Safe Towing Of Your Tiny House (part 1)

It is a subject that has been written about several times before but seems can never be emphasized enough. In fact, just a few weeks ago a tiny houser posted alarming photos of her brand new Tumbleweed Tiny House laying on its side somewhere on the Interstate. It was a most unfortunate situation and one that probably sent stomach pangs to anyone who is building a tiny house on wheels, owns a tiny house on wheels or travels with a tiny house on wheels. While the Facebook thread now has over 160 comments (some offering tender sympathies while some being assumptive and cold), a number of potential reasons have surfaced.

The truck being used to tow was a half-ton pickup. The house was not empty. A weight distribution hitch wasn’t being used. Anti-sway bars were not in place. The road condition was less than desirable. The driver tried to switch lanes going above 50mph.

Those are all consequential and all aspects to be considered when towing. In fact, they should all be taken into account, simultaneously, to offer an optimum towing situation. Towing anything, be it RV, flatbed trailer, dump trailer, tiny house on wheels, etc., should be handled with kid gloves. It is not just your property that could meet the pavement in an unfortunate situation, it is a life that could be at stake. Let’s review safe towing technique by starting with a short video.


First, notice the exercise highlights weight distribution. Why is this even important? 

WEIGHT CARRYING

When you’re towing a trailer with a standard rear-mounted hitch, your trailer’s tongue weight is transferred to the rear axle of your tow vehicle. As a result, the back end of the vehicle may be forced lower and the front end raised. If this happens, your vehicle’s rear axle will bear the weight of not only the trailer but much of your tow vehicle’s weight as well. Less weight on the front axle of your vehicle can cause steering problems, traction disturbances, and even stopping power. It can also increase trailer sway (as the video shows).

It is important to know two weights of your tiny house on wheels: dry weight and towing weight.

The dry weight is how much the tiny house actually weighs empty. This excludes appliances, furniture, clothing, pots, and pans, etc. This is important because it can be used to set off any alarms that may suggest your tow vehicle is not set to haul the THOW in the first place. The towing weight is the “final” weight of the outfitted house. This includes appliances, furniture, clothing, pots, and pans, etc. You can get this weight most accurate by going to a public certified CAT truck scale. Tiny House Giant Journey has outlined the steps once at the CAT scales with great detail.

  1. Drive onto the scale making sure that the front axle of your truck (steer axle) is on the very front platform, the rear axle (drive axle) is on the following platform, and the wheels of your house (trailer axles) are on the next platform. Make sure to disconnect your weight distribution system if you have one.
  2. Hit the button on the intercom alerting the attendant you are ready to weigh
  3. The attendant will let you know when it is okay to get off the scale. Drive off and pick up your weight certificate at the register. The cost is $8-$12. Let the attendant know you will need a re-weigh (usually another $2-$4)
  4. Detach your Tiny House and park it safely.
  5. Do the steps 1-3 with the TRUCK ONLY

*Some scales may allow you to detach your Tiny House directly on the scale, which simplifies the calculation. Most of the time you won’t have this option.

Once you have determined the weight of your truck and your tiny house on wheels you are ready for the next two steps.

SET HITCH HEIGHT

The ideal situation is for your tiny house on wheels to be parallel to the ground while towing. You don’t want the truck to be dragging its backside and the house to be dipping and alternatively, you don’t want the tiny house on wheels to be rising up toward an elevated truck bed. To determine the desired hitch height, use the trailer’s front jack to get the trailer as close to level as possible. Then measure the height of the coupler relative to the ground. The hitch height will then need to be set to a height higher than this measurement. The amount that it needs to be higher will be determined by the weight of the trailer load as the springs of the tow vehicle will compress under that weight. This is a trial and error process that may require adjustment when attaching the trailer. This is the sole reason for using an adjustable weight distribution hitch.

NOTE: You may even want to consider using a weight distribution shank. The shank is a piece that slides into your trailer hitch and provides an attachment point for the weight distribution head assembly. They are sold in a number of lengths, drops and rises to fit multiple applications. They typically have a maximum rise of 6″ and a maximum drop of 2″. They go a long way in ensuring that your tiny house on wheels is level with your tow vehicle for you set out.

WEIGH TONGUE

Tongue weight is the downward force that the tongue of the trailer applies to the hitch of the tow vehicle. The trailer industry, AAA, and those who have years of experience towing agree that an acceptable tongue weight for any trailer is somewhere between 9% and 15% of the gross trailer weight (GTW). In fact, Guillaume Dutilh, who drove his tiny house on wheels around the United States and into Alaska, noted in the aforementioned Facebook post, “Your goal should be to have a design that puts 25% (for a gooseneck, 9%-15% for a bumper-pull) of the total weight of your trailer on the tongue (verify that metric, I’m going off of memory here). If your whole rig weighs 10,000lbs, you should aim to have around 1,500lbs of that on the tongue (front heavy).”

Referring back to the video above, notice how the weight on the tongue caused less sway but when moved to the rear of the trailer caused what is more commonly known as “fish tailing” or out of control movements. Knowing your trailer’s tongue weight is important. All pickup trucks are designed to handle different amounts of weight and different weight distributions.

So how does one weigh the tongue? There is only one answer. Use a tongue weight scale that can be purchased at any camping store, trailer dealership, or even auto parts store.

This post began as being just a summary but it quickly became clear that in order to stress the important parts, provide helpful links, and cultivate a better understanding for us all, it needed to be much longer. Therefore, we hope you enjoyed Part 1, learned a little something new, and are anxious to join us next week for the 2nd installment.

By Andrew M. Odom for the [Tiny House Blog]

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Sherri Mangin - October 12, 2017 Reply

Lots of good advice here. I wanted to point out that this isa Ford F-250 which I believe is a 3/4 ton truck and adequate for a 20′ Tumbleweed. Thanks, Jenna. Sherri

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