Trailer Towing Tips

Hitches are available from a variety of aftermarket suppliers for a wide range of domestic and import vehicles. Thanks to innovative designs that are engineered to fit specific vehicle applications, most hitches can be easily installed with no drilling, welding or other modifications. Wiring kits also help simplify connecting trailer lights and electric braking systems to the vehicle’s electrical system. On many applications, a hitch can be installed in 30 minutes or less, including the wiring connections. There are exceptions, especially for custom type installations, or other special needs. If you feel challenged with resources or just don't have the time there are dealers that can do the installation for you, normally in a day. Selecting the right hitch for a particular application is the key here, which requires an understanding of the various hitch class ratings and talking with your dealer. When choosing a hitch, consider not only your current towing needs, but also any future needs that may arise. If your are towing a rowboat today, you may trade for a bass boat next year. If in doubt, it’s always best to upgrade to a higher class. For most full-size trucks and SUVs, this would mean installing a Class 3 or 4 hitch rather than a Class 1 or 2 hitch.

Gross Trailer Weight (GTW)

This is a combination of the weight of the trailer and cargo inside. This is the total weight of both elements. Never exceed the weight capacity (GTW) of your trailer hitch. The weight rating of trailer hitches, receivers, ball mounts, balls, and safety chains (or any other piece of the towing system) must not be exceeded by gross trailer weight or tongue weight. Selecting the Proper Hitch is a MUST for Safe, Trouble-Free Towing

Tongue Weight (TW) - the downward pressure placed on the hitch ball by the coupler. Tongue weight will vary depending on where the load is positioned in relationship to the trailer axle(s). To measure the tongue weight, use either a commercial scale or a bathroom scale with the coupler at towing height. When using a bathroom scale with heavier tongue weights, use the method shown; multiplying (the scale reading x 3) or heavier tongue weights, use the method diagrammed on the right.

A Receiver Hitch is the primary device that is attached to the rear of the vehicle that allows you to tow. There are six classes of hitches. It is very important to choose the correct class of receiver hitch. Gross trailer weight and tongue weight will determine the hitch that is needed. Do not exceed the lowest rating of any component of your towing system.

Class 1 - 1000 to 2500 GTW
Class 2 - 3500 GTW
Class 2.5 - 4,000 GTW
Class 3 - 10,000 WD/6,000 GTW
Class 4 - 12,000 WD/8,000 GTW
Class 5 - 14,000 WD/10,000 GTW

Class 1 hitches can handle a gross trailer weight (GTW) of up to 2,000 lbs., and a maximum tongue weight of 200 lbs. The hitch may be a simple draw bar- or step bumper-type of hitch. Other hitches may have a crossbar with a small one-inch or 1-1/2-inch square receiver, or a small 2-inch by 5/8-inch receiver. This type of hitch is often used on smaller cars, mini-pickups and minivans for bike racks and light-duty towing.

Class 2 hitches are for loads of up to 3,500 lbs. GTW and 300 lbs. tongue weight, such as a small boat trailer, snowmobile trailer, motorcycle trailer or camper. Typical installation applications include large rear-wheel drive cars, full-size vans, pickups and SUVs.

Class 3 hitches can handle up to 5,000 lbs. GTW and 500 lbs. tongue weight. This type of hitch generally has a 2-inch rectangular receiver and is considered the "standard" type of hitch for general towing. You will see more of this class on the road, in cars, pickup trucks and vans. This is used for ATV (snowmobile, smaller boats, etc.), small to mid sized travel trailers and general utility trailers, both single and tandem axle, with and without brakes. (Certain states require brakes on trailers with 3500 Gross Weight, or higher).

Class 4 hitches are for up to 10,000 lbs. GTW and 1,000 to 1,200 lbs. of tongue weight. This type of hitch is usually a weight-distributing type of hitch.

Class 5 hitches are for extra heavy loads greater than 10,000 lbs. GTW and more than 1,200 lbs. tongue weight. This type of hitch may have up to a 2-1/2 inch receiver with a 3/4-inch pinhole. Typical uses might be to tow a car trailer, horse trailer or unusually large boat or camper.

For really heavy towing, there are also Fifth Wheel and Gooseneck hitches that mount in the bed of pickup truck.

Your towing system’s maximum weight rating is always equal to the lowest rated item in the system. Your hitching system cannot be upgraded to a rating higher than the maximum rating of your hitch. For example: a 3,500 lb. ball on a 2,000 lb. max trailer weight rated hitch does not increase your towing capacity to 3,500 lbs. Your hitching system is still rated at 2,000 lbs. Conversely, a 2,000 lb. ball on a 3,500 lb. max trailer weight rated hitch decreases your maximum towing capacity to 2,000 lbs. What’s important here is to use a hitch that is strong enough to handle the maximum anticipated total weight of the trailer, but does not exceed the towing capacity of the vehicle. Refer to the vehicle owner’s manual for maximum towing and tongue weight limitations. Also, the trailer tongue load should be kept at 10 percent of the loaded trailer weight for weight-carrying (deadweight) hitches, and 12 percent for weight- distributing (equalizing) hitches.

Once you’ve figured out which class of hitch best suits your towing needs, you also need to consider any other suspension or vehicle modifications that might be beneficial. These modifications may include stiffer springs, air springs, overload or air assist shocks, larger sway bars or even an aftermarket ATF cooler to protect the automatic transmission from overheating. Such modifications may be needed on vehicles that will be used for heavy towing and will be equipped with a Class 3, 4, or 5 hitch. Another add-on that improves rear visibility when pulling a large trailer is extended side-mount mirrors. As for installation, make sure the hitch clears all suspension components, the spare tire (if hung underneath) and the tailpipe, and is securely mounted. Follow the hitch supplier’s installation instructions and use the fasteners that are provided. As mentioned above a dealer can perform the installation as well.

Ball Mount
The ball mount is placed inside the hitch opening which is mounted to the vehicle. (sometimes called a "stinger") Be sure to check your ball mount before towing to make sure a hitch pin is placed through the hole of the ball mount. The hitch pin secures the ball mount inside the tube of the receiver hitch when towing and itself secure by a secondary "clip" or pin.

Needed Information for Correct Ball

  1. Gross Trailer Weight Rating (GTW)
  2. Hole Diameter
  3. Mounting Platform Thickness

Hitch Ball
The Hitch Ball is the connection from the hitch to the trailer. There are many elements in determining the correct hitch ball. Mounting platform thickness, hole size, coupler socket size and the most important, gross trailer weight rating. In addition there's
A. Ball Diameter
B. Shank Diameter
C. Shank Length
D. Standard Lift

The platform must be at least 3/8" thick and the hole size must not be more than 1/16 of an inch larger in diameter than the threaded shank. The hitch ball diameter(A) must be the same diameter as the trailer coupler (1-7/8", 2", or 2-5/16"). The shank length (C) should be long enough to allow at least two threads to be visible when the hitch ball is installed and the nut completely tightened. The standard lift (D) refers to the height of the hitch ball base. The lift raises the top of the ball height above the draw bar. Every time you tow be sure to check the nut and lock washer to make sure it is fastened securely.
A = Ball Diameter | B = Shank Diameter | C = Shank Length