Whether you have a compact car or lifted diesel-powered 4X4, a trailer hitch is a vital part for towing any load. It is crucial to have the right tow-setup for your vehicle, so today I’m going to cover the basics of towing and the different types of trailer hitch setups to simplify your search for the perfect hitch.
If you own a car, your towing capacity will obviously be lower than if you owned a truck. The first thing you need to know is the towing capacity of your vehicle. This information can be found in the owner’s manual. Most cars can tow around 3,000 pounds safely, while some trucks are built to tow loads of up to 30,000 pounds! The second thing you need to know is how much weight you need to tow. If you don’t know the exact weight, you can try to estimate it to see if the total weight you’ll be towing is within the specifications set forth by your vehicles manufacturer. If you can’t reasonably estimate it, get some help and have the load towed to a scale so you can get the exact weight.
It is important to remember that safe towing involves a number of different elements: not only does your vehicle need to get the load up to a safe speed, but it also needs to be able to control that weight. When towing a load, brakes are just as if not more important than engine horsepower and torque because if you can’t safely stop the vehicle, then you shouldn’t be towing a load that heavy. So you need to evaluate the current condition of the brake system on your car or truck. Have the brakes been maintained properly? When was the last time you had the brake fluid changed? The last thing you want when towing is a brake system failure. You also need to think about where you are going to be driving. Are you going to be towing up or down hills? How windy do you expect it to be? Will the pavement be dry or wet? How much traffic do you have to navigate through to safely reach your destination? For the safety of you, what you’re towing, and everybody else on the road, all these questions should be thought about and answered before you ever hitch something up to your vehicle.
For cars, towing setups are fairly simple because you can’t tow that much weight. You’ll need a trailer hitch, also known as a trailer hitch receiver, a trailer ball mount, and a trailer hitch ball. Hitch balls come in three sizes: 1-7/8″, 2″, and 2-5/16″. A 2″ ball with a 1″ diameter shank is the most common size used for towing small and medium sized trailers. However, double check the size of the ball you need for towing and make sure the balls shank fits snuggly in the ball mount you are using. You will also want the trailer-hitch connection to be near level, but with a slight downward angle toward the car. This will help evenly distribute the weight and reduce trailer sway. Trailer ball mounts come in different sizes, make sure to choose one that will work well for your situation.
For trucks, there are far more towing accessories to choose from. In this article, I will only be covering the most common types used today. Some trucks have trailer hitches built into their rear bumper, others have a normal trailer hitch installed on them from the factory, and others will lack a trailer hitch all together. You’ll need to evaluate what your truck has and go from there. Hitch ball sizes are the same: another tow option usually found on trailers which are intended for heavy loads use what’s called a pindle hitch. A pindle hitch is basically a donut or ring which is made of thick steel that can handle the extreme torsional stress. Larger trucks also have 5th wheel mounting points in the bed of the truck, to which a 5th wheel hitch can be mounted. 5th wheels are used for hauling very heavy loads because it uses a much stronger hitch connection and because it centers the weight on the vehicle between the axles. This keeps the truck from tipping over backwards once it’s loaded. Similar to a 5th wheel is the gooseneck hitch. A gooseneck hitch also attaches to the bed of the truck and thus centers the trailers weight, but a gooseneck hitch uses a traditional ball-style hitch rather than the 5th wheel-style of hitch connection. If you are towing a really heavy load, you might want to purchase a weight distribution system or stabilizer bars to help reduce or eliminate trailer sway.
I hope this article helps clarify the different types of trailer hitches and makes you think about some important aspects of towing loads. Remember, safety is the name of the game.