How to Choose the Right Hitch for Your RV Cargo Trailer Needs

There are a variety of types of hitches that exist for hauling RVs, boats, cars, cargo, etc. In other words, different applications require different types of hitches. Basically, choosing the correct hitch assembly is determined by its intended use, which is based on the weight of the load you are hauling, the anticipated mileage, and the frequency of its use. Here are a few of the basics to help you make the best decision for your particular needs.

Size of your RV and Trailer

One of the first things to consider is the type of engine and transmission you will be pulling the trailer with, as well as the trailer’s overall length. This not only dictates what you can haul - and therefore the weight of the load, but also what type of hitch you can feasibly and safely put on your RV.

The Size of Your Trailer. The maximum size of a trailer that does not require a Kingpin hook, better known as a “fifth wheel,” is 28-feet long. And though the maximum height of the trailer can be as tall as the RV that is pulling it, you obviously would not want it to be higher than the motorhome. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing control of your haul or perhaps being too tall to safely pass beneath an overpass.

The Various Trailer Hitch Classes

Typically, a trailer hitch bolts to the chassis of the vehicle. Although there are a few manufacturers that market Class V hitches, there are only a few common classes that are defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). According to them, there is no Class V. SAE breaks hitches down like this:

Class I
This is for light loads of up to 2,000-pounds (or almost one ton) and a maximum trailer tongue weight of 220-pounds. These are small trailers, usually flatbeds, and are good for hauling small riding lawn mowers, kayaks or canoes, and personal effects (like when you are moving from one residence to another).

Class II
Class II hitches handle loads of up to 3,500-pounds (or a little over one and a half tons) with a maximum trailer tongue weight of 300-pounds. These are also considered smaller sized trailers for light loads, such as utility trailers for lawn tractors, pop-up campers, motorcycles, small boats, and light-weight jet skis.

Class III
This is the most common class of hitches installed on SUVs and full-sized trucks, and is used for larger loads like campers, boat trailers, cargo, and livestock, as well as those used for ATVs, snowmobiles and heavier personal watercraft. It can manage a haul of up to 6,000 pounds (or about three tons) with a maximum trailer tongue weight of 600-pounds. These larger capacity elements attach directly to the vehicle’s frame.

Class IV
A Class IV hitch will be able to pull up to 10,000 pounds (or five tons) with a maximum trailer tongue weight of 1000-pounds. This is necessary for your larger campers, travel and cargo trailers, large boat trailers, RVs, etc.

Class V
According to the SAE, there is technically no such thing as a Class V hitch, although a quick internet search shows many available. In those cases, a Class V hitch refers to the type usually used on a ¾-ton and 1-ton pickup truck or SUV, and would be able to pull up to 12,000 pounds (or about six tons) with a maximum trailer tongue weight of 1200-pounds. Class V hitches would be used for larger loads like heavy-duty trailers hauling livestock, RVs, toy haulers, and large boats, etc.

Note: It’s important to keep in mind when determining the class requirement needed for any specific hitch that the weight limit refers to the GROSS TRAILER WEIGHT (GTW), which means that it includes the weight of the trailer itself, as well as whatever is on or in the trailer.

Hitch Assembly

The trailer hitch usually bolts to the chassis of the vehicle. The hitch assembly consists of either a tow ball or ball mount and a receiver tube, or a coupling. There are two main types of assemblies: fixed bar hitches and receiver-type hitches.

Fixed-Drawbar Hitch. The fixed-drawbar hitch is most often constructed as a single piece integrated with a hole to accommodate the hitch ball. They typically are a bit more complicated if you want to change the ball to a different size once it has been installed.

Receiver-type Hitch. Receiver-type hitches have a concave component (the ball mount), a convex component (the receiver tube), and the hitch ball. The receiver tube is attached to the frame of the vehicle. The ball mount is a square bar that is can be adjusted to accommodate different vehicle and trailer heights for level towing.

This fits into the receiver and is locked into place with a cotter pin and bolt. The ball is inserted into the mount and bolted in place. This allows for a person to have multiple balls of different sizes installed in multiple ball mounts that can be interchanged as needed.

Additionally, receiver tubes are available in a variety of sizes, depending on the hitch class. For example, Class I and II hitches have a 1 ¼-inch receiver tube where Class III and IV need a 2-inch one. Class V hitches require a 2-inch or even a 2 ½-inch receiver tube.

Tow balls. Tow balls come in various sizes depending on the load they carry. The most common ones are as follows:

  • 1 7⁄8-inch
  • 1 31⁄32-inch
  • 2-inches
  • 2 5⁄16-inches
  • 2 5⁄16 heavy duty
  • 3 in heavy duty Gooseneck

There is also an option called a multi-way ball mount, which allows the owner/user to install up to four different size balls at a time. This ensures that those who have more than one use for their hitch will always have the correct ball mount. They would simply remove the ball mount, then turn it 45 to 90 degrees to get to the correct ball for whatever their specific use is at that time.

Note: These mounts are more expensive than typical ones and subsequently, get stolen regularly for that reason. Always use a sturdy mount lock with a key, or better yet, keep the mount locked to the receiver to reduce the risk of it being stolen.

