If you are looking to rent a trailer for your vacation or want to tow cargo while moving, you need a hitch. Even though installing one and driving with a trailer are fairly simple concepts, there are a few ground rules that guarantee your safety if respected. But first, let’s start with some background information on hitches:
Types and Classes of Hitches
There are two main types of hitches: receiver and fixed-drawbar. Receiver hitches can be mounted to the vehicle’s frame, while fixed-drawbar hitches are a one-piece equipment with a hole that receives the trailer ball and are less installed nowadays.
Here are their main particularities:
Receiver hitches (also known as box hitches or tube hitches):
- Removable ball mount.
- Ideal for bike racks, motorcycle racks, trailers, or winches.
- Can be installed on the front of a vehicle.
- Some can also be used as a weight distribution hitch.
Fixed-drawbar hitches (also known as fixed tongue hitches):
- Permanently-installed one-piece equipment.
- Can only be used for weight-carrying.
Tow Hitch Classes
Hitch classes in the U.S.A. are regulated by the Society of Automotive Engineers. Although some manufacturers design and sell class V hitches, the SAE only defines and recognizes classes I – IV as standard.
Here are their maximum tongue weights and gross trailer weights:
|Hitch Class||Maximum TW||Maximum GTW|
|I||200 lbs.||2,000 lbs.|
|II||300 lbs.||3,000 lbs.|
|III||500 lbs.||5,000 lbs.|
|IV||1,000 lbs.||10,000 lbs.|
|V||1,700 lbs.||17,000 lbs.|
Tongue Weight = the force with which the trailer’s tongue pushes down on the hitch.
Gross Trailer Weight = the total mass of the trailer when loaded to its maximum capacity: the trailer itself, fluids, and cargo.
Keep in mind these are the maximum weights a hitch in a certain class can withhold, but the real weight is determined by the vehicle’s weight and capacity, as well. For accurate information on your hitch, please refer to your vehicle’s manual.
Keep in mind these are the maximum weights a trailer hitch in a certain class can withhold, but the real weight is determined by the vehicle’s weight and capacity, as well. For accurate information on your tow hitch, please refer to your vehicle’s manual.
Where to Get A Trailer Hitch?
Curt Manufacturing offers a wide variety of tow hitches and has a smart search feature which enables you to access only products that are compatible with your car model. Prices for a Curt trailer hitch usually revolve around $250, but can go as low as $200 or as high as $350 for some models.
If you are only looking to rent a trailer and do not have a hitch, U-Haul can help you with both. The prices for a u haul trailer hitch are similar to Curt’s, but it is more convenient to rent a trailer and buy a tow hitch from the same place.
Trailer Hitch Installation 101
Here are the main steps for installing a hitch:
- Set the parking brake.
- Jack the vehicle up.
- Lightly assemble the car hitch without tightening the bolts.
- Drill holes for the hitch mounts into your vehicle’s frame.
- Attach the tow hitch to the vehicle’s frame using C-clamps.
- Tighten the bolts.
- Connect the electrical wiring for brake lights or turn signals.
Here are the steps for hitching a trailer:
- Raise the trailer’s tongue and coupler by turning the jack crank clockwise.
- Ensure the trailer’s latch locking lever is open.
- Move the vehicle backward until the ball is right under the trailer’s coupler.
- Lower the tongue jack so the ball will be in the socket.
- Close and secure the latch with a padlock or a bolt.
Coupling between a trailer and a car.
If you want to attach a small trailer, this is it. If your trailer is heavy and needs a weight distribution hitch and spring bars, here is what you have to do next:
- Raise the tow vehicle and the trailer.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and attach the spring bars.
- Fully retract the jack to make sure the trailer is leveled.
Note: This is a critical step since a lower front or back will reduce the tongue weight, putting pressure on the front axle and reducing stability.
- Adjust the sway control.
- Attach the safety chains by looping them through the vehicle’s attachment eyes and insert the coupler through a chain link. The chain needs to be as short as possible while permitting full turn angles.
Note: Never attach safety chains to removable tow hitch parts.
- Connect the breakaway switch lanyard and adjust it so it doesn’t activate itself during a tight turn.
Note: The emergency braking system of the switch needs a full battery on the trailer.
- Plug in the electrical cord.
- Check the stop lights and turn indicators.
Before renting or buying a trailer for your vacation or project, inform yourself on local legislation regarding the maximum weight, height, and length a trailer can have to be safely driven without a special permit.
The most popular trailer types among individuals in the U.S. are:
Most popular travel trailers are usually lower than your vehicle to minimize drag and are made of lightweight materials. However, they vary from two-axle campers to whichever size the state laws allow.
Since they lack a front axle, semi-trailers usually have landing gears (“legs”) which support its front weight when uncoupled. Federal regulations impose driving a trailer with a maximum length of 57 ft. on interstate highways. However, two trailers of 63 ft. together can be linked without a problem.
Most commonly used for transporting cattle or horses, livestock trailers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The most elaborate are horse trailers, which have a special suspension system and added protection.
These trailers are generally used to transport motorcycles and vary in sizes from being able to accommodate one to several.
The term might also refer to a trailer that can be pulled with a motorcycle. These are narrow and usually imitate the decorative pattern of the motorcycle, having one or two wheels. However, they are generally considered unsafe by manufacturers. You can visit our motorcycle trailer guide for more information.
Boat trailers are generally used to carry, launch, and retrieve boats. However, some can be used for storing purposes, as well. They make use of manual and motorized winches to load and unload the boat, which can be found on the front of the trailer.
Driving with a Trailer 101
Steering, stopping, or accelerating is very different when driving with a trailer. No matter how fun it might seem, transporting passengers in towable vehicles is not recommended and illegal in most U.S. states.
Although experience comes with time, here are a few tips to guide your journey while towing a trailer:
- Practice on a less-traveled road or parking lot.
- Start off slowly.
- Drive at moderate speeds. Fast driving while towing a trailer or winch drastically reduces sway, stability, maneuvering, and stopping ability.
- Check local legislation. Some states allow towing up to the posted speed limit, but others have more strict limitations.
- Pay close attention to bumpy roads and going downhill. A trailer’s stability is greatly reduced when driving on bumps and is further decreased by braking.
- Take turns with care. Always slow down before, not while turning to avoid losing control. Keep in mind the trailer’s size and its tendency to push outwards.
- Avoid driving on windy days and highways with heavy truck or bus traffic. These factors can enhance swaying.
- Drive smoothly. Never steer or brake violently.
What to Do When Swaying
If your trailer loses stability while on the road, here are some practices that can be beneficial to your safety and the integrity of your cargo:
- Never try to counter the trailer’s sway. Try to keep the steering wheel as straight as possible. Doing the opposite will put you at risk because of the latency of human reactions and the distance between the traction wheels and the trailer.
- Slow down gradually. It is recommended to use the handbrake instead of the tow vehicle braking system since the latter reduces stability and causes sliding.
- Understand that no two situations are the same. Sometimes, a swaying trailer can be stabilized by accelerating and manually braking at the same time. However, only try this if you are an experienced driver.
- After regaining control, stop and check for damage. Tires, control devices, the hitch, or your belonging’s distribution can be affected by a violent sway.
These are it: The most important things to know when preparing to tow a trailer. Even though many are included in every Driver’s Ed course, some come from specialized drivers and their abundant experience.
Follow their guidelines and you can become one of them, too.