from your tow vehicle.
Tucker Ballister is a Technical Content Writer for Camping World and a lover of the open road. You can check out more of his adventures and outdoor advice at thebackpackguide.com.