Half-Ton Trucks and Weight-Distribution Hitches: Why and When to Use

Towing detail

Cars.com photo by Mark Williams

Many pickup truck manufacturers recommend using a weight-distribution hitch when towing over a certain trailer weight. Half-ton trucks like the Ford F-150 and Ram 1500 typically recommend a weight-distribution hitch for any trailer over 5,000 pounds and/or any tongue weight over 500 pounds, which might seem low considering these trucks have maximum towing capacities of over 12,000 pounds. This leaves an obvious question: Why?

Related: More Towing and Hauling News

For my day job, I am a product engineer for Progress Mfg. Inc. in Utah, makers of the Equal-i-zer hitch and Fastway Flash ball mounts. As part of my work, I test various pieces of trailer towing equipment including trailer hitches. 

What Does a Weight-Distribution Hitch Do?

When attaching a trailer to a tow vehicle, weight is removed from the front axle and transferred to the rear axle. If too much weight is removed from the front, then steering will be light, braking won't be as effective and the rear axle could be overloaded. All of this decreases stability and, ultimately, safety. What’s happening is that a fulcrum-and-lever system is being created: The tow vehicle’s frame acts as a lever with the fulcrum being the rear axle.

2020 GMC Sierra 1500 with trailer

2020 GMC Sierra 1500
Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

Weight-distribution hitches combat this by restoring load to the front axle of the tow vehicle by creating a counteracting lever action. In the towing industry, they use the term front-axle load restoration (FALR). In most cases, to create this lever action, a weight-distribution hitch will use bars, often called equalizer bars or arms, that extend out toward the trailer and attach to the trailer A-frame 25-35 inches from the coupler. The load placed on these bars can be adjusted by changing the angle of the hitch head, which determines how much weight is transferred back to the front axle.

The idea behind the FALR method is to return 50-100% of the weight that was lost from the front axle back to it. This ensures proper handling and braking characteristics while towing. But you can go the other way, too, by not having enough weight distribution on the rear axle. When this happens, the rear wheels might lose traction when turning, accelerating or braking. This loss of traction can cause the tow vehicle to spin or otherwise lose control.

Here’s a chart that shows what happens to a truck’s weight distribution when you connect a trailer with a 1,000-pound tongue weight to a half-ton truck. It shows how adding a weight-distribution hitch will restore weight to the front axle.

Weight-Distribution Example of Weight Change With 1,000-Pound Tongue Weight

  Front Fender
Measurements (Inches)​
Front-Axle Weight Change From Baseline​ (Pounds) Rear-Axle Weight Change From Baseline (Pounds)​

Trailer-Axle Weight Change From Baseline (Pounds)​

Total Weight Change (Pounds)​
Uncoupled/baseline​ 39 0 0 0 0
Coupled 40 -400 1,400 0 1,000
Weight distribution 50% 39.5 -200 1,075 125 1,000

Weight distribution 100%

39 0 750 250 1,000

When to Use Weight Distribution?

We recommend following the vehicle’s owner’s manual, but below, we‘ve broken down the manufacturer recommendations for each half-ton truck.

The heavier a trailer in relation to the weight of the tow vehicle, the greater effect it will have on the tow vehicle. Most manufacturers don’t list a requirement for using a weight-distribution hitch when towing with a three-quarter-ton or larger truck; however, this doesn’t mean that one should not be used. As a baseline, it’s a good idea to consider using a weight-distribution hitch when the trailer being towed weighs 50% or more of the tow vehicle’s weight.

Many weight-distribution hitches also provide sway control. Sway control decreases the tendency of a trailer to move side to side behind the tow vehicle in wind, poor road conditions and when the driver makes an error. This comes into play when towing high-profile trailers, especially ones designed to be lightweight. The high sides of travel trailers are very susceptible to wind gusts and bow waves from passing vehicles. They also have a higher center of gravity than most other trailers, so uneven road surfaces can cause them to rock or sway more than a trailer with a low center of gravity. When towing this kind of trailer, it’s highly recommended to use a weight-distribution hitch with sway control at almost any weight. If any sway is experienced when not using a weight-distribution hitch, that’s a good sign that an upgrade is needed.

Along with restoring weight to the front axle, weight-distribution hitches reduce the amount of rear suspension sag when towing. If the rear of a tow vehicle settles significantly when a trailer is attached, it may be a good idea to add a weight-distribution hitch. Airbags can help with the sag, but they don’t solve the problem of front-axle weight loss. 

Keep in mind that trailer loading is also extremely important. Most conventionally towed trailers should have a tongue weight that’s 10-15% of the total trailer weight. Less than 10% can cause sway and stability issues, while more than 15% can potentially overload the tow vehicle’s rear axle.

A weight-distribution hitch will not increase the overall towing capacity of a vehicle. Never tow more weight than the lowest rated item’s rating in the entire system.

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When Not to Use Weight Distribution

Some vehicles, especially those with unitized bodies and frames, explicitly state that a weight-distribution hitch is not to be used. This is because the forces on the hitch receiver and tow vehicle frame from a weight-distribution hitch are very different from what a normal ball mount would do. In some vehicles, this could cause damage to the structure of the vehicle.

Oftentimes, rental trailers are equipped with surge brakes, along with many boat trailers. Most chain-style weight-distribution hitches aren’t compatible with surge brakes, so be sure to use a weight-distribution hitch that clearly states it will work with surge brakes when towing a trailer so equipped.

Some trailers have a pole tongue instead of an A-frame tongue. A pole tongue uses a single frame member that extends from the front of a trailer instead of two pieces forming an “A” shape. Weight-distribution hitches use brackets that attach to the trailer A-frame to support the arms at a certain angle. When towing a trailer with a pole tongue, many weight-distribution hitches will require the use of a pole tongue adapter.

Half-Ton Truck Weight-Distribution Hitch Recommendations

2022 Ford F-150

Ford recommends a weight-distribution hitch be used on the 2022 F-150 for any trailer over 5,000 pounds. Its FALR recommendation is 50%.

2021 GMC Sierra 1500, Chevrolet Silverado 1500

For 2021 GMC and Chevrolet 1500s, it’s recommended that a weight-distribution hitch be used for trailers 7,000 pounds and over. Just like Ford, the GM products recommend a 50% FALR.

2021 Nissan Titan, Titan XD

In both the 2021 Titan and Titan XD, Nissan recommends a weight-distribution hitch be used for trailers over 5,000 pounds. A FALR recommendation isn’t clear in the Nissan owner’s manual, so be sure to use the recommended setup in the hitch’s owner’s manual. 

2022 Ram 1500

For the 1500, Ram recommends a weight-distribution hitch for any load over 5,000 pounds and a FALR of 66%. 

2021 and 2022 Toyota Tundra

Like the others, Toyota recommends a weight-distribution hitch be used for loads over 5,000 pounds with the Tundra. However, it differs from the others by suggesting a full 100% FALR.

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