Which trailer hitch you should use depends on a few different things. The towing capabilities of your vehicle, the weight of your trailer, and the weight of the load you’re putting on your trailer.
How to choose the right trailer hitch
The first thing you need to know before you pick out a trailer hitch is your vehicle’s towing capacity. You can usually find this, along with some tips for towing, in your car or truck’s owner’s manual. If you don’t have your owner’s manual, you can usually download it for free online from the manufacturer. You should also check the compliance certification label on the inside of the driver’s side doorframe. This number will be that heaviest load that you’ll be able to tow safely without risking damage to your vehicle’s engine, transmission, rear axle, brakes, frame, or wheel bearings. Your car or truck can’t tow a load larger than this number. So, you just need to use your vehicle’s towing capacity to decide what’s the heaviest-duty hitch you can get.
Second, you need to know the weight and weight capacity of your trailer. The key number to know for getting a hitch is your trailer’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). This is the maximum weight of the trailer when it’s (safely) fully-loaded. It’s usually found stamped on the VIN placard on the tongue of your trailer. Once you know how much your trailer will weigh when it’s maxed out, you know how heavy your hitch will need to be. Use this number to help you know what the lightest hitch you can get is.
Now that you have your car or truck’s towing capacity and your trailer’s gross vehicle weight rating, you know the range of weights that you’ll need your hitch to be able to bear.
The next thing is, when you start looking at trailer hitches, you’ll notice that they have a “tongue weight” rating. You should pick one that has a tongue weight that is at least ten percent of your vehicle’s towing capacity. So, if your vehicle has a 2,000 pound towing capacity, you want a hitch with a tongue weight of at least 200 pounds.
Another rating you’ll see on hitches is “weight capacity.” This is the weight of the heaviest load the hitch can bear. So, a trailer hitch with a weight capacity (WC) of 2,000 pounds can tow a loaded trailer that weighs 2,000 pounds.
The last thing you need to know when you pick out a trailer hitch is that there is no such thing as overkill. This makes getting the right hitch simple. Buy the hitch with the weight capacity that is closest to the towing capacity of your car or truck. You may only be towing a small boat trailer now, but that could change—you may bet a bigger boat, or even a camper in the future.
There is a special exception if you only plan on using your hitch for a bike rack. Check the width of the shaft on the rack. Most hitch-mounted bike racks have a 1 1/4″ shaft. Choose a hitch with a receiver tube size that matches your rack’s shaft size.