How to Install & Use a Trailer Sway Control Kit
Posted: October 18, 2022
Categories: User Guides & Installations
How to Install & Use a Trailer Sway Control Kit
If you’re considering installing a sway control on your hitch setup, you may be concerned about the level of effort involved. Is it something you can do yourself? Do you have the skills and tools necessary? Or do you need professional help?
Not to mention using your sway control once it’s installed!
In this guide, we’ll walk step by step through the basic process of installing a trailer sway control kit. We’ll cover the parts that make up a sway control, tools needed for the job, the steps involved, and some alternative sway control options to consider.
We’ll also provide some pointers on how to properly use a sway control while towing.
Parts of a Sway Control Kit
Hitch-mounted sway control ball
This mini hitch ball attaches the sway control unit to the vehicle-side of the connection. The ball bolts onto a tab next to the primary hitch ball and allows the sway control and hitch connection to pivot as necessary for proper turning.
This metal bar slides in and out of the sway control unit and has a rough, abrasive texture to restrict this sliding motion and combat trailer sway. The open end of the slide bar attaches to the hitch-mounted sway control ball.
The handle allows you to engage or disengage tension on the sway control unit. You’ll need to switch between the on and off positions whenever coupling or uncoupling your trailer.
Trailer mounted sway control ball
This ball comes with a metal base and gets bolted onto your trailer frame. It provides the attachment point for the other end of the sway control bar.
The torsion screw allows you to increase or decrease the resistance on the slide bar. Tightening the screw will provide greater resistance to the side-to-side motion, and loosening it will provide less.
Sway Control Installation Video
Sway Control Attachment Options
Before you begin, you need to make sure you have a ball mount with a sway control tab. Most weight distribution hitches come with this tab (two tabs, in fact) already equipped. There are also specialized sway control ball mounts and weld-on options to add a sway tab if needed.
Complete Sway Control Kits
Tools Needed for Installation
- Socket set (SAE and metric)
- Drill bits
- Tape measure
Installing a Sway Control Step by Step
Step 1 - Attach the hitch sway control ball.
Insert the threaded stem of the ball into the hole of the sway control tab on your weight distribution hitch or ball mount. Use a wrench and the included nut and washer to securely torque the sway ball into place. Remember not to overtighten!
Step 2 - Measure for the location of the trailer sway ball.
The trailer-mounted sway control ball should be placed 24” back from the trailer coupler. Measure from the center of the coupler, along the trailer frame. The ball should be positioned on the outside edge of the trailer frame, and it should be 24” on-center from the coupler. Use the holes in the included plate to mark where the bolt holes will be drilled.
Step 3 - Drill pilot holes into the trailer frame.
Using the appropriately sized drill bit (refer to your specific owner’s manual), drill the four pilot holes needed for attaching the ball. Take your time and use caution. This step can sometimes be intimidating, but with the right tools and a little patience, it may be much easier than you think.
Step 4 - Bolt the trailer sway ball into place.
Position the trailer-mounted ball (and spacer plate, if included) over the four holes, and bolt it into place with the included self-tapping screws.
Step 5 - Attach the sway control bar onto the ball.
Release the tension on the slide bar by turning the on/off handle. Once released, the bar should slide easily. Place the slide bar socket over the hitch-mounted sway control ball and the other socket over the trailer-mounted ball. Secure each in place with the included clips. Then, reengage tension by rotating the on/off handle in the on direction.
Step 6 - Test your sway control unit.
With someone watching the sway control carefully, back up your tow vehicle slowly until the trailer is in a jackknife position. Make sure the sway control does not hit the trailer frame or bumper at any point. Then, pull forward and back up again so the trailer jackknifes in the other direction. Again, the sway control should at no point obstruct your other towing equipment. Also make sure that the sway control does not fully compress or come apart. If any of these occur when jackknifed, the sway control must be removed any time you back up your trailer.
