So whats all the hoon-haw about?
Why do you need anything more than a simple bumper hitch anyway?

There are hundreds of people pulling trailers today that simply use what they were given with their trailer, and have survived ok - but maybe with a few scares.

This discussion is for the few among them that want to make their trip safer.

ie - there are many trailer-hitch related queries like this bouncing around the net:

> I'm new to pulling anything large like a A/S.  What are the groups
> findings about the Pullrite hitches?  Do you get what you pay for?
> Are the Hensley's worth $1500 more and the Reese's $300 less?
Value of Opinions Definitions Hitch Type
Pros & Cons
Hitch Geometry
Setup Requirements Installation Hooking up Turning Radius Backing up

Opinion Value

What follows are answers to and opinions about typical concerns associated with the different types of hitches, mine - and those that i have assembled from the www.

My view on what opinions are worth:

  • ownership distorts judgement
  • financial interest distorts judgement
  • advertizing pushes sales, not truth
  • if you accept someones opinion or analysis without thinking it through, the chances of a bad decision increases.
  • unless all factors are considered, comparisons and opinions about different systems can range from hogwash to scientific
  • apples to oranges comparisons are common - look for them.
  • some factor are more important than others - most of the time :-)


    Most opinions have been edited severely and therefore not attributed, (so the nominal originators will get no nuisance mail from here anyway; If you insist on being identified, i will be glad to list your email address, so you can support your point of view. :-)

    If you do not agree with the info here, and have constructive comments, let me know; I will add the good ones as i have time.

    Please direct all flames and destructive comments to /dev/null.


    (I thought about alphabetic order too, but the list is short, and is more readable this way.)

    for conversational purposes = the towing vehicle

    for conversational purposes = the towed vehicle

    class III, IV hitch
    basic "slide in the square tube" hitch type used for towing vehicles; class IV is for greater hitch weights.

    weight distributing (WD)
    adjust the relative weight on the truck's front and rear axles so steering and braking control is optimized (pitch control in airplane lingo). This is done by clamping steel bars to the trailer tongue and tightening chains to "lever" the front of the truck down, to compensate for the hitch weight of the trailer pushing the back of the truck downwards and lifting the front tires off the road.

    anti-sway (AS)
    damping the trailer induced sideways forces on the truck bumper located pivot point, which are caused by the trailer being hit with wind gusts or whatever. These forces tend to force the truck to turn (yaw control in airplane lingo). Controlling these forces can be achieved with several different techniques:
  • with adjustable friction devices between the truck and the side of the tongue to dampen the forces.
  • better hitch design
  • mechanical additions to change the way these forces operate

    Pullrite and Hensley reduce or eliminate sway by moving the pivot point. (see lever arm discussion)

    Note - Most friction type sway control manufacturers recommend disconnecting them under adverse weather conditions - just when you would seem to need them most.

  • geometry
    the layout of the hitch and vehicles that determine how towing and perturbation forces (sway) are applied.

    hitch point
    where the trailer is connected ( hooked up) to the truck. This is usually the trailer towball at the bumper for simple systems.
    NB - this is the same as the pivot point only for simpler hitch systems.

    pivot point
    the flexible truck/trailer connection; usually at the hitchpoint for regular hitch systems, but near the axle for fifth wheel and Pullrite.

    see the hitch geometry discussion below.

    lever arm
    basic physics term. think of a teeter-totter, or a crowbar, or Archimedes and moving the world.

    tongue, or towbar
    mechanical connection between trailer and truck. Its length is the distance between the trailer front axle and the pivot point.

    the vertical bar (pin) truck-trailer connection point for fifth wheel and Pullrite hitches; equivalent to a trailer ball connection point.

    when backing up, how radically does trailer respond to truck turning; eg- low means you need to turn the steering wheel more to make things happen. Or, it is easier to screw up when backing with a high sensitivity system :-)

    lever arm
    the distance between truck back axle and the connection pivot point.

    max turn angle
    the greatest angle between truck and trailer during turning, when the truck rear corner just kisses the trailer front corner. See this - ed..

    a character trait of some people who vehemently maintain their opinion; often excludes tolerance and facts.


