Towing capacity is one of the first specs that you probably look at when researching your next truck. Figuring out what kind of trailer you want to pull is another decision to make. And after you make those decisions, you need to find out which trailer hitch will safely work for the tow vehicle and the trailer.
Finding the right match depends on three factors:
- The weight of the trailer
- The truck’s capability
- The type of trailer hitch.
Trailer hitches are categorized into classes, which range from lightweight to heavy. These are receiver hitches that have a square opening where you can insert a hitch-mount. Gooseneck and fifth-wheel hitches have their own weight limits beyond the standard receiver hitch classes.
For safe towing, it’s crucial that you correctly match the towing vehicle with the trailer. If you don’t, you put yourself and others at risk for an accident or other serious problems. For that reason, the gross towing weight (GTW) — the weight of the trailer plus all of its cargo — and the maximum tongue weight (TW) must never exceed your truck’s maximum towing capacity. If you’re in doubt about these specs, be sure to double-check your truck’s owner manual as well as the trailer’s user manual.
Here is the information you need to understand which towing class is right for your truck.
Class I hitches have a 1-1/4-inch receiver tube and are rated up to 2,000 pounds GTW with a maximum tongue weight of 200 pounds. This class of hitch attaches to the bumper, truck roll pan, or vehicle frame. Keep in mind that a higher class drawbar does not increase the towing capacity of hitches rated from Class I up to and including Class IV.
The Class I hitch is commonly used on compact and mid-size cars, compact pickups, crossovers, and minivans. Typical loads are bicycle racks, cargo carriers, mobility scooters, small trailers, canoes, and kayaks.
Class II hitches also have a 1-1/4-inch receiver tube. However, they rate at 3,500 pounds GTW and a maximum tongue weight of 300 pounds.
These hitches normally attach to the bumper or vehicle frame and are popular for large cars, crossovers, and minivans. Motorcycle trailers, small boat trailers, and pop-up campers are some of the loads that Class II hitches can handle.
Class III hitches generally have a 2-inch square receiver opening. Depending on the vehicle and hitch specifications, they may be weight carrying or weight distributing. But not all Class III hitches are rated to be both, so check your hitch’s specs to be sure.
Weight carrying Class III hitches are rated up to 6,000 pounds GTW with a maximum tongue weight of 600 lbs. Class III hitches designed for weight distributing are rated up to 10,000 pounds GTW with a maximum tongue weight of 1,000 pounds and requires a weight-distribution hitch.
These hitches attach to the vehicle frame only. They are extremely versatile and can be found on crossovers, SUVs, and pickup trucks. Heftier loads carried on tandem axle trailers such as horse trailers, utility trailers, and boat trailers are suitable for Class III hitches.
With a 2-inch receiver opening, Class IV hitches are available as weight carrying and weight distributing options. As with Class III hitches, not all Class IV hitches are rated to be both, so you’ll need to review the specs for the hitch.
Class IV hitches used as weight carrying are rated up to 10,000 pounds GTW with a maximum tongue weight of 1,000 pounds. Weight distributing Class IV hitches are rated up to 14,000 pounds GTW with a maximum tongue weight of 1,400 lbs and require a weight-distribution hitch.
Class IV hitches attach to the vehicle frame only. They are most often mounted on large SUVs and full-size pick-ups. Large boats, full-size campers, and toy haulers are some of the typical loads for these hitches.
Designed for some of the heaviest tow loads, Class V hitches generally have a 2-1/2-inch square receiver opening but a few have a 2-inch opening. Like Class III and Class IV hitches, these hitches are available as weight carrying and weight distributing.
Weight-carrying Class V hitches are rated up to 12,000 pounds GTW with a maximum tongue weight of 1,200 pounds. Those used for weight distributing are rated up to 17,000 pounds GTW with a maximum trailer tongue weight of 1,700 pounds. To use this class of hitch for weight distribution, you’ll need a weight-distribution hitch.
Your ball mount and hitch ball need to both be Class V-rated to safely tow these weight loads, too.
Class V hitches attach to the vehicle frame only and are usually found on commercial trucks and full-size pickups. Loads carried with these hitches include construction equipment, massive boat trailers, or very large campers.