What Is Tongue Weight And How To Measure It

Regardless of the size of your fleet, chances are that you operate with trailers for part of your business processes.

In order to ensure the safety of your drivers and others on the road, it’s key to be familiar with the nuts and bolts of loading and towing a trailer according to the best practices.

To do so, you’ll need to understand tongue weight.

In the following sections, we explain in detail:

  • What is tongue weight?
  • How much should tongue weight be?
  • How to calculate tongue weight
  • How to measure tongue weight
  • What affects tongue weight?

 

And more.

What is tongue weight?

Before we can get into the details of how to measure trailer tongue weight, it’s important to start from the basics?

What is tongue weight?

Tongue weight, in short, is the weight a trailer tongue puts on the hitch ball of the towing vehicle.

It represents the downward force that a vehicle-trailer connection point faces throughout the time that a trailer is connected for towing.

How much should tongue weight be

As with any other weight metric, there are certain unwritten rules when it comes to the optimum tongue weight.

Generally, it’s believed that the ideal tongue weight should be in the range of 9-15% of the gross trailer weight (GTW) or the maximum weight that a trailer is allowed to be. The GTW consists of the trailer weight in addition to the load that it’s carrying.

How to calculate tongue weight

Perhaps the easiest and most reliable way to calculate tongue weight is via a tongue weight scale.

You can find a tongue weight scale in a range of towing supply tops or online for an affordable price. They are easily transported and very convenient for measuring tongue weight specifically.

Measuring tongue weight

When it comes to how to measure trailer tongue weight, there are three options to explore – a tongue scale, a vehicle scale, and a bathroom scale.

Measuring with a tongue scale

Tongue scales are purpose-built devices designed to accurately measure the tongue weight of trailers. These scales typically resemble a traditional car jack or a slender vertical pipe. Their functionality is geared towards providing precise weight readings to ensure optimal towing conditions.

Position the tongue scale on a flat, stable surface, ensuring it’s securely anchored. Next, make sure that your trailer is level, either by using built-in leveling systems or manual adjustments.

This ensures accurate readings, as an uneven trailer may skew the results.

With the scale properly set up, it’s time to place the trailer hitch onto the scale. Align the hitch ball with the scale’s platform and gently lower the trailer coupler onto it. Check if the hitch is centered and sits securely on the scale to avoid any inaccuracies.

Once the hitch is in position, observe the scale’s display. It will indicate the precise tongue weight exerted by the trailer.

Note down this measurement for reference. It’s advisable to take multiple readings to ensure consistency and accuracy.

Depending on the towing requirements and specifications of your vehicle and trailer, you may need to adjust the tongue weight.

Use the measurements obtained from the tongue scale as a guide to redistribute weight accordingly. This might involve shifting cargo or adjusting the trailer’s load distribution.

Measuring with a vehicle scale

Vehicle scales, commonly found at truck stops, recycling centers, or agricultural facilities, are designed to measure the weight of vehicles and cargo.

These scales consist of a platform onto which vehicles are driven for weight assessment. They’re extremely convenient and accessible when it comes to measuring tongue weight.

Before driving onto the vehicle scale, ensure that your trailer is hitched securely to your towing vehicle. Verify that the trailer and towing vehicle are on level ground to obtain accurate measurements.

Additionally, make sure that any cargo or equipment in the trailer is properly distributed, as it would be during regular towing conditions.

Carefully drive your towing vehicle, with the trailer attached, onto the vehicle scale. Position the vehicle so that the trailer’s tires are centered on the scale platform. Ensure that the trailer’s tongue or hitch is fully supported by the towing vehicle’s hitch receiver.

Once the vehicle is stationary on the scale, note the displayed weight. This reading represents the combined weight of the towing vehicle and the trailer.
Next, detach the trailer from the towing vehicle and record the weight displayed on the scale. The difference between these two measurements corresponds to the tongue weight of the trailer.

Measuring with a bathroom scale

But how do you measure tongue weight using a bathroom scale?

When selecting a bathroom scale for measuring tongue weight, opt for one with a high weight capacity to accommodate the load exerted by the trailer tongue. Additionally, make sure the scale provides accurate and consistent readings for reliable measurements.

Start by placing the bathroom scale on a flat, stable surface, ideally in a location where you can easily maneuver the trailer tongue onto it. Ensure the scale is properly calibrated and zeroed out before proceeding with the measurement.

With the bathroom scale in place, carefully position the trailer’s tongue or hitch over the scale’s platform. It’s crucial to align the hitch ball with the center of the scale to get accurate readings. It’s also key that the trailer remains stationary and securely supported during this process.

Once the trailer tongue is positioned on the scale, carefully note down the displayed weight. This reading represents the tongue weight exerted by the trailer.

Factors affecting tongue weight

There are multiple factors that affect the tongue weight of your trailers.

Some of the most popular ones include:

  • Trailer design
  • Cargo distribution
  • Trailer weigh
  • Towing vehicle characteristics
  • Hitch type and adjustment
  • Load changes
  • Trailer geometry

 

Having a basic understanding of how these factors can have an impact on tongue weight can help you make accurate predictions and ensure the safety of your drivers.

Importance of tongue weight in towing

Tongue weight is extremely important in towing. Without properly understanding this metric, you can expose your drivers and others on the road to risks of hazardous accidents.

For example, a tongue weight that is too low may result in a lifted vehicle back. This can create trailer sway – the phenomenon where a trailer begins to oscillate or veer from side to side behind the towing vehicle due to external forces such as wind gusts, uneven road surfaces, or improper weight distribution within the trailer.

It can compromise vehicle control and pose safety risks, particularly at high speeds or in adverse weather conditions.

On the contrary, tongue weight that is too high can result in the vehicle’s back to sag. This can cause potential risks too, as it limits the driver’s visibility, influences the vehicle’s maneuvering, and even impacts the brakes.

In a nutshell

Overall, tongue weight plays a crucial part in safe towing and is a fundamental weight metric that all fleet managers and owners should be aware of.

We hope that this article will help you familiarize yourself with the basics of tongue weight and make strategic decisions for  better fleet performance.

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Mike Valnev