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Old 02-26-2012, 11:44 PM   #1
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What is the point of the fancy hitches?

I'm new to the forum. My wife and I are thinking of buying an airstream. I am a farmer and tow heavy loads regularly. Farm equipment, trailers, car haulers, boats, etc. I've never even heard of the Hensley hitches, etc. until reading this forum. What do they do that is so special? I'm an airstream virgin, so maybe there is something to do with the trailers that makes the fancy hitches necessary?
Dave
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Old 02-27-2012, 12:05 AM   #2
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Since I still have the first Reese equalizing hitch I bought when I got my first AS in 1979, and it has worked for me for all these years, I will be interested to see the replies.

I have my popcorn ready.
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Old 02-27-2012, 12:17 AM   #3
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You've opened a can of worms now.
I'm also a farmer and have been towing trailers with weights far in excess of what my Argosy weighs for years. I've towed tandem trailers meaning one behind the other in just about every combination of length and weight one could imagine.
Never owned a weight distribution hitch, let alone something as fancy as a Hensley.
Never heard of a Hensley Hitch until I joined this forum.
Have always understood the principles of trailer weight distribution and proper hitch heights etc. Good brakes good tires and safe speeds have gotten me thru 40 years without incident.
Hope to get thru the next 40 as well.
I'm sure you will get every opinion known to man about every type of specialty hitch out there.
I just love reading threads on this subject and those on tires and their types and the amount of air etc.
Don't really know how one makes a decision after reading all opinions.
Have fun here!
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Old 02-27-2012, 12:32 AM   #4
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Fancy hitches generally address two things . One is weight distribution. A properly adjusted WD hitch will move some of the tongue weight from the rear axel of the truck and apply it to the front axel so they share the load. It does the same for a multi-axel trailer by moving some of the tongue weight to the rear axle. In other words, it moves some of the tongue weight to the furthest axles.

The other element is anti-sway but this is only relevant if you have a long trailer and don't want to get into an accident. I use the Reese Dual Cam for anti-sway control. My trailer is 31' feet long and the blast of air from a fast moving bus or semi passing would otherwise cause that long of trailer to start to sway. Its much easier to maintain control and I consider it to be a safety device. This is for when you have sail area some distance away from the axles.
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Old 02-27-2012, 12:38 AM   #5
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Keep in mind the context here is often lighter tow vehicles. Perhaps lighter than farmers are using to tow heavy loads. Semis don't use or need WD but a F150 or an SUV towing 7,000 can sure benefit from it.
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Old 02-27-2012, 12:47 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Not Done View Post
Keep in mind the context here is often lighter tow vehicles. Perhaps lighter than farmers are using to tow heavy loads. Semis don't use or need WD but a F150 or an SUV towing 7,000 can sure benefit from it.
I think you've hit the nail on the head. Airstreams have an aerodynamic shape and tow very well, but since they are recreational vehicles, a lot of the folks who own them would like to tow them with the vehicle they already have, and often that is not an optimal tow vehicle. So hitches can compensate for a smaller tow vehicle, and to some extent, for less experienced drivers. Or it can just help people who don't normally tow anything feel more confident in their rig's stability.

There's always room for someone to build a better mousetrap, right?
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Old 02-27-2012, 12:51 AM   #7
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There are a few things that the 'fancy' hitches are trying to help with:

Weight distribution (WD) - bigger trailers have heavier hitch weights that may exceed the limits of what the tow vehicle (TV) is designed to handle, or upset the balance of he vehicle by having too much weight on the back, which can lighten the front-end. A WD hitch uses tensioned spring bars between the tow vehicle and trailer to transfer weight... essentially lifting up on the back axle of the TV creating a corresponding push down on the front axle of the TV and the trailer.

Proper set up is best done with access to an accurate scale, but you can follow the hitch manufacturer's directions and get a good setup by measuring the space from the wheels to the fender... essentially trying to get a 'level' attitude on the tow vehicle.

Sway Control - there are different ways to do this, but the goal is to reduce or control the sway a trailer can create if it starts to oscillate due to side-winds, road surface, or unbalanced loading. Simple set ups are just a friction bar that resists movement, like a sock absorber. More complicated setups use cams or bars that combine sway control with weight distribution. Others like the Hensley or ProPride use more advanced geometry to create a system where the trailer can't truly impart a sway movement to the TV - though if it does move, it has to move the whole TV.

