Travel Trailer wheel placement

Jul 1, 2020

Updated 2020

Travel Trailer wheel placement

Travel Trailer wheel placement is a vital issue affecting on-road stability. This article explains why, and the position along the chassis with which they should best be located.

A conventional travel trailer is always a compromise. This is because it is towed via hitch at some distance behind the tow vehicle’s rear wheels. If that vehicle sways clockwise, that hitch overhang causes (not just permits) the travel trailer to sway anti-clockwise. If the travel trailer sways clockwise, it causes the tow vehicle to sway anticlockwise.  It is essentially an unstable concept, but safe within limits.

The major constraint of travel trailer wheel placement is the basic laws of physics. These include two major distances. One is the tow vehicle’s wheelbase (distance between the front and rear axle). The other is the travel trailer‘s so-called radius of gyration.

Travel Trailer wheel placement – the radius of gyration

The radius of gyration is a distance. With a trailer, it is that distance from its tow hitch to that point along it was all its (laden) mass concentrated in one place. The greater distance the better. For optimal travel trailer wheel placement, the axle/s should be just behind that location.

As, like an arrow, to be stable when moving, a trailer must be nose heavy (here by about 8-10%). For ideal travel trailer wheel placement, they should be as far back as feasible. This is readily possible by centralising weight either side of those axles. Moreover, by minimising all other weight, particularly at its extreme rear.

Locating heavy spare wheels on a travel trailer‘s extreme rear indicates one of two things. Whoever designed does not under basic physics. Or does – but ignores it. And why two spare wheels – when the tow vehicle has one (and with some- just a repair kit and inflator).

Measuring the radius of gyration

This is readily done, but as far as is known, no travel trailer maker in Australia does so. That required is a frictionless turntable, the rotation of which is constrained by springs. The travel trailer is then centralised on that turntable and twisted by (say) 30 degrees and released. The time it takes to return to the starting position is a measure of that radius of gyration. The longer it takes, the greater that radius.

You can readily simulate travel trailer wheel placement by holding a bottle of wine in each fully extended hand – and twisting at varying speeds. (Either red or white is just fine).

Correct travel trailer wheel placement can also be done arithmetically. Like a loaf of sliced bread, the travel trailer is (theoretically) ‘sliced’ along its length. The ‘weight’ of each slice is then measured.

The tow vehicle’s radius of gyration is limited by the lateral distortion of its front and rear tyres. Moreover,  also by how far they are apart. Here, the greater the better. Most vehicles used for towing (in Australia) are about three metres. In this respect, one of the best tow cars ever made is that least probable. It was the DS Citroen. It had virtually a wheel at each corner.

Travel Trailers ways to safely load snd set up | Classic Travel Trailers
DS Citroen towing an Airstream Travel Trailer – here again notice the ideal travel trailer wheel placement. Pic. source unknown

Only one local travel trailer maker appears to have realised the need for correct travel trailer wheel placement. He was Barry Davidson. He did so for his 1990s Phoenix range. They have a legendary reputation for excellent towing stability.

What off-road really means
An example of the now-legendary Barry Davidson-designed late 1990s Phoenix. Note the ideal travel trailer wheel placement. Pic: Caboolture Travel Trailers.

Why Caravans Roll Over
and how to prevent it

Explains in detail every aspect of tow vehicle and caravan stability. This is what you need to know to be safe on or off the road.

eBook versions

Paperback version

The book retailers set their own prices which can vary substantially. We'll aim to keep a selection of the better prices above.

Any bookshop, whether online or bricks and mortar, can order copies of Why Caravans Roll Over.  Just ask.
ISBN: 978-0-6483190-6-1

The Caravan & Motorhome Book

The Caravan & Motorhome Book covers every conceivable aspect of campervan and motorhome usage. If you own a camper van or motor home, you'll want this book.

eBook versions

Paperback version

The book retailers set their own prices which can vary substantially. We'll aim to keep a selection of the better prices above.

Any bookshop, whether online or bricks and mortar, can order copies of The Caravan & Motorhome Book. Just ask.
ISBN: 978-0-6483190-5-4.

The Caravan & Motorhome Book

The Caravan & Motorhome Book covers every conceivable aspect of campervan and motorhome usage. If you own a camper van or motor home, you'll want this book.

eBook versions

Paperback version

The book retailers set their own prices which can vary substantially. We'll aim to keep a selection of the better prices above.

Any bookshop, whether online or bricks and mortar, can order copies of The Caravan & Motorhome Book. Just ask.
ISBN: 978-0-6483190-5-4.

Why Caravans Roll Over
and how to prevent it

Explains in detail every aspect of tow vehicle and caravan stability. This is what you need to know to be safe on or off the road.

eBook versions

Paperback version

The book retailers set their own prices which can vary substantially. We'll aim to keep a selection of the better prices above.

Any bookshop, whether online or bricks and mortar, can order copies of Why Caravans Roll Over.  Just ask.
ISBN: 978-0-6483190-6-1