Truck Camper Magazine installs and reviews Hellwig front and rear sway bars on a 2013 Chevy Silverado 3500 and gets a firm grip on the sway bar difference.
Back in 2010, Angela and I embarked on a cross-country tour of every truck camper manufacturer and gear company. At the time, there was a sense that the recession may be coming to a close and I wanted to see how the companies had fared since our first tour in 2007. Looking back, our economic optimism was a bit premature.
A few weeks into that trip we received a phone call from Melanie White, Marketing Director of Hellwig Products. She was following our tour in the magazine and invited us to visit Hellwig Products. We were in Denver at the time, but tentatively scheduled a date to visit Hellwig’s Visalia, California facility a few weeks later.
Hellwig Products was by far our favorite factory on that tour. Their fire breathing furnaces and steaming 225 degree mineral oil baths commanded our full attention. The resulting article remains a popular read to this day. The pictures alone are worth a second look.
While we were at Hellwig Products, Melanie suggested we get a set of front and rear sway bars installed on our 1998 Dodge Ram 3500. The Dodge was a Cummins diesel, dual rear wheel brute outfitted with 19.5 Rickson wheels and tires. That said, the factory payload was pathetic for such a massive truck; just north of 3,000 pounds. With our then borrowed 2010 Adventurer 90FWS non-slide, we were over payload, and the rig had a considerable amount of sway.
The day after our arrival, Hellwig team members Dave Wheeler and Justin Strasser put our truck and camper on a lift and installed Hellwig front and rear sway bars. The difference with the sway bars installed was nothing less than amazing. Immediately we noticed the rig had a much firmer ride. When we took a highway off ramp, the truck stayed straight and firm with little to no noticeable sway. When a big truck passed us at speed, we no longer felt the rig sway from side to side. Yes, we were still overloaded, but the truck handled much better.
With dual rear wheels, 19.5 Ricksons, and the Hellwig Products front and rear sway bars, the Dodge was about as robust as we could make it, but we were never comfortable being overloaded. As the Publishers of Truck Camper Magazine, and the self-appointed Chiefs of the Weight Police, we were setting a bad example. As soon as possible, we needed to go legit. Ladies and gentlemen, start your savings.
Two years ago, we sold the Dodge and bought a Chevy Silverado 3500 short bed. The new short bed single rear wheel truck had over 1,000 pounds more payload than our 1998 Dodge Ram 3500 dually. With the dramatic increase in payload, we were able to properly match the Chevy Silverado 3500 to a Lance 855-S (by a whisker) and later, a Northstar 8.5 Arrow U.
Unfortunately, too many truck camper owners have never experienced a properly matched truck and camper. As folks who have driven many dozens of truck camper rigs, we can tell you the difference isn’t subtle. Properly matched rigs have virtually no sway or body roll, and offer a much more confident driving experience.
Our Chevy Silverado 3500 carried both the Lance and the Northstar like it was built for the purpose. Compared to driving the often overloaded Dodge, the Chevy/Lance and Chevy/Northstar rig was night and day; much better.
Hellwig Sway Bar, Round Two
This brings us back to Hellwig Product’s sway bars. What would happen if we added Hellwig front and rear sway bars to our properly matched truck and camper rig? Without a lick of suspension enhancement equipment, the truck already had virtually no sway. This truck was 100% stock, and handled beautifully. Would a sway bar somehow make things even better?
There was only one way to find out. We called Melanie and asked her to send us another Hellwig Products Sway Bar. We told her our rig was properly matched this time, and she agreed that it would be interesting to see how that changed our experience.
To help us install the sway bar, we went to CNM Auto Repair in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and met Ryan Scheck from CNM and Will Rowe from Hellwig Products. Will and Ryan would assist in the installation, and answer our never-ending questions. There’s nothing like doing an installation with a photographer and journalist standing right there, taking pictures, and asking what you’re doing, over and over.
TCM’s Suspension Enhancement Position
Before proceeding, we want to reiterate Truck Camper Magazine’s position on aftermarket suspension enhancement equipment for truck camper rigs. First and foremost, always properly match your truck and camper. To read about Truck Camper Magazine’s truck and camper matching system, read, “Matching a Truck and Camper”.
