Trailer Hitches & Towing Equipment
Towing anything is a difficult task that puts extra strain on your vehicle. So when it comes to trailer hitches and other towing equipment, having the right components is essential.
Keep reading to learn more about what trailer hitches do and how to install and use them. You’ll also learn how to tell high-quality towing equipment from lesser products.
What does a trailer hitch do?
For the most part, cars and trucks don’t come standard with a way to connect a trailer or other towable to the vehicle. Once installed, a trailer hitch serves as that connection. Hitches provide a mounting point for towing a wide range of items, including:
- Farm equipment
- Other cars
Different types of trailer hitches
Most trailer hitches use a nearly-universal ball mount system. This is a steel ball mounted onto a post that slides into the trailer hitch socket, which is mounted to the frame of your car, truck, or SUV.
Trailers and other towing equipment have a compatible socket that mounts over the ball. This provides a secure connection while allowing for a full range of movement—important for turns and handling on the road.
While this is the most common type of trailer hitch, there are other types as well. Many exist for more specific purposes than the ball mount system.
Rear receiver hitch
By far the most common trailer hitch is the rear receiver hitch. Rear receiver hitches mount to the back end of the frame of your vehicle. The hitch post socket, or receiver tube, faces the rear of the vehicle for mounting trailers and other towables that can be pulled behind the vehicle.
Rear mount hitches come with a 1-5 class rating to indicate their safe towing capacity, with one being the most light-duty and five being the most heavy-duty. The most common sizes for the receiver tube are 1 1/4″ x 1 1/4″, 2″ x 2″, or 2 1/2″ x 2 1/2″, but there are other, more specialized sizes.
Front mount hitch
Although front mount hitches are less common than rear ones, they still have plenty of uses. Mounted to the underside of the front end of your vehicle, a front mount hitch can be used to attach a winch, snow plow, cargo carrier, and other equipment. You can also use it as a way to tow a smaller car as a secondary “exploring” vehicle behind an RV.
However, be aware that the class rating for these hitches is lower than that of rear mount hitches. Make sure to consult your owner’s manual and product manual to understand your front-end towing capacity.
5th wheel hitch
The 5th wheel hitch is a hitch that’s designed specifically for mounting 5th-wheel trailers. These trailers are built for heavy-duty jobs like car haulers and fifth wheel RVs—some of the largest and heaviest campers on the road. Therefore, they require a specialized mount to ensure safe towing.
5th wheel hitches mount directly into the bed of a pickup truck, and therefore have an increased towing capacity. Often, this extends up to 24,000 pounds. However, this does vary by both vehicle and hitch manufacturer, so be sure to consider carefully.
A gooseneck hitch is essentially a combination of a fifth-wheel hitch and a ball-mount hitch. Like a fifth-wheel hitch, a gooseneck is mounted into the bed of a pickup truck. But instead of a fifth-wheel mount, it uses the more universal ball mount.
This offers some key advantages. You get the increased towing capacity of a fifth-wheel trailer hitch—up to 30,000 pounds in some cases. But the small ball mount takes up much less space in the bed of a pickup truck than a fifth wheel mount.
Pintle hitches aren’t nearly as common as other types of trailer hitches, but they do have their purposes. The pintle, essentially a upward-facing hook with a spring-loaded locking clasp on top, mounts directly to the frame of a vehicle—most often a large, commercial truck.
This allows the user to hook anything with a closed loop into the pintle. You can also purchase this loop end to attach to the frame of a trailer or other towable. This makes pintle hitches a more adaptable system in some ways, but it’s both noisy and not as secure as other systems.
A bumper hitch is the simplest trailer hitch. It mounts directly to the underside of the bumper of a car, truck, or SUV. This means, however, that it has a very limited towing capacity.
Trailer hitch kits and other towing equipment
A trailer hitch kit includes all the parts you need to install a hitch. These kits should come with the hitch equipment itself, along with mounts and the hardware you need to install it.
Some of the specialty parts that come in these kits include:
- Mounting rails
- Draw bar
- Installation brackets
- Coupler extender
- Hitch extender
- Hitch base
- Reducer sleeve
- Pintle mount
How to install a trailer hitch kit
How to install a trailer hitch kit depends largely on the type of trailer hitch you want to install. A hitch installation can range from simple and easy, like installing a bumper hitch, to more complex and labor-intensive, like installing a rear receiver hitch. But if you consider yourself even a little handy, a DIY installation is certainly doable.
For some kinds of kits, you’ll need to drill into the body and frame of your vehicle to install any kind of trailer hitch. For most kits, you’ll need to remove some parts of your car that need to be put back correctly. These aren’t things you want to do wrong or have to do twice. Be realistic about your own mechanical skills before undertaking a trailer hitch installation.
What do you need to install a trailer hitch?
You may be able to install a bumper hitch without lifting your vehicle. To install any other kind of trailer hitch, you need to have a very sturdy jack or other way of lifting your car, truck, or SUV enough to comfortably work underneath it.
You will also need, at a minimum, the following tools:
- Power drill with bits for metal
- High-torque socket wrenches
- Tape measure
- Safety glasses
- Marking chalk
Depending on your hitch, you may need other tools like different wrenches or screwdrivers.
Where to get a trailer hitch installed
If a DIY trailer hitch installation doesn’t sound like a project you want to undertake, there are plenty of places to have it done by a professional.
You can take your car to the dealership for an installation. However, some dealerships don’t allow you to bring your own parts and may force you to go with an expensive OEM trailer hitch.
This might be a good opportunity to try out a local mechanic. There’s likely one closer to you than your dealership. Plus, installation shouldn’t take too long, and it’s a low-impact job.
Some trailer rental companies also install trailer hitches at their businesses. However, they also sell trailer hitches, so you may be forced to go with their company’s branded product.
If all else fails, a quick online search for “trailer hitch installation near me” should bring you a list of places to have your trailer hitch installed.
How much does it cost to install a trailer hitch?
For most trailer hitch installations, you should expect to pay between $100 to $150 in labor costs. However, some specialized hitches that require special tools or equipment may cost as much as $800 for installation.
What to look for in trailer hitch kits and towing equipment
Not all trailer hitch kits and other towing equipment is made to the same standards. Poorly made trailer hitch kits can easily break or warp, risking damage to your cargo and your vehicle. Here are some things to look for in a hitch kit and its manufacturer:
- Quality materials: If your towing capacity is tens of thousands of pounds, you need your hitch be made of materials that are up to the task. Cheaper alloys can bend or break under stress. Make sure the towing equipment you buy uses strong steel in both its components and its hardware.
- Precision engineering: While there are some universal mounting kits, many trailer hitch kits need to be made specific to the model of car, truck, or SUV it's being mounted to. A good manufacturer will design kits specifically for each model, and won’t reuse components that are “close enough.”
- Customer support: Some companies disappear after you buy your towing equipment. But in some cases, you may need help or need to return something. A quality company will offer customer service before, during, and after the sale.
As one of the leading suspension solution providers since 1999, Strutmasters only puts its name behind the finest quality products. When you buy a trailer hitch or other towing equipment from Strutmasters, you get more than two decades of knowledge and experience with it. That includes support from our team of Suspension Experts, available by phone at 866-597-2397. If you prefer text-based support, you can use our chat assistant at the bottom right of your screen.