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The Different Types Of Trailer Hitches (Definitive Guide)

Trailers are getting more and more popular day by day for people who love the outdoors and traveling. Nowadays, on a camping trip, chances are almost all parties involved would have trailers hitched to their vehicles. While most modern trucks have a standard receiver hitch as a stock feature, numerous aftermarket upgrades are also available.

Types of Trailer Hitches

We have scoured the market & internet for every relevant detail about hitches, their types, and their usage. So far we came up with this comprehensive guide to make sure that you have proper and specific knowledge about the types of trailer hitches that will work for your particular needs of traveling and outdoor camping.

Speaking The Trailer Hitch Language

At the beginning, we are going through describing the terminologies used when dealing with trailer hitches. Reading the manual always helps, but it can quickly get confusing without knowing these terms. Below are some of the words that you will always hear when talking about trailer hitches.

Hitch class – This talks about how their maximum towing weight capacity categorizes hitches. Hitch class also covers the hitch receiver opening sizes. Hitch receiver class starts from 1 to class V. Class V has the highest weight capacity rating and understandably the biggest receiver tube opening.

Tongue weight – The weight being referred here is the downward force exerted by the trailer’s tongue as it gets attached to the towing vehicle. There are specialized scales used to measure this properly, and the owner should know weight specifications of his vehicle and trailer. As a rule of thumb, the weight exerted on the tongue should not exceed 10% of the gross trailer weight.

Gross Trailer Weight (GTW) – This refers to the total weight of a loaded trailer, including gas, cargo, safety gear, and everything else. It is always a prudent and cautionary step to measure up the weight of everything you load up. After that, adding up everything to the weight of the trailer is important to ensure that you do not exceed the manufacturer’s recommended limit.

Difference Between Weight Carrying And Weight Distributing Trailer Hitches

Trailer hitches can be divided into two major groups, number one are those that directly bear the weight and number two are those that distribute the weight evenly among the trailer’s wheels.

To differentiate, the first class of trailer hitches is weight carrying hitches. They let the towing vehicle’s rear end bear the trailer’s tongue weight. Weight carrying trailer hitches are generally applicable for smaller trailers and cargo.

On the other hand, Weight distributing hitches are for larger loads such as campers, big trailers. Weight distribution trailer hitch consists of a receiver and a spring bar set up. This full setup distributes the full trailer weight evenly.

Different Types of Trailer Hitches

There are seven different trailer hitch types and ratings that allow a trailer to be safely towed behind a vehicle according to the vehicle and trailer types and weight. A general description of a trailer hitch is that it is a contraption attached to the chassis of a vehicle for towing a trailer behind the towing vehicle. The primary mechanism of a trailer hitch allows the trailer to balance the swiveling movement as it is pulled behind the lead vehicle.

Before we go further into the specifics such as weight capacity and the attachment mechanisms, let us start with the basics and look at the trailer hitch classes.

Rear Receiver Hitch

This type of hitch usually comes as a stock feature on many modern SUVs and pickups. There is no mistaking it when you see one, as it sits below the rear step board and has a square receiver tube that accepts a wide variety of attachments. The rear receiver hitch is by far the most common of trailer hitches, mounted directly at the rear of the vehicle as part of the chassis.

Rear receiver hitches can be further categorized into five kinds and which raises the question of how are trailer hitches classified? It’s really simple as rear receivers are rated according to the size and the weight of the load that can be attached to them. They appear physically similar , it is just the size of the receiver tube, and the thickness of the metals used varies depending on the weight rating.

Below are the specifics for the classification of trailer hitch receiver sizes. It is important to note that these classes are vehicle specific.

  • Class I – A rear receiver hitch belongs to this class that can carry loads up to 2000 lbs. with an opening size of 1-¼”. Their tongue capacity of 200 lbs makes them ideal for light-duty hauling, perfect for jet skis, utility trailers, and bike racks. We usually see them in cars and small crossovers.
  • Class II – Rear receiver hitch components and accessories that are in this classification are generally considered to be in the basic weight-carrying hitch type along with the class 1’s.

This moderate-duty hitch has 1-1 1/4″ inch opening along with a 3500 maximum weight capacity. Its tongue weight capacity is up to 350 lbs. You can usually find these rear receiver hitches on medium-sized sedans, small trucks, and minivans. They can be used to haul light boats, small campers, and even snowmobiles.

