Choosing The Right Trailer Hitch

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For most of us, unless you are anticipating full-time RVing or at least spending months on the road, having a large expensive vehicle sitting for months does not make financial sense.

With the cost of large rigs like motor homes, vehicle maintenance and fuel, towing a trailer is becoming a more popular option for RV traveling.

Trailer hitch
Typical receiver hitch

Receiver Hitch

When it comes to selecting the right hitch much of the decision rests with your tow vehicle and the weight of what you are intending to tow.

 

 

If you are adding a receiver hitch to a compact car in order to use a bike rack your options are significantly different than someone looking to add a heavy duty hitch to their diesel truck to tow a large trailer.

Your vehicle’s owners manual should tell you the GTW (gross towing weight) and TW (tongue weight) that your vehicle can safely tow. It is important to determine the total weight you wish to carry, the trailer weight plus the cargo weight, and don’t forget to add in the weight of your tow vehicle.

Hitch Ball
Typical hitch ball that inserts into receiver

In some cases, such as small passenger cars, there may only be one class of hitch available. If you have a truck or SUV there will probably be many more options.

 

 

Determine the maximum GTW for each hitch and compare that to the weight of the trailer and cargo.

It is important to never exceed the GTW of any component in your towing system, it is best to choose a receiver hitch with a GTW that exceeds your needs.

Time for Class 

5 classes of hitch receivers are available  for passenger vehicles class 1 to class 5.

Class  1 – TW = 200 lbs – GTW = 2000 lbs for sub-compact & compact cars

Class 2 – TW = 300 lbs – GTW = 3500 lbs for mid-size cars and small pickup.

Class 3 – TW = 350 – 600 lbs – GTW = 3500 – 6000 lbs for mini-vans & SUVs

Class 4 & 5 – TW = 600 – 1200 lbs – GTW = 6000 – 12000 lbs for full size cars, vans, pickups & utility vehicles.

Weight Distribution Hitch 

The design of this type of hitch is to transfer some of the tongue weight to the rest of the tow vehicle.

weight distribution hitch
Typical weight distribution hitch with sway control

Smaller vehicles may use a larger capacity hitch if equipped with an equalizer (weight distribution hitch) and an anti-sway system.

Installing a Trailer Hitch

If you have decided to install a trailer hitch on your vehicle yourself, buy a vehicle specific hitch it will make installation easier. Keep in mind that your specific installation is going to be different. Carefully read the instructions that are included with your hitch. There are also various U-tube videos on hitch installation.

5th Wheel Hitches
5th wheel hitch
typical 5th wheel hitch

As with other hitches it is important to buy a hitch specifically designed for your pickup. There are various models for your towing needs and one option you should consider is a two way swivel hitch that tilts forward and back as well as side to side. This configuration will prevent coupling problems should your trailer be positioned on a different degree than your pickup. Click here to check them out at Camping World.

5the wheel in truck bed

Its the Brakes

Slowing down your rig is undoubtedly a big concern when you’re towing. Depending on the state that you are towing in and the size of load, you may or may not be required to have brakes on your trailer. For this reason, it is important to look into the towing laws before you hit the roads.

Car and tent trailer

 

Most smaller trailers can be controlled using your vehicle brakes, but larger trailers will have their own set of brakes that you can control using a brake controller.

A brake controller activates the brakes on your trailer, there are several different manufactures and many different models. To choose the right one you will need to consider the maximum weight of the trailer and cargo and what kind of brakes your trailer has.

Timed Brake Controllers

Electric Brake controller

These are the simplest and usually the lowest cost option when it comes to brake controllers. Timed brake controllers use time-based circuitry to gradually increase the amount of pressure on the trailer brakes the longer the pedal is depressed. These controllers are generally used for smaller trailers and on shorter hauls.

Inertia Brake Controllers

An internal sensor in the inertia brake controller senses the deceleration of the tow vehicle and activates the trailers brakes. These controllers have an internal sensor that is attached to an external pendulum. An inertia brake controller measures the amount of deceleration in the tow vehicle and applies a proportional amount of power to the trailer brakes.

