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Trailer Hitch Extender for Extra ClearanceTrailer Hitch Extender for Extra Clearance

The Complete Guide to Hitch Extenders

A trailer hitch extender can be a helpful addition to your towing setup, but there are a few things you should know before making a purchase. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about how to extend a trailer hitch, from measuring your hitch length and clearance, to choosing the right accessory for an optimized trailering experience. First, let’s define what a hitch extender actually is.

What Is a Hitch Extender?

Curt Hitch Extender 45795Curt Hitch Extender 45795

A hitch extender or trailer hitch extension is a simple towing accessory that adds length to your receiver hitch tube. It is comprised of a shank and a receiver tube.

The shank on one end of the extender inserts into your vehicle’s existing receiver hitch, similar to a standard ball mount or other towing accessory. Then, the receiver end of the extender can accept another accessory shank. In other words, an extender is placed between the receiver and the accessory. The purpose is to reposition the accessory further away from the vehicle.

Why Use a Hitch Extender?

Perhaps the most common reason to extend the length of your receiver hitch tube is to avoid an obstruction. Receiver hitches are designed to integrate with the features of the vehicle, accounting for proper clearance of the bumper, spare tire and other vehicle components.

However, there are a lot of different towing accessories out there, and they’re not always a guaranteed fit. Sometimes more clearance is needed.

For example, maybe you’ve purchased a new hitch cargo carrier for your Jeep. The carrier may be designed in such a way that it bumps into the spare tire mounted on the back of your Jeep’s rear door. In such a case, a hitch extender can provide the extra length needed to extend the cargo carrier’s position to clear the spare tire properly.

Jeep Cargo Carrier Hitch Extender for Spare TireJeep Cargo Carrier Hitch Extender for Spare Tire

How to Measure for a Hitch Extender

Hitch extenders come in different lengths and shank sizes to fit most receiver hitches and to accommodate various towing configurations. To choose the right extender for your towing setup, you’ll need to consider three key measurements.

1. Receiver Hitch Tube Size

The first measurement to take is on your receiver hitch. The inside dimensions of the tube need to match the shank size of the extender. Receivers are typically only available in one of three standard sizes: 1-1/4” x 1-1/4”, 2” x 2” or 2-1/2” x 2-1/2”. Some larger trucks today come with a 3” x 3”, but this is fairly uncommon. Three standard sizes make it easy to choose a corresponding receiver hitch extender.

Also, remember to verify that the pin hole diameter of your receiver tube matches that of the extender.

Receiver Tube Size Pin Hole DiameterReceiver Tube Size Pin Hole Diameter

2. Accessory Shank Size

While the shank end of the extender must fit the receiver tube opening, the receiver end of the extender must fit the shank of your hitch accessory. Once again, the dimensions should fall within one of three standardized options. If your hitch accessory shank does not match your vehicle receiver tube, you’ll actually need a hitch adapter rather than an extender.

Installing Adjustable Ball Mount in-Receiver HitchInstalling Adjustable Ball Mount in-Receiver Hitch

3. Extender Length

The final key dimension when choosing the best extender for your hitch setup is extender length. Extender length is measured from the pin hole on the shank to the pin hole on the receiver.

To choose the right extension length, perform a test-fit of your towing accessory on your vehicle. Try to position the accessory as close as possible to the receiver without obstruction. Make sure there will be enough clearance to avoid obstruction during the rigors of travel. Then, have a friend measure the distance from the receiver pin hole to the shank pin hole.

Hitch Extender Length is Measured from Pin Hole to Pin Hole

How to Measure Hitch Extender LengthHow to Measure Hitch Extender Length

Cautionary Considerations for Weight Capacity

One other important factor to consider when shopping for a hitch extender is weight capacity. The manufacturer should provide weight ratings for the extender, including a gross trailer weight capacity and a tongue weight capacity.

Remember, you must always abide by the lowest-rated component in your towing system.

Additionally, it is important to consider the leverage placed on your receiver hitch and vehicle by heavy cargo. As a general rule, the use of extenders (and hitch adapters) can reduce the tongue weight capacity / vertical load capacity of your vehicle’s receiver hitch. Extenders under 12” long reduce load capacity by 25%, and extenders over 12” reduce load capacity by 50%.