  • Class III – Rear hitch receivers that are classified into this category in terms of gross trailer weight capacity. Hitch receivers in this category can tow a pop-up trailer, a mid-sized boat, a mid-sized utility trailer, and even mid-sized utility campers. It has a maximum gross trailer weight capacity of up to 8000 lbs, with a range from 2″ up to 2 ½” receiver tube for the ball mount and a tongue weight capacity of 1000 pounds.
  • Class IV – When talking about different types of hitch receivers, a class IV receiver is where heavy-duty work can begin. For starters, the trailer hitch ball mount can accommodate weights from 1000 lbs up to 1200 lbs. For gross trailer weight capacity, a class IV hitch can handle 10000 lbs. The receiver tube size remains at 2″ X 2″. These can be found usually on full-size SUVs and heavy-duty pickups. This class of receivers can haul large campers, haulers, and even large trailers.
  • Class V – This is the classification where the most massive loads for rear hitch receivers max out, as the gross trailer weight on this category can exceed well over 10000 lbs. Additionally, this class can be further divided into two duty classes – the Extra Duty and Commercial Duty rear hitch receiver types.

On Extra duty, the opening size of the receiving tube is somewhat more significant than the previous class. Receiver size is ranging from 2″ to 2 ½”. The tongue weight capacity can handle a maximum of 2500 lbs. These can be generally found on large SUVs, heavy-duty pickups, and RVs.

Commercial duty rear hitch receivers are generally used for hauling large boats, full-sized campers, and even haulers for construction equipment. While the receiver tube opening remains at 2 ½”, the gross trailer weight capacity is dramatically increased to a maximum of 20000 lbs. The maximum tongue weight capacity is also increased to 2700 lbs. Furthermore, they can accommodate a variety of trailer hitch ball sizes because of its large tongue weight capacity.

A good lesson to remember in towing capacity is that your towing rig can only haul as much as the lowest-rated towing component in your hitch system. It is also of paramount importance to note that the varying gaps in the weight ratings of the hitch types define all the five classes.

Front Mount Hitch

A front-mounted hitch or a bumper hitch may be unfamiliar to some of you, but it has a wide variety of uses that would be very hard on a conventional rear-mounted hitch. The front placement is advantageous in case of parking trailers into a confined space or lowering a boat into the water. Being installed at the front gives you so much more visibility than with a rear-mounted hitch.

You have to be mindful of the weight rating scale of front mount hitches as they are considerably different than standard hitches, usually on the lighter side of the range. Besides, a front-mount hitch can be used for cargo carriers, snowplow, or mount a winch. This makes the front mount hitch versatile as it can be used in a variety of scenarios. One other advantage of this hitch is that it can be connected directly to the chassis.

5th Wheel Hitch

Fifth wheel hitch is specifically designed to be installed in the bed of a pickup truck. They are usually bolted onto the bed in the forward part of the rear axle, putting them somewhat in the middle of the truck. Because of this, long trucks are the perfect vehicles to use this type of hitch on.

The 5th wheel hitch is generally coupled to a kingpin on the front of a trailer. This, in turn, latches on to a horseshoe-shaped plate on the truck. This feature makes the 5th wheel hitch unique wherein the coupling device is on the hitch itself and not on the trailer. This makes it similar to a gooseneck system except for the coupling mechanism. They are generally used for loads that are well over 20000 lbs, which is well beyond the capacity of any rear hitch receiver.

Gooseneck Hitch

The gooseneck hitch is named as such because the shape of this hitch reaches out over the bed of the truck and frequently curves like the neck of a goose. The gooseneck hitch is among the most popular ways of attaching a trailer to a truck. This type of hitch is often compared to the 5th wheel hitch because of their similarity in placement. The difference is that the gooseneck hitch uses a ball and coupler instead of a kingpin and its corresponding pin receiver used in the fifth-wheel hitch.

A typical gooseneck hitch is rated for 30000 lbs. They are generally used for wider, longer, and larger loads. That is why this hitch is almost always used for towing car haulers, livestock trailers, long and large flatbed trailers, as well as commercial trailers. If you foresee hauling large trailers, having a gooseneck hitch can be a beneficial advantage.

Pintle Hitch

Pintle hitch can be easily pictured as a loop where a claw attachment hooks into. The ‘claw’ is the one being referred to as the pintle and is attached to the rear of the truck or towing vehicle and the ‘lunette’ is the ring that it attaches to. The lunette is the part that attaches to the trailer. This may seem like a design taken from horse-drawn carriages. Apart from this, the main advantage is that pintle hitch has superior Tongue weight capacities as well as great gross trailer weight capacities.

This hitch doubles the capacity of any ball hitches of similar size, and it also has the advantage of allowing more freedom of movement at the attachment point, both vertically and horizontally. This translates to better handling on uneven terrain, making it ideal for hauling stuff even on light off-road terrain. There are some trade-offs with the additional range of movement as it causes a lot more noise when traveling. Besides, it is important to note that the weight distribution systems do not work on pintle hitches.

