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How to Properly Adjust Travel Trailer Sway Bars

by John Cagney Nash

Travel trailer sway -- the uncontrolled side-to-side motion experienced in cross winds, when being passed by 18-wheelers or during heavy braking -- is a dangerous and disconcerting event. It is colloquially referred to as "fish-tailing." The experts at Lakeshore RV, referenced below, advise that all trailers over 24 feet long should be fitted with twin sway bars properly adjusted to exert equal pressure on both sides of the tow package. Aside from having properly adjusted sway bars, you can minimized side motion simply by loading heavy items as close to the trailer floor as possible, and distributing them so that approximately 20 percent of the trailer's total weight is on the tongue.

Hitch the travel trailer to a tow vehicle, both loaded with weights typical of your camping needs, and tension the sway bars according to the manufacturer's baseline instructions. Drive the tow vehicle at your usual towing speed, paying particular attention to the behavior of the trailer.

Park the tow vehicle and trailer along a common axis, on flat and level ground. Engage "Park" on the tow vehicle. Find the tension screws on each sway bar -- these are usually located on the outside ends of the arms close to the pivots. Use a screwdriver to turn them each 1/4-turn clockwise to increase sway control and 1/4-turn counterclockwise to decrease sway control.

Repeat the towing exercise, again paying particular attention to the behavior of the trailer. Park as before and repeat the adjustments, running through the procedure as many times as is necessary until the desired degree of sway control is achieved.

Tip

  • If uneven sway occurs, with the travel trailer moving more readily and frequently to one side than the other, adjust the screw on that side an extra 1/4-turn.

Warning

  • Remove sway bars when towing in icy conditions or in heavy rain. The adjustment process must be run through every time the sway bars are reinstalled.

Items you will need

About the Author

John Cagney Nash began composing press releases and event reviews for British nightclubs in 1982. His material was first published in the "Eastern Daily Press." Nash's work focuses on American life, travel and the music industry. In 1998 he earned an OxBridge doctorate in philosophy and immediately emigrated to America.

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