    We have a towing vehicle = truck, and the towed vehicle or trailer . Ignoring the truck's need for a super strong bumper, great brakes, plenty of power, etc. we are talking about 2 needed hitch functions: weight distribution and anti-sway . We here ignore the important anti-sway factor of correct hitch height.

    the Hensley and Pullrite are purportedly better (and certainly higher $$$) version hitchs. They have special approaches to providing some of the above functions.

    Many argue whether the added gizmos are worth the price difference. Opinions seem to depend a lot on relative size/weight of truck to trailer, driving experience and skill, and maybe luck.

    What does not seem to get mentioned much, is that the Pullrite and fifth wheel type hitches eliminate the need for antisway gizmos by eliminating/reducing the sway problem in the first place (by reducing the truck 'back axle to hitchpoint' lever arm). Hensley hitches try to do the same thing with a special gizmo.

    Fifth wheel hitches are excellent and common, but not usable for airstreams; so little discussion of them here. Pullrite is similar to them, is usable and available for airstream type trailers.

    There are a plethora of opinions about these, often fanatical :-) , but I have not been able to find any scientific test results.

    Different Hitch Type Pros & Cons

    type basic class III Reese or other brand weight distributing hitch, with anti-sway bar fifth wheel and gooseneck (not used with Airstream towing setup) Pull-rite Hensley
    safety low medium see this high high high
    has weight distributing gear (WD) no yes not needed yes yes
    has anti-sway gear (AS) no yes not needed not needed see this yes
    gear on truck class III on frame class III on frame special mount on top; takes up considerable bed space special mount underneath; occupies space where pickup spare is mounted; exhaust system re-routed to side installing class III on frame
    gear on trailer ball socket special ball socket, WD, AS post or ball socket special ball socket, WD special ball socket, WD installing
    cost - new,approx. $80 up around $600-$700.00 ? around $900; $1300 installed see this $2,500.00
    tow vehicle type any any pickup any any
    weight max limits class III class III whatever 20000 lbs class III
    construction trivial simple trivial simple complex
    moving to different truck remount remount remount remount see this remount see this
    moving to different trailer easy easy - move gear easy easy - move gear move gear see this
    can see ball and socket when hitching up no no yes yes see this no see this
    backing up sensitivity high high less less high
    hitch setup required no yes yes yes yes
    vendor Reese, EAZ-lift, Pullrite Hensley
    owner fanaticism level :-) zero medium high high high

    Hitch Geometry Details

    Pullrite and 5th wheel have almost exactly the same geometry as semi-trucks, which can probably be considered the ideal towing geometry. Hensley simulates this geometry with a complex mechanism.

    sorry - no pictures here - too much trouble. :-)

    type basic class III Reese or other brand weight distributing hitch, with anti-sway bar fifth wheel and gooseneck (not used with Airstream towing setup) Pull-rite Hensley
    effective towing pivot point towball at rear bumper towball at rear bumper truck kingpin connection above rear axle truck kingpin connection near rear axle forward of hitch ball
    effective backing pivot point towball at rear bumper towball at rear bumper kingpin connection above truck rear axle kingpin connection near truck rear axle towball at rear bumper
    truck-trailer separation distance short short truck & trailer never touch on turns truck & trailer never touch on turns longer - hensley mechanism add 18 inches of separation
    Length of tongue short - towball to trailer axle short - towball to trailer axle long - truck rear axle to trailer axle long - truck rear axle to trailer axle short for backup/long for towing (but see above)
    turn angle limit
    see this
    45 degrees 45 degrees 90 degrees 90 degrees 45+ degrees
    The different geometries determine where forces can be effectively applied.

    All systems have forces at the tires, where the friction against the road prevents them from moving sideways.

    All systems have forces between the truck and trailer at the pivot point.

    Basic design conjecture: Moving the pivot point to the truck back axle minimizes the effect of sideways sway or vertical weight forces on the truck, since they no longer can twist the truck about the rear axle; the lever arm to apply the forces and turn the truck is gone. Vertical forces are applied to the rear axle springs directly, and sideways forces are counteracted by the rear tires traction, (the sideways friction forces).

    The Pullrite design provides a very stiff connection at the hitchpoint (towball) which effectively adds the Pullrite towbar length to the trailer towbar length to make a very long single towbar(tongue) attached and pivoting at the pivot point where the Pullrite connects to the truck - near the truck back axle.

