Choosing a Car Trailer Hitch

MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff helps readers to choose the right car trailer hitch auto accessory for family trips.

| May/June 1988

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    CLASS I HITCH: This light-duty, bolt-on hitch can handle 2,000 pounds of pull weight and 100 to 200 pounds of tongue weight.
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    Once you're hitched, take it easy while you get the hang of swinging wide for turns and slowing well in advance.
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    RECEIVER HITCH: Suitable for Class II or III duty, this hitch bolts to the vehicle's frame and can handle 5,000 pounds of pull weight.
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    LOAD-EQUALIZING HITCH: This attachment for a receiver hitch distributes the load evenly between the trailer and the tow vehicle to maintain even axle loadings with heavy tow and tongue weights.

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Need help choosing a car trailer hitch? MOTHER's staff gives you guidelines and names of a number of sturdy car trailer hitches to choose from. (See the illustrations in the image gallery.)

Choosing a Car Trailer Hitch

What single addition will most increase the versatility of the family runabout? No doubt about it, a trailer hitch opens the door to more wheeled worlds than any other auto accessory. Hitch up a utility trailer, and your car will do the work of a pickup truck. You can make runs to the dump, haul boards from the lumberyard or transport a rented tiller. Hook on a travel trailer, and you can have the luxury (and economy) of a portable vacation home away from home. Haul your boat to water instead of parking it at the marina, and you'll save the substantial cost of mooring or dry storage.

Considering how much they offer and how little they cost, it's surprising there aren't chrome balls protruding from the rears of more cars. A hitch capable of towing a 2,000-pound trailer, for example, should cost about $75 installed. There are, however, a number of different hitch types with various capacities. So, to avoid buying too much or too little hitch, you should be aware of your own needs and the products available.

To choose the right hitch, you need to know three things: the towing capacity of your vehicle, the total (gross) weight of your trailer and its contents, and the tongue weight (the downward load exerted on the hitch). The towing capacity of your car is listed in its owner's manual, and there's no sense buying a hitch with more capability than the vehicle can handle. Likewise, total weight is a pretty straightforward concept. (Just be sure to include all the extra trappings you're likely to take along.) Tongue weight, on the other hand, is a bit more complex to determine, because it can be affected by how you load the trailer. It would be easy to load a utility trailer heavily in front of its axle, for example, and end up with a safe gross weight but too much tongue weight.

What happens when rated tongue weight is exceeded? At worst, the hitch might break or bend downward with the bumper. At best, the car's attitude and weight distribution (and therefore handling) will be adversely affected.

Refer to the illustrations for a breakdown of hitch capacities. Of course, manufacturers don't offer products in all three classes for every car model. There's no reason, for example, to make a 5,000-pound Class III hitch for a car that's only rated to tug 2,000 pounds. The suppliers may also have encountered problems in adapting some hitch configurations to certain models.

4/28/2015 2:08:27 PM

I have a medium sized sedan with a 4 cylinder engine. I don't think I'll be towing much with her, but I think it could be a good investment to get a hitch. I really liked the part where you mentioned what I would need to know to choose the right hitch because I wasn't aware of some of those points. I'll have to look into it and see what I should get for my car.

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