One of the most unnerving experiences that can happen for a new RVer—and even for old hands —is trailer sway. The trailer begins to fishtail back and forth and the tow vehicle responds in a similar way. If not controlled, trailer sway can cause an accident. How can you control or eliminate it?
The first step is understanding the causes of trailer sway. Weight distribution is a primary factor. You need at least 10 percent of your trailer’s total weight “on the hitch.” With a properly designed trailer, weight distribution is up to you. If you have a lot of personal stuff in your trailer, put the heavier stuff forward of the axles.
Another cause of sway is a bad match-up between tow vehicle and trailer. Exceeding a tow vehicle’s capacity will often lead to problems. Some RVers will match their trailer and tow vehicle based on the unloaded weight of the trailer, but then fill the holding tanks, stuff the trailer full of cargo, and merrily head off down the road with a load that exceeds the tow rig’s ability to safely pull.
Factors encountered on the road make up the balance of most sway issues. Winds blasting the trailer, wind gusts pushing onto the trailer/tow combination as big trucks pass by, steep downgrades, and vehicle speed can cause sway problems.
A sway control device added to your trailer will help reduce many of these problems. The most common sway control is a friction sway control that links your tow vehicle to the trailer to reduce that nasty pivoting between trailer and tow rig. These units are inexpensive—we’ve seen them for less than $50 up to a little under $200—and you may be able to do the installation yourself.
Wind gusts and blasts from trucks passing your rig are often unpredictable and can catch you off guard. If you’re hit and your trailer begins to sway, RESIST the temptation to jump on the brake pedal—this will often make things worse. Gradually reduce speed by backing off on the throttle. If the sway is severe or doesn’t respond, use the manual lever on your brake controller and gradually apply trailer brake power to let the trailer do the braking and eliminate the sway.
Your own speed can create sway problems. “Keep it down to a dull roar” should be common sense. If you find your combination swaying, ease off the throttle, get back into control. If you find a repeat of the problem as you speed up, then your speed is too fast for conditions. Be especially wary on downgrades and keep your speed down. Being on a downgrade, swaying, and trying to slow down all at the same time can be a real hair-raiser.
Russ and Tiña De Maris are authors of RV Boondocking Basics—A Guide to Living Without Hookups, which covers a full range of dry camping topics. Visit icanrv.com for more information.