Tow Bar Nose Weights Explained

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Measuring the nose weight with a specialised nose weight gauge.
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Measuring the nose weight with a specialised nose weight gauge.

In this guide we look at one of the most important figures of a tow bar - the nose weight.

What does ‘Nose Load’ mean?
This term refers to the weight, mass or load of the caravan or trailers coupling head that is applied to the tow bar or tow ball of the towing vehicle.

Does ‘static vertical mass’ and ‘nose load’ mean the same thing?
Yes, because static vertical mass is the technical name for nose load. You might even hear it called tongue load in some parts of the United States.

How do you measure nose load?
A proprietary device such as scales can be used to record and measure the weight or force that is applied by the caravan or trailer.  It is necessary to measure the weight/force as near to the coupling head’s centre as possible.  The height must also be the same as when the trailer/caravan is coupled to your intended towing vehicle.
You will not get a correct measurement of the nose load if the scales are placed too far from the coupling head and under the A-frame.  It is worth considering using one of the devices which are commercially available that have the capacity to measure nose load.

What is my maximum nose load?
There should be a maximum legally specified nose load in your vehicle’s handbook.  The nose load may be referred to as the ‘maximum static vertical load’; this is the technical terminology.  The maximum nose load varies between models, so it is essential to contact your vehicle’s manufacturer if you have any doubts.

How can I find out the maximum nose load for my tow bar?
EC Type Approved tow bars come with an ‘S’ value which can be found on the approval label. This shows the maximum nose load for that tow bar. This does not necessarily mean that it is the maximum nose load for your vehicle though, because not all tow bars are vehicle specific. You must refer to your vehicle’s handbook for the correct model specific data.

What is my caravan/trailers maximum nose load?
Manufacturers of EC or nationally approved caravans or trailers are not obliged to apply a label or capacity/rating plate to their products at present. There are plenty of manufacturers who do specify the maximum nose load though.  You will find this information on a label or plate as the ‘S’ value in kg. Modern caravan/trailer coupling heads come with an EC approval plate or a mark which dictates the maximum ‘S’ value. Other components of your caravan/trailer may be in excess of this so you must contact the caravan manufacturer if you have any doubts.

What is the best nose load for me to use?
Research has demonstrated how the stability of a caravan or trailer increases when the nose load is greater. It is generally accepted that your trailer/caravans nose load should be somewhere in the upper range of the recommended maximum nose load.
Common sense should be used as a nose load of 150KG for a vehicle like a Mitsubishi Shogun might not be achievable if you try to tow a 250KG caravan.

How would my tow bar mounted cycle carrier affect my maximum nose load if used while towing?
At present it is recommended that the weight of the cycle carrier and any cycles is subtracted from the maximum recommended nose load. The combined load of the cycle carrier, cycles and the caravan or trailers nose load should not be in excess of the maximum nose load for your vehicle.

What would happen if I exceeded my vehicle’s maximum nose load?
This is not advisable since the vehicle mounting points and tow bar could be damaged. There is also a risk that your warranty would be invalidated.

Can I adjust or change my nose load?
There is only one really effective way to adjust nose load and this involves redistribution the trailers contents. Certain special purpose trailers such as boat trailers allow you to change the nose load. The nose load can be altered by shifting the axle or axles on the rear chassis, but it is wise to let the manufacturer or one of their representatives do this!

Is it OK to have negative nose load?
This is a potentially hazardous situation because the likelihood of your caravan snaking or becoming unstable would increase. A negative nose means that the trailer coupling is not forced down securely onto the tow ball.
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