Hensley Arrow Hitch Review

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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.

Installation

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.

Shiny new Arrow, the day I installed her.  That paint job lasted about 20 minutes after that.
Shiny new Arrow, the day I installed her. That paint job lasted about 20 minutes after that.

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.

More recent pic, after upgrading the wheels to 16" rims and LT tires.
More recent pic, after upgrading the wheels to 16″ rims and LT tires.
2005 Suburban 2500 LT 8.1L weights. No cargo, no passengers, half tank gas.
2005 Suburban 2500 LT 8.1L weights. No cargo, no passengers, half tank gas.
2008 Airstream Classic S/O + Suburban. No cargo, empty tanks
2008 Airstream Classic S/O + Suburban. No cargo, empty tanks

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.

User Experiences

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.

Hensley tells me this is normal, and replacement under their lifetime warranty is not necessary.
Hensley tells me this is normal, and replacement under their lifetime warranty is not necessary.
One of the bent strut bars.  That johnny is solid metal.
One of the bent strut bars. That johnny is solid metal.
These bolts connect at the ends of the strut bars.  Bent.
These bolts connect at the ends of the strut bars. Bent.
Busted bushing, and you can see the wall thinning.
Busted bushing, and you can see the wall thinning.

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.

Bent strut bar.  Notice the orange finish.
Bent strut bar.  (Also, notice the orange finish.)

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.

Hitching Hangups

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:

  1. Lower the tongue jack, and extend it only so it lifts the tongue a couple inches.
  2. Chock tires, disconnect OCL’s, emergency chains, umbilical cord, camera cable.
  3. Release all the tension in the ‘jack assemblies’, till the torsion bars move freely.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.

Conclusion

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?)

19 thoughts on “Hensley Arrow Hitch Review

  1. Thanks so much for posting your info. It was helpful as I begin next week to next week to install my hensley arrow on my 28 foot toy hauler. I have done a lot of research so I decided to by one.. I want peace of mind and don’t want to be wore out when driving. The whole camping experience iron rest. If you should have any other thoughts it would be apriciated!
    Again thanks from a greenhorn!

  2. I have a HA and I love it. Used it with a 2005 V8 4Runner towing a 6000# 26′ trailer.
    Before the HA, it was sweat and white palms. After the HA- all good! I have now upgraded to a Sequoia 5.7 and I still use the HA….the combo is a very stable and solid tow. I always grease my WD bar sockets before any trip and I apply 30wt oil to all pivot points. I keep a spares kit, too. I’ve been able to hitch up on angles, too.
    Its not more difficult- just different. I’ve been toying with the idea of installing a zerk on the trailer’s ball socket so I can apply grease to the ball as the HA is no walk in the park to remove, once installed!. Anyway, I love the HA. Oh, I cover the hitch so that orange paint does not fade- agree- should be powder coated!

    1. Funny you should mention angled hitching. I was just in a unique situation a few weeks ago, where I actually disconnected and removed the strut bars completely so that I could pivot the receiver box to a tight angle facing street-side, in order to hitch up. Worked perfectly. A little more work involved, but good to know any angle/attitude/pitch can be accommodated- if necessary. See you down the road!

        1. The first thing I noticed when moving to the HA was the modified turn path. The trailer doesn’t track the same as a conventional hitch, and you might want to adjust your mirrors to see how much better it clears curbs on a tight right-hand turn. Comes in handy when towing the larger rigs around the city.
          The only other thing I would say is; be careful not to get complacent. Once your hitch and brakes are properly adjusted, it’s easy to “forget it’s there”, and drive like there’s nothing behind you.
          See you down the road!

  3. My truck hitch pin hole is enlarged. Why?? Installed a new class IV hitch. Took a 200 mile trip and noticed the hole is enlarged slighly.

    1. What type of hitch pin were you using? I noticed the same issue on my receiver early on.. always thought it was from using one of those ‘bent’ hitch pins. I switched to a straight locking type pin, and the hole hasn’t augured out any more.

