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Weigh Your Trailer With a Tongue Weight Scale to Tow Safely

Weigh Your Trailer With a Tongue Weight Scale to Tow Safely

Knowing your travel trailer’s tongue weight is critical to your safety and the safety of those traveling with you and around you. Fortunately, you can easily find your rig’s tongue weight using a tongue weight scale.

In this post, we tell you all you need to know about tongue weight, trailer tongue weight scales, and even how to measure tongue weight with a bathroom scale.

What Is Tongue Weight?

Tongue weight, sometimes written as “TW”, is the downward force that the tongue of a trailer applies to the hitch of the tow vehicle. In other words, the force the trailer tongue exerts on the hitch ball.

The terms “tongue weight” and “hitch weight” are interchangeable, as both refer to the force a trailer exerts on a hitch. You may also have heard the term “pin weight”. Pin weight refers to the same concept, but it usually applies to 5th-wheel trailers specifically. So, tongue weight, hitch weight, and pin weight all refer to the downward forcea towable RV applies to the hitch on the vehicle that’s towing it.

A trailer tongue is shown

Tongue weight refers to the downward force the trailer or 5th-wheel applies to the hitch on the vehicle towing it.

Many people get confused, seeing the “Tongue Weight” or “Tongue Weight Rating” listed on the placard on their trailer. That number isn’t an absolute number for your trailer, it’s just a guideline giving you an idea of what amount of the trailer’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) might be applied to the hitch.

The trailer itself (without any of your belongings, propane, or water) has a dry weight that’s measured at the factory (and also listed on the placard). But your trailer’s tongue weight will change based on what you have loaded onto it. For example, are the propane tanks full? How about your holding tanks? How much cargo do you have on board and where is it located? Maybe the bulk of your cargo is in the back of a toy hauler, or up front in a pass-through compartment. The placement of everything on your RV will affect the weight of your trailer pressing down on the hitch.

If you’re interested in more information on tongue weight, have a look at our detailed post answering the question “What is tongue weight?” as well as our post entitled, “The Trailer Tongue & Coupler: Crucial to Towing Safety“.

Why Is Tongue Weight So Important?

Improper tongue weight can be the difference between a safe towing experience and a very dangerous one. A trailer is like a lever, and the axle of the trailer is the pivot point (or fulcrum) for that lever. If too much or too little weight is applied to the tongue of the trailer, a dangerous situation can result. The tongue weight of your trailer shouldn’t be too heavy, and it shouldn’t be too light. It has to be just about right – balanced – like the weights of a couple of people on a seesaw at the playground.

So, knowing your trailer’s tongue weight is critical for making sure you’re not over- or under-loading your towing vehicle. Confirming that your trailer’s tongue weight is within the recommended range of 10-15% of its gross vehicle weight (as loaded for travel – not the GVWR from the manufacturer) will ensure that none of these dangerous situations occur.

What Are the Effects of Too Much Tongue Weight?

Too much tongue weight means you could be overloading your towing vehicle’s capacity, including (and especially) its payload capacity and/or the Rear Gross Axle Weight Rating (or RGAWR, which is the maximum amount of weight the rear axle is rated to carry). Worse yet, because the tongue weight gets placed onto a point behind the rear axle of the towing vehicle, it can reduce the amount of weight on the front/steering axle, which reduces your ability to control the direction that the combined vehicle is going.

This is why you have to add the weight of all passengers, anything in the cab, and anything you carry in the bed, along with the tongue weight of the trailer.

A man filling the fresh water tank of an RV with a hose

If you travel with a full fresh water tank, be sure to fill the tank before measuring your tongue weight.

Important Note: A weight distribution hitch can’t make up for your trailer having too much tngue weight for your towing vehicle. You have to stay within the specs of maximum towing capacity, payload capacity, and axle weight ratings for the towing vehicle.

That said, if you have a weight distribution hitch, you likely have already measured your tongue weight because you needed this information to choose the appropriate weight distribution hitch for your setup.

What Are the Effects of Too Little Tongue Weight?

Too little tongue weight could indicate that you have too much loaded in the rear of your trailer, which can lead to an increased likelihood that your trailer could start swaying. And, if that gets bad enough, it can lead to a fatal accident. For more information on this, see our post on trailer sway control and watch the embedded video for a visual idea of what can happen.

A travel trailer about to flip over due to sway

Improper loading of weight in your trailer can lead to dangerous trailer sway (photo from this Youtube video showing the whole accident)

So knowing your tongue weight along with your trailer’s total loaded weight (ready for travel with everything on board you normally bring) can enable you to confirm that you’re in the correct range. Tongue weight ÷ trailer loaded weight x 100 = tongue weight %, which you want to be between 10% and 15% for safety.

What Is a Tongue Weight Scale?

A tongue weight scale is a small scale designed specifically to measure a trailer’s tongue weight. You can also create a DIY tongue weight scale using a home bathroom scale as we’ll show you in an upcoming section below.

First, here’s an important safety tip to keep in mind when taking your trailer’s tongue weight:

Some tongue weight scales have a small footprint, and the full tongue weight of your trailer will be pressing down on them when in use. So, make sure to do the weighing on level ground with your trailer leveled for travel (meaning that the frame/bottom of the trailer should be level to the ground).

