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Tow Hitch Class Ratings

Michelle Naranjo
by Michelle Naranjo
April 18, 2008

Many vehicles -- even those you may not think of as being traditional towing vehicles -- are available with factory or dealer-installed trailer hitches. These hitches range from simple step-bumper hitches to fifth wheel style hitches mounted in the bed of a heavy-duty pickup truck. This hitch hardware combined with the specifications of your towing vehicle will determine the maximum loads you can safely tow. Consult your owner’s manual for details on your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity before towing any load.

The load of the trailer and maximum tongue weight categorizes hitch ratings and different weight categories are divided into classes. Hitch construction and mounting determines the gross trailer weight a hitch is rated for, and thereby its class rating. Five hitch classes hitches are commonly associated with passenger cars and light-duty trucks, including two hitch types that are often not referred to as “Class” hitches.

- Most light trucks are equipped with a simple step-bumper style hitch that is intended for use with a simple draw pin style trailer tongue. The towing capacity of these step-bumper hitches varies widely by make and model, so consult your owner’s manual before towing with the step-bumper hitch. The bumper may also be stamped with its maximum load, but it is always a good idea to consult the manual first.

hitches are rated for loads of up to 2,000 pounds and maximum tongue weights of 200 lbs. The receiver hitch is usually of a 1” or 1.5” square type. The Class I hitch is most often used on cars and minivans for light-duty towing or for cargo carriers and bike racks. This is a very light-duty hitch useful for only the lightest of towing duties.

hitches are rated for loads up to 3,500 pounds and maximum tongue weights of 300 lbs. The Class II hitch is most often used on light trucks, large cars, vans, and sport utility vehicles for the purposes of towing light-duty loads such as small cargo trailers, snowmobiles, motorcycles, and personal watercraft.

hitches are rated for loads up to 5,000 pounds and maximum tongue weights of 500 lbs. The Class III hitch is the “standard” hitch installed on most light trucks and larger sport utility vehicles. This type of hitch if often used for pulling medium-duty loads, such as small car trailers, boats, campers, and recreational vehicles. These hitches may be of a weight distribution type, enabling the hitch to handle effectively heavier loads.

hitches are rated for up to 10,000 pounds and up to 1,200 pounds of tongue weight. This style of hitch can be found on some full-size ½-ton trucks, but are more common on ¾-ton and 1-ton light-duty trucks. The Class IV hitch is used for larger boats, car trailers, large campers, and medium-duty cargo trailers. Class IV hitches usually feature weight distribution setups.

hitches are for loads up to 15,000 pounds and up to 1,700 pounds of tongue weight. These hitches are for heavy-duty loads such as large campers, large boats, horse trailers, multi-car trailers, and other heavier towing loads. These hitches are usually of a weight distribution type.

The last style of hitch found on some light- and medium-duty trucks is the fifth wheel or gooseneck hitch. This style of hitch is mounted either under or in the bed of a heavier light-duty truck (most often 3/4-ton or heavier) and can be rated for up to 30,000 pounds of towing capacity.

Several of the hitch classes mentioned above can be either a weight carrying or weight distributing hitch. A weight carrying hitch bears the brunt of the trailer load along with the axles of the trailer and the rear axle of the vehicle. The tow load is not distributed evenly between the tow vehicle and the trailer, which can cause swaying or other undesirable effects. A weight distribution hitch distributes the load evenly onto the tow vehicle and trailer axles by leveraging the weight of the load between the tow vehicle and the trailer. A weight distributing hitch is often recommended for loads over 5,000 pounds, although not always necessary.


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