Trailer sway is one of the most feared and potentially dangerous things RV travelers experience on the open road.
Many times, it seems to strike from out of nowhere, having a knack for happening at the worst possible time.
One way to reduce the risk of trailer sway occurring and deal with it more easily when it happens is to add RV sway control bars to your camper or travel trailer.
To understand how RV anti sway bar can help, and the things you can do to reduce your overall risk of experiencing the dreaded trailer sway, we are going to have to take a closer look at some technical details.
What Causes Trailer Sway?
Understanding trailer sway starts with going back in time to your high school physics class, where Newton’s second law of motion told us that an increase in an object’s velocity also increases its mass.
In the case of trailer sway, the objects involved are both the vehicle and the trailer. As you travel at greater speeds the relative mass of both objects increases.
This causes any imbalances in mass to become more pronounced. It is even more likely to be a more pronounced issue with high-profile vehicles as the weight and center of gravity are higher.
This starts with the camper or trailer starting to swing side-to-side behind your tow vehicle.
Since relative mass increases with velocity, it means that trailer sway is even more likely to happen at highway speeds, which makes it feel even more dramatic.
Left unchecked a minor case of trailer sway can quickly escalate to the point where it becomes dangerous and uncontrollable.
It can damage the trailer, and the vehicle, and certainly cause a very serious accident.
Things That Increase the Risk of Trailer Sway
A high-profile trailer or camper is always going to be at slightly increased risk of experiencing trailer sway at highway speeds.
A long travel trailer being pulled by short-wheelbase vehicles tends to be more prone to trailer sway.
Though there are certainly other factors that can increase that risk exponentially. This includes things like:
The faster you travel the greater the relative mass of the trailer will be. This makes any load imbalances or weight distribution issues greater.
2. Center of Gravity
The higher the center of gravity is for anything, the less stable it will be. This is especially true in high-profile trailers and campers.
Some trailers are engineered with a higher center of gravity due to the suspension or the interior layout. This in turn increases the risk of trailer sway at highway speeds.
3. Improper Weight Distribution
It is all too easy to pack a camper willy-nilly with camping gear. When taken to the extreme, careless weight distribution in your trailer can affect how it travels down the road, increasing the risk of trailer sway.
Ideally, you want the weight in your camper to be evenly distributed, low, near the floor, and slightly biased toward the front.
This will help keep the center of gravity low and keep sufficient weight on the relationship between the tongue of the trailer and the hitch of the tow vehicle.
4. Strong Winds
Strong side winds from the weather or even the side draft created by a passing semi-truck can place excess side-to-side force on your trailer.
If you are already traveling fast, have a high center of gravity, or poorly distributed weight, this wind could be the little push the trailer needs to start swaying.
What Is a Trailer Sway Bar?
A RV sway bar, also known as an anti-sway bar, stabilizer bar, or a anti-roll bar is a single piece of metal that connects from one side of the vehicle to the other. It’s essentially a safety device for RVs that stiffens side-to-side motion to help reduce body roll on hitches, which also helps reduce the risk of trailer sway.
How Does A Camper Sway Bar Work?
There are different types of camper sway bars, though they are all engineered to help reduce sway when towing.
Many of them use a special cam lock to prevent a trailer from moving from side to side.
Though there are a few that take advantage of friction to prevent swaying. These sway control hitches are mounted at the back alongside the hitch ball.
A lot of single-axle vehicles come with a sway bar installed. Anytime the vehicle rolls one way, the bar twists a little, which then pushes up on the low side.
Not only does it reduce the rocking motion, but it also helps keep the vehicle more upright.
If you don’t already have a sway bar already installed, you can add one to your trailer hitch to help reduce sway when pulling a camper.
Just keep in mind that even with the best sway bar installed, it is still possible to experience trailer sway.
Especially if you are going fast with a high-profile trailer and the weight inside is poorly distributed.
Sway bars are meant to reduce the risk of trailer sway, but they cannot 100% prevent it from ever happening.
Do All Campers Need A Sway Bar?
Not all trailers benefit from a anti sway bar. In fact, fifth-wheel trailers don’t need sway bars as the way it pulls from over the axle is much more stable. However, most travel trailers will benefit from using a sway control hitch.
Sway bar hitches are optional pieces of equipment that can be added to your travel trailer or camper hitch to reduce the risk of swaying on the highway when pulling a camper.
While RV trailer sway bars aren’t required, adding a sway bar is almost always beneficial as they provide a more stable and comfortable towing experience.
Tips For Reducing The Risk Of Trailer Sway
A multi-prong approach is needed to significantly reduce your risk of trailer sway with your camper.
Even the best sway bar can’t save you from experiencing trailer sway if you have other risk factors at
Tip #1: Use A Sway Bar
Adding a sway bar is an extra level of insurance toward preventing trailer sway.
While they can’t eliminate trailer sway altogether, they give you a lot of peace of mind. Especially when the sway bar is combined with other thoughtful habits.
Tip #2 Use A Weight Distribution Hitch
A weight distribution hitch is engineered to help distribute the weight of a trailer evenly in its relationship to the tow vehicle.
When combined with a sway bar, it makes for a more stable towing experience.
It’s such a popular pairing that a lot of manufacturers sell weight distribution hitches and sway bars together as a combo pack.
Tip #3 Load Your Trailer Evenly
Anytime you are towing a trailer, you want to slightly bias 60% of the cargo weight toward the front, closest to the hitch.
Then also do your best to store gear down low, to lower the effective center of gravity of your cargo and camping gear.
Also, be mindful about loading the weight so it’s distributed evenly from side to side.
This will reduce any imbalances to make it easy for the sway bar and weight distribution hitch to do their thing.
Tip #4 Be Mindful Of Your Speed
Speeding and driving at highway speed greatly increase the risk of trailer sway.
The relative mass of the trailer and any other imbalances in how the trailer is loaded become more pronounced the faster you are traveling.
Tip #5 Try To Avoid Towing on Windy Days
The national weather service issued high wind warnings for high-profile vehicles. You can set up alerts on your phone to let you know if there is a high wind advisory.
Then also make it a habit always to check the weather on travel days.
If you can avoid traveling on a windy day, do so. Even if it means spending an extra day in one location more than planned.
How to Know if You Need Sway Control For Your Camper Trailer?
A lot of single axle travel trailers and campers come with a sway bar installed in them.
Though not all have them, and even if they do, you shouldn’t consider a sway bar to be a foolproof way to prevent trailer sway.
If your trailer doesn’t have a sway bar, you should consider having one installed. A lot of manufacturers offer sway bars in a combo pack with a weight-distribution hitch.
This is a perfect pairing, especially if you are going to pull a long travel trailer with a short wheelbase tow vehicle.
Then be smart about how you load your trailer, with heavier cargo being stowed down low, and evenly distributed from side to side.
Ideally, you want 60% of the trailer weight to be biased toward the front to maintain a good relationship between the trailer tongue and the hitch of the tow vehicle.
Then take it slow when you need to, and do your best to avoid traveling on very windy days.