Tongue Weight: It’s Key to Safe Towing

Tongue Weight: It’s Key to Safe Towing

It might seem a strange term, but it’s not related to medical or the human tongue by any means. It’s a mechanical tool used in trailers to allow safe and secure towing. There are always limitations on the weight and stress a particular mechanical device can bear. It becomes essential to know what tongue weight it, how to calculate it, and how to adjust it accordingly to staying safe while towing.

What is Tongue Weight?

The term “tongue weight” may seem silly, and who in their senses would be mearing the weight of their tongue? However, the tongue weight we’re actually measuring doesn’t have to do anything with the human tongue and everything to do with towing a trailer safely.

Essentially, it’s the downward force that the trailer applies at the vehicle-trailer coupling point when you’re hooked up for towing. At maximum, the tongue weight needs to be about 10-15 percent of your gross trailer weight. It allows the driver to control the trailer when hitched and makes the driving experience safer.  

For example, when a conventional 2,000-pound trailer is loaded with 1,000 pounds cargo, the loaded trailer’s proper tongue weight should be 300 to 450 pounds, or simply 10-15 percent of the loaded 3,000-pound total. Moreover, some design restrictions may also apply. For instance, the Sierra 1500 model pickup truck towing trailers with tongue weights greater than 700-800 pounds need to move from a weight-carrying hitch to a weight-distributing hitch.

How to measure tongue weight

You can measure the tongue weight of your trailer using one of the several methods available. To calculate a trailer tongue weight, use a tongue weight scale, a bathroom scale, or a vehicle scale. We’ll go through each method one by one.

  • Measuring with a tongue weight scale

A tongue weight scale is a specially designed small scale to calculate a trailer’s tongue weight. To use a tongue weight scale, you have to place the scale under the trailer jack and take a reading. However, if the jack is not a good fit, a pipe may be vertically placed between the coupler and scale.

  • Measuring with a bathroom scale

A typical bathroom scale can be used as an alternative for measuring tongue weight. When the weight is expected to be under 300 pounds, place the tongue or jack directly on the scale. And to protect the finish of the scale, you might want to place a small piece of plywood down first.

However, if the weight is likely to be greater than 300 pounds, you can use some boards and pipes to set up a test, take a reading off the bathroom scale, and then triple it to find your actual tongue weight. The steps are:

  • Park your trailer on a level surface and choke the wheels.
  • Position a 2×4 strong board on the ground, right below the trailer tongue. It must be 3-1/2 feet long.
  • Position the bathroom scale around 2 feet from the trailer tongue and a block at 1 foot from the other end trailer tongue.
  • Now insert two horizontal pipes, one at the center of the block and the other in the bathroom scale center. Measure the distance from the trailer tongue.
  • Place the trailer tongue on a vertical pipe and lower the trailer jack till the coupler is entirely resting on the pipe.
  • Take a reading from the bathroom scale and multiply it by three, and you’ll get the tongue weight.
  • Measuring with a vehicle scale

The last method to easily measure your trailer’s tongue weight is to use a vehicle scale at a local dump or a rest stop. Start by weighing your vehicle without the trailer attached. Then hook up your trailer and weigh again but remember not to let the trailer’s wheels touch the scale. Take the weight reading of your vehicle by itself and subtract it from your vehicle’s weight with the trailer attached. The difference that comes out is the actual tongue weight of the trailer.

How Tongue Weight Affects Your Vehicle

The TW (tongue weight) is the force that a trailer tongue exerts on the hitch ball. Having a proper trailer tongue weight can significantly impact a safe trailer towing and alleviate diverse dangers during towing.

In case the tongue weight is improperly calculated, it contributes to trailer sway and can cause accidents when towing. If the tongue weight is not enough, the trailer might sway from side to side. And if the weight exerted on the hitch ball is too much, the force could overload the rear tires. In conclusion, an improper tongue weight has a negative impact on handling – difficulty going around curves and corners properly, having difficulty coming to a stop quickly.



  • Why is tongue weight important when you’re towing?

Tongue weight is essential if you’re looking to tow a vehicle, and improper tongue weight can result in road hazards for you and people sharing the road with you. Suppose the tongue weight is less than 10 percent of the total weight. The trailer may sway back and forth. While if the tongue weight is excessive, greater than 15 percent, the towed vehicle might become less responsive, particularly when braking and turning.

Also, proper loading of your trailer – placing the cargo behind or in front of the axle can significantly impact tongue weight.

  • How to measure tongue weight on a trailer?

You can measure tongue weight using a tongue weight scale, a vehicle scale, or a common bathroom scale. Measure the tongue weight by placing the trailer’s tongue on the scale by using the trailer jack.

  • What is tongue load?

A tongue load is the weight of a trailer at its tongue or the coupling point. Usually, tongue load or tongue weight is 10 to 15 percent of the trailer’s total weight.

  • How to weigh an RV tongue weight (TW)?

If you’re looking to weigh RV tongue weight, place the trailer’s tongue on a tongue weight scale. You can also weigh the TW using a vehicle scale and then comparing it to the vehicle weight once the trailer is attached. RVs are usually heavy trailers that would need a heavy-duty scale to handle the weight.

  • Can excessive weight cause trailer sway?

Yes, too much weight can cause the trailer to sway; in essence, excessive weight reduces control for the driver over the vehicle.

  • What should tongue weight be?

A tongue weight needs to be around 10 to 15 percent of the trailer’s growth or total weight. Too little can cause sway in the trailer, while too much tongue weight can weaken the driver’s control over the vehicle.

  • What happens if tongue weight is too heavy?

When the tongue weight is too heavy, it can make the trailer challenging to operate and lose control, particularly when braking or making turns.