A heavy hauler’s guide for managing load distribution: Keeping things in balance

Updated Oct 24, 2015

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To help heavy haulers manage load distribution and vehicle weight, they need to know a few key items about their vehicle and its load:

  • The empty weight of the vehicle.
  • The weight of the load. Usually, the load weight is on the paperwork. Vehicle weight and load weight provide the driver an idea of gross vehicle weight.
  • The amount of weight the equipment can handle. This is represented in the manufacturer’s weight ratings. Trailers that have triaxle sets or split tandems can handle more weight. While the trailer can hold more weight, it does not increase the allowed gross weight.
  • Load configuration. Given the weight of your vehicle, the load, and the amount of weight the equipment can handle, a heavy hauler can have an idea of how to configure the load.
  • State axle requirements. Axle requirements can vary. Check each state’s requirements when planning the route.

Using the above information, you can make an educated decision as to whether your vehicle and load meets the size and weight requirements.

Sliding 5th wheels and tandems

Legal load distribution isn’t always an easy task. Obtaining the maximum allowed legal weight may require “trial and error” with the distribution of the load, axle position, and fifth wheel location.

Moving axles or the fifth wheel is simply moving the fulcrum point. Many of us learned this lesson as children on the teeter-totter.

On a trailer equipped with sliding tandems, slide toward the problem. For instance, if the front of the trailer is too heavy, slide the axles forward. Depending on the weight of the load and where the load is placed on the trailer, each “hole” will change the balance by about 200 pounds.

The balance shift is primarily between the trailer axles and the drive axles. On a sliding fifth wheel, the fulcrum (king pin) is located over the drive axles, at nearly the nose of the trailer. Sliding the fifth wheel transfers weight loaded at the front of the trailer between the steer axle and drive axles.

To place more weight on the steers, move the fifth wheel toward them; to remove weight from the steers, slide the fifth wheel back. Adjusting the fifth wheel moves more weight per location move than when the trailer axle is moved. If adjusting the load location or the weight distribution is not possible, and it can be broken down, then you may be required to remove pieces from the trailer.

Flat Bed Trailers/Step Deck Trailers

Flat bed and step deck trailers are the burden bearers of heavy haul transporters to move large and heavy pieces of equipment or awkwardly-shaped dense items. When a load is very heavy or dense, it is difficult to know exactly where to position it on the trailer. As a general rule, avoid placing the heaviest part of the load towards the front of the trailer and instead try to position the load near the middle of the trailer.

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Flat bed and step deck trailers are frequently equipped with spread tandem axles or triaxle (or more) sets to help manage weight distribution. Tandems spread more than 10 feet apart allow the haulers to carry more weight over the two axles (20,000 pounds per axle for a total of 40,000 pounds instead of 34,000 pounds on the tandem set). Triaxle sets allow you to carry 42,000 pounds. Knowing the equipment and how much weight it can handle is essential to managing weight compliance.

When loading a flatbed trailer, take into consideration cargo securement requirements. For example, if the weight of the load requires placement it in the middle of or near the rear of the trailer, instead of against the headboard, then additional securements are needed. Consult the cargo securement requirements in your jurisdiction. Because of their strength and durability, chains are preferred to secure heavy equipment, vehicles, and machinery.

If you’re close to the maximum gross weight allowed, the weight of the fuel may make a difference. Diesel fuel weighs 8 pounds per gallon.

Heavy hauling drivers are often the best trained and safest in the industry. Whether it is work to life or seriousness to having fun, remember to always keep things in balance.