Making sure your trailer is attached to your towing vehicle is the most important thing you need to do before setting off. The forgotten toothbrush is nothing compared to a forgotten trailer 🙂
But you need to make sure that your trailer is hitched correctly before setting off, which leads us to our question, should a trailer be level when towing?
It’s really important that your trailer is level when towing. If it’s not level then it can sway, will have poor braking, and can even leave the ground, this makes for a dangerous driving experience. Make sure that the trailer is level so all tires are on the ground and you can maneuver and brake effectively.
Making sure your trailer is level means that the tires and brakes will wear evenly, thus saving you from expensive repairs. I will delve into why it is so important for your trailer to be level whilst towing.
Why Should A Trailer Be Level When Towing?
There are lots of reasons why your trailer should be level when towing, and most of them are safety related. An un-level trailer can run the risk of controlling the towing vehicle instead of the other way round. Let’s delve into the reasons:
This is a biggie, you want your trailer to have proper ground clearance so it doesn’t get damaged going over bumps in the road. Every trailer is designed to be able to withstand small bumps that occur in the road, but if it’s uneven then this could cause the trailer to leave the ground, or hit and scrape the tarmac.
You do not want your trailer to leave the ground. If it is unlevel and the front of the trailer is too high air will be pushed underneath and cause it to lift. The back of the trailer can also hit the ground and cause substantial damage by being dragged along.
Apart from you not being able to control the trailer, if this happens it will also use more fuel, as you’re flying a really heavy kite behind your truck. Not to mention the repair costs because the undercarriage of your trailer has been hitting the road every 5 seconds.
Travel trailers are designed to be as aerodynamic as possible to reduce fuel consumption when towed. If the trailer is not level then the aerodynamics will be off.
An unlevel trailer will mean that the air is hitting the trailer at the wrong angle and not seamlessly flowing over it, but forcefully pushing it back. Therefore making it harder to pull and costing a lot more in fuel.
Trailers are designed to be really stable, but only when they’re level. The weight distribution plays an important role in keeping the trailer stable.
If the trailer is not level, or has too much weight at front or back then this can lead to the trailer swaying.
When the trailer starts to sway from side to side, also called fishtailing, it can move the vehicle with it, causing the vehicle to lose control.
If there is too much weight in back of the trailer, this will cause the back to be lower than the front. This affects the weight distribution and can cause sway. The trailer could be lifting the hitch up damaging it and will have less traction on its front tires.
If the front of the trailer is overloaded, then it will be lower at the front and will pull the hitch down. This will cause the back to lift and have less traction in the rear tires.
Trailer sway can also happen if the trailer is level, but it is far more likely in an unlevel trailer.
An unloaded trailer will have an uneven weight distribution and will put more weight on one axle than the other. This will cause excessive wear to the tires on that axel as they have more pressure on them.
The increased pressure will also cause excessive heat which can increase the chances of a tire blowout. Nobody want a tire blow out, but make sure that you always have a spare and the equipment to fit it just incase.
If the front of the trailer is overloaded this will cause the front axle to be overloaded too, you may be able to tell just from looking at the trailer. The tires on the overloaded axel will look flatter than the other axel, if this occurs distribute the weight more evenly.
The braking performance of an unlevel trailer will be severely affected. Each tire will have a different pressure pressing down on the road.
If the trailer is ‘nose down’ (overloaded at the front) then the rear tires will not have has much pressure on the road. This can cause the rear tires to skid and this might not be enough braking power to effectively stop the trailer.
How different travel trailers are affected
You can categorize travel trailers into single axle or multi-axle as they react differently to not being level.
Single Axle Trailers
As they only have one axle (two wheels) single axle trailers are less sensitive to being level. You’re less likely to see problems like uneven tire wear and blow out with single axle trailers as there is only one set of wheels.
Also, most single axle trailers don’t have auxiliary brakes so the braking performance won’t be a factor.
With that being said, you should still try to get your single axle trailer as level as possible because ground clearance, stability and sway can still come into play.
Multi Axle Trailers
Multi axle trailers are more sensitive to being unlevel, because there are multiple axles that can all be affected differently.
They are susceptible to uneven tire wear and blow out, if one axle has more pressure on it. The braking performance will also be affected if one set of wheels has more pressure than the other.
The aerodynamics, ground clearance and stability will all pay a price if the trailer is uneven, even more so than a single axle trailer.
You will need to know your axle ratings, to ensure that you don’t overload your trailer and make it uneven. This should be detailed in the manufacturer’s manual, you can also work this out based on the diameter of the axle.