Fancy hitches aren't an Airstream unique issue... when you are trying to hang 10-15% of the trailer weight on the hitch of the TV, that can be over 1000 lbs on bigger trailers. Unless you want to use a tractor as a tow vehicle, you need some kind of WD hitch to do it. Most of the current WD hitches incorporate some kind of sway control... as it can be a byproduct of the WD bars implementation (friction). The Hensley/Pro do these functions separately.

Some people just get a 1 ton and drop the whole thing on the hitch and go... if it's within the limits for your rig that might work fine. Others will have horror stories on sway-induced disasters with setups like that. Others yet will clearly be out of range for their vehicle, and still tow... and some will wreck even with the 'proper' setup.

So... there is no clear answer, except that generally, a proper WD hitch and sway control is the 'best' way to go. It can't solve every problem or save your ass if whatever scenario you run into overloads the system. Of wrecks I have been to, they almost always are on downhill sweeping corners, where the setup starts to run fast, the brakes aren't setup great, the TV tries to slow and the whole thing jackknifes and everything goes in random directions. But, any sudden force applied to a rig (sidewinds, heavy braking, uneven road) can be amplified by being in a corner (or even on the flat) and cause problems.

I pull a 22' that weights 4500 ready to roll, and 400 on the hitch. It's a tandem and my SUV has a very short overhang from the axle to the hitch. I tow without WD or sway, as everything is balanced the way it is. It's been in big winds and through winding mountain roads with never a tiny wiggle. I also make sure the tires and brakes on everything are working. Some will suggest I need WD... but my TV doesn't drop much when I hook up, so I'm going with what has worked so far.

I'd say to try find a hitch expert in your area once you get your rig... but ask around here for who is good... I've heard some scary advice from some dealers (and good advice from some)...

It's not an exact science just because of all the variables...

Everyone will have a favourite setup... you'll have to look at each configuration (tow vehicle and trailer) and see what problem(s) you want to address, decide on your budget, and get what will work. My local RV dealer sells a 'no name' WD/sway cam setup for $400... Reese Dual Cam can be $500-$600 or so... Hensleys $3000+ for new.
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Old 02-27-2012, 04:29 AM   #8
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Farmers do not tow at 60 to 70 miles an hour like many of our members do. Farm equipment is heavy but does not have the relatively big flat sidewalls that trailers do. We are much more effected by side winds from big trailer trucks passing us or unfavorable winds in the mountains. Farmers use mostly full box 3/4 to one ton trucks rather than light short wheel base SUV's.
Working farmers are not 70-80 years old with limited trailer experience. Some of us, here on this forum, can and should use all the technology available to make up for our short comings and keep us from having accidents. If you have the experience and equipment that will not benefit from the "fancy" hitches, and you feel like your rig is stable in all conditions, maybe you do not need to spend the extra money. You are always taking your life in your own hands.
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Old 02-27-2012, 05:46 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by farmerdave View Post
I'm new to the forum. My wife and I are thinking of buying an airstream. I am a farmer and tow heavy loads regularly. Farm equipment, trailers, car haulers, boats, etc. I've never even heard of the Hensley hitches, etc. until reading this forum. What do they do that is so special? I'm an airstream virgin, so maybe there is something to do with the trailers that makes the fancy hitches necessary?
Dave
I used to farm and would tow all kinds of things, tandem hayracks, gravity dump grain wagons, equipment.

I tow my Airstream now with a Propride hitch, which I suppose you would consider one of the "fancy" ones. Would never use anything else.

There are several reasons why the hitch is so important compared to the situation with farm loads. Heavy farm loads are nearly always hitched with a gooseneck hitch, which puts the tongue weight and the pivot point forward of the rear axle. The geometry and performance of the Hensley and Propride hitches is similar to a gooseneck, but achieved mechanically rather than through placement.

The other thing is that the wind load and weight distribution with RVs is much worse, pound for pound, than pretty much anything else pulled with a bumper hitch. With boats of equal length, more of the weight is over the trailer axle, and the wind load is smaller. Airstreams aren't as bad in this regard as other brands, because they are lower and more rounded, but the amount of area exposed to crosswinds from the bow wave of a passing semi is considerable.

