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Trailer Hitch Classes

About Rear Mount Trailer Hitches

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Go shopping for trailer hitches and you'll find five types of rear mount versions, each class determined by the amount of weight it can safely pull. Let's take a look at the different classes, along with optional equipment that can help you tow more safely.

Terminology you'll hear when you shop for a trailer hitch:

Gross trailer weight: The total weight of the trailer plus everything it's holding.

  • If you're pulling a boat, include the weight of the boat in your calculations (don't forget the weight in the fuel tank), all of you fishing gear and anything else inside the boat in your calculations.

  • When you pull a camping trailer, include the weight of the camper and add in the weight of camping gear, your food, clothes, cooking equipment and other contents.

Tongue weight: the weight forced down on the hitch ball. Tongue weight can be changed by adjusting where the load is in the trailer in relation to the trailer axle. The maximum tongue weight is usually about 10-percent of the maximum gross trailer weight.

You Can Change Tongue Weight

  • More weight in front of the trailer's axle creates more tongue weight, while more weight riding behind the axle means less tongue weight.

  • Some trailers have an axle that can be moved forward or back to help you adjust tongue weight in this.

Trailer Hitch Classes

Go shopping for a rear mount trailer hitch and you'll find that there are five hitch classes sorted by the amount of weight they can safely pull.

Class I: Gross trailer weight up to 2000 lbs. Tongue weight up to 200 lbs.

Class II: Gross trailer weight up to 3500 lbs. Tongue weight up to 350 lbs.

Class III: Gross trailer weight up to 5000 lbs. Tongue weight up to 500 lbs.

Class IV: Gross trailer weight up to 12000 lbs. Tongue weight up to 1200 lbs.

Class V: Gross trailer weight up to 13000 lbs. Tongue weight up to 1300 lbs.

Be sure to check the tow ratings for your truck, because installing a Class V hitch doesn’t mean the vehicle can handle that type of a load.

Increase Towing Capacity

You can increase towing capacity on Class IV and Class V hitches by installing a weight distributing hitch, a system that uses adjustable bars to control how the tongue weight is passed on to the tow vehicle.

The system works by forcing down on the entire frame, transferring the weight through the full length of the tow vehicle (instead of on just one spot) in order to keep the tow vehicle and trailer as level as possible.

Towing Large Objects

If you tow larger objects (such as a travel trailer) or if you pull heavy loads, consider using a sway control device. There are different styles of sway controls on the market, but they all help keep the trailer from swaying during windy conditions (like high winds or when a large truck passes you).

Towing Heavy Objects

A trailer brake system will help you tow heavy objects. There are two basic types of systems:

  • An inertia brake system is a hydraulic brake system that's built into the trailer tongue. When the tow vehicle slows down, the trailer tongue compresses against the brake master cylinder, applying the trailer brakes.

  • An electric brake system is connected to the vehicle's wiring and is activated by a signal from the brake light switch. When you step on the brakes, the signal travels to the trailer brake system and electric servos at the wheels apply the brakes.

An adjuster lets you set how much trailer braking you want, and a manual control so that you can apply the trailer brakes without applying the vehicle's brakes. This type of system is helpful when the trailer is swaying or if you are going down a steep hill and the trailer is trying to push the tow vehicle forward.

Other Types of Trailer Hitches

Gooseneck and fifth-wheel trailer hitches can tow considerably more, but the weight you can safely tow depends on your truck's towing capacity.

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