How to Reduce Tongue Weight on a Trailer

GCWR, GVWR, GAWR…these are abbreviations that every travel trailer owner should be familiar with, yet they’re kind of mind-boggling if you’re looking at them for the first time. (Just as a refresher, GCWR is short for gross combined weight rating, GVWR is gross vehicle weight, and GAWR is gross axle weight).

That’s because each of those rather confusing abbreviations is necessary to determine the max amount of weight your travel trailer can handle when it’s empty, full of passengers, and full of gear as well as passengers. If you exceed any of the weight ratings above, as well as the other weight ratings that exist for travel trailers, you could risk breaking an axle or having an unstable trailer. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Now we’re going to throw one more weight rating at you, one of the most important ones: tongue weight. This is not at all related to the tongue that’s in your mouth, of course, but it’s still something you must know before you set out on the road in your travel trailer.

Not quite sure what the tongue weight is, what it means, or how to calculate it? No problem. In this article, we’re going to cover all that and more so you know you’re always as safe as can when driving your travel trailer.

What Is Tongue Weight?

Tongue weight, often abbreviated as just TW, relates to the trailer’s tongue. The tongue of a trailer may be smaller or larger, but it’s always made of metal. Sometimes it’s rounder in shape while other times it has a wider, triangular edge. The trailer tongue may also be painted.

The tongue is part of the hitch that connects your travel trailer to your truck or SUV. It, like many other towing components, has a certain weight requirement. When you measure the tongue weight, you’re calculating the limit of how much force can be pressed down on the trailer hitch before its stability becomes compromised. 

What Is the Proper Tongue Weight for a Trailer?

Okay, so now that you know a little bit more about what tongue weight is, how can you calculate it? Well, before you can do that, you must first know your vehicle’s gross trailer weight or GTW.

Why? That’s because the recommended tongue weight should be a percentage of the GTW. The tongue weight should be no more than 15 percent of the GTW. It can be within nine or 10 percent as well, but no lower than that.

How Do You Measure the Tongue Weight on a Trailer?

To understand the tongue weight, we’re going to have to backtrack and first determine the gross trailer weight. What exactly does the GTW include in its weight measurement in the first place? Ah, another good question.

Let’s backtrack a step further and define what a gross trailer weight is. It’s simply how much your travel trailer weighs when it’s full of all cargo, passengers, gear, and equipment. That’s not too hard to figure out.

If you can get your hands on an industrial driving scale, that’s the fastest and simplest way to calculate the gross trailer weight. You may want to borrow one of these scales if you can though, as some of them retail for close to $700!

Just use that scale and be sure to keep in mind what your travel trailer’s GTW is. Now that you’re armed with that information, we can get back to our original task, which is figuring out the tongue weight of your trailer.

It’s recommended you know the exact weight of the towing tongue before anything else. That will allow you to get the most accurate calculation for the tongue weight. Although this may seem a little confusing, the weight of the tongue itself and tongue weight (TW) are two totally different calculations.

You won’t have to use an industrial-sized scale to determine the weight of the tongue, but rather a traditional measuring scale you already have in your house. Write down the weight of the tongue so you don’t forget it.

There are certain recommended weight limits for the tongue. If the towing tongue weighs below 60 pounds, it’s recommended you move all cargo so it’s closer to the front axle. If it weighs more than 60 pounds, then move all cargo nearer the rear axle.

With all that handy information written down, you can take the gross trailer weight (which may be 500 pounds and up) and divide that by the desired percentage of the trailer weight, such as 10 or 12 percent. This will tell you acceptable weight range of the tongue. After that, you’re done.

Is Hitch Weight the Same as the Tongue Weight?

Phew! That was all quite complicated, wasn’t it? Just like many of the other calculations we’ve discussed in this blog, they take a bit of time, but they’re crucial as a travel trailer owner.

Now we’re going to throw one more calculation at you: the hitch weight. This is sometimes also known as the pin weight if you drive a fifth-wheel travel trailer with a fifth-wheel hitch.

If you’re new to the world of RVs, you may wonder if the hitch weight and tongue weight are pretty much one and the same. After all, they both seem to refer to how much force can be pressed down on the trailer hitch.

The answer is yes. In fact, some people even prefer calling this measurement the trailer hitch tongue weight.

If you see either term, though, don’t be confused. They are referring to the same measurement and can essentially be used interchangeably, unless you’re talking about a fifth-wheel travel trailer.

What Is the Max Tongue Weight on a Travel Trailer?

The max tongue weight for a travel trailer varies depending on the manufacturer of said trailer as well as the vehicle’s weight. Here are some examples of the max tongue weight from some popular travel trailer manufacturers.

Don’t see your trailer listed here? Be sure to check your owner’s manual or consult with your manufacturer to figure out your vehicle’s own max tongue weight.

  • Jayco 27BH travel trailer has a tongue weight range of 750 pounds up to 1,125 pounds if the vehicle itself is 7,500 pounds.
  • Winnebago Micro Minnie 2106DS has a max tongue weight of 360 pounds if the vehicle’s max dry weight is 4,000 pounds.
  • Dutchmen’s 2004 Sport 26 trailer has a max tongue weight of 672 pounds if the dry weight is 6,720 pounds.