    This very long towbar swings under the truck during turns, (with a special stop to keep this towbar from hitting the truck rear tires) so you can imagine how very sharp turns up to 90 degrees are possible.

    The Hensley mechanism uses special mechanical trapezoidal linkages to effectively move the pivot point for towing toward the front of the truck. See simplified diagram. The patent helps, but is typically vague and abstruse at the same time.) Theoretically, i suppose the effective pivot point could be anywhere in front of the truck hitch ball, even in front of the truck!!! The optimum spot would be somewhere in front of the truck center of mass so any sideways forces would tend to straighten out the truck, rather than turn it for the worse like a normal hitch would.
    But this virtual mechanism is not active during backing, so it backs up like a bumper mounted towball system. (complete explanations invited on this point from those who know.)

    The Hensley mechanism inserted between the hitchball and the trailer ball-socket also extends the trailer tongue length so the trailer front will more easily clear the truck corner on sharp turns.

    and another author explains:
    The difference with a Hensley is that the pivot point is mechanically transferred to a point near the rear axle through linkages, very similar to the principal of a 3 point hitch on a tractor. I believe the inventor got the idea for the Arrow from his knowledge of farm implements, but I'm not 100% sure. When towing straight down a highway, the point of convergence (virtual pivot) is actually out in front of the tow vehicle. As soon as a slight turn is incurred, this point moves back to near the rear axle by the simple action of the mechanical linkages. Only when you make a VERY hard turn (as in backing into a campsite) can you get these linkages to "breakover" and allow the full 165 degrees of swing. At this point the pivot is at the hitch, although I can't imagine anyone being able to get to the "breakover" point doing more than 2 MPH! Actually the principal of the hitch is very simple, just difficult to explain. There used to be a URL that explained how this linkage system worked pictorially and it really clears things up. See this - ed.. I use a Hensley and the stability and handling is truly incredible, and I have also used traditional friction/cam-type sway control. There is no comparison.

    Special Setup Requirements For Hitch

    >One of the best descriptions of proper hitching is on
    > It tells you all about how to set the ball
    >height, adjust the equalizer bars, etc.

    Opinions and Facts

    > Well I reckon I am going to have to take a look at one of these Hensley
    > hitches.  I can't imagine what sort of contraption would be worth that kind
    > of price.  'Course the world is full of things I can't imagine so I will
    > hush 'till I no more about those gizmo's.  Maybe I should start
    > selling/installing them at my shop?

    ... We towed a couple of different trailers with 85 Suburban and Pullrite. I really liked that combo.

    TO Me the Pullrite advantages are: It is 1/2 the cost of Hensley

    Hensley will give you a 60 day money back guarantee. They have faith in their product. (others have similar guarantee).

    Also, the hitch has good resale value. Put a good used one on the Internet for $1200 to $1500 and it will be gone in about two days.

    The Hensley Arrow is well named. Your towing vehicle and trailer go down the road straight as an arrow. It pulls like a dream. It locks your trailer to the tow vehicle and it feels like your pulling a single large vehicle.

    Its minuses are: (1) Cost - twice a much as Pullrite, aggravation of hookup and unhooking.

    The Hensley is designed and manufactured to be the best. I like the way I am treated as a customer.

    You will have to figure out which works best for you. Both Pullrite & Hensley are good companies which treat their customers well. Order video from both of them. You will then begin to see which might be the best choice for you.

    I have two separate rigs. My personal unit is a Ford E350 towing a 33' SunnyBrook. It weighs about 9000 ready to roll. The rig at work is an identical van towing a 27', 11,000lb utility trailer.We just got a SuperDuty F350 Crew Cab Powerstroke to tow this, but I haven't had the pleasure of driving that setup yet.

    On my personal unit I have a Pull-Rite. On the work unit we use a Hensley. There isn't a night and day difference, but I prefer the Hensley for a couple reasons.

    First, I feel that the Hensley is more stable. I have never had either unit in a position where I felt a jacknife was imminent, but the Hensley just "feels" more stable in cross winds and when trucks pass.

    I have met the owner of Hensley Manufacturing, and he claims to have objective data to prove the Hensley is really better. He also told me that if he were me he wouldn't trade the Pull-Rite just to get a Hensley. He thinks his is better, but not better enough that it justifies removing the Pull-Rite. He also told me that he feels the Pull-Rite and the Hensley are the only two safe hitches on the market. I agree with him.