Second, while suspension enhancement products can make dramatic differences to the handling and performance of your truck and camper combination, they also cost money, add weight to your rig, and subtract payload capacity.
Our advice is to match your rig properly first, then add the suspension enhancement products you need to solve the ride and handling problems you experience. For example, if your rig has too much sway, get a sway bar, but not until you experience too much sway. Don’t spend money, add weight, and subtract payload unless you need to.
Rear Sway Bar Installation
On the front page of the Hellwig Products installation instructions for the rear stabilizer bar, there’s a safety warning that reads, “Before beginning installation, be sure to set the parking brake and chock the wheels.” In other words, don’t run yourself over. We don’t want to lose readers in this manner, so we’re passing Hellwig’s important safety tip to you. Brake on, chock on, and read on.
Above: Angela White, Editor of Truck Camper Magazine, holding the Hellwig Products rear sway bar before the installation
The next paragraph states that proper installation is best accomplished by having the weight of the vehicle on the suspension during the installation. It specifically says, “Do not raise the vehicle by the frame”. Funny enough, that’s exactly what we did using CNM’s fantastic pneumatic lift. For the record, the installers did not fully tighten the sway bars until the truck was lowered onto its suspension, at which point adjustments were made.
Above: The parts boxed up, checking everything before the installation, and all of the tools that were used during the installation (click to enlarge the thumbnails)
To begin the installation, we opened the boxes containing the Hellwig front and rear sway bars, checked we had everything we needed, and reviewed the aforementioned instructions. Will counted every nut, bolt, and bar and gave a thumbs up. By this point, the truck was already on the lift and Ryan from CNM joined us for the installation. Let’s do this.
Above: The Chevy wheels and tires were removed prior to the installation
Above: We set the rear sway bar to the middle position; the outside position offers a less firm ride and the inside position offers a more firm ride.
Ryan made quick work of removing all four wheels and tires with a torque wrench and set them aside. Just before removing the wheels, he marked each tire to denote if the wheel was the front driver, rear passenger, etc. Before reinstalling, he made sure to rotate the tires.
Above: Installing the threaded plate
With the wheels and tires removed, Ryan started installing the threaded plate (with a wire pigtail) through a previously existing hole in the side frame rail. The hole was located about twelve inches forward of the factory bump stops.
Above: The U-shaped clevis being attached to the frame rail
The wire pigtail was used to orient the threaded plate, inside the slotted hole, to the bottom of the side frame rail. This threaded plate then attached the U-shape clevis to the frame rail with a 1/2 x 1-1/4” bolt. Once attached, the U-shape clevis was aligned to be square with the frame rail and torqued to 50 ft-lb.
The next step was to assemble the end links by inserting the hourglass bushing, followed by the sleeve, into the loops by the end links. Will said it’s important to lubricate the bushing and sleeve before assembly. Once completed, Ryan attached a 9/16 nut to the threaded half of the end link before assembling the end link halves.
Above: The driver’s side end link hanging from the U-shaped clevis
The end links were then attached to the U-shape clevis on the frame brackets with 7/16 x 2 1/4” bolts and locknuts. These were purposefully left loose for later adjustment.
Once the end links were attached, Will and Ryan placed U-bolts on the axle. They were careful to place the U-bolts under any brake lines, wires, or hoses on the axle to avoid possible damage. The threads of the U-bolts were also oriented to point to the ground.
Above: The old D-bushings (left) and new silicon-lubricated polyurethane D-bushings (right)
Next, Will lubricated and installed polyurethane D-bushings and U-plates on the rear sway bar. The sway bar was then put into position with the arms angling upward.
Above: The rear sway bar is attached to the end links, which are attached to the axle, which reduces body roll
Correctly placed, the ends of the sway bar were attached to the end links with 7/16 x 2 3/4” bolts. These were also left loose for later adjustment. The instructions specified attaching the sway bar to the end links first to allow the sway bar to easily rotate into position.