Loading Hitch Bike Rack with Receiver ExtenderLoading Hitch Bike Rack with Receiver Extender

Choose Your Hitch Extender

Extender vs. Adapter: Which Do You Need?

Hitch extenders and hitch adapters are very similar in their purpose. Both are used to help a hitch accessory fit onto a receiver. The difference is that while a hitch extender increases the length of the receiver, a hitch adapter changes the size of the receiver.

Hitch adapters are used when the shank of your accessory is too large or too small to fit the receiver tube on your vehicle. For example, if your cargo carrier has a 2” shank, but your vehicle has a 1-1/4” receiver, an adapter can be used to make up the difference.

This hitch adapter is called a reducer sleeve:

Hitch Adapter Diagram Ball Mount ReceiverHitch Adapter Diagram Ball Mount Receiver

If you need to change the size of your receiver to fit your towing accessory, you should purchase a hitch adapter.

If you need to increase the space between your towing accessory or trailer and your vehicle, you should purchase a hitch extender.

Other Alternatives to Hitch Extenders

Let’s say you’re towing a trailer and you don’t want to add a hitch extender to your towing system. Or perhaps you don’t need as much length as an extender provides (options can range from 8” up to 18”).

If this is the case, you might consider a ball mount with a longer shank. Ball mounts come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s possible that using a different ball mount, particularly one with a longer shank, will provide the extra clearance needed.

Consider the CURT #45050 ball mount versus the #45270. Both have the same weight ratings and drop / rise measurements. However, the #45050 only has an 8-1/4” shank length, while the #45270 has a 13” shank length.

Ball Mounts with Extended Length

You may also consider a dual-length ball mount. This type of ball mount has two pin holes in the shank, allowing it to be positioned at two different lengths from the receiver. Use the shorter length with one trailer where clearance isn’t an issue and use the longer length for trailers that require extra clearance.

Dual-Length Ball Mounts

How to Install a Hitch Extender

Installing a hitch extender is fairly simple to do, but there are a few tricks that can make it easier and can make your overall towing experience better.

Step 1: Insert the extender into your receiver

Insert the shank end of the extender into the hitch receiver tube. Make sure the pin holes are oriented horizontally, not vertically.

Step 2: Secure it with a hitch pin

Line up the shank pin hole with the receiver pin hole, and secure it with a hitch pin.

Step 3: Mount your hitch accessory

Insert the hitch accessory shank into the receiver tube of your extender. Line up the holes, and secure that connection as well with a hitch pin. Note that while it is possible to install the extender on your towing accessory first, instead of on your vehicle’s receiver, this can make things more difficult, particularly as you’re attempting to insert a heavy accessory into the receiver.

Tighten Things Up with an Anti-Rattle Kit

Hitch extenders create two connection points in the towing system, one at the receiver and one at the accessory. As such, as you drive down the road, things can get noisy as the connection points flex and vibrations rattle through the vehicle frame.

Installing Anti Rattle Hitch ClampInstalling Anti Rattle Hitch Clamp

To make the ride quieter and more enjoyable, you can add an anti-rattle hitch pin or clamp to the connection points. This tightens up the joint and helps deter noise and shaking.

Hitch Extender FAQs

1. Are hitch extenders safe?

Hitch extenders are safe if they are used properly. The most important thing to remember is weight capacity. You must always abide by the lowest-rated towing component in your system. Know the weight ratings of each component, and do not exceed them. Also, it is important to take extra care when backing up with any accessory mounted on the rear of your vehicle. This becomes even more important with a hitch extender installed as it adds overall length to your vehicle.

2. Are hitch extenders legal?

Hitch extenders are legal when used properly and when they fall within the correct specifications for safe operation. Consult local and state laws before towing with a hitch extender.

3. Does a hitch extender reduce towing capacity?

Hitch extenders may reduce your overall towing capacity, depending on their provided weight ratings. Each extender is rated for a certain gross trailer weight and tongue weight. Always abide by the lowest rating in your towing system. Additionally, a hitch extender can reduce the tongue weight or vertical load capacity of your vehicle’s hitch. Extenders under 12” reduce load capacity by 25%. Extenders over 12” reduce load capacity by 50%.

Disclaimer: These photographs, recommendations, and approximations are intended for demonstration purposes only and do not reflect the specifications of any particular tow vehicle, recreational vehicle, or trailer. Always consult the manufacturer’s Owner’s Manual.