Guide to Trailer Hitches: What They Do & Why You Need One

BY MICHAEL D.

They’re known by several names – trailer hitches, receiver hitches, tow hitches – but no matter what you call them, your vehicle is incomplete without one. Offered as both rear and front applications, trailer hitches attach to the chassis of your vehicle and enable the safe and reliable transport of bike racks, campers, watercraft – you name it, they can pretty much bring it. No sweat.

WHAT ARE TRAILER HITCHES?

Trailer hitches come in a variety of styles, and the right one will depend solely on your hauling needs. Receiver hitches are the most common type – allowing you to hook up bike racks, trailers, hitch steps and more. Receivers are most commonly installed in the rear but can also attach to the front of your ride. This allows you to ease your boat into the water or bring it out while looking straight ahead – no neck pain or blind spots involved. Other configurations include gooseneck hitches for gooseneck trailers, which bestow a tighter turn radius and are most commonly used for hauling RVs and livestock trailers.

TraiLER HITCH CLASSIFICATIONS

Trailer hitches are classified according to their respective towing capabilities. In the US, Class 1 and 2 hitches are both designed for lighter loads, typically with a maximum weight capacity of 3,500 lbs. They also accommodate smaller receivers of 1.25”. Class 3, 4 and 5 hitches can haul significantly greater weights of up to 10,000 lbs. Classes 3 and 4 usually fit 2” receivers and Class 5 hitches fit 2.5” receivers. Fifth wheel hitches install in the bed of your truck, right in the center over the axle, and commonly boast a limit of 16,000 lbs of strength.

WHY INSTALL A TRAILER HITCH?

The reasons people install trailer hitches are many, but ultimately they add more convenience to your vehicle. Preemptively installing a trailer hitch to your truck, Jeep, SUV and even sedan is as good a move as you can make, because you never know when that next heavy-hauling chore or favor will present itself. The added accessory is there when you need it, and doesn’t get in the way when you don’t.

NOT JUST FOR TOWING

Trailer hitches aren’t just for towing, though – they can be used to install a bike rack, cargo carrier, hitch step or winch, accessories ideal for campers, mountain bikers and seasoned off-roaders. Cargo carriers add more room without taking up any of your interior, and hitch steps provide quick and easy access to luggage strapped to the roof. And for those seeking to add a winch, all you have to do is mount the device to a carrier designed to fit over your receiver. Should you ever find yourself on the receiving end of a fender-bender in stop-and-go traffic, a trailer hitch with ball mount attached is a great way to reduce collision damage and spiked insurance rates.

Whether you’re using your F-150 for a cross-country haul or want to rack a few bikes on the back of your Camry, a trailer hitch is one of the best ways to make the most of your ride.