Above: Will and Ryan are installing the passenger’s side rear sway bar axle saddle mounts
With the sway bar attached to the end links, the legs of the U-bolts were inserted into the saddle brackets and spacer plates. Then the sway bar was rotated upwards to attach the U-plates to the U-bolts. Next, Will and Ryan attached the sway bar assembly to the axle with 1/2” locknuts and washers and centered the sway bar on the axle.
Above: Ryan is installing the driver’s side rear sway bar axle saddle mounts
The axle U-bolts would be tightened to 60 ft-lb once alignment and orientation were checked. Once properly positioned, the center hump was even with the bottom of the differential housing.
Above: Measuring to make sure that the adjustable end links are equal distance on both the driver’s and passenger’s sides. It was 14″ inches for our truck.
Above: Everything was loosened, then they put the weight on the truck, let things shift into place, and then tightened the sway bar
Front Sway Bar
Above: The factory sway bar coming off took only minutes
The front sway bar was a much quicker, and seemingly easier, installation. Ryan began by removing the factory front sway bar and mounting hardware. For the front sway bar, the factory end link assemblies and U-plate mounting bolts were utilized to install the Hellwig sway bar.
Above: Before installing the Hellwig sway bar, we took a few pictures for comparison of the factory front sway bar next to the Hellwig front sway bar. Note the difference in diameter. The factory front sway bar is tubular, whereas the Hellwig front sway bar is solid.
Above: The Hellwig front sway bar (left) and the GM factory front sway bar (right)
Above: The Hellwig front sway bar (left) and the GM factory front sway bar (right)
Above: Side view of the front Hellwig sway bar connected to the factory end link.
Above: Will and Ryan installing the Hellwig front sway bar in the same position as the factory sway bar
With the factory front sway bar removed, the D-shaped poly bushings on the Hellwig sway bar were lubricated and installed in the same position as the factory sway bar. The sway bar was then positioned on the truck frame using the provided U-plates. The assembly was then fastened with the factory mounting bolts and left loose for later adjustment.
Final Hellwig Sway Bar Adjustments
With the front and rear sway bars installed, Ryan reinstalled the wheels and tires, making sure they were properly rotated and lowered the truck to the ground. When the truck was on its suspension, it was clear that a few adjustments were necessary to properly orient the installations. This is why the instructions specify installing the sway bars with the suspension fully engaged, but the lift helped greatly with our photography.
With all the adjustments completed, Ryan tightened the rear sway bar end link mounting bolts to 35-40 ft-lb. The 9/16” adjustment nut on the end links was tightened to 70 ft-lb.
The Hellwig front sway bar and end links were then properly aligned, and the mounting hardware was torqued to factory specifications.
Hellwig’s instructions suggest bouncing the vehicle to check for clearance on undercarriage components including the fuel tank, shocks, exhaust, differential, brake line, and fuel line. They also recommend test-driving the vehicle and then rechecking all clearances and installation adjustments. After one week, and at regular intervals, Hellwig suggests checking it all again.
After the installations were complete, we took a good look at the sway bars. The quality and fit of the Hellwig sway bars were unmistakable. The only thing left to do was drive the truck, and see how the upgraded sway bars affected the driving performance of the rig.
Over the following six weeks, we drove the 2013 Chevy Silverado 3500 and 2014 Northstar 8.5 Arrow U from Pennsylvania to the Texas Truck Camper Rally in Kerrville, down to Austin, and back home via the Outer Banks in North Carolina and the Mid-Atlantic Truck Camper Rally in Virginia. All totaled, about a 3,000 mile test drive.
Above: Our demo unit, a 2014 Northstar 8.5 Arrow U, in the Outer Banks
That said, it only took a few miles around town to begin understanding what the front and rear Hellwig sway bars were doing. Where we had perceived no sway prior to the installation, the rig now felt even more firm. This was a more subtle difference than what we had experienced with the Dodge, but similar in results. With the Hellwig sway bars, the Chevy/Northstar rig was rock solid.
