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Understanding Weight Distribution Hitches and Anti-Sway Control Bars

Owning an Airstream trailer, has always been a dream of mine. When that became a reality, I had to learn all about towing them, and learned some really important things along the journey. I wish someone had explained to me what weight distribution hitch for Airstream was when I first purchased a trailer.

Understanding The Complexities of Weight Distribution and Swaying 

When I first started looking at campers, I also started to look for something I could afford to tow them with. I got a 7040lb towing capacity, Mercury Mountaineer. It was the perfect vehicle for towing a camper. I needed something smaller in weight than a conventional fifth wheel and looked into Airstreams. I found versions perfect to tow with my V8 Engine. However, I noticed a lot of swaying going on.This is when I learned that I needed a weight distribution hitch to haul the camper. When an Airstream is towed behind a vehicle, there is a lot of stress put on it. This is where a weight distribution hitch comes in. It keeps the weight of the vehicle and what’s towed behind it stable. Understanding this concept in more detail, can be found at I learned my first lessons here, on exactly what weight distribution is, regarding towing a trailer. 

Why You May Need a Weight Distribution Hitch 

When towing behind a vehicle, trailer’s weight may induce, undue stress on the rear axle.This can cause an SUV or truck, to drag in the back and the front to be pointed up. At first, I got a standard rear-mounted hitch. This also pulled on the rear axle. Other issues I noticed were unstable steering, swaying of the trailer, and impacted view of the road because of the trailer moving around behind me. Unless you have a vehicle with a superior air suspension system, (I don’t) a weight distribution hitch is highly recommended. A sway bar system, also may be needed. I will explain all of this as we go further into the article. 

 Hitch Guidelines 

When I got an Airstream, I had to get a vehicle that was compatible with towing it. I did some research on this at

My trailer paperwork explained that there’s more to just the towing capacity of a vehicle. I had to understand two terms. One was trailer gross weight and tongue weight. The gross total weight is basically exactly as it sounds. It is how much a trailer weighs with everything included in it that I would be towing. The tongue weight, however, is the pressure of the tongue of the camper, when it’s level and resting. To calculate tongue weight, I have also included a guide on where to do this here This easy to understand site will clearly, along with your trailer manual, help you to understand, how much you can tow behind a vehicle. It all depends on how you purchased the order of things. Did the vehicle come as a result of the trailer, or did the trailer come as a result of the vehicle? I got the vehicle, and then the trailer. I had to input the numbers in to find out what kind of trailer I could get, which would tow behind the type of vehicle I purchased. 

Weight Distribution Hitches Compose of Various Parts 

The first thing to keep in mind is that the word weight distribution hitch, is not a single item. It refers to various parts needed to tow a trailer. I’ll explain the various components separately, but you can buy a system with all components, including an anti-sway system, together if you choose. I asked a mechanic, Chris Ramey how weight distribution hitches worked and he explained the following paragraph to me. 

Understanding the Hitch Receiver

The first part that attaches to a vehicle is a hitch receiver. It can be attached two ways. The first way is to a bumper, or it can be installed on the frame. It has square sockets on it. Attaching an Airstream to a bumper however, may cause the bumper to fall off. Unless it’s an extremely light trailer, don’t go this route. Having a bumper fall off while driving is incredibly dangerous. The receiver socket comes in different sizes as well. There is a steel frame also included in this part of the weight distribution set-up. These frames come in five classes. They are rated from one to five, the larger the class, the more you can tow. 

Ball Mounts and Hitch Balls

When connecting to the receiver, there will be a ball mount. It will lock into place with a hitch pin and a hole. This attaches a hitch ball to it. This system can be a very simple one or a more complex system. There can be a set up that allows the hitch ball to be vertically placed or straight. The hitch ball is on a post and can be in a variety of sizes. The ball mount, receiver and the ball are the technical hitch components. There is however, a Coupler. This is what the hitch ball rests on. This is a socket that is open. This attaches to the tongue of the trailer. It is related, but not a technical part of the hitch. A specific weight distribution hitch is needed however, as it is designed to tow a heavier trailer. These have spring bars made of steel in them and allow the vehicle and trailer to attach together, evenly distributed. 

Anti-Sway Systems and the Sway Bar

I found that some hitch systems help to control the trailer from swaying. This is different than an actual sway bar. it is vital to have this component of a hitch system because of other vehicles passing by. Inclement weather can also cause this issue, as well as high winds. Both situations cause can cause the trailer to sway. A sway control bar, is attached by bolts, on the tongue of the trailer. The weight distribution hitch system is put on first, then a ball is connected to a sway control bar. It is then tightened down to keep the tension at a proper level to keep the trailer from swaying as you drive down the road. This can be a difficult process, getting all of these components separately. It is not as safe as a weight distribution hitch and anti sway system that are made to go together as one piece. A sway bar has to be connected and disconnected more often than a combination model hitch system. 

Why Sway Control is So Important

Getting an entire sway control system with the weight distribution hitch, can make sure that the proper amount of tension is on holding the trailer in place. Friction is caused by the hitch and sway control. This gives one considerably more control than a weight distribution hitch alone. Turning can be problematic without a proper anti-sway system in place. Without a proper anti-sway system in place, an entire trailer can flip over in severe circumstances. Having a weight distribution hitch with anti-sway control or a weight distribution hitch with a sway bar attached, helps to keep yourself and others on the road safe. The friction that is in that anti-sway system can behave like the mechanism of what can be compared to as brakes. It causes enough friction and resistance, to keep a trailer from swaying too far into other lanes and possibly hitting vehicles, or flipping. A weight distribution hitch certainly helps, buy sway control is an essential part of staying centered on the highway.  


Anti-sway Control and Weight Distribution Hitches That are Built Together

Having the sway control bar and weight distribution hitch, purchased separately can cause a little more inconvenience than getting a system that is designed to work together. With anti-sway bars for Airstream, I needed holes to be drilled into the frame. An integrated anti-sway and weight distribution hitch combination system can be a more convenient option. Understanding everything separately, however, is necessary as I learned, as a first-time trailer owner, usually just gets a weight-distribution hitch. I made this mistake. It worked to keep it level on the road, but I still experienced significant swaying of the trailer. That’s when I learned about the importance of anti-sway mechanism systems. I attached the sway bar after the hitch and it worked but not as well as an entire system that controls swaying.  

How Combination Weight Distribution Ant-Sway Systems Work

Some systems that integrate both weight distribution and sway control together work by using springs. This puts tension and friction on the side of the trailer. It also still allowed me to turn easily enough as it was built to have the right amount of friction in order to still drive my vehicle with a trailer attached. It is up to individual preference to decide whether to purchase all of these components as separate entities or as a built together weight distribution anti-sway hatch unit. I personally added the sway bar system to the weight distribution hatch for a while, then got a combined system that made my life a lot easier. Having that control, without constantly disconnecting the sway bar portion when I backed up, made things significantly more convenient.