There are many different types of hitches available, and at first glance, selecting the right one for your vehicle can seem like a challenge. However, in actuality, the type of vehicle you drive and the type of trailer you will be towing will determine the type of hitch you will need.
Types of Receiver Hitches
Perhaps the most common type of trailer hitch is the receiver hitch. A receiver hitch is designed to mount onto the tow vehicle's frame and provide a receptacle or tube opening to accept the shank of a ball mount or other insert. Most receiver hitches are made to be vehicle-specific, meaning each one is uniquely designed to fit a different vehicle make and model.
Receiver hitches are generally divided into five classes, based on their receiver tube size and weight capacity range.
Class 1 Receiver Hitches
Class 1 receiver hitches are generally designed for passenger cars and small crossovers. They are equipped with a 1 1/4" x 1 1/4" receiver tube opening or sometimes a fixed tongue to directly mount a trailer ball instead of a ball mount.
Most class 1 hitches are rated to tow trailers up to 2,000 lbs. However, it is important to remember that not all hitches are rated at the same capacity and that no hitch ever increases the maximum weight a vehicle can tow.
Class 2 Receiver Hitches
Class 2 trailer hitches are very similar to class 1 hitches, having a 1 1/4" x 1 1/4" receiver tube opening and being used for lightweight towing applications. The biggest difference between class 1 and class 2 is that most class 2 hitches are able to tow up to 3,500 lbs. gross trailer weight. This is not true of every model.
Class 2 hitches are typically found on full-size sedans, minivans and crossovers but can also be found on small SUVs and pickup trucks as well.
Class 3 Receiver Hitches
The class 3 trailer hitch is the most common receiver hitch class installed on full-size pickup trucks and SUVs. If your full-size truck is equipped with a towing prep package, it probably has a class 3 hitch. CURT class 3 hitches are equipped with a 2" x 2" receiver tube opening and typically have a weight carrying capacity up to 8,000 lbs. gross trailer weight.
Also, unlike classes 1 and 2, most class 3 hitches are able to be used in combination with a weight distribution system, typically to offer a gross trailer weight capacity up to 12,000 lbs.
Class 4 Receiver Hitches
Class 4 trailer hitches are commonly mounted on full-size pickup trucks and SUVs. They feature a 2" x 2" receiver tube opening and generally have a weight carrying capacity up to 10,000 lbs. gross trailer weight. Many can also utilize a weight distribution hitch for a gross trailer weight rating up to 14,000 lbs.
Class 5 Receiver Hitches
Class 5 trailer hitches have the highest weight ratings of the receiver hitch classes, offering as much as 20,000 lbs. GTW. Because class 5 hitches are built to handle such immense loads, adding a weight distribution hitch usually does little to increase the towing capacity. However, a WD hitch can be used to help level the trailer and tow vehicle.
Class 5 trailer hitches are typically used on full-size pickups and commercial trucks, and they are equipped with a 2" x 2" or 2 1/2" x 2 1/2" receiver tube opening.
Towing Tip: Always choose a trailer hitch that matches or slightly exceeds your vehicle's towing capacity. You may not need the full capacity now, but if ever you want to pull a larger trailer, it pays to have a hitch that is already equipped to handle the weight.
Other Types of Receiver Hitches
There are a few different receiver hitches that do not fit within the five classes. Although they serve more specialized applications, they are widely used on vehicles today.
A bumper hitch is a light-duty receiver hitch that bolts onto the vehicle's bumper and provides a 2" x 2" receiver tube opening. It is important to note that because a bumper hitch attaches directly to the bumper, it is always limited to the weight carrying capacity of the bumper rather than the vehicle overall. Bumper hitches are commonly found on pickup trucks, SUVs and other larger vehicles.
Front Mount Hitches
A front mount hitch can be a useful addition to larger vehicles such as pickup trucks, full-size vans and SUVs. A front mount hitch allows you to place a cargo carrier at the front of your vehicle, freeing up your rear mount hitch for other types of towing. It can also be used for launching a boat or when parking a trailer in a tight spot, allowing you to maintain close control of your trailer.
Front mount hitches can also be used to attach a snow plow, winch, spare tire mount or skid shield.
There are a number of hitches that do not fall within the receiver hitch classification. The following are less common methods of towing and are typically designed for heavier towing applications.
Weight Distribution Hitches
A weight distribution or weight distributing hitch is actually a receiver hitch attachment. It is designed to distribute the tongue weight of a trailer across all axles of the vehicle-trailer combination.
Weight distribution hitches are typically used with class 3, 4 and 5 receiver hitches and use an adjustable shank to insert into the receiver tube opening like a ball mount.
A weight distribution hitch uses long rods called "spring bars" to leverage the connection point of the combination, transferring some of the tongue weight to the axles of the tow vehicle and trailer. Without a weight distribution hitch, heavy tongue weight can unload the tow vehicle's front tires, leading to reduced steering sensitivity. The most advanced weight distribution hitches also integrate trailer sway control to limit unwanted lateral motion of the trailer.
5th Wheel Hitches
A 5th wheel hitch is a heavy-duty hitch that mounts into the bed of a pickup truck, usually over or just forward of the rear axle. 5th wheel hitches are similar in design to those used by commercial tractor-trailer rigs. They typically range in capacity from 16,000 up to 25,000 lbs., depending on the design of the hitch, and are commonly used for towing large campers, travel trailers and car haulers.
Most 5th wheel hitches have some "pivot" capability to absorb bumps and contours of the road. They are also the only type of hitch where the coupling device is part of the hitch and not the trailer.
Like a 5th wheel hitch, a gooseneck hitch mounts into the bed of a pickup truck and usually places the trailer's tongue weight slightly forward of a vehicle's rear axle. Gooseneck hitches are designed to be less intrusive than 5th wheels, allowing full access to the truck bed when the trailer is not hooked up.
Typical applications for a gooseneck hitch include horse or livestock trailers, car haulers, large flatbeds and other commercial or industrial trailers. Gooseneck hitches are commonly rated to tow up to about 30,000 lbs. gross trailer weight.
A pintle hitch is a simple but strong coupling mechanism, consisting of a pintle hook and a lunette eye. The pintle hook, mounted on the tow vehicle, latches onto the lunette eye attached to the trailer. Depending on the tow vehicle and specific model, pintle hitches can tow anywhere from 10,000 to 60,000 lbs. gross trailer weight.
Now that you have a basic understanding of the different types of trailer hitches, you might be starting to get an idea of which type will suit your needs.