How to Load a Trailer the Right Way

There’s always a right way and a wrong way to load a trailer. The job can seem complicated, but it's important to get it right. Let’s keep the process as simple as we can. Bear in mind, there are 3 major components to consider if you are to understand clearly the proper steps:
  1. The tow vehicle has limitations set by the manufacturer (GTWR)
  2. The trailer has limitations set by the manufacturer (GVWR)
  3. The cargo must be arranged correctly to provide proper weight distribution.
The basic steps are carefully outlined below. Each one deserves your full attention and strict adherence.

Step 1

Confirm your tow vehicle’s GTWR. You’ll find this number alongside your vehicle’s VIN number, which is usually printed on a small sticker on the windshield or inner edge of the driver’s side door. A vehicle’s GTWR refers to the total amount of weight it can bear, including all cargo, passengers, and attachments. Knowing how much weight your vehicle can handle will give you a better idea of how to load the trailer. Never exceed your tow vehicle’s GTWR. Doing so can put serious strain on the engine, transmission, brakes, and suspension potentially resulting in accident or permanent damage. Tip: If you’re unable to locate the GTWR on the vehicle itself, consult your owner’s manual. It will most likely be somewhere in with the vehicle's other various specifications.

Step 2

Check out the GVWR of your trailer. Similar to the GTWR for tow vehicles, a trailer’s GVWR is its maximum weight limit when loaded. Nowadays, manufacturers typically list the GVWR of the trailer in the product description or literature. In addition, you’ll most likely find the GVWR sticker somewhere on the trailer itself. A spacious 8.5 ft x 25 ft (2.6 m x 7.6 m) flatbed trailer will have a GVWR somewhere in the neighborhood of 38,000 pounds (17,000 kg).

Step 3

Determine how much your trailer will hold. You can decide how much weight to put on your trailer by subtracting its weight from the GVWR. If you don’t know the weight of your trailer, you’ll need to weigh it yourself. Haul it to a location with a certified scale, and drive it onto the scale. Subtract the weight-reading number from the trailer’s GVWR, and you will know how much your trailer can hold. The weight of your trailer before it has been loaded is called the “curb weight.” If you have a trailer with a GVWR of 7,000 lb (3,200 kg) and a curb weight of 4,000 lb (1,800 kg), it will be able to safely haul 3,000 lb (1,400 kg) of cargo.

 Step 4

Weigh the tongue of the trailer. The tongue is the long metal shaft that extends from the trailer to the back of the towing vehicle. The simplest way to find the weight of your trailer’s tongue is to use a hitch that also measures tongue weight. If that’s not an option, you can also set a bathroom scale on a cinder block or other sturdy object with height matching the rear of your towing vehicle and rest the tongue on it long enough to record the weight manually. Ideally, your trailer’s tongue weight should be somewhere between 10% and 15% of its total weight when loaded. Too much or too little tongue weight can cause dangerous steering problems.

Step 5

Arrange the items in your trailer
  • As you are loading the trailer, keep in mind that you’ll need to arrange your cargo so that (approximately) 60% of the weight is positioned at the front end, leaving 40% in the back. Proper weight distribution minimizes cargo shifts and decreases the chances of swaying or whipping once you're in motion.
  • Place top-heavy items closer to the front of the trailer to prevent shifting. If you’re moving tall, easily off-balanced items like armoires, display cabinets, or bookcases, load them first and make sure they’re even with or just ahead of the trailer’s front axle. Since this part of the trailer is the shortest distance from the back of the tow vehicle, items situated there will have much less of an effect on the way your vehicle drives.
  • Heavy items tend to cause the most issues while your towing vehicle is in motion. Try to position the heaviest items toward the center of the floor to keep them stable. Push these up against your top-heavy items to provide additional support from the rear, and pack them in as tightly as possible to minimize shifting and sliding.
  • Once you’ve loaded your heaviest and most precarious items, you can begin filling the back of the trailer with smaller items, stacking them by weight. Set the heaviest items on the trailer floor, piling the rest of your cargo on top from heaviest to lightest. Be sure to balance the items in the back of your trailer not only from bottom to top but from front to back.

Step 6

Secure your cargo Secure your cargo from multiple angles using tie-downs. Drape a series of ropes, chains, or nylon webbings straps widthwise across your cargo every 5–10 feet (1.5–3.0 m). Pull the ties taut and fasten the ends to the rails, hooks, rings, or other available attachment points on either side of the trailer, wrapping the excess material if necessary to eliminate slack. Before you hit the road, take a moment to double-check each connection site. If you’re worried about taller items falling over lengthwise, you can run an addition 1-2 ties from the front of the trailer to the back. Always tie down your cargo when towing an open trailer. It may also be a good idea to secure select items, like top-heavy furniture and appliances, in enclosed trailers that aren’t completely full. The exact number of tie-downs you use will vary depending on how much and what kind of cargo you’re carrying. Tip: For maximum security, consider investing in a set of adjustable ratchet straps.