Removing the Sway Control Unit
The steps above cover a complete sway control installation and setup. However, once the unit is installed, it can easily be detached whenever you unhitch your trailer. To do so, simply rotate the on/off handle to the off position, pull out the clips and remove the entire sway bar. The sway control balls can actually stay in place permanently.
How to Adjust Your Sway Control Unit
There are many things that can affect trailer sway, from weather and road conditions to the way you load your cargo. Check out our guide on causes of sway control for more information.
Sometimes, an adjustment is required to ensure the proper amount of sway control for your vehicle-trailer setup.
To adjust your sway control, you’ll need to turn the tension screw. However, we recommend starting with the factory settings. Your sway control unit should come preset with the right amount of tension for an average load.
Once your new sway control is installed, road test it without changing the factory settings.
If the factory settings don’t provide enough control, an adjustment may be needed. You can increase the resistance by tightening the tension screw. Turn the screw 1/4-turn at a time.
After making each incremental adjustment, road test your towing setup until the proper sway control is achieved.
Tips for Using Your Sway Control
- Periodically lubricate the on/off handle. Exposed to the outdoor elements, the handle can become stiff or even seized without lubrications. Place a single drop of oil on the threads regularly to keep the handle turning smoothly.
- Never lubricate or paint the slide bar. Lubricating the handle is good. Lubricating the slide bar is not. The slide bar relies on consistent friction to combat trailer sway. Any kind of lubricant, including paint, will reduce this vital friction.
- Use two sway control units on larger trailers. Heavier trailers, longer trailers and even broad-sided trailers can be more stubborn when it comes to sway. Once they start rocking, they don’t want to stop! If one sway control unit doesn’t cut it, you may need to install a second on the other side of the trailer frame, and most weight distribution hitches are already equipped with two sway tabs.
- Keep your sway control clean. Road grime, dust and the outdoor elements can make your sway control dirty and affect its performance. When installing a sway control for the first time, it is recommended that you clean it after the first 1,000 miles of use. Remove the slide bar and scrub it with a wire brush or steel wool. After that, the slide bar only needs to be cleaned about every 10,000 miles.
- Be cautious with short-wheelbase vehicles. As a general rule, the shorter a vehicle’s wheelbase (meaning the distance from the center of the front wheel to the center of the rear wheel), the more prone it is to trailer sway. Short-wheelbase vehicles are also more greatly affected by a trailer in sway. If you’re making a decision about which vehicle to tow with, choosing one with a longer wheelbase will likely work in your favor to combat trailer sway.
- Don’t use a sway control with surge brakes. Surge brakes are a type of brakes built into some trailers, particularly boat trailers. These are different than electric brakes, relying on the momentum of the trailer to help with brake accentuation. Unfortunately, if your trailer is equipped with surge brakes, you won’t be able to use a sway control unit.
- Don’t speed up if sway occurs. Trailer sway increases with speed. When you’re towing a trailer and experience a sway event, sometimes your instinct is to speed up in an attempt to straight out the trailer’s course. This will only make things worse. If sway occurs, slow down! If sway continues, you should bring the vehicle and trailer to safe stop and inspect your towing setup to figure out the cause.
- Load your trailer properly. How you load your trailer can have a major influence on trailer sway. In general, more weight should be placed in front of the axle (follow the 60/40 rule!) to create proper tongue weight. If your trailer is tail-heavy, it will tend to sway. Also be sure to balance the load from side to side.
- Don’t use sway control in slippery conditions. A sway control unit is designed for regular towing conditions. If roads are wet, snowy, icy or even too gravelly, a sway control will not help. If you must tow through these conditions, it is advised that the sway control unit be removed.
Sway Control Alternatives
If you’re looking for an alternative solution to trailer sway, the products below provide an upgrade over the classic sway control kit.
Disclaimer: These photographs, recommendations, and approximations are intended for demonstration purposes only and do not reflect the specifications of any particular tow vehicle, recreational vehicle, or trailer. Always consult the manufacturer’s Owner’s Manual.