Finally the use case is different. I frequently drive at the speed limit, up to 75 mph depending on the state. I travel several thousand miles a year, with many Airstreamers traveling far further. Many of these miles end up being at night or in poor weather, on unfamiliar roads, in construction zones, down the sides of mountains, and so on. With farm loads you mostly know the roads and choose the day, and people who haul cattle or grain all day every day have semis or goosenecks.
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Old 02-27-2012, 08:01 AM   #10
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Jammer expresses my sentiments perfectly -- and if you read through the posts on these Forums about what "ideal" looks like you will come away with different definitions. When I bought my new trailer late last year, I decided to go with the ProPride based solely on what I pulled out of reading everything I could on this site -- and interpreting it for MY particular trailer, MY tow vehicle, and what I could afford. I'm delighted with my choice.
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Old 02-27-2012, 08:16 AM   #11
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I think a lot of it boils down to: the tow vehicle is too small (VW), the speeds are high (80MPH), the experience levels are low, and many are old. If you have a 1 ton truck you can probably tow without anything special. Some trailer/tow vehicle combinations are unstable and require sway control. One positive thing about a weight distributing hitch is they have a long extension on the ball which increases your jackknife angle so backing up is easier. Increasing this lever arm makes sway control more important and weight distribution as well. You don't want to tow with an extended ball without the load bars and sway control. I am using old school load bars and friction sway control and I am having no problems. A 5th wheel is going to tow much better because the pivot point is over the wheels instead of 3 or 4 ft behind them where that lever arm can be used to destabilize the rig.

Perry

Quote:
Originally Posted by farmerdave View Post
I'm new to the forum. My wife and I are thinking of buying an airstream. I am a farmer and tow heavy loads regularly. Farm equipment, trailers, car haulers, boats, etc. I've never even heard of the Hensley hitches, etc. until reading this forum. What do they do that is so special? I'm an airstream virgin, so maybe there is something to do with the trailers that makes the fancy hitches necessary?
Dave
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Old 02-27-2012, 08:48 AM   #12
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We upgraded from a set of normal round bars to one of those "fancy hitches" for many reasons:

1. We are NOT old, and carry kids around.
2. We fulltime, and put a lot more miles than a simple week-end warrior
3. As Andy likes to say in these forums, people spend tons of money on a trailer (new or old) then get cheap on one of the most important parts.
4. Technology has come a long way over the years, and why not use the best if you can?
5. My wife feels more comfortable and stable with the new setup (I cannot stress how important this is)
6. Because of #5, she feels more comfortable towing if something were to happen to me.
7. We put somewhere around 10k to 20k miles a year on our trailer, thus increasing the likelihood (statically speaking, anyway) of something "bad" happening -- we think of the "fancy" hitches as an insurance policy of sorts.
8. In our situation, it allowed us to open the tailgate of our truck while still being hitched up (we couldn't before).
9. With myself, my wife and my 2 kids in the truck, you can't (at least in my mind) put a price on that cargo, so spending the extra money was/is a no-brainer.
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Old 02-27-2012, 09:09 AM   #13
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We use one of those "fancy hitches" also. Like many of the other posters, I do this because I feel that weight distribution is very important to keep enough weight on the steering axle to maintain effective steering control. In the sway department, I don't want to feel any reaction when I am passed by a semi on the highway. My "fancy hitch" achieves this goal. I would not tow without it.

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Old 02-27-2012, 09:13 AM   #14
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If you're going to have a fancy trailer you gotta have a fancy hitch!

Seriously, all the WD hitches help. I have used Reese, Equalizer, Hensley and no WD hitch except for a friction sway bar. You have to figure out what works best for your TT/TV combination. I have never experienced sway with or without any of these hitches which I attribute to the airstream aerodynamics. My Hensley came with the last trailer I bought and I have learned to appreciate it's qualities, more so during a panic stop and evasive maneuvers. I probably would not have considered buying the Hensley, but now seeing how it works keeping the trailer movement somewhat independent of the TV movement, it's value has become more apparent.
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