Towing and Hitches 101 Buying Guide

by Jarred Potter on June 2, 2013

Towing Tech and Hitch Options

Suspension Connection offers a full line of trailer hitches for almost every make and model. Deciding what one is right for your application will depend on some key factors that we will be going over. So sit back and read up from these categories to find the right options for your vehicle.

Hitches

Hitches are the safest way to haul a trailer. Although many people pull from a ball attached to your bumper, they have limited weight ratings and no height adjustment. Installing a hitch give you the ability to adjust the ball height and will allow you to tow heavier loads. Hitches are offered in three different options.

Frame pull

The first option and most common option is rear frame pull hitch. This hitch is the most popular hitch installed on vehicles today. It is the cheapest option and can pull most every kind of trailer built. This style of hitch mounts in between the frame rails bolting to holes in the frame. The rear pull hitches  are tucked up under neath the rear bumper as hidden from site as the manufactures can make them. All hardware is included and offers a durable powder coat finish. All hitches are equipped with safety chain mounting locations and drilled for a 5/8″ ball mount pin. Rear pulls are the lightest of the three hitches, designed to handle loads as light as a bike rack to as heavy as 20,000 lbs. on some applications.

Fifth wheel

The second option, the fifth wheel hitch, is a large hitch mounted in the bed that allows a king pin mounted on the trailer to couple the trailer into a plate with two jaws securing the trailer for towing. The plate or head of the fifth wheel hitch will need to be lubricated. It is in constant contact with the plate on the trailer, during turning, creating a lot of friction and squeaking. If not lubricated properly it could do some real damage to both the trailer and the hitch. These fifth wheel hitches have plates on the frame rails that the hitch will mount though the bed to. Designed for a heavier weight trailers, these hitches range from 16k, 20k and 24k capacities. This style of hitch plants more of the weight over the axle compared to the rear pull where the weight is all on the rear of the truck. When you keep the weight further forward it keeps the front end of the vehicle more level, meaning more weight on the turning wheels. With the tongue weight centered in the bed, the trailer tows more stable with less sway and wander while being pulled.

Goose neck

The third and last option is the gooseneck hitch. This style also mounts plates down along the frame rails, in the wheel wells, as anchor points. However instead of  a big hitch head and body this style mounts  a plate in the bed that a ball extends from. There are different options within this option. There are options that keep everything under the bed and just a ball pops up through the floor of the bed. Other options mount the plate on top of the floor of the bed, but the ball folds down into the plate, for a flat surface plate in the bed. The final option mounts a plate with a ball always mounted in the center of your bed. If you use your bed for hauling often you could really benefit from one of the styles that allow the ball to drop down in for a flush bed floor. The gooseneck is the heaviest option of all three styles offering 25k to 30k lbs. of gross trailer weight. Both the fifth wheel and goosenecks keep the tongue weight in the bed which in turn keeps the trailer closer to the truck forcing the rig to make wide turns.

Different Classes

Rear Pull Hitches are divided into different classes. They have class 1 and 2, class 3, 4 and 5, Xtra duty and Xtra duty+, Commercial duty and Comercial duty+.

Class I & II Hitches:

Classes 1 hitches have up to a 2000 lbs. gross trailer weight rating and a 200 lbs tongue rating . Class 2 have a gross trailer weight rating up to 3500 lbs. and a tongue weight of 350 lbs.. They will be limited to a 1 1/4 squared reiceiver tube opening, so if you have a bike rack or are looking to get a bike rack make sure you have the right size reciver to fit this hitch. You will find these mostly for car can light suv applications.

Class III, IV & V:

The next classes of hitches are the 3, 4 and 5. The Class 3 hitches run up to 6000 lbs. and 600 lbs. on the tongue weight. This will depend on the vehicle it is made for. The class 4 is rated up to 10,000 lbs. with 1000 lbs. for a tongue. Last the class 5 will reach 12.000 lbs. and 1200 lbs.  for a tongue weight. These hitches are mostly fitted for the truck and SUV vehicles and have a 2 x 2 receiver opening.

Xtra Duty & Xtra Duty+ Class:

The Xtra duty is as high as 16,000 lbs. GTW and 2400 lbs. TW. The Xtra duty+ hit rates of 17,000 lbs. gross vehicle weight and 2550 lbs. of tongue weight. These hitches are only made for the 3/4 ton and 1 ton vehicles that can take this much weight.

