A Guide to Trailer Hitches

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Gooseneck hitch.

Learn about weight-carrying and weight-distributing hitches in this guide to trailer hitches. 

A guide to trailer hitches. Trailer hitches come in all sizes and shapes for a variety of applications. However, hitches are classified as either weight-carrying or weight-distributing.

Weight-carrying hitches (such as a bumper pull) are recommended for use when the trailer weight (including cargo) is 3,500 pounds or less. Make sure the tow vehicle is rated by the manufacturer to accommodate that load. The tongue weight is carried directly on the rear of the tow vehicle and on the hitch. You can find your vehicle’s tow rating online at www.CampingLife.com or download a listing of tow ratings at www.TrailerLife.com.

Use weight-distributing hitches for heavier loads. These hitches redistribute the tongue weight — the amount of a trailer’s weight that is transferred to a tow vehicle through the trailer tongue or gooseneck — throughout the frame of the tow vehicle. The result is that the trailer’s weight is distributed among the trailer axles and the front and rear axles on the tow vehicle. Ask your dealer about weight distribution hitches if you intend to tow using a “bumper” type hitch or hitch receiver.

Fifth wheels and goosenecks are two weight-distributing hitches used most often with pickup trucks. The weight of the trailer is carried directly over the rear axle with the hitch mounted in the truck’s bed.

A fifth wheel hitch is used for larger trailers and is a small version of the type of hitch used on semi trucks. A gooseneck coupler attaches to a tow ball that usually is mounted in the bed of a pickup truck. Underneath the bed are support rails that are bolted or welded into place.

A frame-mounted hitch is one where the hitch is attached to the frame of the tow vehicle. This gives more stability to a bumper pull type of hitch.

Before every trip, check the tow ball and coupler to ensure they are the same size and that all bolts are securely tightened. Also, make sure the latching mechanism is locked in place.

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper’s Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .