What Type of Trailer Hitch Class Do You Need?

If you are trying to determine what type of trailer hitch class you require, there is a wealth of information available both online and off. However, making sense of all of the technical specs and descriptions can leave one feeling a little overwhelmed. This section is meant to be a high-level overview of the types hitches, the various trailer hitch classes and what they mean to the average trailer owner.

Essentially there are three types of trailer hitches used for the purpose of pulling trailers behind a tow vehicle. In addition to that, you can find specific information on specialty trailer hitch applications such as motorcycle and atv trailer hitches.

For conventional trailers, there are weight carrying hitches, and weight distribution types of hitches The third type of hitch is used specifically for the purpose of hauling fifth-wheel trailers. Adding to the complexity, is the fact that conventional trailer hitches are further categorized into trailer hitch classes according, which for all intents and purposes is an indicator as to the maximum amount of weight they are designed to handle.

Weight Carrying Trailer Hitches

weight carrying trailer hitch

These are what most people would picture when thinking about a trailer hitch. Picture a simple hitch ball and socket that connects the trailer to the tow vehicle. This type of hitch is intended to support the full load at the point of connection on the ball mount which can create a lot of downward pressure on the back end of the tow vehicle. This causes the front of the vehicle to become lighter and rise. As you might imagine, the impact of this can affect the handling of the tow vehicle and is the main reason that these types of trailer hitches are only rated for use while towing lightweight trailers.

Weight Distributing Trailer Hitches

weight distributing trailer hitch

As the name suggests these hitches work to evenly distribute the towing weight to the rear and front axles of both the tow vehicle and the trailer itself. Intended for use with heavier loads, this type of hitch has an attachment that slides into the receiver and typically includes two spring bars that attach to the either side of the trailer frame. This design works to distribute the weight over the entire payload and reduces the effect to the handling of the tow vehicle and improves overall stability.

Fifth-Wheel Trailer Hitches

fifth wheel trailer hitch


Typically mounted in the bed of a pick-up or flat-bed truck above the rear axle and are specifically used for hauling fifth-wheel trailers. These types of hitches are typically used to tow extremely heavy loads, and are discussed in greater detail in this section of the web site.





Trailer Hitch Classes

As mentioned earlier, conventional trailer hitches are further categorized based on the amount of weight they are designed to capably haul. So when you hear someone refer to a trailer hitch class, they are only referring to the maximum amount of weight that specific trailer hitch is able to safely tow. There are 5 trailer hitch classes that segment conventional trailer hitches based on towing capacity.

When deciding on the right trailer hitch class for your specific application, the first place to start would be to look at the OEM manual for your tow vehicle in order to ensure that the total load does not exceed the recommended towing capicity outlined by the OEM.

For reference, here is a brief summary of the various hitch classifications:

  1. Class I Hitches - Up to 2,000 lbs
    Intended for light towing, this type of hitch is most often used on small cars, minivans and small pick-up trucks. A class 1 trailer hitch is a weight carrying type hitches that can handle a gross vehicle weight (GVW) of up to 2,000 lbs., and a gross tongue weight (GTW) of 200 lbs.

  2. Class II Hitches - Up to 3,500 lbs
    Typically used on SUV's, vans, larger cars and pick-up trucks to tow smaller boat trailers, atv trailers, motorcycle trailers, snowmobile trailers or small campers. A class II trailer hitch is a weight carrying type hitch that can handle a gross vehicle weight (GVW) of up to 3,500 lbs., and gross tongue weight (GTW) of 300 lbs.

  3. Class III Hitches - Up to 5,000 lbs
    Intended for general towing applications, this type of hitch is most often used on small cars, minivans and small pick-up trucks. A Class III trailer hitch comes in weight carrying and weight distribution styles and can be customized specifically to fit your vehicle. This type of hitch can handle a gross vehicle weight (GVW) of up to 5,000 lbs., and a gross tongue weight (GTW) of 500 lbs.

  4. Class IV Hitches - Up to 10,000 lbs
    Class IV hitches are intended for towing heavier loads of up to 10,000 lbs gross GVW with a GTW of between 1,000 to 1,200 lbs. While you can get a Class IV trailer hitchin a weight carrying style, this type of hitch is usually a weight distributing style which helps to improve handling with heavier loads.

  5. Class V Hitches - More than 10,000 lbs
    Intended for towing large travel trailers, horse trailers, large boats or car trailers, a Class 5 trailer hitch is for extra heavy loads greater than 10,000 lbs. with a GTW of more than 1,200 lbs. This type of hitch is usually a weight distributing hitch. and may have up to a 2-1/2 inch receiver with a 3/4-inch pinhole.


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