This is how to properly load a trailer because your tow isn’t successful if it isn’t safe.

Here’s the deal, you’re the guy that can tow things for every occasion, and you know that you need to get that precious cargo to its destination safely. Whether you’re transporting a cargo trailer, or a car, or a boat, they’re counting on you to know your stuff.

Properly balancing the load and preparing the trailer is crucial to safely reaching your destination and being the hero of the day.

So let’s talk about how to properly load a trailer from back to front, top to bottom, and everywhere in between. First, there are some terms you should know.

  1. Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR): This is located on the VIN label on your trailer and is the most weight allowed of BOTH your trailer and cargo.
  2. Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR): This is the max distributed weight that can be supported by the axle of a vehicle. The GAWR will usually include either FR or RR to specify front (FR) or rear (RR) axles.
  3. Trailer weight: The original, or empty, weight of a trailer that is fully assembled.
  4. Tongue weight: The amount of the trailer’s weight that is transported to your tow vehicle through the trailer tongue. As a general rule of thumb, 10-15% of the total weight of a trailer, and its cargo, should be on the trailer tongue jack.

Now that you know the terms, let’s get into how to properly load a trailer. It may seem like a simple task, and it can be, but certain steps should be taken to cut down on the chance of injury and complications while you operate the towing vehicle.

Get Familiar with the Tongue Weight

Like we said above, the tongue weight is the amount of weight that is transferred to your vehicle’s hitch. Knowing that maximum weight is super important for a safe tow. An uneven tongue weight can cause problems in a couple of ways. If there is too much weight on the tongue, there will be added stress to the backend of the vehicle. This can cause visibility issues for the driver, impact how easily the trailer can take turns, and cause what is called a sagging back end. A sagging back end will make braking less effective, and no one wants that.

On the other hand, too little weight on the tongue will cause the bank end of your vehicle to lift and create a trailer sway, which is the most common cause for trailer accidents.

The best way to avoid trailer sway is to place heavier cargo right before the front axle, then center the cargo left to right and tie-down securely.

The ideal tongue weight that you want is between 10% to 15% of the total trailer’s weight, cargo and all. Weighing the tongue weight can be done with a tongue weight scale or you can find a public scale and weigh your vehicle and the trailer.

Placement of Cargo is Key

To properly load a trailer, heavy items should always be loaded onto the trailer first. Always!

The thought behind this is that these items need to be the most secure so they don’t move around during transport. And this is accomplished best when the trailer is empty, so you can tie them down at different angles. Be sure to tie everything down as secure and firm as possible. It’s a bit of trailer tetris, but it’s worth it!

And the second key to properly loading a trailer is to first load the front of the trailer with 60% of the cargo in front of the front axle. Be sure to check that the weight is evenly distributed from side to side. Balance is the goal.

Check and Re-check your Gross Vehicle Weight Rating

Also known as the gross vehicle mass, the GVWR is indicated by the manufacturer of your trailer and is the maximum operating rate. So it’s important that you aren’t exceeding that weight. It INCLUDES the tongue weight, engine, fluids, chassis, body, fuel, accessories, the driver, passengers, and cargo, and EXCLUDES the trailer weight.

If you exceed the weight limit, you risk the malfunction of many parts of your towing vehicle, like brakes, tires, transmission, axles, and differentials, because they are all designed to only handle a certain weight. So always check and re-check the GVWR and GAWR indicated by the trailer manufacturer.

Some bonus tips to ensure safety during your tow are to always reduce your normal driving speed, leave about 4-5 seconds between you and other vehicles, and be extra alert to any trailer sway or objects blocked by your trailer.

Our friends at USA Cargo Trailer created a great infographic to sum this up.


And that, my friend, is how to properly load a trailer. Happy adventuring!