Also, your wheels should be safely chocked using your camper wheel chocks. Otherwise, the trailer could fall off of the tongue weight scale, and that could be dangerous and could do serious damage to the trailer coupler. It could become extremely difficult or even impossible to get the trailer back up onto its tongue jack.

Sherline Tongue Weight Scale

Following are examples of a tongue weight scale with three different capacities. You’d need to choose the capacity that best suits your travel trailer. In the section that follows, we’ll explain exactly how to use a tongue weight scale like this.

1,000-lb Capacity:

2,000-lb Capacity:

Sherline 5780 Trailer Tongue Weight Scale
  • Load-Master Trailer Tongue Weight Scale
  • Hydraulic pressure gauge

5,000-lb Capacity:

Sherline LM-5000 - Trailer Tongue Weight Scale - 5000LB
  • 1 Year Manufacturers Warranty (certain items exempt)
  • Made in the USA

Alternatively, some people have used an inexpensive platform scale like this one to measure the tongue weight of smaller campers. You may want to place a utility block on the scale before lowering your jack onto it. If you choose to use this type of scale, make sure to buy one with an appropriate capacity.

For example, this one has a weight limit of 660 lbs:

Amazon Basics Digital Postal Scale Heavy Duty, Aluminium Platform, 660 lb Capacity, 1 Ounce Readability, Black
  • Digital shipping postal scale for weighing items; heavy duty yet lightweight, portable design
  • Includes a postal scale and an AC adapter; durable black ABS with an aluminum anti-skid platform

How to Use a Tongue Weight Scale

Using a small scale designed specifically for measuring a trailer’s tongue weight is the easiest way to calculate your trailer’s tongue weight. As noted above, before weighing your trailer, make sure your rig is loaded up with everything you intend to carry as you travel including water, camping gear, etc.

Here’s how to measure your travel trailer’s tongue weight using a scale like those shown above:

  1. Load your trailer with everything you’ll be traveling with including water, propane, camping gear, tools, food, etc.
  2. Park your vehicle and trailer on a hard, flat, level surface.
  3. Place your tongue weight scale under your trailer tongue jack and lower the jack until it’s pressing on the scale. Be sure not to lower any additional jacks.
  4. Detach the trailer from your truck and read the scale (you’ll likely need to lift your trailer up to get it off the hitch ball, just return it back down to where it was when hitched to the car, so the trailer is level to the ground like when it’s being towed).

How to Measure Tongue Weight Using a Commercial Scale

You can also measure tongue weight using a commercial vehicle scale like those found at truck stops (or, in Oregon, you can use the weigh stations for commercial trucks when they’re closed… they leave the scales on and displaying). Once again, be sure to load your trailer up with everything you’ll be carrying in your travels, and then take the following steps:

  1. Weigh your tow vehicle without the trailer connected.
  2. Connect your trailer to your tow vehicle.
  3. Weigh your vehicle again (with the trailer connected). Be sure not to have the wheels of your trailer on the scale.
  4. Subtract the weight of your vehicle alone (without the trailer attached) from the weight of your vehicle with the trailer attached. The result is your tongue weight.

Note: many commercial weighing locations may have multiple sections of scales instead of one smaller one. Adjust your position as appropriate to get the necessary weighing. If the front and rear axles of your towing vehicle are on separate scales, add the two numbers together to get your total vehicle weight. Do the process twice (you’ll need to pay for a second weighing), once with the trailer attached and once with it detached.

How to Measure Tongue Weight With a Bathroom Scale

Finally, you can use a home bathroom scale to measure tongue weight, provided you do it correctly. The best way for us to describe how to create a DIY tongue weight scale is to show you how it’s done which you can see in this YouTube video:

Weigh Safe Hitch With Built-in Scale

Another option you can use is a hitch from Weigh Safe, which includes a scale within the hitch ball. This setup allows you to check your RV’s tongue weight every time you hitch up. They come in several different styles, including one that’s built into their weight distributing hitch, but here’s one that has a 6″ drop:

Weigh Safe Adjustable Trailer Hitch Ball Mount - 6" Drop Hitch for 2" Receiver w/ 4 pc Keyed Alike Lock Set, Premium Aluminum Trailer Tow Hitch w/Built in Weight Scale for Anti Sway, 12,500 lbs GTW
  • HELPS PREVENT TRAILER SWAY: Only 6" trailer hitch ball mount that accurately measures tongue weight. Through Patented Technology, Weigh Safe Hitches...
  • 6" ADJUSTABLE BALL MOUNT: 6” drop hitch & 7" rise hitch, adjusts in 1" increments so you get the perfect fit for any trailer height - Secured using...

Don’t Tow Unless You Know Your Tongue Weight

Accurate tongue weight is incredibly important to your safety and that of your family. However you choose to measure the tongue weight of your travel trailer, be sure to consider the information in this post and make sure to take the necessary steps to arrive at an accurate measurement.

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Lyn Greenhill

Sunday 19th of May 2024

You can also get trailer and tongue weight using a device called Haul Gauge. Plugs into the OBD port of the tow vehicle and calculates the weights. Pretty amazing little gadget!

TheRVgeeks

Tuesday 21st of May 2024

We've seen that device, Lyn... but have to admit we're a bit skeptical that just using information from the towing vehicle's engine computer can give you sufficiently accurate readings of trailer and tongue weight. It's why we didn't include it in this article... but we'll have to look into it some more.

Out of curiosity, have YOU used the Haul Gauge?

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