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One of the biggest problems many RVers face is the inevitable rocking and swaying that when towing a travel trailer. Extra movement is a common problem that can occur while driving at high speeds down the highway.
The best way to stop a travel trailer from rocking and swaying while traveling is to use sway bars. If your trailer didn’t come with pre-installed sway bars, then you can purchase them at most camping or trucking stores.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at some of the best ways to keep your camper’s movement to a minimum while driving down the road. If you’re new to RVing and have worries about how much your trailer sways while driving, then you’ve come to the right place
3 Key tips to prevent trailer sway while towing
Rocking and swaying can be a huge problem while driving on the freeway. If you’re not careful, it can even result in severe damage to you or your RV. All it takes is one big gust of wind for you to lose control of your big rig, and a simple overcorrection can lead to a devastating accident.
In the rest of this article, we will discuss how to prevent rocking and swaying while driving and what causes it. If this is your concern, then read along and see what you can do to protect your RV and your family.
1. Install sway bars… obviously!
The purpose of sway bars is right there in the name: they keep your RV from swaying. The way they work is by connecting your truck to your camper on either side of your hitch to add extra stability and protection. Some RVers complain that this gives them less turning ability, but the pros might outweigh the cons depending on your needs.
Some sway bars also serve an additional function too: weight distribution. Our recommendation is to look for a system that can do both, rather than only control the sway. That said, they are often still just referred to as sway bars.
Sway bars are great at protecting you from things like high winds, rough roads, and high-speed traveling. Sway bars also offer improved weight distribution between your truck and camper. The good news is that many newer trailers are designed with sway bars built into the hitch. If you’re not sure if your unit is equipped with this feature, check with your RV distributor, and they will advise you on this matter.
2. Learn to load your trailer properly to control tongue weight
Proper weight distribution is a great trick to keep in mind when towing a camper. If you have too much weight on the back of your camper and not enough on the front, it breaks the tension that is necessarily in the system and often causes a “fishtailing” effect where the rear of the trailer sways back and forth. In an extreme scenario, this could cause the front end of the trailer to pop free from the hitch.
Likewise, too much weight in the front of the trailer (and not balanced in the back) is also a problem. It could cause you to exceed your truck’s payload rating and will cause problems with braking.
The general rule of the thumb is that the “tongue weight” of your trailer, when fully-loaded, should be about 10% to 15% of the total trailer weight (also loaded). The strikes the right loading balance for optimum towing safety.
A weight distribution hitch can help out here – transferring a portion of the weight from the tongue (or back of the truck) towards the front axle. That said, these generally only move the weight slightly. The far bigger factor is how you load your trailer.
For most instances, when loading the trailer its best to load the heaviest items over the axle, and then try and roughly balance the weight on either side of the axles. A 50/50 forward/rear split is generally okay, or 60/40 forward/rear.
One thing to keep in mind is that on most travel trailers the axles are further towards the back, meaning you’ll physically have more room in front of the axle. Be careful not to overload the front just because you have more floorspace there.
Additionally, having too much weight on either side of your RV will cause an imbalance in weight distribution. Improper distribution to one side of the other could lead to swaying or a blowout if the weight is too much for the tires to handle. Make sure you check your RVs manual and know how much weight (cargo carrying capacity, or CCC) you can have in your camper at any given time (the gross vehicle weight rating or GWVR for the trailer).
3. Don’t tow in heavy winds
The biggest thing that causes swaying and rocking while driving is a sudden gust of wind. This can come from Mother Nature, or from an 18-wheeler that has decided to pass you.
Hauling an RV and driving in overly windy conditions can be extremely dangerous for someone without sway bars, especially if they lack towing experience. If you begin to feel the vehicle you’re towing sway or move excessively, it may be necessary to slow down, pull over and wait for things to calm down.
Surprising to many first-time RV owners, the simple act of passing a semi on the highway (or getting passed by one) can cause enough of a backdraft to make your camper sway. The best thing you can do when towing is to have two hands on the wheel and always be prepared to counter a sudden pull in another direction. Towing a camper is completely different from other forms of driving, and until you get used to it – you should be very cautious.
Understanding Sway Control: Travel Trailers vs. Fifth Wheel Trailers
One of the most significant factors that affect how much your trailer (and tow vehicle) sways is the location of the hitch and the type of camper you have. Travel trailers or tow-behind trailers (aka “bumper pulls”) are more prone to swaying because of how it connects to the truck towing it. Anytime the hitch connection is behind the towing vehicle, there is an increased risk of swaying.
This increased risk is because the hitch acts as a pivot point between the two vehicles’ centers of gravity. Any movement or swaying on by the trailer will turn the truck and create an unexpected steering force.
If the force from this side-to-side motion is strong enough, it can overpower the friction between the road and the RV tires. The result from this uncontrollable swaying can lead to rolling your truck and RV or separation from the vehicle you’re towing.
Fifth-wheel campers struggle less with swaying because the hitch on the camper connects to the hitch head on the bed of the towing truck. This results in more even weight distribution between truck and RV and reduces the risk of swaying. The pivot point of the fifth wheel trailer is also within the wheelbase of the truck, which adds stability.
The one tradeoff here in favor of travel trailers is that they tend to have a lower side profile. Since fifth-wheel trailers connect above the truck bed, then over are raised and just taller in general – leaving a larger side surface for a gust of wind to push against. That said, the anchor point being over the truck axle mitigates this and gives the truck a better ability to control a side gust than with a travel trailer that connects at the very rear of the truck.
The point here is that if you are really concerned about sway and haven’t yet bought a trailer, you might want to opt for a fifth wheel over a travel trailer.
Additional tips to control trailer sway
- Slow down! You’re not in a race when hauling an RV. Slow down on the freeway and take your time. Slower speeds greatly reduce the risk of swaying.
- Don’t overcorrect. Don’t be herky-jerky with the steering wheel. Most camper accidents occur from an over-correction due to losing focus and drifting to one side of the road. Pay attention when hauling a camper and avoid sudden changes in direction.
- Ensure proper tire pressure. Always check your tire pressure before going on a road trip. RVs are holding a lot of weight and put a lot of strain on your tires. Having a flat tire or a blowout can quickly lead to disaster.
- Get the right equipment. Only use equipment approved by your manufacturer when towing. This includes hitches, sway bars, and anything else that you use to assist in the hauling of your RV. Yes, this even includes your truck or TV (tow vehicle) – make sure your trailer is within the limits of your tow vehicle!
Don’t let rocking and swaying keep you from enjoying your camper in the great outdoors! Whether it’s on the highway while towing or after you settle down at an RV park, a rocking trailer can negatively impact every part of your RVing experience. Take the proper precautions and steps to reduce rocking and swaying, and maximize the fun and memories!
Jalin Coblentz is a full-time RVer, along with his wife (Kate) and their goldendoodle (Harper). They became full-time RVers while Kate was in physical therapy school and doing clinical rotations. Home is their 2019 Palomino Puma, which is currently touring the southeast US. Jalin writes and works for a grocery delivery company full-time, and prior to that he worked as an HVAC technician. Jalin and his wife enjoy hiking, running, and basically anything outdoors activity.