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Types of Trailer Hitches and Sizes for Your Trailer

Congratulations on that new trailer. That is a real upgrade. Now you can go anywhere in the country in comfort and style. With all that extra room for the family and everything you want to take along with you, the vacation should be exciting, a memorable experience for the whole family. But, wait a minute. Did you upgrade your trailer hitch? You are towing a lot more weight than you did with that old tear-drop trailer, so you need to have a hitch capable of towing that new trailer safely up and down the hills and through the valleys

Consider your trailer and tow vehicle and hitch as a single unit. As the old saying goes, “A chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link.” If you do not upgrade that hitch, then the strength of your unit is limited by the power of your hitch. To maximize your investment and to ensure the safety of yourself, your family, and other travelers on the road, you need to check out the different types and ratings of trailer hitches.

The Different Type of Hitches

There are several different types of hitches on the market. Some are specialty items like front-mounted hitches that accommodate power winches and other devices, or rear hitches that hold bikes and extra luggage. But the principle hitches used on the highways of the nation are:

  • Fifth-wheel hitches that are only available for trucks
  • Gooseneck hitches that are used specifically by trucks to haul trailers with a gooseneck designed connector
  • The Pintle hitch which is a hook device used on large trucks and gravel trucks to haul cumbersome loads
  • The bumper hitch designed to attach to a car bumper for light-weight towing
  • The weight distribution hitch commonly used with a rear receiver hitch
  • The Rear receiver hitch, which is the most common hitch used on the road today

Where most of these hitches have a particular use for a special operation, such as the Pintle hitch that is used on commercial and gravel trucks to tow larger weights, the rear receiver hitch has variable sizes to accommodate the connection between the various sizes of trailers with different types of vehicles.

Different Grades of Rear Receiver Hitches?

The effectiveness of hitches is dependent on several factors, the most important being the hitch’s capacity to tow and align the weight of the trailer. Rear receiver hitches come in five classes, each with its weight carrying capacity limitations. Those classes are defined as:

  • Class one, which is rated to tow a trailer up to 2,000 pounds with a maximum tongue weight of 200 pounds
  • Class two hitches are rated to tow trailers up to 3,500 pounds with a maximum tongue weight of 300 pounds
  • Class three hitches can tow a 6,000-pound trailer with a maximum tongue weight of 500 pounds
  • Class four rear receiver hitches can tow a 10,000-pound trailer with a maximum tongue weight of 10,000 pounds
  • Class five rear receiver hitches are rated to pull a trailer of up to 12,000 pounds with a maximum tongue weight of 1,200 pounds

Each of these classifications has its weight restriction, which, if you visit a public weigh station and are over the limits of the classification, may bring you a substantial fine. You don’t want that, particularly since you would have to leave your trailer at the weigh station until you correct the issue. A situation like that could mean a considerable loss of time while you search for the correct hitch, have it installed, and return to the weigh station to get approval to continue down the road.

No one wants you to lose that time, not with your family looking at you and wondering why you did not take care of the problem before you left home. So, take the time to look over the required parameters. Don’t let your hitch be the weak link on the chain. Become familiar with these hitches by looking into the characteristics of each class.

Class One Rear Receiver Hitch

There are several facets of each hitch that you should know before you purchase. As an example, the Class One rear receiver hitch is designed for mid-size passenger cars and small crossovers. The width of the hitch brackets is less than those of higher classes to facilitate its fit onto the thinner frames of these vehicles.

  • 1 – 1/4 Square Receiver Opening
  • Maximum Trailer Tongue Weight of 200 LBS
  • Weight Carrying up to 2000 LBS

The receiver opening is 1 ¼ inch across to accommodate the smaller ball joint needed to tow a small trailer. The Class one rear receiver hitch does not allow you to increase its weight carrying capacity with a weight-distribution hitch. With this class of hitch, you cannot lawfully exceed the weight limitations with any augmenting device.

Class Two Rear Receiver Hitch

The Class two rear receiver hitch has the same 1 ¼ inch receiver as the class one hitch. However, the hitch consists of a thicker material that gives it a higher rated tongue weight and towing capacity.

