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Understanding Towing

Towing 101Pickup truck towing travel trailer

1. Introduction to Towing

2. Basic Towing Equipment

3. Types of Trailer Hitches

4. Towing Capacity

5. Selecting a Trailer Hitch

6. Trailer Hitch Installation

7. Towing Electrical & Wiring

8. Trailer Brakes & Brake Controls

9. Hooking Up Your Trailer

10. Towing Safety

 

Chapter 3: Types of Trailer Hitches

Answered in this chapter:

What are the five receiver hitch classes?

Are there any other types of receiver hitches?

What specialized hitches are available?

 

There are many different types of hitches available, and at first glance, selecting the right one for your vehicle can seem like a challenge. However, in actuality, the type of vehicle you drive and the type of trailer you will be towing will determine the type of hitch you will need.

In this chapter, we will discuss the different types of trailer hitches that are available and what features and benefits they offer. For more information on selecting a specific hitch, go to chapter 5. Or visit our trailer hitches page for a complete selection of CURT hitches.

 

What are the trailer hitch classes?

Perhaps the most common type of trailer hitch is the receiver hitch. A receiver hitch is designed to mount onto the tow vehicle's frame and provide a receptacle or tube opening to accept the shank of a ball mount or other insert. Most receiver hitches are made to be vehicle-specific, meaning each one is uniquely designed to fit a different vehicle make and model.

Receiver hitches are generally divided into five classes, based on their receiver tube size and weight capacity range.

 

Class 1 Hitch

  • 1-1/4" x 1-1/4" receiver tube opening or fixed tongue
  • Weight carrying capacity typically up to 2,000 lbs. GTW

Class 1 hitchCar with class 1 hitch and bike rack

Class 1 receiver hitches are generally designed for passenger cars and small crossovers. They are equipped with a 1-1/4" x 1-1/4" receiver tube opening or sometimes a fixed tongue to directly mount a trailer ball instead of a ball mount.

Most class 1 hitches are rated to tow trailers up to 2,000 lbs. However, it is important to remember that not all hitches are rated at the same capacity and that no hitch ever increases the maximum weight a vehicle can tow.

Visit our class 1 hitch page to see a complete selection of CURT class 1 hitches.

 


 

Class 2 Hitch

  • 1-1/4" x 1-1/4" receiver tube opening
  • Weight carrying capacity typically up to 3,500 lbs. GTW

Class 2 hitchSmall SUV with class 2 hitch towing utility trailer

Class 2 trailer hitches are very similar to class 1 hitches, having a 1-1/4" x 1-1/4" receiver tube opening and being used for lightweight towing applications. The biggest difference between class 1 and class 2 is that most class 2 hitches are able to tow up to 3,500 lbs. gross trailer weight. This is not true of every model.

Class 2 hitches are typically found on full-size sedans, minivans and crossovers but can also be found on small SUVs and pickup trucks as well.

Visit our class 2 hitches page to see a complete selection of CURT class 2 hitches.

 


 

Class 3 Hitch

  • 2" x 2" receiver tube opening
  • Weight carrying capacity typically up to 8,000 lbs. GTW
  • May be compatible with a weight distribution hitch

Class 3 hitchTruck with class 3 hitch towing boat trailer

The class 3 trailer hitch is the most common receiver hitch class installed on full-size pickup trucks and SUVs. If your full-size truck is equipped with a towing prep package, it probably has a class 3 hitch. CURT class 3 hitches are equipped with a 2" x 2" receiver tube opening and typically have a weight carrying capacity up to 8,000 lbs. gross trailer weight.

Also, unlike classes 1 and 2, most class 3 hitches are able to be used in combination with a weight distribution system, typically to offer a gross trailer weight capacity up to 12,000 lbs.

Go to our class 3 hitches page to view a complete selection of CURT class 3 hitches.

 


 

Class 4 Hitch

  • 2" x 2" receiver tube opening
  • Weight carrying capacity typically up to 10,000 lbs. GTW
  • Usually compatible with a weight distribution hitch

Class 4 hitchGM truck with class 4 hitch towing large camper

Class 4 trailer hitches are commonly mounted on full-size pickup trucks and SUVs. They feature a 2" x 2" receiver tube opening and generally have a weight carrying capacity up to 10,000 lbs. gross trailer weight. Many can also utilize a weight distribution hitch for a gross trailer weight rating up to 14,000 lbs.

Visit our class 4 hitches page to view a complete selection of CURT class 4 hitches.

 


 

Class 5 Hitch

  • 2" x 2" or 2-1/2" x 2-1/2" receiver tube opening
  • Weight carrying capacity up to 20,000 lbs. GTW
  • Typically compatible with a weight distribution hitch

Class 5 hitchRam truck with class 5 hitch towing large flatbed trailer and skid steer

Class 5 trailer hitches have the highest weight ratings of the receiver hitch classes, offering as much as 20,000 lbs. GTW. Because class 5 hitches are built to handle such immense loads, adding a weight distribution hitch usually does little to increase the towing capacity. However, a WD hitch can be used to help level the trailer and tow vehicle.

Class 5 trailer hitches are typically used on full-size pickups and commercial trucks, and they are equipped with a 2" x 2" or 2-1/2" x 2-1/2" receiver tube opening.

Go to our Xtra Duty class 5 hitches page to view 2" receiver options and our Commercial Duty class 5 hitches page to see 2-1/2" receiver options.

 


 

Towing Tip: Always choose a trailer hitch that matches or slightly exceeds your vehicle's towing capacity. You may not need the full capacity now, but if ever you want to pull a larger trailer, it pays to have a hitch that is already equipped to handle the weight.

