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Feb 14, 2022

How Airbag Suspension Systems Affect Weight Distribution Hitches

Automatic airbag suspension systems are becoming standard for many newer model trucks. One common question is, do I need a weight distribution hitch if my vehicle has suspension airbags? The short answer is yes, but the reasons are much longer than that.

The purpose of airbags

After the tow vehicle is loaded and weight is added behind the rear axle, the rear of the tow vehicle can begin to sag, changing the pitch or angle of the tow vehicle. Suspension airbags are installed on the tow vehicles’ rear axles and can lift the rear, restoring a level pitch to the tow vehicle.

Airbag Suspension System
Airbags create a stiffer or softer suspension to help create a better driving situation.

Airbag suspension systems are designed to stiffen or soften the suspension to create an ideal driving situation. The vehicle can return to a level pitch by adjusting the air for a smoother, more balanced ride. It is important to note that airbag suspension systems DO NOT increase the payload or tow capacity but change how the vehicle handles the load.

Weight distribution hitches

The purpose of a weight distribution hitch is to restore balance to the tow vehicle and trailer. After coupling a trailer to a tow vehicle, the weight causes the tow vehicle’s rear to sag. This puts increased pressure on the axle and suspension system. In turn, the tow vehicle’s front lifts, which reduces steering control and braking capability. Weight distribution hitches, such as The Original Equal-i-zer® Sway Control Hitch, serve as the bridge between the trailer and tow vehicle. It restores the weight lost from the front axle and reduces the weight on the rear axle.

Weight distribution hitches incorporate steel arms that relieve the pressure placed on the suspension. Two L-shaped brackets, or hooks, are placed on the trailer frame and bolted down. Then the steel arms are inserted into the hitch head, which is the coupling point, and put on the trailer frame brackets. This balances the tow vehicle and trailer and redistributes the weight back to all the axles.

Airbags vs. weight distribution

Weight distribution hitches improve steering, braking capability and enhance vehicle control. Airbag systems provide adjustable suspension that is easily adapted for optimal driving. While there will be redundancies, these two systems can coexist and deliver an exceptional towing experience.

When installing a weight distribution hitch on a tow vehicle, ensure that automatic airbag suspension is disabled until setup is complete. Engineers from Equal-i-zer hitch recommend that the weight distribution be set up between 75-100% to compensate for the automatic leveling. Once installation is complete, allow the automated airbag system to engage. In testing done by Equal-i-zer hitch engineers, the table below shows the effect of airbag suspension with a weight distribution hitch.

Results Table
This table serves as a guide to the normal effect of airbag suspension on a weight distribution hitch

After automatic leveling with airbags, a weight distribution hitch may lose around 25% of the achieved weight distribution. If the hitch is installed at a higher weight distribution percentage, it will still be within the safe towing guidelines set by manufacturers after airbag inflation.

A weight distribution hitch alone can provide the same benefits as airbags while towing, but the same is not true for airbags without a weight distribution hitch. Airbags cannot distribute the weight from the rear axle, so a weight distribution hitch is recommended for a safer journey, even with an airbag system. Ensure that all manufacturer guidelines are followed for maximum safety while towing.