Why Does Tongue Weight Matter?

You understand tongue weight now more than ever, but if you’re asking why it matters, here’s the answer: safety. The safety of you and your passengers is paramount. That’s why you always try to be the most conscientious driver you can be.

When you choose to hitch a trailer to your vehicle that can weight several hundred pounds, you need to make sure that connection between your vehicle and the trailer is as secure as possible. If the trailer is overloaded and too heavy, the trailer’s rear can shift, which is a danger to other motorists on the road.

If the tongue weight is insufficient, the trailer is also at risk of moving around too much. Not only will driving straight be a challenge in either of these scenarios, but so too will be curves, corners, and any other turns. Braking will also be difficult, because the unpredictable nature of your travel trailer means any other vehicles behind or on the side of you could be in the line of fire.

How to Balance Your Travel Trailer

If this is your first travel trailer, then you might feel a little nervous about double-checking that your tongue weight and other vehicle weight measurements are sufficient before you leave for your trip.

That’s certainly understandable. This is where checks and balances come into play. Here’s what you can do:

  • Watch your tire weight: Your tires hold up your entire travel trailer. All four of them must be as close to the same weight as possible so your vehicle doesn’t start to tip for lean forward in one direction. If you haven’t checked your tire pressure in a while, it’s a good time to. Underinflated tires are at risk of popping, as we’ve discussed on this blog. You do not want to start your first travel trailer adventure with a flat. Overinflated tires can pop, too, due to the excess pressure.
  • Pack lightly: Especially if you’re a newbie in the travel trailer world, traveling lightly is essential. This way, you don’t have to quite play the living Tetris game that is rearranging the items in your trailer. Bring a few clothing essentials you can wear several different ways, and go light on the gear and supplies as well. After you get this first trip under your belt, you can start bringing more stuff with you for future trips.
  • Get into the habit of re-checking the vehicle weight often: We’re not saying you have to get out there everyday and re-measure and re-weigh your travel trailer, but at least every few days, and certainly if you’ve made a significant change.

Tongue Jack Maintenance

The last topic we want to talk about that’s related to your trailer’s tongue is maintenance. Like every part of your travel trailer, the tongue will not work infinitely, especially not without regular care.

Since this is a much less complicated part than some other trailer components, maintenance is considerably easier. The main thing you’re going to have to do is lubricate the tongue jack. Liquid Wrench (available on Amazon here) is a highly-recommended lubricant. You can use this lubricant for RV slide-outs, tongue jacks, and other areas.

Every few weeks, you’ll want to check how greased-up your tongue jack is. If it seems a little dry, then lubricate it. In addition, you should keep adjacent parts, like the springs, ball hitch, and winch lubricated as well. If one of these gets too dry, it could hinder the overall effectiveness of the hitch.

In addition to lubrication, you also want to make sure the tongue jack and adjacent parts of free of dust, dirt, and other debris. At least monthly, you should get outside and inspect the tongue jack and make sure it’s clean. If not, you can probably wipe it down with a soft cloth, water, and soap. You might want to check the type of metal your tongue jack is made of before you do that, though, as you don’t want to accidentally make it rust or corrode.

Long-term, rust and corrosion are both issues. Prolonged exposure to salt can lead to the tongue jack and other metal parts to rust, as can exposure to water. If the rust isn’t addressed, then it can eventually corrode or break down even further. At that point, you might have to replace your tongue jack.

Now, this isn’t exactly an expensive part, but having to replace any part of your travel trailer is a nuisance. To avoid rust and corrosion, be sure to avoid leaving your trailer out in the elements if you can help it. Park in a shady, protected area.

Also, keep your vehicle under cover in bad weather, including rain, snow, and ice. These weather conditions are all quite wet, which can spell bad news for your tongue jack and other parts.

Lastly, to keep your tongue jack and similar parts protected, you might want to consider investing in an anti-rust spray like this one from Motorex. You simply coat the metal part with this spray when you’re worried about rust and corrosion.

In addition to preventing metal damage, this spray also reduces unwanted squeaking, saves your springs and screws, and adds lubrication (although it’s still recommended you use an actual lubricant on your tongue jack to ensure it’s adequately greased up). If you’ve already seen signs of rust on the tongue jack or related parts, most anti-rust sprays can also reverse early signs of rust damage. That said, if your metal parts have already corroded, then replacement is typically your only option.

Conclusion

Tongue weight is one of many weight ratings that is necessary to learn as a travel trailer owner. Together, these various weights allow you to balance your trailer in such a way that it doesn’t tip over when connected to your truck or SUV.

The tongue weight is simply the limit of how much force can be pressed down on the trailer hitch. It is sometimes also called hitch weight, but don’t be confused, as the two terms are essentially the same.

To calculate the tongue weight of your travel trailer, you’ll first have to know the gross trailer weight. Most max hitch weights are within 10 percent of the gross trailer weight, but some are up to 12 percent.

For the safety of yourself, your passengers, and all other motorists on the road with you, you must accurately measure the tongue weight. Do know that you should re-check all weights related to your trailer every few months to make sure these are current.

Good luck!

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