How To Choose and Install Trailer Hitch

General Car Repairs

By Rodney (Mechanics)

Do you need a trailer hitch? You’re not alone! Trailer hitches are super popular accessories for cars, trucks, and SUVs. You need one to tow trailers, campers, boats, race cars, classic cars, motorcycles, and more!

Putting on most hitches is a breeze – no need for drilling or welding! It’s smart to go for an “Exact Fit” hitch kit made for your vehicle because it’s super easy to install. While “Universal” hitch kits might be cheaper, they might not fit as perfectly.

Trailer wiring kits make it easy to hook up your trailer lights and brakes to your car’s electrical system.

Putting on most trailer hitch kits takes just 30 minutes or less, wiring included. If you’d rather not do it yourself, you can get it installed by pros at a trailer rental place or repair shop. Usually, it costs between $100 to $200, depending on how complicated it is.

You can get hitches from lots of different stores for all kinds of cars, both American and foreign. Choosing the correct hitch depends on understanding the ratings for hitch classes and what you intend to tow.

Trailer Hitch Types and Their Uses

There are two main hitch types: weight-carrying and weight-distributing. The first is typically for lighter loads, while the second is recommended for heavier trailers, especially those over 5,000 lbs.

A weight-distributing hitch includes a mat that connects to the receiver to diffuse the weight to the tongue. It is always supplied with two spring bars. Each side of the trailer connects to a car or tow vehicle using a single spring bar. It means to shift some weight from back axle to front axle forcing the trailer to pull steadier and safer hence reducing the center of gravity.

Class I Trailer Hitch

A Class I trailer hitch can handle up to 2,000 lbs. of Gross Trailer Weight (GTW) and a maximum tongue weight of 200 lbs. It might be a simple drawbar or step bumper type. Sometimes, it has a small receiver like a one-inch or 1-1/2-inch square or a small 2-inch by 5/8-inch one. People often use this hitch on smaller cars, mini-pickups, and minivans for bike racks and light towing.

Class II Trailer Hitch

A Class II trailer hitch is meant for loads up to 3,500 lbs. Gross Trailer Weight (GTW) and 300 lbs. tongue weight, like small boat trailers, motorcycle trailers, snowmobile trailers, or campers. It’s usually installed on big rear-wheel drive cars, full-size vans, pickups, and SUVs.

Class III Trailer Hitch

A Class III trailer hitch can manage up to 5,000 lbs. of Gross Trailer Weight (GTW) and 500 lbs. of tongue weight. It usually comes with a 2-inch rectangular receiver and is seen as the standard hitch for regular towing.

Class IV Trailer Hitch

A Class IV trailer hitch is designed for loads up to 10,000 lbs. of Gross Trailer Weight (GTW) and 1,000 to 1,200 lbs. of tongue weight. It’s typically a weight-distributing trailer hitch.

A Class V trailer hitch is for really heavy loads over 10,000 lbs. of Gross Trailer Weight (GTW) and more than 1,200 lbs. of tongue weight. It might come with a 2-1/2 inch or 3-inch receiver and a 3/4-inch pinhole. People often use it to tow big stuff like car trailers, horse trailers, or huge boats or campers.

Xtra Duty Trailer Hitch

If you are looking to carry something very heavy however, then a Fifth Wheel or Gooseneck is more appropriate and has to be fitted on the pickup bed. To be in the category of fifth wheel hitches with more than 10000 lbs capacity, the best choice would be fifth wheel hitch with a bed-mounted feature. Several types of them are raging up to 25 000 lbs.! For heavy loads this is the situation and for braking I recommend modeling on a truck’s jake brake. While brake pads or shoes are used to stop the car in manual transmissions, cars equipped with automatic transmissions have this option.

Finding the Right Trailer Hitch to Suit Your Vehicle

The key is to pick a trailer hitch that can handle the most weight your trailer might have, but still stays within your vehicle’s towing limits. Check your vehicle’s manual for the highest towing and tongue weight it can handle.

Make sure the weight on the trailer tongue is 10 to 15 percent of the loaded trailer weight for regular hitches. But for big Class V fifth wheel bed-mounted hitches, you can go up to 25 percent.

Consider the fact that while you may not be currently carrying more than your car can handle, you can always modify your plans, and you may need a hitch that can carry a bigger load. But today if you are towing a row boat, then you might hanker to tow or hoist a bigger boat tomorrow, either like a bass boat or a small yacht. For instance, if you have a doubt, opt for more expensive classes of hitch. Regarding larger trucks and SUVs, this choice includes having a two inch receiver with a five or seven pin plug for most Class III or IV hitches, instead of Class I or II.

WARNING: Don’t go over the towing limit of the hitch or trailer. It could break or make the trailer come loose. And don’t surpass your vehicle’s towing capacity, even if your trailer or hitch can handle it. Trying to haul too much weight could wreck your transmission, drivetrain, or make your engine overheat.

Towing Upgrade for Better Performance

After picking the right trailer hitch for your towing needs, think about other upgrades that could help. Some available upgrade such as tougher springs, air springs, special shocks, bigger sway bars, or even an extra cooler for your automatic transmission. If you’re towing heavy with a Class III, IV, or V hitch, you might need these upgrades. Also, consider getting extended side-mount mirrors for better rear visibility when hauling a big trailer. And a backup camera can make hooking up your trailer solo a lot easier.

Install Trailer Hitch

How To Install Trailer Hitch

When putting a trailer hitch on your car, check that it doesn’t hit any suspension parts, the spare tire (if it’s underneath), or the tailpipe, and make sure it’s fixed on tight. Follow the instructions that come with the hitch and use the bolts they give you.

You can also get your trailer hitch installed by professionals. Lots of rental places that rent trailers also sell and install hitches. If your vehicle needs a custom hitch and there’s no simple bolt-on option, they can handle that too. They’ll also take care of wiring for the trailer lights.

The last step is to set the trailer ball’s height. First of all, ensure that the trailer is level. Next, measure from the ground to the top inside part of the ball coupling on the trailer. Then, from the ground to the hitch or receiver, and the height of the ball, measure. Read these numbers and understand if you have to move the ball mount or the receiver up and down to keep your trailer level.

Wiring might be tough if your vehicle doesn’t already have an electrical connector for a trailer. There are mainly two types of connectors: 4-pin (for taillights, brake lights, and turn signals) and 7-pin (for lights and electronic trailer brakes).

If your trailer has electronic brakes, you’ll need a 7-pin connector. But if it doesn’t have brakes or has hydraulic surge brakes, you’ll only need a 4-pin connector.

Installing a trailer electrical connector on older vehicles usually means splicing it into the taillight wiring. You find the right wires for the taillights, brake lights, and turn signals, then connect them using crimp-on connectors. But on newer vehicles, it’s trickier because the rear lights are controlled by a rear lighting module. This needs a pricier electrical connector with a small module and plug-in wiring harness. If can’t doing this yourself, it’s best to have a trailer dealer handle the wiring for you.

After installing the electrical connector, connect the trailer and check if the brake lights and taillights are working properly before driving. If it has electric brakes don’t forget to test the brakes to ensure the brakes work well. It’s a good idea to take a short test drive to get used to how your vehicle steers, handles, and brakes with the trailer attached.