Hellwig Sway Bars for Towing Stability
It’s no secret that a ¾- or 1-ton diesel pickup does not handle like a high-performance vehicle. Sure, you can crank up the power to hot rod levels, but when you hit the corners, all that unsprung weight (about 800 pounds’ worth), it’s going to roll like a tuna boat in high seas. Such is life, since everything is a compromise.
So, why would you be wound up over the fact that your diesel doesn’t handle quite like that sports car you always dreamed of, but you couldn’t justify buying because it wouldn’t tow your trailer?
You do have all the creature comforts, such as room for five or six adults, leather-wrapped steering wheels, On-Star, rear entertainment systems and, of course, the ability to tug 15,000 pounds. The big three manufacturers have done a great job offering the creature comforts while filling the need to get even the heaviest of work done.
Nevertheless, with most 7,500-pound light-duty diesel trucks, there is still a bit missing: handling. True, the truck has huge brakes, but something is lacking in the handling department, since the front end is heavier than the rear. Toss in a heavy load or add a trailer, and you’ll really notice some body roll.
While your truck will never handle like a new Corvette, there are some tricks you can do to the truck with simple bolt-on products that can dramatically improve your truck’s handling. One of those products is a set of larger aftermarket sway bars.
Hellwig Products is a leader in the aftermarket sway bar industry, offering sway bar systems for the automotive industry for more than 60 years.
That goes back clear past the muscle car era, when horsepower and vehicle dynamics were prospering. With industry-leading engineers and manufacturing equipment, Hellwig has been offering steering and handling improvement products just about as long as any aftermarket company around. While sports cars and muscle cars may have been their bread and butter throughout those decades, the light-duty diesel market has not been ignored; Hellwig now offers factory replacement and vehicle-specific sway bar systems for GM, Dodge and Ford diesel trucks.
Our test vehicle is a classic example of a rig that could use some help in the handling department. The 2010 Ford F-350 we’re using for this install was fitted with a stout 6.4L Power Stroke. Because the truck is coil-sprung up front, a factory sway bar was mandatory; and a rear bar was missing, more than likely due to the heavier, 1-ton springing.
The 1-ton truck was purchased with the hopes of being able to handle the heaviest of loads, so the lack of a rear sway bar really affects its load control and overall stability while towing. As a result our Super Duty is the perfect candidate for some replacement sway bar equipment from Hellwig.
Basically, the idea behind the bars is to reduce body roll by applying the torsional effect of the thick sway bars to transfer the pressure being exerted on the inboard wheels. The sway bars help to more evenly distribute the weight to all four tires. This load bearing help keeps the vehicle level with the road, applying vehicle weight more evenly to all four tires, as opposed to weight shift during hard cornering.
A set of NASCAR-style scales that weigh each wheel will show you the difference between the front and rear weight distribution and how much weight is on each tire in a static position. To reduce the sway and more evenly distribute the load, Hellwig offers a larger-than-stock 4130 chrome Moly bar and polyurethane bushings in its kits to provide the best control and durability of any on the market.
While our truck already had the stock front sway bar, we opted to swap it out for Hellwig’s aftermarket unit, because the heat-treated and larger-diameter bar would offer improvement in vehicle handling. With the heavy diesel motor up front, the added strength of the Hellwig unit would better distribute the weight of the vehicle and enhance cornering.
Hellwig offers front replacement bars for Ford Super Duty, GM 2500HD and 3500, and the Dodge 2500 and 3500 trucks. They come as a complete easy bolt-on system. All you have to do is remove the stock bar and bushing kit and bolt the Hellwig unit in their place. We swapped out the front bar in our F-350 in fewer than 15 minutes using only hand tools and a friend’s help.
For the rear of our truck, we knew any sway bar would offer an improvement in body roll, especially while towing a heavy gooseneck trailer. After talking with some folks at Hellwig and offering some insight as to what our test vehicle was used for, they suggested going with its “Big Wig” bar, which has a slightly larger diameter than the company’s standard rear sway bar kit. The Big Wig is constructed of a very heavy 1 5/16-inch chrome Moly that will offer the best anti-roll and sway control in heavy towing applications or for a truck whose bed is used for hauling a lot of weight, such a camper or ATV deck.
The Big Wig kit for the Ford Super Duty installs directly over the rear differential in front of the axle. Hellwig supplied the needed end links that attached to the frame in factory holes, so there was no drilling required. With the help of a friend, we slipped the bar up over the differential and driveline and attached the end links. We could then attach the bar to the rear axle, using the supplied brackets, bushings and U-bolts. As with the front bar we’d already installed, we were able to bolt it all in with just basic hand tools and about 30 minutes of time. It took us more time to adjust the bar than it did to actually install it.
Hellwig’s Big Wig also offers some adjustability: With three holes to choose from on the bar ends, we could place the end links in any of the three positions, depending on how firm we wanted the vehicle to feel in the corners. As a result of Hellwig’s advice, we’ve started with our end links in the outermost holes, which offers the lightest setting. We can move them back as we adjust to the feel the sway bar has offered.
After installing the Hellwig bars and getting the rear bar adjusted properly, we went out for a little test drive. We’d decided the bars were worth their weight in gold within the first five miles on a winding back-country road “test track”—and we hadn’t even hooked up our gooseneck trailer yet.
Hellwig was dead-on; their personnel had told us we’d have a much flatter feel and positive feedback in the driver seat. The truck doesn’t show near the roll in the corners as it did before, and it gives the driver added confidence while trying to herd all 8,000 pounds through a sweeping corner at 65 mph.
Hooking onto a large trailer further proved our previous thoughts, because the sway control was even more prominent with the weight of the gooseneck helping to push us into the corners.
It’s quite clear that anyone who says a diesel pick-up can’t handle like a V8 coupe has never experienced the feeling of one equipped with a Hellwig. If you tow or are just looking for flatter cornering and overall better handling, the Hellwig sway bar systems are worth looking into.
Air bags have been used for years to help level the back of a truck that has a serious trailer tongue weight issue. When the back is lower, it can unload the front end and make for some interesting handling so there is less weight on the front tires.
Hellwig also offers its own air bag system that is designed to work with the company’s sway bars for the ultimate in trailer-towing assistance. The rear airbag system can offer better handling and control while driving under heavy load conditions. The addition of air can also help reduce the chance of bottoming while offering a leveling system to maintain proper ride height when loaded down with that large in-bed camper or fifth wheel toy-hauler. The system can also help reduce bucking under certain road conditions and remove some of the harsh ride effects from towing heavy.
Hellwig’s air system requires no drilling and comes with a super-heavy-duty pair of double convoluted air springs. You can do the install yourself or have a professional install it. The kit bolted right into our Super Duty, even with the in-bed hitch that had previously been installed. We just needed to make some minor adjustments with some of the mounting brackets.