Above: The Northstar 8.5 Arrow U and Chevy Silverado during our 3,000 mile test drive
We had driven the Chevy/Northstar rig to Florida and back just a few weeks prior, so we were very familiar with the ride quality using the stock sway bar. With the upgraded Hellwig sway bars, the rig handled with more confidence. Again, I want to emphasize that this difference was subtle, but there was no mistaking the difference. For example, a quick turn onto an off-ramp would now barely move the loaded rig.
All of this begs the question, “If you properly match your truck and camper, is a sway bar, or any after-market suspension enhancement necessary?” If you properly match your rig, aftermarket suspension products are not necessary, but you can use them to further adjust and/or improve the driving characteristics of your rig. The challenge is that most aftermarket suspension products are designed to correct a problem and may over-correct on a properly matched rig. That’s the balance, and it’s totally subjective.
Wrap It Up
If your rig is overloaded and has issues with sway and body roll, we highly recommend upgrading your wheels and tires first, and then installing upgraded front and rear sway bars. For rigs that need even more control, Hellwig’s Big Wig sway bar is also worth considering.
For rigs that are properly matched, the need for an enhanced front and rear sway bar comes down to preference. If you want a firmer and even more confident ride, the answer is clear. Go for the sway bar upgrade. Just don’t expect the moon, and be aware that the upgrade may stiffen your rig a little more than you would want.
Bonus Story: Flippy The Sway Bar
A funny thing happened on the way to the 2011 Mid-Atlantic Truck Camper Rally. Our 1998 Dodge Ram 3500 was up for Pennsylvania inspection, so we made an appointment the week before the rally. The night before the inspection, we unloaded the camper we had that year, a 2012 Travel Lite 1000 SLRX, and dropped off the truck at the dealership. The next day we picked up the truck, re-loaded the camper, and prepared for the rally. Boring story so far, right?
Well, on the way to the Mid-Atlantic, a three-hour drive for us, Angela kept saying that the truck felt funny. When we hit bumps, turned, or took an off-ramp, she said the truck was, “all over the place”. We had no idea why the truck was misbehaving until we arrived at the rally.
Above: The Hellwig sway bar hanging down on our previous truck, a 1998 Dodge Ram 3500
“You know something is hanging off the underside of your truck, right?” said a friend at the rally. That’s a bit like when someone says, “You’ve got a boogie” and nonchalantly gestures to your nose. You would never admit that you don’t know you have something hanging under your truck or your nose. We always know these things and do them on purpose.
Angela said, “Actually, no. We have no idea.” Clearly, I needed to talk to her about trucks and boogies, but that would have to wait. A quick peek under the backside of our pickup revealed an inverted Hellwig sway bar. It was literally hanging down. How embarrassing.
By this point, half the guys at the rally were pulling out humongous toolboxes from their rigs and preparing to dive under our truck. They practically arm-wrestled to see who would get to help fix our inverted sway bar.
Above: John Wells and Mike Tassinari under our Dodge fixing our inverted sway bar
Given that we would be parked for the next few days, we scheduled a time on Saturday to get the sway bar back into its proper position. It took John Wells, Mike Tassinari, and Carl Goode the better part of an hour to get the bar back into place. Naturally, we extended their free Truck Camper Magazine subscription another year in gratitude.
The moral of the story is this; folks need to stop bringing these ridiculously heavy toolboxes. Some of these behemoths must have weighed upwards of fifty pounds or more. How can we properly match our trucks and campers if we’re bringing the entire Sears Craftsman catalog? One guy had an electric chainsaw for crying out loud. This is madness.
The other moral is to check your rear sway bar after your truck has been on a lift. They don’t always invert, but sometimes do. We asked Hellwig about our experience and they concurred that sway bars sometimes invert on a lift. Lifts happen. We thought you should know.
If there’s one additional tidbit to glean from this flippy sway bar episode, it’s how profound the difference was when the Hellwig sway bar wasn’t properly engaged. The truck immediately started behaving erratically. The camper felt much less controlled. When it was repositioned, everything snapped back and the rig was fine again. There was no doubt in our minds that the Hellwig sway bar made a huge difference.