Every day thousands of cars and trucks across the country hitch up to a trailer, towing loads both big and small.
Whether you’ve been towing for years or couldn’t tell a gooseneck from a pintle hitch, picking the right hitch for your towing needs is vital to your safety and your fellow drivers.
If you’re looking to add a hitch to your truck or car and aren’t sure where to start, keep reading for an in-depth guide to trailer hitches.
Guide to Trailer Hitches: What You Need to Know
All hitches are not created equal.
Whether you drive a compact car and just want to add a hitch mounted bike rack or need to move some serious material with your pickup truck, knowing what your hitch can and can’t do is a must.
Before you shop, make sure you’re familiar with the types of hitches available and their uses.
Terms You Should Know
Like most things, trailer hitches and towing have a few terms that you should be familiar with when shopping. Make sure you’re familiar with these terms before you begin your search, so you know what you’re looking at and what you need.
Gross Trailer Weight (GTW)
The GTW is calculated by adding the weight of an unloaded trailer to the weight of the cargo in the trailer.
The weight can accurately be calculated on a truck scale or by estimating the weight of any cargo and adding it to the unloaded trailer weight.
All trailers should have this information prominently displayed.
Make sure you’re familiar with this figure so you can select a hitch with appropriate weight capacity.
Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR)
This is the total weight your car or truck can carry—both in or on the vehicle plus a trailer.
Knowing this number will help you know how much you can tow and what capacity hitch you should purchase for your vehicle.
Check the sticker on the inside of the driver’s door of your vehicle for the GCWR. If it’s not listed, check with the manufacturer.
The tongue weight is a measurement of the amount of weight that will sit directly over the trailer hitch.
Tongue weight is an important measurement to be familiar with. This weight will determine if your vehicle has the ability to tow a trailer and what hitch you’ll need to safely handle the trailer.
Tongue Weight Capacity
This is the amount of weight your truck or car can safely accommodate at the trailer hitch of your vehicle.
Like GCWR, this information should be clearly printed on a sticker in your vehicle.
Understanding Trailer Hitch Types
Trailer hitches are available in a few different styles.
The most common style is the receiver hitch. This style hitch typically bolts directly to the frame at the rear of a truck or car and accepts different types of ball attachments for towing.
Another type of trailer hitch is the fifth wheel hitch. This type of hitch is usually located in the bed of a pickup truck and is typically used to tow large fifth wheel style travel trailers.
Gooseneck hitches are another form of trailer hitch that’s located in the back of a truck. These hitches are made to haul heavy loads like livestock or equipment trailers.
Trailer Hitch Classes and Use
All receiver hitches are rated by class.
A rating of 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 is assigned based on the weight rating and capacity of the hitch.
A class 1 hitch will typically have the lowest weight capacity. And a class 5 hitch will have the greatest capacity.
When shopping for a hitch, pay attention to both the weight capacity and the class of the hitch.
How Will You Use Your Trailer Hitch?
Now that you know a little more about trailer hitches and the options available, our guide to trailer hitches switches gears to how you will use the hitch.
If you’re planning to tow a trailer of any kind, it’s important to pick a hitch that will safely handle the load you intend to tow behind your vehicle.
But, if you only plan to use the hitch to attach a bike rack or cargo carrier, you can get by with a lower capacity hitch.
Find the Right Hitch for Your Vehicle
Most receiver hitches are made specifically for a vehicle. Every car or truck is different and will need a hitch that matches the underside of the vehicle to get a good fit while maximizing towing capacity.
Fifth wheel and gooseneck hitches are a different story. These types of hitches come in one size, but must be securely attached to mounting brackets designed for your truck.
Check with your dealer for a complete list of available hitches and mounting brackets for your vehicle.
Safely Towing a Trailer
Understanding our guide to trailer hitches and choosing the right type for your vehicle and needs is only the beginning.
It’s also important to install the hitch and any other necessary equipment safely and securely. If you come see us at Jazz It Up, we can go over options such as an electronic brake controller and sway control options.
If you’re installing the hitch yourself, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Get everything lined up right and torque all bolts to the required specs.
Hitting the Road
Once you’ve got everything in place and are ready to hit the road with your trailer or cargo, it’s time to do a final safety check.
Don’t become one of the 6 million accidents that occur annually by not towing your trailer safely.
Whether you’re using a receiver hitch or a heavy-duty fifth wheel hitch, make sure your trailer is securely connected.
Next, check your electrical connections. Make sure the brake lights and turns signals are working. Check your trailer brakes for function too, if you have them.
Whether you’re towing for work or fun, stay safe by following this guide to trailer hitches.
Make sure you pick the right hitch, get it installed correctly, and learn how to manage your load safely on the road.
Ready to add a hitch to your truck or car? Jazz It Up Truck & Auto Accessories can help you find the right one for your vehicle and get it installed the right way.