Commercial Duty & Commercial Duty+Class:

As the name implies, these hitches are made to fit the commercial vehicles. Commercial vehicles are built for heavy loads to be used in the work field helping contractors and business owners in their daily task of transporting heavy loads and equipment from place to place. The Commercial duty hitch is rated to haul a gross trailer weight of 18,000 lbs. with 2700 lbs. on the tongue. Where as the Commercial duty+ being the heaviest rear pull hitch offered at 20,000 whopping lbs. and 2700 lbs for a tongue rating.

Towing Accessories

There are many accessories you can add to your hitch. Things to improve your hitches capabilities to storage racks and even decorations to plug the receiver.

Ball mounts are offered in many different styles. Factors deciding which one you will need depend upon the way your trailer is set up and how much weight you will be pulling.  A drop ball mount is typically the starting point. Drop ball mounts are available in hollow shank or solid for more strength. They are offered in straight, 2″, 4″,  6″, 8″,  and 10″ drops. You can use this style of ball mount as either a drop or tun it upside down for a rise to fit all applications. They are good for up to 18,000 pounds. The ball mounts though a hole and the mount sides into the receiver and is pinned with a hitch pin.

To get the full 20,000 lbs. capacity out of the commercial hitches you have to step up to a Pintle hook . This coupling system looks like a set of jaws that clamp down around a ring. Setups like this are for heavy equipment hauling, like bobcats or backhoe tailors.

 

 

 

 

Other ball mounts adjust for different heights to minimize the amount of ball mounts you have to buy and carry with you for different trailers being pulled. Because trailer tongues are not all in the same place due to the way the trailer is made or tire size, this type of ball mount will adjust to fit multiple trailers. Although it may seem like a very expensive investment, if you add up all the individual mounts and balls needed to take its place it doesn’t seem so bad after all. These mounts will come with multiple balls as well for an easy flip over to a different ball size

Hitch pins are a necessary option needed to pin the ball mount into the receiver of the hitch. There are option within this option. A standard hitch pin is a solid 5/8″ round pin with a cotter pin that keeps the hitch pin from coming out. While this style is an effective way to hold the ball mount in while towing it offers no security that your ball mount will no walk away while you in the grocery store or overnight from your driveway. That is why they offer the same 5/8″ pins withlocking ends. These pins offer security and piece of mind that what you put into your receiver will stay put. One of the ends of this style pin will except a key, that once turned will unlock or lock the end onto the pin making theft not an option. While this option is a little more expensive, (the initial cost being around $14.00 more) it is well worth the investment up front to ensure you will not be purchasing everyone else’s hitch accessories before you learn that lesson.

While we are on the topic of security, there are other security product available to help safeguard you trailer. Different style of coupler locking devices that guard from a ball being able to be coupled to you trailer as well as couple pins that will not allow the coupler locking tab from being able to be lifted to allow a ball to slide down into the pocket.  Both are a very effective way to keep your investment safe.

Cargo racks are a great accessory for people looking for some extra cargo area on long tips or hauling supplies around town. These carriers extend your cargo capability 60″ x 20″ and can handle loads up to 500 lbs. These racks can be folded up out of the way or pull the pin and it can be easily removed when not in use. Equipped with holes along the sides for tying down cargo where ever you place it on the rack.

 

One Very popular hitch accessory is the bicycle rack. If you have ever tried to stuff your bike into a small SUV or car you will know how labor intensive this chore can be. Not only will you have to fold you seats down in the vehicle you will also have to usually take the wheels off the bike to make it fit. Once the bike is inside you will be lucky to pack a lunch inside let alone taking another person with your to ride your favorite trail. With a bike rack you can fit up to 4 bikes on the rack leaving plenty of room inside to take along 4 friends and all your cargo. There are many accessories offered for the bicycle rack to help with security of the bike to the rack .

Cable locks are available to wind through the tubes of your bikes and then to the rack for those times you might want to stop for a bite to eat along way. Spanner bars that lock between the seat post and handle bar neck on girl style bikes that are missing the straight top tube and have the slant tube instead. This adapter allows the bike to be mounted level on the bike rack.

