How To Keep Your Camper Trailer From Swaying?

In RV livingby Christopher Schopf

You’ve probably seen this too or maybe you’ve even experienced it first hand.

The vehicle that seems to be swaying all over the place and you don’t want to drive behind him but you don’t want to risk passing him either.

With a little research, I found I was able to learn how to avoid this.

How to keep your camper from swaying?
Use anti-sway bars or a weight distribution hitch with built-in sway control and learn how to use your brake controller.  Anti-sway bars will help to keep your camper from swaying in the first place and your brake controller will help to stop your camper from swaying when it does.

I’ll tell you what you need to stop your camper from swaying.  I’ll also provide you with helpful driving tips that you can use now to reduce camper sway.

Before getting a camper I was extremely nervous about towing one.

I’d never towed anything before and I’d seen people on the road that didn’t seem to be able to control their campers very well.

Equipping your vehicle and your trailer with the right equipment will dramatically reduce the chances that you’ll fall victim to swaying.

Learning how to use the equipment and learning how to best drive your vehicle while towing will reduce the chances even further.

As the old saying goes, “you can’t stop it from raining but you can remember to pack an umbrella”.

Equipment to Help Campers From Swaying While Towing

Using the right equipment for towing is the first step to reducing camper sway.

Here are some of the items you’ll need to install.

  1. Anti-sway bars
    or
  2. a weight distribution hitch with sway control.
  3. Electric brakes.
  4. A brake controller.

1) Anti-Sway Bars

Anti-sway bars are connected to your hitch and the tongue of your trailer.  They reduce trailer sway through the use of friction.  The additional bar essentially reduces a trailer’s side-to-side movement.

An anti-sway bar kit will usually come with a hitch ball, a sway control arm and the pins and mounting hardware that you’ll need to install them.  You can buy an economy sway control kit for less than $50.00.

2) Weight Distribution Hitches with Sway Control

A weight distribution hitch with built in sway control serves two purposes.  The sway control arms reduce side-to-side movement and the weight distribution system spreads the load of the camper out through the front and rear axles of the tow vehicle.

These kits provide you with many benefits.  First, and foremost, they maximize the amount of weight your tow vehicle can handle.

In fact, my manufacturer has stated that I can tow 3,000 pounds more just by adding a weight distribution hitch to my trailer.

This number is huge considering I can only tow 2,500 pounds without it.  With the weight distribution hitch, I can tow up to 5,500 pounds.

Distributing the weight increases handling and makes for a smoother ride.  It also prolongs the life of your rear axle since it won’t be bearing all of the weight of the trailer by itself.

A weight distribution hitch can be purchased on the lower end for around $300.00 and around $700.00 on the higher end.

3) Electric Trailer Brakes

Trailers usually come in three forms.  Ones without trailer brakes, ones with hydraulic brakes, and ones with electric brakes.

Most newer campers will be equipped with electric brakes or nothing at all.

Electric brakes work better than hydraulic brakes because they provide braking that works in tandem with your tow vehicles brakes. 

They also give you the ability to operate the trailer’s brakes separately from your vehicle’s brakes.

Here’s all you could possibly want to know about brake systems for RVs and campers.

We’ll talk more about why this is important in the driving tips section of this post.

4) Brake Controllers

A brake controller allows you to control your electric brakes.  These devices mount on your dashboard and can easily be controlled by moving a lever or pushing a button.

Brake controllers can be purchased for anywhere between $50.00 and $200.00.  You can buy them as proportional brakes or time-delayed brakes.

As we explained on our post titled, “Do All Campers Have Brakes“, proportional brake controllers are much better than timed brake controllers and they don’t cost much more either.

Driving Tips to Help Reduce Trailer Sway

The quickest way to reduce sway is to simply slow down.

Sway is often caused by high winds and driving fast creates its own high winds.  You’ll also experience high wind situations as you pass tractor trailers and cross over bridges.

When doing either of these, slow down a bit and tap on the brakes as necessary.

Braking also helps to reduce trailer sway.  The key here is to use the brakes lightly as pushing down on them too quickly can cause problems on its own.

You can use your tow vehicles brakes or you can use your brake controller to activate your trailer brakes on their own.

Camper Loading Tips to Help Reduce Sway

The way you load your trailer also has an impact on whether or not you’ll experience trailer sway.

Load your camper correctly and you may not even need to worry about other forms of anti-sway equipment.

This is especially true for lighter campers where you may not even have flanges to place brakes on your trailer’s axles.  Having brakes is ideal but it isn’t always necessary.

In fact, in most states trailers weight less than 1,500 pounds do not need to have brakes installed on them.

Front Loading

One key thought to remember is that a trailer should have more weight before its axle than after.

What I mean by this is that you should load heavier items closer to the vehicle so that more weight will be in front of the trailer’s wheels.

A good rule of thumb for loading campers and trailers is to have 60% of the weight in front of the trailer’s wheels and 40% behind.  Loading like this helps to evenly distribute the weight between the trailer and the tow vehicle.

Center of Gravity

A lower center of gravity is also good for towing.  This means that you should load heavier items at the bottom of your camper.

If at all possible, take your heavy items out of your overhead cabinets and place them on the ground or in lower cabinets.

Most campers will already be built with the center of gravity in mind so don’t worry about disconnecting microwaves or moving refrigerators to lower points in your camper.

Hitch Weight

Fifth Wheel mount vs. Goose Neck Mount

Read more here about fifth wheel vs. gooseneck mount.

The weight of your hitch also plays a big role in how well your camper will handle on the road.

Your hitch should account for about 5 – 15 percent of the total weight of your camper.  This being said, your ideal target weight should be about 10% of your camper’s total weight.

For example, if you have a four thousand pound camper weight, you’ll want your hitch to weigh in at around 400 pounds.

You can find out what your hitch weighs by weighing it with a hitch scale.  These scales can be had for less than $200.00.

If you’re unsure of the weight of your camper, you can check with the manufacturer for the weight of your camper and then add on the weight of any gear you’ve placed inside of it.

For those of you without this information, visit a commercial weigh station and have your trailer weighed.  This process doesn’t cost much and it will go a long way towards helping you reduce sway.

Alternatively, you could use a heavy-duty bathroom scale to weigh your camper’s hitch.

This will only work for lighter campers and should not be used on larger camper’s where the weight is likely to exceed a few hundred pounds.

For those of you with hitch weights that are too high, check to see if there is a battery mounted to the tongue.  Often-times you can change the location of the battery to reduce the hitch weight.

On the other hand, if the weight is much too low, add a battery to your tongue.

Additional Sway Control Measures You Can Take to Reduce Camper Sway

There are a few other easy steps you can take to reduce sway and to provide a smoother ride.  One easy step to take is to simply make sure your tires are properly inflated.

Over-inflated tires reduce your contact with the road and underinflated tires can lead to your tires wearing quickly and even blowing out.

Using the proper tow vehicle for your camper is also essential for reducing sway.

A lightweight tow vehicle combined with a heavy trailer is going to sway more than a camper that is being towed by a heavy vehicle.

If you can’t get a new tow vehicle, you may want to consider getting a new trailer.  Lightweight trailers with smaller footprints will always sway less than larger ones.

This is why companies like Hi-Lo build campers that telescope down for travel.  This reduces the amount of wind drag on the trailer and reduces trailer sway.

In Summary

Trailer sway can be dealt with on many fronts.

Use the right tow vehicle, the proper towing equipment and be careful driving and you shouldn’t have any problems with trailer sway again.