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Old 02-04-2015, 02:37 PM   #1
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Question Is it safe to exceed the "10-15% tongue weight" rule?

Is it safe if the trailer's hitch weight is more than 15% of it's total weight? I
am shopping for a used Airstream and while researching specs I have that some of the models have a hitch weight percentage (hitch weight / unloaded vehicle weight) that is greater than 15%. By the time I add propane and load up the trailer it is feasible that the hitch weight will get close to 20% (I have seen this exact problem on some non-Airstream trailers as-well). I noticed that numerous member's state that their actual tongue weights were well above Airstream's numbers (and I never saw someone claim it was less).
Should I have any concern about a high hitch weight percent? Is it safe as long as the tow vehicle's limits aren't exceeded (payload, GCVW, tow capacity, etc)?


PS I searched these forums for the answer and couldn't find it. If this topic has been covered kindly post the link and I will read the thread.
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Old 02-04-2015, 02:55 PM   #2
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Most trailer manufactures recommend 10-15% tongue weight ,it's better to have more tongue weight then not enough, the problem you have is when you increase the tongue weight is you transfer the weight to your tow vehicle and maybe will overload your rear axle and also when you put the weight on the rear of your tow vehicle you take the weight off your steering axle ,this can cause a light steering and unsafe condition. So you must adjust for this in your hitch set up, increasing the weight distribution bars to transfer the weight to the front wheels, if the tongue weight is less then 10% the trailer will tend to sway. Make sure you don't exceed your rear axle rating with all your gear loaded in the tow vehicle and trailer.


Don
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Old 02-04-2015, 02:58 PM   #3
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Don't worry about it until you get all your stuff in it. If it has rear storage, that is where most of your "stuff" goes. Store light stuff in the front, heavy over and rearward of the axles. A bit over the 15% recommendation is no big deal, but heed what Don says above.
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Old 02-04-2015, 03:00 PM   #4
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The benefits of greater TW flatten out at 15%. Heavier offers no real benefit, and starts to become a problem for the TV.

Unless one deliberately loaded the TT in such a way as to increase weight on the nose, it is unlikely to occur as a percentage of the total weight.

It is possible to overload the TT and the TW become too high as a result. Just not as a percentage increase. One would be past GVWR and need to correct the problem as a heavy tongue would be only one of the problems needing remedy.

That said, I'd imagine some ill advised total trailer rebuilds could present that problem.

But a stock trailer should not have the problem short of transporting gravel inside.
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Old 02-05-2015, 10:26 AM   #5
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Supposedly, the official Airstream tongue weights include batteries in place and full propane tanks. I don't think they include full waste and water tanks. I suspect that the biggest contributor to added tongue weight is the hitch itself. I believe the standard ProPride weighs around 190 lbs. Almost all of that is going to be tongue weight. In addition Airstreams with front queen beds have storage cabinets above and to either side of the bed on the front wall of the trailer. If you stuff those full, most of that is going to be tongue weight unless counterbalanced by stuff at the other end of the trailer.
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Old 02-05-2015, 12:39 PM   #6
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18% tongue weight

Hi LuckyStrike-

We have a 2009 28' International, and our gone weight is 1260, which is 17% of the rated 7300 max rated weight for the Airstream, and 18% of our actual down the road weight of 6980. The Airstream tows beautifully--rock solid going down the road with our Equalizr Weight distribution hitch. We have two extra batteries forward for a longer lasting solar system for when we are "boondocking" or "dry camping", and this has added 130 lbs to the original two batteries, so our tongue weight from the factory (when we are fully loaded with cargo) would have been 1130, which is 16% of our 6980 actual weight, and 15.4% of our max rated weight.

This is all just fine for the Airstream--it's about the two vehicle!

We tow with a 2013 Sprinter 3500 (one-ton with duallies). Payload is not the issue--the rear axle is rated for 7000 lbs and we're at 5080 with the trailer attached but weight distribution not applied. The issue for us is that although the Sprinter is rated to tow 7500 lbs, the factory hitch is rated at 750 lbs of tongue weight--ouch. So we replaced that with a 10,000 lb/1000lb hitch (which the hitch installed said is actually tested to way beyond that to be able to make the claim safely, and that 1300 lbs is not an issue). And we've already towed 20,000 miles with this rig with no issues. But now that lithium batteries are available, I'm going to hire Lew Farber to swap out all four AGM's (260 lbs) for the equivalent in lithiums (85 lbs). In theory, this will reduce our tongue weight to 1085 or thereabouts, which sounds much safer to me. It will also reduce our overall weight to 6715, so we'll be around 16%. And from decades of towing small sailboats behind ridiculously small vehicles, I know that too much tongue weight is WAY better than too little--as long as it doesn't lift the front wheels of the tow vehicle off the ground so you can't steer, of course. But this latter is not an issue with a weight distribution hitch, so that doesn't apply

So as was stated, as long as you are using a good weight distribution hitch, the issue is typically not the Airstream's tongue weight per se, but rather the limitations or strengths of your tow vehicle--either it's rear axle load or it's overall payload. And in our case, the tongue weight specified by the tow vehicle's manufacturer.

We are extremely careful as to how we load the Airstream's limited storage. We used to carry spare drinking water (about 10 gallons or 80 lbs) forward under our couch, but have been carrying it in the forward part of our rear bed (right over the rear axle) to keep weight off the front of the trailer. Because the extra batteries (and soon the new lighter weight lithiums) are in the L of the couch on the left side, we will actually revisit where everything is stored internally, trying to get 85 lbs of cargo (like beverages and canned goods, for example) stored opposite the batteries on the right side of the coach to do everything we can to have it rest naturally level.

