The Right Trailer Hitch Can Make All The Difference When Towing

When you are ready to hit the road with your new trailer behind your truck — whether that is a car trailer, utility trailer, or travel trailer, it is imperative that you have all of the pieces in place to have a safe towing experience. The right trailer hitch is one of those essential parts, and choosing one that fits your needs is an essential part of the process. Choosing the correct hitch is not a difficult process, but there are some factors to take into account when making this decision.

With so many different hitch options available, choosing the right trailer hitch requires some research and attention to detail. That is why I thought it prudent to spend some time covering the top areas you need to consider when selecting the right trailer hitch for your usage. Each factor can affect the safety and performance of your vehicle and the load you are planning to haul.

right trailer hitch

Whether you’re hauling an enclosed trailer, a utility trailer, or a travel trailer, the right hitch is a paramount part of the equation.

Understand Your Vehicle’s Towing Capacity

Before considering what type of hitch will work best for you, you need to have a clear understanding of the towing capacity of your vehicle. Each truck maker specifies a Gross Vehicle Combined Weight (GVCW) which is the manufacturer’s suggested combined weight limit of the loaded truck and trailer.

To determine your vehicle’s safe towing capacity, take the vehicle’s curb weight (weight of the truck) and subtract that from the GCVW. The curb weight can be found in the vehicle’s owner’s manual or on the sticker inside the driver’s door. Once you subtract the GCVW from the truck’s curb weight, you will know the safe allowable weight of your trailer.

The Right Trailer Hitch For The Weight Of The Trailer

After you know the safe allowable trailer weight, when selecting the right trailer hitch, you will also need to consider the loads you plan to haul. Like your vehicle, each type of hitch and attachment configuration has a limit.

A major factor that limits safe allowable trailer load is determined by the size of the hitch ball and the shank that attaches it to the truck’s frame-mounted receiver. A 1-7/8-inch ball is only to be used on smaller trailers with a maximum weight capacity of 2,000 pounds. A 2-inch ball is for trailers with a capacity of up to 8,000 pounds, while the 2-5/16- and a 3-inch ball has a weight capacity of up to 30,000 pounds. The ball mount shaft size will vary, as a 3/4-inch-diameter threaded shank is used on Class I and Class II hitches, while the 1-inch shank is used on Class III and Class IV hitches. The 1-1/4-inch and larger shanks are used on Class IV, Class V, and weight-distributing hitches.

right trailer hitch

The class of hitch is identified by the square opening that holds the ball mount.

The Receiver Hitch

While many travel trailers are referred to as bumper pull campers that is not entirely correct. Rather, a receiver hitch is the most common type of hitch and is bolted to the rear frame area of the truck. This “receiver” accepts any number of ball mount hitches.

Choosing The Right Trailer Hitch Class

  • Class 1: This hitch is designed to be used on passenger cars and small SUVs towing a trailer that is not more than 2,000 pounds.
  • Class 2: This hitch is also designed for smaller SUVs or pickup trucks and can be used with trailers weighing 3,500 pounds or less.
  • Class 3: This hitch is probably the most popular class hitch and is for use on vans, pickup trucks, and mid-size SUVs. It has a maximum safe rating of 6,000 pounds.
  • Class 4: Class 4 hitches are used under full-size pickups, vans, and anything big enough to tow a full-size trailer with a maximum weight limit of 12,000 pounds.
  • Class 5: This is a heavy-duty hitch that can tow up to 18,000 pounds. Nearly all trailers will be a safe bet with a Class 5 hitch, and many people choose to upgrade to this extra-strong hitch.

A Simple Drop

If you tow anything, you know that having a loaded trailer traveling in a level condition when loaded is a priority. Towing a trailer that is not level when loaded will result in unsafe towing and will cause other issues. An unlevel trailer can be more prone to sway, and if towing a twin-axle trailer, an unlevel trailer will place a majority of the trailer weight on only one axle instead of evenly on both (or all three).

Keeping your trailer level is easy with a drop hitch. Choosing the right drop hitch ensures that your trailer is level and properly aligned with your towing vehicle. However, selecting the right drop hitch can be a bit confusing.

Drop hitches come in various heights, and some, like those from Weigh Safe, are even adjustable. The right height for your drop hitch is determined by the height of your vehicle’s hitch receiver and the height of your trailer’s coupler. If your trailer’s coupler height is lower than your vehicle’s hitch receiver, you will need a drop hitch to compensate for the difference.

When it comes to drop hitches, I did an in-depth review of the Weigh-Safe hitch and can honestly recommend this hitch to anyone in the market for a drop hitch. But what if a simple drop hitch is not the right hitch? Then you need to check out weight distribution hitches.

The Weigh Safe hitch is a great adjustable drop hitch that will help you get proper tongue weight. It has a small scale in the head of the hitch that shows your tongue weight as you load the trailer.

Choosing The Right Trailer Hitch Could Be A Weighted Decision

How the weight of your load on a trailer is distributed throughout the length of the trailer can affect how your trailer tracks behind your truck and how your vehicle reacts to a given situation. One of the main factors to consider when loading a trailer is tongue weight.

Tongue weight is the downward force applied at the hitch ball when a trailer is attached. A good rule of thumb for proper tongue weight is to keep the weight between 10 to 15 percent of the gross trailer weight (GTW). For example, if you tow a 5000-pound trailer, the tongue weight should be approximately 450 to 550 pounds.

right trailer hitch

If you have too little tongue weight, this can cause the rear of your truck to lift. This will cause your trailer to sway back and forth behind your truck as you are towing. However, excess tongue weight can cause the back end of the vehicle to sag too much, which will negatively affect vehicle handling and braking.

To keep a trailer level, many will utilize a weight distribution hitch like those sold by Curt Manufacturing. A weight distribution hitch uses multiple points of connection to the trailer to distribute the trailer’s weight. With a properly used weight distribution hitch, all trailer axles equally carry the weight, and you will get a much better towing experience.

Weight distribution hitches come in a variety of styles and weight-supporting capacities. With so many options, how do you know how to pick the right one? For the purpose of this article, we will cover three of the most popular types of weight distribution hitches.

First, we have the round bar system. The round bars will slide in from the bottom of the ball mount (what holds the ball of the hitch and any other devices, such as a hitch distribution system). These work well on trailers that are typically towed on paved roads without many dips and potholes. These usually come in a 600 to 1,200 pounds of tongue weight distribution capacity.

The round bar weight distribution hitch like this one from Curt is a great option for many. This one is shown with an optional sway control which is a great option for any trailer.

Next is the trunnion bar kit. The shape of the bars is square, and they are inserted from the side of the hitch and then pushed inward to the trailer mounting location. Since these bars attach from the side and not underneath the hitch, they allow for more ground clearance. This is good if you have a trailer that is already low.

When turning corners, the trunnion system will lift one bar and disperse extra weight onto the front tires of your towing vehicle. This will aid in better steering ability, especially on gravel roads. These typically come with a rating of 600 to 1,700 pounds of tongue weight distribution.

Curt Manufacturing also has trunnion bar hitches, These do offer more ground clearance than the round bar hitch.

Keep in mind, if you choose a weight distribution hitch with spring bars (round or trunnion) that is rated for more than what you need, your comfort while driving will be impacted. The bars will not have the same shock absorption and will transfer harder impacts to the trailer. In time, this will cause damage to both the trailer and the vehicle towing the trailer.  If you install a weight distribution kit that is too light and can’t properly support the tongue weight your trailer realizes, it will not be as effective and can cause swaying problems.

The Right Trailer Hitch Might Be All Chained Up

Another very capable weight distribution hitch is the Andersen Hitch. This looks vastly different than any other weight distribution hitch. While a bar-style hitch uses chains as a means of lifting the bars to add pressure, the Andersen hitch uses chains and shock absorbers instead of round or square spring bars. The design of the Andersen weight distribution hitch eliminates the sway and bounce in your trailer because of the interconnected motion-dampening chains and sway-control ball housing system.

right trailer hitch

The Andersen Hitch does not use bars like other weight distribution hitches. Instead, it employs a set of tension-adjustable chains.

With this hitch, you do not need to “snap up’ spring bars, as a nut is used to tighten the chains and shock absorbers. These come with a 200 to 1,400-pound tongue weight rating.

Before you purchase any hitch, you need to consider all the different trailer hitches, accessories, and other factors that will affect your towing experience. Whether you need a hitch for light-duty towing or one that will be used in a heavy-duty application, now you have a quick guide to help you select the right trailer hitch for your needs.

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About the author

Randy Bolig

Randy Bolig has been working on cars and has been involved in the hobby ever since he bought his first car when he was only 14 years old. His passion for performance got him noticed by many locals, and he began helping them modify their vehicles.
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