Do any of you have any insight into why a brand-new 20-foot long 2600-pound RP-178 trailer with an e2 Hitch weight distribution and sway control hitch would sway completely out of control while being towed behind a 3300 pound 2000 Ford Ranger pickup with a brake controller?
Here’s some background information, which culminates with me and my trailer doing a complete 180 on Interstate 405 north of Seattle:
We recently purchased an R-Pod travel trailer. When we made the purchased the salesman at the dealership asked me what kind of a vehicle I would be using to tow the trailer. I told the salesman that I was planning to buy a used Ford Ranger pickup truck. The salesman said “okay, that should be able to handle the RP-178”.
The travel trailer that we purchased is 20 feet long, has an unloaded vehicle weight of 2554 pounds plus a load capacity of 1203 pounds. That adds up to a total towing weight of 3757 pounds.
I did some research on the Internet and found that a Ford Ranger pickup with a V6 4.0 L engine would have no problem telling a travel trailer that weighs 3800 fully loaded. I went shopping for pickup trucks and purchased a 2000 Ford Ranger with a V6 4.0 L engine. I’m really happy with the truck; it’s fairly clean inside and out and runs great.
At their recommendation, the dealer installed a new brake controller unit with an electronic coupling at the trailer hitch on my recently-purchased 2000 Ford Ranger. The salesman also suggested that I might need a weight distribution trailer hitch to prevent sway as well as improve road performance. I told him I would consider buying one after towing the trailer home.
When I finally took delivery on my new travel trailer and towed it home I took a state highway and then Interstate highway. I noticed that at speeds higher than 50 mph the trailer began to sway quite a bit. This had me concerned so I reduced my speed to below 50 and when I got home I called the dealer to report the issue. The dealer suggested that I bring the trailer back to them so that they could take it for a test tow to see if there is some sort of problem with the trailer unit. They told me that if the trailer checks out okay then I may need to buy a sway controller and / or weight distribution hitch.
So, I took surface streets all the way back to the dealer (so as to avoid driving above 50 mph) and brought the trailer for them to check it out. They could not find anything wrong with the trailer when they took it for a test tow, so they suggested that I buy the weight distribution trailer hitch. They actually offered me two options; the first one was a sway controller (which does not actually address the issue of weight distribution) and only costs about $200. The more expensive option, which I was told was more likely to fully solve the problem, was a full weight distribution trailer hitch for about $600 installed. I instructed them to go for the more expensive/more safe option. I left my travel trailer with them for another week while they installed an e2 Hitch weight distribution and sway control hitch rated for 450 tongue weight on the trailer.
When I went to pick up the trailer the other morning one of their technicians took some measurements and installed the e2 trailer hitch portion of the weight distribution system on my truck. We then connected the trailer to my truck and I drove away feeling assured that the sway problem had now been resolved.
I again took a state highway and then the Interstate to get home. On the state highway, going about 55-60 mph, I didn’t experience much sway. However, while driving in the center lane on Interstate 405 at about 60 mph the travel trailer began to sway a little bit then suddenly began to sway VERY DRAMATICALLY. The other cars around me slowed down so as to avoid colliding with my travel trailer which was heaving back and forth into the other lanes. I reached down to squeeze the brake controller to apply the brakes to the trailer and squeezed a little bit but had to stop because my vehicle and the trailer were now swaying out of control and I needed to have both hands on the steering wheel.
At this point my Ranger pickup and my brand-new travel trailer did a complete 180 and screeched to a halt in the left-hand median on I-405. I was now facing in the opposite direction of the traffic at about 9:15 AM in the morning, during a fairly typical morning commute. I called 911 and they connected me up with the Washington State Patrol.
I got out of my truck to survey for damage and discovered that the right rear corner of my trailer had smashed into the guardrail and was now damaged. Also, the right tire on the trailer had gone flat when I did the 180, and the wheel hub was scraped badly enough that it has been rendered unusable. There was no damage to my pickup truck and the weight distribution trailer hitch was still fully attached to the truck and the trailer.
When the Washington State Patrol arrived, they arranged for a rolling blockade to stop traffic long enough for me to do a giant U-turn and move my truck and trailer to the right-hand median where there was much more room to change the tire on the trailer.
Some guys from the Washington State Department of Transportation arrived on the scene and helped me to change the flat tire on the trailer. I spoke to these DOT guys and the State Trooper about what had just happened and showed them the brand-new weight distribution/sway controlling hitch that I just purchased and had installed a half-an-hour earlier.
One of the DOT guys suggested that my pickup truck could weigh less than the trailer, and that may have been the cause of the problem. When I was researching pickup trucks on the Internet I did not read anything that suggested that the weight of the towing vehicle must be more than the trailer. Everything I read, and everything I heard from the folks at the dealership, suggested that the main factor is that you must have an engine hefty enough to handle the weight load. More importantly, according to the vehicle registration the scale weight of the Ranger pickup is 3302 pounds, well above the 2600 pounds that the travel trailer weighs. So that shoots down the DOT guy’s theory.
I called the service department at the dealer from the roadside and told them what had just happened. I told them that I would be bringing the travel trailer back to them immediately and that they had some explaining to do. From my perspective, they sold me a device (the weight distribution trailer hitch) which was supposed to solve any sway problems, but from my experience on my way home it seems as though it may have made the problem worse. Either that, or there is some sort of a defect in the trailer, such as a bent axle or brake malfunction on one side, which is causing the trailer to sway under certain circumstances.
Once again I took surface streets all the way back and left the trailer with the dealership. My question to them was “how could this happen? You guys told me that the weight distribution trailer hitch would take care of everything. I could have been killed or could have killed someone else!” They said “we’re very glad no one was hurt and we’re not sure what happened but we will do another inspection to see if there are any problems with the trailer unit”. They also suggested that I might want to take my Ford Ranger pickup truck to a Ford dealer to have them inspect the suspension system as well as the rest of the vehicle to see if there are any problems that could have led to my incident on Interstate 405. I’ve driven that pickup truck quite a few times over the last few weeks and the suspension feels just fine. Also, I purchased the 2000 Ford Ranger from a dealership that did a complete safety inspection before they sold it to me. This being said, I’m not against the idea of having the truck inspected, but the truck seems just fine to me.
It broke my heart to call and file a claim two weeks after I purchased the trailer insurance policy, but it had to be done. My feeling is that the dealership has some culpability in this issue and I hope that the insurance company will hold them accountable for the damages.
So again, here’s my question to you: do any of you have any insight into why a brand-new 20-foot long 2600-pound RP-178 trailer with an e2 Hitch weight distribution and sway control hitch would sway completely out of control while being towed behind a 3300 pound 2000 Ford Ranger pickup?