Bumper Hitch

A bumper hitch mechanism is one of the most straight forward of the trailer hitches. It is merely a square receiver that attaches directly to the bumper of a vehicle. Since it connects to the bumper and it is not a significant weight-bearing form of the chassis, this type of hitch can only carry smaller trailers and light stuff. These are generally labeled as entry-level when it comes to trailers as they do not require much of a set up than other kinds of trailer hitches.

While the entry-level tag may be less than appealing, a bumper hitch is quite popular. For starters, this trailer hitch is the least expensive and among the easiest to set up and get running. You do not need to have a large pickup or an SUV to accommodate this hitch. It is also much easier to maneuver and do turns with this type of hitch. This means you are less likely to scrape off parts of the trailer on your way to your destination.

Weight Distribution Hitch

Technically an add-on to existing hitches, this type of hitch is considered both as a hitch attachment and as a hitch by itself. The name will give you a hint as to what it does. It actually distributes the weight of the tongue across both the towing vehicle and the trailer. On heavier trailers, there is a tendency for the attachment point to sag towards the middle. This sagging is absolutely dangerous because the additional strain on the hitch may cause mechanical failure.

To prevent this sagging phenomenon, the weight distribution hitch came into being. This particular hitch does the weight distribution by using spring rods, which are strategically placed to leverage the connection point. The rods are quite lengthy than those usually found in hitches, and they distribute the weight of the tongue to other parts. This relieves the weight from the rear of the towing vehicle, usually resulting in better steering and a more stable ride.

Hitch Components and Accessories

Aside from the standard mounting of a trailer hitch, they also can be complemented with some available aftermarket parts and accessories. They add strength, stability, and safety to your towing experience. Below are some of the most used accessories for trailer hitches.

  • Tube Covers – Hitch components can get very dirty on the road, and they still can accumulate a lot of dirt and dust even when not in use. Debris in the wrong area can cause damage, especially on the open road. Tube covers prevent any dirt or debris from entering your trailer hitch parts.
  • Trailer jacks – These are mounted to the trailer itself. However, aftermarket jacks tend to have better quality and higher load ratings than stock ones. The stock options are usually cranked by hand, and you can replace these with motor-driven jacks for speed and convenience.
  • Hitch ball – These usually come in different sizes. Aftermarket hitch ball accessories allow you to swap them out in different sizes and ratings. These usually come with three-ball variations in sizing, giving you that extra flexibility when it comes to weight capacities.
  • Safety Chains – They are usually located on the tongue of the trailer and act as the last line of defense in case of mechanical failure. For this reason, it is important to make sure that the weight ratings are followed when you buy a set of extra safety chains.
  • Trailer Brakes and Brake Controllers – Brake controllers are extremely useful, especially if you are towing another vehicle behind. There are many types of brake assisting systems when hauling a trailer. The types are ranging from mechanical to more advanced wireless electronically assisted systems. Their primary function is to apply supplemental brakes to the trailer when the towing vehicle engages its brakes.
  • Hitch Adapters and Extenders – Adapters are always needed and handy to have around. In cases where a part does not fit or reach, adapters can save the day. They can be used to adjust clearances as well.
  • Cargo Carriers, Bike Racks – Your hitch may or may not be having permanent residency in your truck. In those times when they are not being used to haul trailers, they can still be useful for cargo carriers and bike racks. Bike racks are more straightforward, but cargo carriers can be used for camping gear, gardening or landscaping equipment, or hunting gear.
  • Hitch Wiring and Lights – These are essential if you want to tow your trailer and be within regulation. These wiring harnesses connect your lead vehicles’ brake lighting system to the one being towed, syncing your brake lights with the towed contraption. This is quite important for safety reasons.
  • Hitch Immobilizer – This accessory is a vital component in making sure that the sway of the trailer is kept to a minimum during its towing route. The immobilizer does this by tightening the ball mount connections to its receiver.

The Takeaway

Trailer hitches are designed for the specific scenarios that they should be used for. Though accidents do happen, they can easily be avoided by consulting the manual of your vehicles and making sure everything is according to their specification. Keep in mind that gathering useful knowledge by doing a little bit of research can save you a lot of headaches in the long run. Proper connections and making sure that the components do not exceed their ratings will definitely go a long way in terms of safety and comfort.

We strive to make the guide as comprehensive as possible with relevant information.  However, if you feel like we have missed out something important, please feel free to give your comments and suggestions. Let us know if we have helped you out in your journey and RV adventures.

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