What are the Different Trailer Hitch Types and Classes?
It’s common for drivers to pull a trailer to add cargo capacity to their vehicle, and hitches are also used for accessories like bike racks. But one trailer hitch is not necessarily the same as another, and there can be significantly different designs and capacities between them.
Trailer hitch sizes and styles vary based on the type of trailer they’re pulling, and trailer hitch classes also determine how much weight the vehicle can tow. If you’re shopping for a hitch, these are the main criteria you’ll need to know. Keep in mind that the trailer hitch class is not the predominant rating – the vehicle’s gross vehicle weight rating, or GVWR, is most important.
Let’s break down the different trailer hitch types and the classes of each.
Types of trailer hitches
There are five types of trailer hitches to consider, and each has its purpose. You might notice some features cross over between types, but they’re still unique.
A receiver hitch is a device that is mounted to the frame of a vehicle and provides a tow point for attaching a trailer or other towable object. It’s by far the most common type of trailer hitch for passenger and commercial vehicles. A removable hitch ball adapter slides into the receiver and is fastened by a pin. Then, the trailer’s tongue coupler locks over top of the ball.
Receiver hitches are classified according to their weight-carrying capacity, with Class 1 being the lowest and Class 5 being the highest:
- Class 1 hitches are designed for light-duty towing, with a weight-carrying capacity of up to 2,000 pounds. They are typically used for small trailers, such as utility trailers or small boat trailers.
- Class 2 hitches are designed for medium-duty towing, with a weight-carrying capacity of up to 3,500 pounds. They are typically used for medium-sized trailers, such as small camper trailers or travel trailers.
- Class 3 hitches are designed for heavy-duty towing, with a weight-carrying capacity of up to 8,000 pounds. They are typically used for large trailers, such as fifth-wheel trailers or horse trailers.
- Class 4 hitches are designed for very heavy-duty towing, with a weight-carrying capacity of up to 10,000 pounds. They are typically used for the heaviest trailers, such as large recreational vehicles or commercial trailers.
- Class 5 hitches are the most heavy-duty of all, with a weight-carrying capacity of up to 20,000 pounds. They are typically used for the heaviest trailers, such as large commercial trailers or military vehicles.
It’s important to choose the right receiver hitch class for your towing needs, as using a hitch that is not rated for the weight of your trailer can be dangerous and potentially cause damage to your vehicle.
5th Wheel Hitch
A fifth-wheel hitch is a specialized towing device that is designed for use with large trailers, such as recreational vehicles (RVs) or commercial trailers. It consists of a large, U-shaped frame that mounts to the bed of a pickup truck or other tow vehicle, and a kingpin that fits into the frame and provides the connection point for the trailer.
Some 5th-wheel hitches are permanently mounted in the truck bed while others are on rails and can be removed when they’re not in use. Typically, there are weight ratings that range from 16,000 pounds up to 30,000 pounds.
Gooseneck hitches have a lot in common with 5th-wheel hitches since they mount in the truck bed too. However, they use a hitch ball rather than a kingpin to connect the trailer to the truck. Gooseneck hitches are geared more toward agriculture and commercial applications like livestock and flatbed trailers. They’re usually rated to pull trailers of up to 30,000 pounds, and sometimes even more.
Weight Distribution Hitch
A weight distribution hitch, also known as a load-leveling hitch or equalizing hitch, is a towing accessory that helps distribute the weight of a trailer more evenly across the tow vehicle and trailer axles. It consists of a hitch head that mounts to the frame of the tow vehicle, and a set of spring bars that are connected to the hitch head and the trailer frame.
Weight distribution hitches are typically used with trailers that are heavily loaded or have a high tongue weight, which is the weight that is applied to the hitch on the tow vehicle. When the trailer tongue weight is too high, it can cause the tow vehicle to become unstable and difficult to control, especially when driving on uneven roads or making sharp turns.
To use a weight distribution hitch, the trailer is first loaded and the tongue weight is measured. The spring bars are then adjusted so that they apply a downward force on the trailer frame, helping to transfer some of the weight from the hitch to the trailer axles. This helps to distribute the weight more evenly, improving the stability and handling of the tow vehicle and trailer.
A pintle hitch is a towing device that consists of a hitch ball mounted on the tow vehicle and a pintle hook that fits over the ball and provides the connection point for the trailer. Pintle hitches are typically used for heavy-duty towing, and are often found on military vehicles, construction equipment, and other industrial vehicles.
Pintle hitches are known for their strength and durability, as the ball and pintle hook are designed to handle high loads and withstand rough terrain. They are also simple to use, as the pintle hook can be easily attached and detached from the hitch ball by hand.
Pintle hitches are typically used with trailers that have a lunette eye, which is a loop-shaped attachment point that fits over the pintle hook.
Which Trailer Hitch Is Best?
Unless you drive a heavy-duty pickup truck larger than a half-ton, you’re almost guaranteed to be best served with a receiver hitch. Most drivers of passenger vehicles seldom need more than a Class 2 hitch, but pickup trucks may need a Class 3 or Class 4 hitch to ensure they’re best equipped to pull trailers to their vehicle’s full capacity.
What’s most important in selecting the right trailer hitch is matching your trailer to the vehicle safely without exceeding your vehicle’s GVWR.
Need help finding the right trailer hitch for your car, van, SUV, or truck? An AutoZone associate would be happy to help with Trustworthy Advice.
FAQ/People Also Ask
Class 1 and 2 trailer hitches are equipped with a 1-1/4-inch receiver and can tow up to 2,000 pounds and 3,500 pounds respectively. A Class 3 hitch has a 2-inch receiver and can be used for towing up to 8,000 pounds.
The five main types of hitches are receiver hitches, gooseneck hitches, 5th-wheel hitches, pintle hitches, and weight distribution hitches.
Trailer hitch classes 1 and 2 are usually for the lightest-duty vehicles like compact cars and crossovers. Class 3 and 4 hitches are usually for midsize and full-size SUVs and pickup trucks, whereas Class 5 hitches are for commercial vehicles.
A Class 4 hitch has a 2-inch receiver and can tow up to 8,000 pounds, but a Class 5 hitch has a 2.5-inch receiver and has a max towing capacity of 20,000 pounds.
With up to 8,000 pounds of towing capacity, a Class 3 hitch can be used for a toy hauler, some travel trailers, smaller horse trailers, and car haulers.