    Hooking up Differences

    Pullrite is much easier to hook up and unhook. If you have room to back the tow vehicle in at an angle, you can position the ball at one corner of the tow vehicle and actually see the ball line up under the hitch coupler.
    I have found hooking up with a pullrite to be pretty simple. I use a three step process to hook up:

  • back up the truck with the hitch over to the side so i can see it in my rearview mirror - usually the left side is easier to see in the mirror since i am sitting on that side.
  • drop the trailer onto the hitch and tighten the ball retainer
  • pull the truck forward until the truck and trailer hitch align. (at hookup, the trailer can be at any angle with the truck - your convenience - but as you pull the truck forward the trailer straightens the Pullrite tongue so it is lined up straight with the trailer) than insert and tighten the bars until the trailer-truck combo is level.

    For Hensley, I should say -- aggravation of hookup and unhooking. Hooking up requires backing the draw bar in to the hitch receiver at precisely the same angle and level that you unhooked. Lots of Hensley owners have developed tricks and techniques for dealing with this, but some never get over the frustration. I'm closer to the latter group.

    Backing Up Differences

    > I've also heard, but have no first hand experience, that the Pullrite is
    > harder to back 

    On the con side of the ledger, it can be very frustrating to back (with a Pullrite) the trailer until you get used to the new handling characteristics when backing.

    I have heard that, and then talked to fifth wheel folks, and Pullrite vendor here in houston, who describe the backing process as different, not harder-

    This makes sense, since the connection geometries are different.

    there are a few factors that make a difference when backing up:

  • low sensitivity is better than more
  • a short tongue is more sensitive ( worse) than a longer tongue
  • large lever arm is more sensitive (worse) than short one

    Pullrite backing is less sensitive than a regular hitch to steering wheel turns (until the truck gets to large angle to trailer, when they are about the same)

    The longer lever arm of a regular (and Hensley) hitch multiplies any truck backing turning motion on the trailer ==> backing action is more sensitive.

    For example, for truck with 100 inch = wheel base, and 50 inch = rear axle to rear bumper towball, a 10 inch sideways move of truck front wheels --> a 5 inch sideways motion of towball.

    While for 5th and Pullrite , the backup is just like a semi truck: the effective truck trailer connection is near back axle = if 10 inches ...a short lever arm... -->the same 10 inch sideways motion in truck front may move tow connection about 1 inch sideways, ie- more truck motion is required to change the backing turn = less sensitive.

    ...having backed a bunch of 4 wheel hay wagons in my youth, i can attest to the advantages low sensitivity here. :-)

    When you get the max turning angle between truck and trailer, you will be at max backup turn angle; with Pullrite you can basically pivot the trailer on its tires. eg- "turn it on a dime".

    BTW - this small lever arm is also the reason that the dreaded sideways sway forces have little effect on the 5th, Pullrite, Hensley, & semi truck compared to the regular hitch truck: - there is a much smaller lever arm , which reduces sideways forces back through the tow connection to the truck. ( about 1/5 for above example)

    And no extra antisway friction gadgets are needed to do this.

    Turning Radius

    The turning radius is determined by the spacing between trailer and truck (so they do not "kiss" in a sharp turn) and the
    towing mechanism geometry..

    in general, the fifth wheel and pullrite allow the sharpest turn, the hensley is next, and the regular hitches allow the least.

    >i got my Pullrite because it needs less turning radius. :-)

    think about it....

    if you have a long tongue trailer, you can turn until the tow shaft is almost parallel to the back bumper; because nothing on the trailer hits the truck before the tongue shaft; -->you can approach a 90 degree truck to trailer turning angle.

    But, with short tow shafts like with most travel trailers, as the turn gets tighter, the rear corner of the truck will kiss the front corner of trailer, severely limiting the turns - -->you get up to 45 degrees between them while turning (my estimate)

    the 5th wheel & Pullrite geometries always keep all of the trailer behind and away from the truck, regardless of the turn angle,
    ie - they have a long tongue trailer geometry
    so it insures all of trailer stays "out of touch" with the truck.

    The Pullrite hitch is design limited for a turn up to 70 degrees or so, which is, I estimate, about 30 degrees more than the max turn angle for an Airstream with another type hitch.

