RVers everywhere dread sway. Luckily, you can significantly reduce trailer sway with the addition of a sway bar for your camper. Let’s take a deeper look at sway: what it is, what causes it, and how you can prevent it.
What Is Sway and What Causes It?
You can experience sway when driving any vehicle, not just a camper. When referring to vehicle sway we are talking about side-to-side body roll. This is more pronounced on high-profile vehicles because the weight is so much higher.
Trailer camper sway is a bit different. Camper sway is when the trailer starts to swing side-to-side behind the tow vehicle, usually while you’re going down a highway. Trailer sway can become dangerous and uncontrollable if not managed. It can even lead to accidents.
So what causes sway? Trailer sway has several causes: Improper weight distribution, driving too fast, and wind gusts or bursts of wind from other large vehicles like RVs or semi-trucks.
What Is a Sway Bar?
A sway bar is simply a device that stiffens side-to-side motion to minimize it. They can be installed on vehicles to minimize body roll or on hitches to minimize camper sway.
Sway bars are included on one axle on most vehicles and are a single piece of metal that connects from one side of the vehicle to the other. As the vehicle rolls one way the bar twists and pushes up on the side that’s low. This helps stiffen the side-to-side rocking and keeps the vehicle more upright.
For example, we used a Hellwig sway bar on our truck camper setup to go to Alaska. It helped minimize the additional sway from the extra weight in the pickup bed from the large truck camper.
What Is a Sway Control Hitch?
You can add sway bars to your trailer hitch to reduce sway when pulling a camper. There are different kinds, but they all work to reduce sway when towing. Some use a cam lock to prevent your trailer from moving from side to side, while others use friction to prevent swaying. These sway-control hitches are mounted at the back alongside the hitch ball.
Sometimes, these sway control bars are built right into weight-distribution hitches for trailers, but they can also be bought and installed separately. Combination hitches tend to be a bit more expensive, but weight distribution and sway control are both very important safety measures that should not be overlooked.
Do You Need a Sway Bar to Pull a Camper?
Fifth wheel trailers do not need sway bars. One of the major benefits of a fifth wheel is the way it pulls from over the axle it is much more stable. Travel trailers however can benefit greatly from a sway control hitch.
Sway control or sway bar hitches are optional pieces of equipment that you can add to your camper or hitch to prevent sway. Although they’re not required, adding a sway bar will provide a much more comfortable and stable towing experience and give you peace of mind.
A vehicle-based sway bar is usually not required to pull a trailer, or the factory sway bars are typically adequate. For taller vehicles like motorhomes or trucks with truck campers, a vehicle sway bar upgrade is highly recommended, however.
Which Campers Need Sway Bars?
All types of campers can benefit from sway bars. Long travel trailers being pulled by short wheelbase vehicles, however, are the most prone to sway. If you are towing a long travel trailer we highly recommend using a sway control hitch.
Ways to Prevent Sway with Your Camper
There are many ways to prevent sway with your camper. From sway bars to driving techniques, here’s what we recommend.
The first and best way to prevent sway is to add a sway bar. They do a great job of preventing sway, but they won’t eliminate it altogether. Your camper can still experience sway, so it’s important to keep the rest of these tips in mind.
Weight Distribution Hitch
A weight distribution hitch helps distribute the weight of your camper more evenly on your tow vehicle. This makes for a more stable towing experience.
Some will sell weight distribution hitches and sway bars together. They work well in combination to distribute weight evenly and reduce sway.
Load Your Camper Properly
When towing a trailer, you should always load 60% of the cargo weight in the front of the camper, closest to the hitch. When you load the weight in the rear of the camper, sway happens almost immediately. No matter what type of trailer you’re pulling, evenly distribute the weight from side to side and load most of it in the front of the trailer.
Avoid Driving on Very Windy Days
Always check the weather on travel days. If you see a lot of wind in the forecast, don’t travel if you can help it. The wind is a significant contributor to sway, and it’s a factor that you can’t see or control. Because of this, there is only so much wind an RV can stand. Worst-case scenario, it can even knock an RV over.
Wind from passing RVs and semis can cause sway, too. Be vigilant when passing other vehicles and when they pass you. Keep both hands on the wheel, and check your trailer for sway every time.
When pulling a trailer, you should generally drive slower than the flow of traffic. Driving too fast can cause trailer sway. Many trailer manufacturers will recommend a maximum speed of 60 mph.
FAQ: Can You Backup a Camper with Sway Bar?
It is possible to exceed the limitations of the sway control hitch if backing and turning too sharply. This will damage your sway hitch. Straight lines and gentle curves in reverse should be okay. If backing into a tight campsite, you should disconnect your sway control bars. All sway bars for campers are different so be sure to check with your hitch’s manufacturer to understand reverse limits.
FAQ: Do Sway Bars Increase Towing Capacity?
No, sway bars do not increase towing capacity. However, they can help with towing performance and comfort. Do not let this lull you into a false sense of confidence to load your trailer more. Towing capacities are set by manufaturer based on many other factors besides sway control.
Prevent Trailer Sway with Sway Bars and Mindful Towing
Some factors contributing to sway are out of your control, but adding a sway bar isn’t. When used in combination with a weight-distribution hitch and proper safe towing practices, you can greatly reduce your risk of experiencing trailer sway.
Have you ever used a sway bar before? Let us know in the comments below!
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