Airstreams perform remarkable well on the highway. But much like loading a boat for an extended sea voyage, where you place moveable ballast can radically affect trim and performance.

To that end, when we are making a long journey, stopping only overnight and traveling all day, our travel mode says that we start with dry grey and black tanks, and a maximum of 1/4 tank of fresh (I usually aim for closer to 1/8). That means that instead of a maximum of 120 gallons (1600 lbs!) on board, we typically have less than 10 gallons (80 lbs) in the tanks. The weights above include about 3/8 tank of fresh--15 gallons or 120 lbs.

On our last trip in September, we met friends in the Sierra Nevadas and there was no place to dump after our stay. Traveling with half full grey, 1/4 full black, and 1/4 fresh (400 lbs more water than we typically have on board) made a HUGE difference in the way the trailer felt. We were most likely just over the maximum rated weight at that point. Everything tracked straight as usual, but there was a noticeable difference in feel when braking, which of course we allowed for. But I sure wouldn't want to travel that way any more than was necessary.
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Old 02-05-2015, 01:16 PM   #7
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Our Airstream Owners Manual warns:

"WARNING: The tongue weight should he approximately 10% of the trailer’s total weight, but MUST NOT EXCEED 1,000 lbs. And, under no condition should it exceed the hitch rating. Your hitch installer should provide your hitch rating information."

Have you read yours?
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Old 02-05-2015, 01:30 PM   #8
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I find it ironic that you fully discard your TVs user manual when it comes to payload, tow rating, GCWR, etc but are worried about a warning in the Airstream manual. I thought these warnings were written by legal/marketing departments and should just be ignored?
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Old 02-05-2015, 01:30 PM   #9
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Three passes across a certified, three pad scale is the best method for an accurate TW reading. Preferably, as loaded for trip with pax and gear.

1). Trailer hitched, with WD tensioned.

2). Trailer hitched, with WD slackened.

3). TV only

TW can be accurately deduced with this. A Cat Scale, found nationwide.

As handy as it is to have a Sherline Scale, it is best to use the above method as the default reading.
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Old 02-05-2015, 02:31 PM   #10
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Watch your payload first. This is a safety issue for you, your family and the public as well. The axles, tires, brakes, wheels etc are all a consideration and are appropriately rated which results into an acceptable "payload" as one consideration. This number is labeled in the door jamb of your tow vehicle which you likely already know. Keep in mind that anything in the bed of your truck which is to the rear of your trucks back axle will add to tongue weight as well as the WD-hitch, the propane, water and cargo you carry. THIS IS A SAFETY ISSUE FIRST AND FOREMOST. Like others have stated, the 3-pad scale will tell the story. The engineering and safety considerations that have gone into the capacities and limitations placed on your vehicle and trailer are there for a wonderful reason. Safe travels!!
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Old 02-05-2015, 02:45 PM   #11
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scamp, your post is "on da money". Please duplicate at your leisure.

gecko, excellent post. Very thorough, to the point, and well said. You raised very valid points that we should all heed. I learned from your post, I'll say that.

earthcreeper nails it.

dkottum, While your advice comes from the AS manual, you're not really answering the OP's questions fully. He is asking if it is safe as long as the tow vehicles limits are not exceeded.

And yes Lucky Strike, it IS ok to exceed a 10% tongue weight, as long as you are not exceeding your tow vehicles limits. As stated above, and all is good advice, get your rig weighed when you have her fully loaded. As the television commercial says, when you play with math, you WILL lose. Know your limits for both the TT & TV. We want you here, posting about the good times you have shared with others. Safe trips, happy Streamin'.
Sea ya down the road.
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Old 02-05-2015, 02:47 PM   #12
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Lucky Strike,

QUOTE "Is it safe as long as the tow vehicle's limits aren't exceeded (payload, GCVW, tow capacity, etc)?"QUOTE

Yes...Along with tire & axle ratings for both TV & AS.

Now wasn't that easy?

Bob
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Old 02-05-2015, 04:09 PM   #13
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Truck payload is religion to some but others consider it a recommendation and concern themselves with axle ratings. My payload door sticker says "should never exceed", the axle ratings leave no wiggle room. It is possible to be within payload spec and exceed an axle rating, which is one reason why a quality weight distribution hitch properly adjusted is important when towing your Airstream. As well as weighing your loaded rig with weight distribution applied.

As for hitch weight, factory spec's are seldom correct, useful for little more than selecting size of weight distribution bars, and even then you must also add in the truck's bed load which is located behind the truck's axles.

Hitch weight is also not cut and dried. It needs to be at least 10% of the loaded trailer weight. That would be about 720 lbs for us. We were over 1000 lbs hitch weight so I moved some weight from the front of the trailer farther back to lighten hitch weight. I plan to lighten it more. That results in less load on the truck and lighter weight distribution, most probably a smoother ride for the integrity of trailer rivets and my back.
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Old 02-05-2015, 05:10 PM   #14
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It looks like the one number I did not look at was axle weight rating. Everything else checks out (based on specs). I will figure out the GAWR next. The last step will then be to get it all weighed on a scale.
Thanks for all the input on my question.
I still find it odd that RV manufacturers can produce trailers that start off over 15% when everyone states "make sure your tongue weight is between 10-15%" as if it is law.
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