  • 1-1/4″ Square Receiver Opening
  • Maximum Tongue Weight of 300 LBS
  • Weight Carrying up to 3500 LBS

The class two hitch is designed for full-sized passenger vehicles and larger crossovers that can handle a greater load than the lighter vehicles.

Class Three Rear Receiver Hitch

The class three rear receiver hitch represents the jump from light-weight towing capacity to the world of the big boys. The class three hitch has a 2-inch receiver and a wider bracket range. These hitches are designed to fit on a pickup truck with its deeper framework and greater towing capacity.

Weight Carrying

  • 2″ Square Receiver Opening
  • Maximum Tongue Weight of 600 LBS
  • Weight Carrying up to 6000 (GTW) LBS

Weight Distribution

  • 2″ Square Receiver Opening
  • Maximum Tongue Weight of 1000 LBS
  • Weight Carrying up to 10,000 LBS

The brackets attach directly to the frame of the tow vehicle, providing the extra strength needed to tow up to 8,000 pounds. The class three hitch is the first level at which you can add a weight-distribution hitch to increase towing potential. With the augmentation of a weight-distribution hitch, the class three hitch suddenly increases in its ability to tow—clear up to 12,000 pounds with a 1,200-pound tongue weight.

Class Four Rear Receiver Hitch

Class four rear receiver hitches are used on full-size pickup trucks and SUVs with their deeper frames. The added capacity to tow 10,000 pounds is commensurate with the towing capacity of these vehicles, whereas the class three could not reach the parameters that those vehicles can reach.

Weight Carrying

  • 2″ Square Receiver Opening
  • Maximum Tongue Weight of 1000 LBS
  • Weight Carrying up to 10,000 LBS

Weight Distribution

  • 2″ Square Receiver Opening
  • Maximum Tongue Weight of 1400 LBS
  • Weight Carrying up to 14,000 LBS

Using a class four hitch on a full-sized pickup allows you to enjoy the full potential of your truck/hitch/trailer unit. Augmenting the hitch with a weight-distribution hitch elevates the towing capability to 12,000 pounds, the same you will get by adding the device to a class three hitch.

Class Five Rear Receiver Hitch

You can use the class five rear receiver hitch to tow just about any trailer on the market. The hitch comes with either a 2-inch or a 2.5-inch receiver tube. The recommendation is to use this hitch with a weight-distribution hitch.

Weight Carrying

  • 2″ Square Receiver Opening
  • Maximum Tongue Weight of 1200 LBS
  • Weight Carrying up to 12,000 LBS

Weight Distribution

  • 2″ Square Receiver Opening
  • Maximum Tongue Weight of 1700 LBS
  • Weight Carrying up to 17,000 LBS

in most cases the hitch will tow as much a 17-20,000 pounds safely down the road. When you attach this baby to your ¾ ton pickup truck or commercial truck, you are maximizing the capacity of the super-powered vehicle you are using to two your trailer.

How to Choose Your Trailer Hitch

There are times when it is self-evident as to which type of hitch to choose. Fifth-wheel trailers will always need a fifth wheel hitch, and the same is true about gooseneck connectors. The mystery surrounding which hitch to choose comes when using a rear receiver hitch. When you are confronted with this choice, consider these factors:

  • The towing capacity of your vehicle
  • The gross weight of your trailer—fully loaded
  • The tongue weight of your trailer
  • Where you want to travel

You can find the towing capacity of your vehicle in your owner’s manual, on the manufacturer’s website, or inside the door jamb. The gross weight of your trailer and its tongue weight are posted on the side of your trailer, in your owner’s manual, and on the manufacturer’s website. Where you are going on any vacation affects your choice through the ruggedness of the road and the distance you are traveling. If you are going to the places we would like to go, then make sure to maximize your hitch strength. Sometimes the angling spirit takes you to places far beyond the highways and byways of civilization. Make sure you are prepared for those washboard gravel roads as well as the freeway—choose your hitch well.


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