      1. Thanks for suggestion. Have straight pin.. Read the manual again. Make some adjustments to the hitch set-up. Will not be going anywhere until end of September. Thanks again.. Pull RV to Why, AZ each Winter..

  4. hi i was looking for info on hensley hitches and came across your article,you seem to be very up on the hensley, and i was wondering if you would mind giving me some advise ?i have had my hitch for 15 years and it has served me well, over the years i have performed yearly maint. on it, greasing checking for bent bars including touch up paint. i decided it was about time to do a complete overhaul on my hitch parts including a complete repaint. if you have the time would you tell me what parts i should look to replace.also i was moving the over center latches and they seem to have quite a bit of play in them,is this normal.also you mention bushing gussets being worn,without sounding to much like a dope,where are the bushing gussets located. I noticed that you have bent one of your strut bars,i also had the same problem (twice) .mine bent when i had to do a panic stop,which also broke the shear bolts they suppled with the hitch.i did something hensley does not recommend,i bolted the brackets to the frame and have not had any problems since i did it 10 years ago and no more bent bars. hope im not being a pain in the but all info you give me will be greatly appreciated. oops one more question have you ever used or have you ever talked to anyone who has used the hensley brake controller .

    1. 15 years?! Wow, I should be asking you for advice. I installed mine in 2008. I guess 15 years between complete overhaul is pretty good. If you’re the original owner, the complete unit has a lifetime warranty. I should think any components that are worn should be covered and replaced by Hensley. The over-latch are attached with a simple bolt and cotter pin. There’s going to be some play.
      That’s interesting you bent struts before you bolted the mounts down. The reason for the mounts held in place with u-bolts (torqued to a specific amount) is to allow them to slip in the event a strut gets pinched (like in a jack-knife or emergency stop situation). Of course, it doesn’t seem to work that way, and the struts simply bend. Glad it’s working for you.
      The worn bushing is the sleeve that the torsion bar heads fit into. It’s bolted in place up underneath in the black head. It’s what gets the grease from pumping into the zerks. It seems like an innocuous little part, but I’ve found a worn one will noticeably affect performance.
      I’d love to tear down my Hensley just to repaint it. It’s such an eyesore.
      Good luck with your rebuild. Keep us posted!

      1. called hensley today about deformed holes in sway bar adjusters,they said take tube out and reverse it unused hole in top.

        1. Mark,
          By ‘sway bar adjusters’ do you mean the ‘adjustable jack assembly’? That’s the doohickey that you increase/decrease weight distribution using the 3/4″ nut on the top. If so, I suppose disassembling and inverting the inside tube is an option– but, only as a temporary field repair. You can see how the hole ‘wallowed’ out on mine (posted pic), it seems to have settled at that amount. Hasn’t gotten any worse since I posted that pic. Is the deformation you’re talking about getting worse? I guess if it was big enough to let the head of the cotter pin slip thru, that would be a problem…

          1. no my is about the same as yours,haven’t had a chance to really work on my ,just took everything off the trailer.

  5. Thank you for this great review. I’m researching hitches now. I’m leaning toward the Pro Pride hitch due to the improvements that the inventor made over the Hensley design. Your review helped me compare the two.

  6. Does anyone think that the improvements on the Pro Pride make it as good or better than the HA. I am just in the purchasing mode. Headed south from WI, just retired. Have a 32′ 1977 Airstream.

    1. That’s a great question. Not sure how long ProPride has been around, so I’d be curious as to durability. From friends and forums, I’ve heard a problem is the main “yoke” coming loose from the frame. Don’t know if that’s a legit problem, or if latest version has addressed that. I’ve had conversations with Hensley people, and they say the PP is the original “prototype” of the current Hensley; with early (inferior) design features. The campers I’ve talked to say the PP performs exactly as it should. I have also heard the PP guy Sean is super helpful and responsive (can’t say the same about Hensley, but that’s a long story).
      Let us know what you do.

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