As a rule of thumb these are the axle capacities based on diameter:
|Axle Diameter||Axle Capacity|
|1 to 1 ½ inches||1,000 lbs|
|1 ¾ to 2 inches||2,000 lbs|
|2 to 2 ⅜ inches||3,500 lbs|
|3 inches||6,000 to 7,200 lbs|
|3 to 3 ½ inches||8,000 lbs|
|4 inches||9,000 lbs|
|5 inches||10,000 lbs|
Make sure that the cargo inside the trailer is evenly stored, so the weight is evenly distributed throughout the trailer.
How to Level Your Trailer For Towing
Leveling your trailer isn’t too big of a job, as always make sure that you have the right tools before you start. You will need:
- Tape Measure
- Flat Land
To level your trailer on your towing vehicle follow these simple steps.
- Firstly you need to make sure that the ground that you are on is flat and level, if your driveway is not level then you can go to a parking lot to do this.
- Load the trailer as if you do when you are going on a trip, this will ensure that it’s level when full as you would use it.
- When you are on level ground take a look at the trailer. Is it level? Use the level to check, you may have to re-organise the cargo inside to make sure that the weight is distributed evenly.
- If this doesn’t work then you find the right hitch rise or drop, use the tape measure to find the right height.
- Measure your receiver height on your vehicle, this is the distance between the ground and the top of the receiver tube.
- Level the trailer on a jack hand and then measure the coupler height, from the ground to the end of the coupler.
- Subtract the coupler height from the receiver height. A negative number indicates the inches of drop needed, a positive value indicates the inches of raise needed.
- If you don’t have a self leveling vehicle then you’ll also need to account for the amount of squat. This is how much the vehicle drops when the trailer is attached, measure the height of the receiver with the trailer attached and subtract that from the height without the trailer attached to give you the squat.
- You may need to invest in an adjustable hitch like this Uriah Products Aluma-Tow 6″ Drop Ball Mount for 2″ Receiver. An adjustable hitch will allow you to find the right height for your trailer to make it level.
- Once you’ve found the right height for the hitch double check the trailer is level with the level, you can adjust the hitch accordingly.
What if You Can’t Level Your Trailer?
Sometimes you can try everything but the trailer is still slightly off. If you’ve done your measurements and tried the different ball mounts but the trailer is still not level, the safest option is for the trailer to be slightly nose down.
Towing with the nose slightly down is the next safest thing to the trailer being level, as it helps to prevent sway.
If you have to tow your trailer in this position make sure that the hitch tongue weight can handle it as it will be adding more pressure to the tongue.
Frequently Asked Questions
How should trailers sit when towing?
Your trailer should be level when towing. A level trailer is the safest and most fuel-effective way to tow.
Switching ball mounts and using an adjustable hitch like the Uriah Products Aluma-Tow 6″ Drop Ball Mount for 2″ Receiver will make it as easy as possible to get your trailer level.
However, if you’ve tried everything but still can’t get your trailer level, the next safest option is to have the trailer with the nose slightly down. If you have to do this make sure that the tongue capacity of the hitch and vehicle can withstand the extra weight.
So to sum it up, towing your trailer level is best, but if that’s not possible go with the nose slightly down but take extra care driving.
How high should my trailer hitch be off the ground?
Make sure your trailer is loaded for these measurements. The minimum height your loaded trailer should be is 11 inches from the bottom of your loaded trailer hitch ball mount to the ground.
11 inches will give you enough clearance to avoid scraping the bottom of your trailer if you come across bumps and dips in the road.
How do I keep my trailer from swaying?
There are a few measures that you can take to prevent your trailer from swaying:
– Use the manufacturer’s recommended gear for towing
– Ensure the trailer is level
– Drive steady – no sudden turns or maneuvers
– Drive slowly, especially if it’s windy as this can cause trailer sway
– Check tire pressures before setting off
– Don’t overload the trailer
– Don’t overload the towing vehicle
There are also various hitch designs to reduce sway like this CURT 17063 Round Bar Weight Distribution Hitch with Integrated Lubrication and Sway Control. If you are worried about the trailer swaying then I’d highly recommend a sway control hitch.
It’s really important to make sure that your trailer is level before towing. If that’s not possible then have the nose slightly down to prevent sway.
If you are worried about the trailer swaying then I’d recommend getting a hitch with sway control like this one CURT 17063 Round Bar Weight Distribution Hitch with Integrated Lubrication and Sway Control.