My Forty-Six Month Review
I’ve been towing our 2008 Airstream Classic S/O with a 2005 Suburban 2500 8.1L, connected by a Hensley Arrow hitch for almost four years, now. I’ve detailed my experience with it, below.
I have no affiliation with Hensley, or any other hitch manufacturer, nor am I compensated by any manufacturers in any way. I’m just another camping enthusiast looking to share what I know.
Because our Airstream has a 10,000# gross weight rating, and average tongue weight of 1,300#, I opted for the 1400/14000 model. Installation was very straight forward. Detailed instructions are easy to follow. IIRC, about 2-3 hours, start to finish. A lot of campers I’ve talked to say the Arrow looks too complicated. On the contrary, it’s much easier hooking/unhooking than a conventional hitch, and installing it yourself affords a better appreciation and understanding; makes it much less intimidating, so to speak. I would definitely recommend installing it yourself.
First trip: CAT scale
Trailer and truck attitude looked good at approximately half setting on the jack assembly, but after weighing the rig, I could see it was about 400# light on the steer axle. Full reload only happens when I crank the spring stacks all the way up, putting max torque on the bars.
Fine Tuning the Brakes
The most immediate and noticeable clue your trailer brakes/brake controller aren’t properly calibrated is: you will get the ‘Hensley Bump’ on deceleration. The ‘bump’ is not a design flaw, it is an indication your rig is not properly set up.
I’m limited on what controllers are available, since my trailer brakes are an electric/hydraulic system. Tekonsha P3 fit the bill, and it’s ‘boost’ option gives me the ability to have the trailer ‘lead’ the braking.
Once the weights and torsion bars were set, and brake controller were properly dialed-in, the rig performed beautifully. Like one single machine. No sway, no wiggle, perfectly balanced. One benefit of a much improved driving experience, was an immediate reduction in driving fatigue. Whereas after a 500 mile day, I was pretty much spent; my endurance was almost exactly like when traveling with no trailer- all things being equal, with 600 miles under my belt, I was still fresh and alert.
One trip we were heading west through farmland and prairie, along a lonely length of I-80… and I mean lonely. Hardly any vehicles on the freeway, and no tractor trailers, motor homes or trailers, as we cruised along at a relaxed 65 mph. We stopped for gas, and the gentleman next to me driving a small overcab Uhaul trailer says: “I can’t do more than 40 mph out there… How’s your rig pulling in this wind?”. I said, “What wind?”
“Houston, we have a problem”
I first noticed how stable the whole rig is in combination- more stable than just the Suburban by itself, when we crossed the Mackinac bridge one very windy day. To be fair, I don’t think it’s just the Arrow that contributes to the rig slipping effortlessly through the wind with zero sway or steering wheel tussle. I’m sure the aerodynamic shape of the Airstream plays no small part.
After 27 months of regular use (and recommended maintenance)- roughly 18k miles, I suddenly started to experience some squirrelly behavior. I was experiencing a pronounced ‘push’ and wiggle over 55 mph. Something was definitely wrong.
Coincidentally, this occurred after replacing the worn out Firestone HT tires on the Suburban, with Michelin AT2 tires. These had a much more aggressive tread pattern. So after eliminating various possible culprits in the truck and nearly swapping out all four new tires, I undertook a full breakdown and inspection of the Arrow. I discovered some minor wallowing out of holes, slightly bent strut bars and pegs, and a broken bushing gusset.
Except for the spring stack with a wallowed out hole, all these items were replaced under warranty, and the Arrow was functioning perfectly, once again. I can’t say for certain why these items bent, whether it was a slow deformation over time, or caused by a hard braking or panic maneuver.
Backing up is Tricky
One drawback for the Arrow is backing up. Because of the pivot action between the black receiver box and orange head, when backing up the hitch needs to ‘settle’ to one side or the other. Depending on your orientation, this can require extra backing up clearance. In almost every circumstance, you can setup for it in your approach. In almost three years of use, it wasn’t a problem for me- until it was, then it was a real inconvenience.
It’s dark and foggy, and I’m navigating through a rustic campground. Like most rustic CG’s, the lanes are narrow, with plenty of protruding trees and branches. One wrong turn and 50 yards down a dense trail, I’m looking at a swampy two-track. There’s a small clearing just behind and off the trail to me, I could use to back into, AOT backing up the entire trail. Well, the ground was loose and uneven, and I folded the strut bar like a cheap suit trying to negotiate to tight an angle.
The only place you can get parts is from the factory, and since it was Saturday morning, nobody was answering the phones. The Hensley ’emergency’ number got me to a fella who told me I’d have to wait until Monday for him to ship something out. As bad as it looks, it’s not a show stopper, only the sway-control was affected. So, we continued on secondary roads, keeping it under 50 mph, and enjoyed the American countryside.
Another common complaint is the hitching up, and unhitching woes associated with the Arrow. Yeah, it’s got some foibles, but here’s where I shorten your learning curve.
Hitching up. The stinger needs to go straight into the hitch box. If you’re off axis, even a few degrees, it’s going to make it impossible. A backup camera is a terrific investment (I’ve got a post detailing that install, too).
Unhitching. If there’s any tension on the weight distribution; that is, the black hitch box has any angle to the stinger, or the hitch box is not ‘resting’ at the same elevation as the stinger, the two won’t separate.
This is what I do, works every time:
- Lower the tongue jack, and extend it only so it lifts the tongue a couple inches.
- Chock tires, disconnect OCL’s, emergency chains, umbilical cord, camera cable.
- Release all the tension in the ‘jack assemblies’, till the torsion bars move freely.
- Raise the jack until you see the black hitch box move freely from the orange head. This guarantees there’s no tension between the head and stinger.
- Check to make sure there’s still slack in the torsion bars (this is a good indicator that the hitch box is in the same angle as the stinger).
- Pull away. If it’s still hanging up, put the truck in park, go back and put your foot on the stinger right where the OCL’s connect, and give it a few shoves. It’s just surface friction keeping it locked together. Shaking the connection will be enough for the internal tension from your first pull away attempt to cause the stinger to ‘pop’ loose of the hitch box.
Also, don’t ever unhitch when your TV is at an angle to the TT; The reason being: you can’t hitch the Arrow at an angle. The receiver box needs to be centered and straight forward under the orange head in order to hitch up.
For the most part, Hensley has stood behind it’s “Lifetime Warranty”, the one time I’ve needed it in almost four years and 34,000 miles of use. Other than some small wear and tear items, it’s built like a tank. Having an ’emergency pack’ is a good idea when out in the great wide open (they sell one at their site). The orange paint finish is a joke, and I would expect a decent powder coating for the money. But, for the performance and peace of mind, it’s definitely worth the investment.
PS. Airforums.com has an outstanding thread on the Hensley Arrow (referred to over there as the ‘HAHA’) found here. It’s an outstanding compilation spearheaded by a long-lost member of the forum… (2Air where are you?)