    But you can also buy a 90 degree turn Pullrite hitch if you want.

    BTW - The 5th wheel & Pullrite allows the truck & trailer to be parked so you have unhindered direct access into the back of the truck.

    Second, the pivot point is near where it would be on a conventional hitch or the Hensley. This allows MUCH tighter turns, and makes the unit much more maneuverable. The Pull-Rite, though, is still more maneuverable than a conventional hitch. I used to tow a 37' trailer, and made a U-turn on a two lane road. I used both shoulders, but I did it without a problem. Try THAT with any hitch other than a Pull-Rite or Hensley!!
    (ed - can anyone confirm how the Hensley can make tighter turns than regular hitch? What degree angle of turn is max?

    Installation, and Moving Gear to another Vehicle

    > Is it a do-it-yourself job, or do I need to be
    > prepared to get out the arc welder, or see a professional? 

    (There is nothing on the truck to install, assuming you have the class III hitch.)

    The Hensley is installed on the trailer and stays on the trailer.

    >My soon to be ex installed my Hensley.  He was one of those men that
    >had to think about every step..... worked slowly, methodically.  He
    >called Hensley's 800# twice for technical help.... it took him approx
    >4 hours to install it.
    >After it was installed he said if he had to do it again it would take
    >20 minutes.

    When you change trailers with a Hensley:

  • if your new one has a different towing height, you will need to buy a new draw bar. ($125).
    The Hensley folks will give you a new bar for free with the return of the old one.

  • If the A frame or coupler is different, you will need to buy a new set of brackets for the struts and load leveler jacks $(150).
    Another point in the Hensley's favor is that it stays with the trailer. It attaches to any tow vehicle with a standard 2" receiver. Pull-Rite makes a different unit for each tow vehicle. Unless you replace your tow vehicle with an identical unit, you need to buy a new receiver. Last time I did that, in 1993, it cost me about $700 for a receiver. If I had a Hensley I could have exchanged that attachment bar if I needed a different offset. I think they exchange for free.
    Now that my Hensley is almost paid off, I feel even better about it. I bought it on the 12 month no interest plan, so I have one more payment! Then its mine!

    The last hitch I used before and after the Hensley was the Reese with the dual cam sway contol along with a friction sway device as well. The Hensley is more stable and makes me feel just safer at all times.

    For Pullrite, on most vehicles modifications are required to install it. We used that combination until buying and restoring a 20' Argosy MH and then a 24' A/S Motor Home. We are now back to pulling a trailer with Dodge Ram 2500 24V Diesel. Choosing Pullrite would have required losing my spare tire carrier under the bed and a modification the the exhaust system. For that reason, I chose Hensley this time. see this

    For Pullrite, The gear that goes on the trailer can be moved in 5 minutes. Its just a couple of steel brackets, each held on with a bolt.

    Loosen the bolts a few turns, move to other trailer, and tighten.

    What Pullrite stuff goes on the truck?

    its a heavy trailer ball mount that slides into the class III type 2inch square tube on the truck.

    Pullrite cost? i asked a local dealer (about 1997) ....

    he would sell a new pullrite for $900 and install it for $1300 including spare carrier removed, and tailpipe reworked to exit the side.

    i figure that still leaves > $1200 between pullrite and hensley initial costs, presuming Hensley installed cost is $2500.

    I tend to keep vehicles a long time, so vehicle change is less of a factor for me.

    But, for say, $500 to pay for someone else doing the removal and re-installation, i figured i could move the pullrite to another similar vehicle twice before it cost as much as a hensley.

    >  There's nothin' to that R&R of a Pull-Rite. Get out your torch, cut
    > it off.  Slide it under the new machine (balance it on your floor
    > jack), fire up the welder and have at it. An hour or so later,
    > you're ready to roll.  What's so tough about that? :-)
    actually, this is not far from the truth, although it takes more than an hour, the first time anyway. :-)

    i can not recommend welders playing around with a truck's frame, unless they really understand about tempering. Reworking the steel in the hitch receiver unit for another frame is much simpler, and safer. These units are generally bolted on.

    You can buy a used pullrite for $300 or so (mine was $250), get a welder to redo it to fit your truck (if needed) and have a super rig for very few $$$.

    Feb 2001