Proportional/ Accelerometer Brake Controllers

Proportional brake controler

This controller delivers the most responsive braking power. It responds to your brake pedal and delivers the same amount of force to your trailer brakes. Perfect for longer trips and larger trailers, proportional brake controllers are the Einstein’s of the brake controller world.

It is important to carefully examine your options and pick the brake controller that is right for your trailer and tow vehicle. Also, once you have chosen a controller and installed it, practice driving around slowly to get a feel for how it will react.

It is very important to adjust your electric brake controller.

If your brakes are not adjusted properly you may not be able to stop as fast as is needed.

Trailer Hitch Wiring

Connecting your vehicle to your trailer goes beyond simply placing the tongue on the hitch. In order for your trailer’s taillights, turn signals and brake lights to work properly, you also need a solid electrical connection. Most vehicles have a towing wiring harness factory installed.

T connector
Typical T connector with light wiring harness

A vehicle specific T-Connector and Taillight Converter are easily installed, these accessories make connecting trailer wiring as easy as plugging it in.

 

Brake Controller Wiring Harness

Brake control wiring harness
Brake control wiring harness

This harness connects your brake controller to your vehicle’s electrical system—no splicing needed! The modular ends plug right into your vehicle’s factory wiring harness under the dash, and the other end plugs into your trailer brake controller.

Gooseneck/Fifth Wheel Wiring Harness

This is just like a T-Connecter, only designed to give your fifth-wheel trailer the same easy plug-n-play installation.

Electric Breakaway Kits

brake away kit

A electric breakaway kit is a device that automatically applies your trailer’s brakes in the event of an accidental separation from the tow vehicle. The kit may have a battery or not depending on whether your trailer has a battery. The battery supplies power to the electric brakes should separation occur. Breakaway brakes are mandatory in most states and provinces.

Towing Accessories
Hitch step
Hitch receiver step

There are many towing accessories available, from car towing kits, to mirror extensions and air bag kits for your tow vehicle, click here to check them out at Camping World.

I have created a comprehensive list of equipment and items you may need for your RV travels click here to check out my list.

OR

If you would like to support my site check out the ads on this page or if you shop on Amazon, please click here Amazon.com or Amazon.ca to shop and I will receive a small commission to help with my costs, and it will not cost you any more.

I hope this article is of some help with trailer hitches. If you have any comments or suggestions I would love to read them.

Look for my next article on driving tips for towing

Thanks for visiting.

Gord. B

Canyon Lake
The Colorado River

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Electric Breakaway Kits

A device that automatically applies your trailer’s brakes in the event of accidental separation from the tow vehicle. These are mandatory in most states and provinces.

 

7 thoughts on “Choosing The Right Trailer Hitch”

  1. Great article on towing Gord!

    I work for a company that makes and sells hitches and related products and I can tell you that this is a very competitive business. I would encourage your readers to shop around for the best prices. Amazon is great, we sell lots of equipment there but on some products other sites have better prices.

    Thanks!

    J.R.
    http://www.HitchFinder.com

  2. I am just getting into driving with trailers, so I don’t know a lot about th eavailable brakes systems. I am glad that this article breaks them down and gives a brief summary of how they work. I would probably need to choose a simple system that will be easy to use. Once I am hauling a small loads, the timer brake controller will be the way to go since it is for small loads and short distances.,

    1. Hi Jasper, I’m glad you found my article useful. The most important concern with any brake controller is adjustment. I had and accident on the interstate because my brakes were not adjusted hard enough and I could not stop quickly enough. Check the operation manual, it is better to have your brakes set harder than softer. If your trailer has a tandem axle, it is important your hitch is adjusted to ensure your trailer sits level so both axles are the same distance from the ground. If not a tire may lock up, not giving proper braking.

      thanks again for your comment
      Gord

  3. Thanks for pointing out that gooseneck hitches are just like a T-connector, only designed to give you an easy plug-n-play installation. For an upcoming trip, I am thinking of getting a trailer to attach to my truck. I think that a gooseneck hitch will be the type of hitch I settle on.

    1. Hi Larry, Thanks for your comment, gooseneck or 5th wheel hitches are the best for heavy loads and maneuverability. The downside, most of your pickup bed is unusable.
      Safe travels, Gord

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