 

Other Types of Receiver Hitches

There are a few different receiver hitches that do not fit within the five classes. Although they serve more specialized applications, they are widely used on vehicles today.

 

Bumper Hitch

  • Mounts to the vehicle's bumper
  • 2" x 2" receiver tube opening
  • Weight carrying capacity limited to the vehicle's bumper

Bumper hitchSUV with bumper hitch and cargo carrier

A bumper hitch is a light-duty receiver hitch that bolts onto the vehicle's bumper and provides a 2" x 2" receiver tube opening. It is important to note that because a bumper hitch attaches directly to the bumper, it is always limited to the weight carrying capacity of the bumper rather than the vehicle overall. Bumper hitches are commonly found on pickup trucks, SUVs and other larger vehicles.

To see the CURT selection of bumper hitches, visit our bumper hitches page.

 


 

Front Mount Hitch

  • Compatible with certain trucks, vans and SUVs
  • 2" x 2" receiver tube opening
  • Weight carrying capacity typically up to 5,000 lbs. GTW
  • Usually rated even higher for straight-line pull applications

Front mount hitchTruck with front hitch and snow plow

A front mount hitch can be a useful addition to larger vehicles such as pickup trucks, full-size vans and SUVs. A front hitch allows you to place a cargo carrier at the front of your vehicle, freeing up your rear mount hitch for other types of towing. It can also be used for launching a boat or when parking a trailer in a tight spot, allowing you to maintain close control of your trailer.

Front hitches can also be used to attach a snow plow, winch, spare tire mount or skid shield.

To see a complete selection of CURT front hitches, visit our front mount hitches page.

 


 

Specialized Hitches

There are a number of hitches that do not fall within the receiver hitch classification. The following are less common methods of towing and are typically designed for heavier towing applications.

 

Weight Distribution Hitch

  • Redistributes the tongue weight across the tow vehicle and trailer
  • Typically compatible with class 3, 4 and 5 receiver hitches

Weight distribution hitchWeight distribution hitch on truck towing camper

A weight distribution or weight distributing hitch is actually a receiver hitch attachment. It is designed to distribute the tongue weight of a trailer across all axles of the vehicle-trailer combination.

Weight distribution hitches are typically used with class 3, 4 and 5 hitches and use an adjustable shank to insert into the receiver tube opening like a ball mount.

Weight distribution diagram

A weight distribution hitch uses long rods called "spring bars" to leverage the connection point of the combination, transferring some of the tongue weight to the axles of the tow vehicle and trailer. Without a weight distribution hitch, heavy tongue weight can unload the tow vehicle's front tires, leading to reduced steering sensitivity. The most advanced weight distribution hitches also integrate trailer sway control to limit unwanted lateral motion of the trailer.

Visit our weight distribution page to see a complete selection of CURT weight distribution hitches and sway control products.

 


 

5th Wheel Hitch

  • Accepts the kingpin of a 5th wheel trailer
  • Weight capacities ranging from 16,000 up to 25,000 lbs. GTW
  • Compatible with pickup trucks only

5th wheel hitchTruck towing 5th wheel camper

A 5th wheel hitch is a heavy-duty hitch that mounts into the bed of a pickup truck, usually over or just forward of the rear axle. 5th wheel hitches are similar in design to those used by commercial tractor-trailer rigs. They typically range in capacity from 16,000 up to 25,000 lbs., depending on the design of the hitch, and are commonly used for towing large campers, travel trailers and car haulers.

5th wheel towing diagram

Most 5th wheel hitches have some "pivot" capability to absorb bumps and contours of the road. They are also the only type of hitch where the coupling device is part of the hitch and not the trailer.

To browse our complete selection of CURT 5th wheel hitches and 5th wheel accessories, visit our 5th wheel page.

 


 

Gooseneck Hitch

  • Takes up very little space in the truck bed
  • Weight capacity typically up to 30,000 lbs. GTW
  • Compatible with pickup trucks only

Gooseneck hitchRam truck towing flatbed gooseneck trailer

Like a 5th wheel hitch, a gooseneck hitch mounts into the bed of a pickup truck and usually places the trailer's tongue weight slightly forward of a vehicle's rear axle. Gooseneck hitches are designed to be less intrusive than 5th wheels, allowing full access to the truck bed when the trailer is not hooked up.

Typical applications for a gooseneck hitch include horse or livestock trailers, car haulers, large flatbeds and other commercial or industrial trailers. Gooseneck hitches are commonly rated to tow up to about 30,000 lbs. gross trailer weight.

Visit our gooseneck page for a complete selection of CURT gooseneck hitches and accessories.

 


 

Pintle Hitch

  • Simple hook-and-loop coupling system
  • Available weight capacities up to 60,000 lbs. GTW

Pintle hook and lunette ringFarm truck with pintle hitch towing flatbed trailer

A pintle hitch is a simple but strong coupling mechanism, consisting of a pintle hook and a lunette ring or eye. The pintle hook, mounted on the tow vehicle, latches onto the lunette eye attached to the trailer. Depending on the tow vehicle and specific model, pintle hitches can tow anywhere from 10,000 to 60,000 lbs. gross trailer weight.

Visit our pintle hitches page for a complete selection of CURT pintle hooks, lunette rings and ball and pintle combinations.

 

 

Now that you have a basic understanding of the different types of trailer hitches, you might be starting to get an idea of which type will suit your needs. In the next two chapters, we are going to look at how to determine weight capacity and how to select the right hitch for your vehicle.

< Chapter 2: Basic Towing Components

Chapter 4: Towing Capacity >