Types of Hitches

There are four types of hitches that are most commonly used for RVs. And while most RVers chose their hitch depending on their use requirements and personal preference, they are broken down below by their prevalence of use.

Rear Mounted Hitch. A rear-mounted hitch is typically attached to a pickup truck’s rear bumper, but doesn’t provide much strength and support, so it's usually only used to tow fairly light loads. For most general use, it is a better idea to use a receiver hitch mounted to the frame.

If in doubt, the weight ratings for both the bumper-mounted and frame-mounted receiver hitches can be found easily. It is usually on the bumper of trucks with bumper-mounted tow balls and on the receiver hitch for frame-mounted receiver hitches. Generally speaking, the only trucks that use tow balls attached to the rear bumper are light duty ones that would be unable to tow anything heavier anyway. This is most likely the main hitch you would use to tow a cargo trailer with your motorhome.

Weight-distributing Hitch. A weight-distributing hitch is designed specifically to level the load for a smoother towing experience. This hitch setup is mounted directly on the tow vehicle and uses spring bars, chains, and tension to distribute a portion of the trailer hitch’s weight from the towing vehicle's rear axle to its front axle, as well as to the trailer's axle or axles. This helps to balance the load and help reduce the sway that most trailers or campers experience. When a trailer sways, commonly referred to as "fish tailing," it can cause the tow vehicle to lose control. When traveling at high speeds, this can become particularly dangerous, as the trailer can sway into other lanes of traffic, or even cause the trailer and vehicle to flip. When a trailer bounces, it can jerk the towing vehicle, causing a similar phenomenon to begin.

Note: Most manufacturers of cars and light trucks and smaller SUVs suggest a weight-distributing hitch or a maximum trailer capacity of 5,000-pounds with a 500-pound tongue weight.

Front Mounted Hitch.

Front mounted hitches are mounted to the frame of a vehicle to ensure a stable and reliable connection. Generally, they come with standard size receiver tubes in order to accommodate a variety of hitch mount equipment.

These hitches are fairly popular for a variety of uses. They are widely used on pickup trucks, SUVs, and Class C campers. They can conveniently accommodate additional equipment like snowplows, front mount bike carriers, and fishing and hunting gear – just to name a few. They can also be used to temporarily maneuver a trailer from one place to another.

Gooseneck and Fifth Wheel Hitch. Both gooseneck and fifth wheel hitches provide more stability than their traditional counterparts; plus, both attach to a coupler mounted above the axle in the truck bed of the towing vehicle. Fifth wheel hitches are the more commonly seen of the two in the RV community. The coupler in the fifth wheel, also referred to as a kingpin hitch, uses a horseshoe-shaped coupling mounted about a foot above the truck bed.

Gooseneck hitches are mainly used for flat deck and pickup truck towing when the GTW is 10,000-to-30,000-pounds. These are often used for agriculture, commercial, livestock, and large recreational trailers. This style couples to a 2 5⁄16 -inch ball mounted on the bed of the tow vehicle. A gooseneck hitch can maneuver in all directions, while a fifth wheel hitch is primarily intended for level roads.

Note: Trailer sway can be avoided by balancing your trailer load with most of the weight over the load-bearing axles, not behind the axles. Balancing a load correctly takes practice and planning, as well as locking your load in place with tie downs and load locks to prevent it from moving during transit.

Popular Hitch Brands

There are several brands that advertise that they are the “best” and most reliable, though the following four have superior reputations. They have each been acclaimed by numerous reviews, as well as by many satisfied customers. The following brands are listed in alphabetical order.

Curt. Founded in 1993, the Curt brand is one of the top-rated manufacturers of towing equipment on the market. The company offers a standard hitch with a GTW of 12,000 and an Xtra Duty Class hitch that comes in 15,000 GTW and 16,000 GTW. The price between the two differs by nearly 150-dollars. Both install in 30 to 60 minutes; plus, the company offers a lifetime warranty and a customer service hotline to field any questions or concerns.

Draw-Tite. Draw-Tite opened in the RV manufacturing meca of Goshen, Indiana back in 1946 and is owned by Cequent Towing Products. To this day, Draw-Tite is considered one of the best 10,000 GTW hitches on the market. It easily installs in about 30-minutes and has a limited lifetime warranty.

Hidden Hitch. Considered one of the higher-end, better quality brands, Hidden Hitch was founded in 1968 and is also owned by Cequent Towing Products. Its highly-regarded 10,000 GTW hitch installs in one to two hours, and also has a limited lifetime warranty.

Reese. Founded in 1952, and also owned by Cequent Towing Products, the products of this industry leader can be conveniently found at Wal-Mart. Its 12,000 GTW hitch easily installs in 30 to 60-minutes and has a limited lifetime warranty.

In Conclusion

As you can see, the type of hitch you choose depends on the weight of what you are pulling, as well as the length. Make sure, when determining the correct class of hitch to use, to remember that the suggested weight limit is the GROSS TRAILER WEIGHT (GTW), and choose accordingly. And always do your own research when deciding what brand of hardware to use and pick the one (or ones) that works best for your set-up.

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