Ball mounts are offered with an additional receiver on top to allow you to attach your bike carriers while towing a trailer. This option allows you to get the most of you towing ability for your truck. There are many more accessories, like receiver plug that cover the 2 x 2 square. There are extension tubes to space the trailer farther away from the rear end of the truck. They also have reducer or expansion tubes to go from a 2″ receiver down to a 1 1/4″ receiver or from a 1 1/4″ up to a 2″ receiver to fit multiple accessories into the same receiver. 

  

 

Wiring

Wiring a vehicle in the past used to be a nightmare.You had to cut into your factory wires and splice new trailer piggy back wires into them. It’s kinda like looking at a bomb wondering if your cutting the right wires. Not only is it scary cutting into your factory wires you have to splice them back together, hoping that your connection is good and the elements e.g. water, snow & humidity, don’t corrode things so bad that the connection no longer works. Those days are a thing of the past. Most wiring companies offer T connections that plug into a connection between the two side. The connection is split apart and one side will plug into one side of the T connector and the other into the opposite side. this wire connection is strictly for lights and turn signals. Other wiring options are available    for trailer brakes that will control the brakes on the trailer via a control unit mounted under the dash.  

Towing Mirrors

A must have when towing are towing mirrors. K Source towing mirrors provide an extended line of view around your trailer so you can see behind you while safely changing lanes. These are available in easy to install slide on extensions that a very affordable, to full replacement mirrors that extend out further than the factory mirrors. The slide on extension mirrors are a sleek addition to the factory mirrors that snap on easily without tools. They extend anywhere from 3 1/2 ” to 4 5/8 ” depending on the vehicle you are installing them on. The Replacement style towing mirrors  bolt on to where the original mirrors are. They extend anywhere from 3″ to 5″ and offer all the same options as a factory mirror e.g. power, heated, turn signals. Also available are spot mirrors. These Round fish eye mirrors stick on to the original mirrors surface and get rid of any blind spots left by the factory mirrors.

Suspension Upgrades

Once your all set up and outfitted to pull your trailer you might want to look into getting a boost in your suspension for all the weight your adding while towing. This will come in the way of either a mechanical overload spring, or an air bag system of some sort.

The overload spring are a spring that mounts above your main leaf spring pack. They can either be adjusted to be constantly engaged with the leaf or by loosening the end u bolts you can have them where they engage the leafs the further the truck sags. If you decide to peruse the first option you will find that the ride will be jarring. This is due to the spring always being under pressure from the helper springs. Most people choose the later of the two options. With the ability to be able to be adjusted you can fine tune these springs for a ride that is acceptable for you. There are different option of these overload spring available. Hellwig offers these in a constant duty, progressive, pro series silent ride and pro series. Another manufacture, Super Spring, offers these in a self adjusting style that uses a shackle and roles system so as the spring flattens out the roller repositions itself on you factory spring tranfering more pressor on the over load spring.

Some will decide to go with air bags. Firestone, Airlift & Hellwig all offer airbags for most every truck out there. The air bags for you P/U or SUV are very similar to the ones on  the big rigs driving next to you. They utilize a rubber bag filled with air, mounted in-between two brackets, one on the frame and one on the axle. Most kits these days are a no drill installation making installing them on your vehicle a breeze. The bags range from 3000 lbs. to 5000 lbs. per pair. They work off of compressed air. The more air in the bags the more they will support. Just like a tire they do have a minimum and maximum air pressure, 5 psi. being the min and for the double convoluted bags 100 psi. the max. Figuring out what pressure work best for you will take a combination of knowing the weights of your trailers and a personal preference of ride quality you prefer. They do give you a little guidance, “As a general rule, the air helper springs will support approximately 50 lbs. of load for each psi of inflation pressure (per pair). For example, 50 psi. of inflation pressure will support a load of 2500 lbs. per pair of air springs. The air bags are definitely easier to adjust of the two option but as for reliability, the helper springs are never going to leak on you. The decision for which one to get is strictly a personal one. Both are easily installed and carry the same weights. Air bags are controlled by air, overloads by pure spring force. The ride is by far better with the air bag due to fact that you can drop the air when not in use.

Hopefully we have answered all the questions you have about towing, but if you find you are still cloudy on a few things, feel free to give us a call and talk with one of our towing experts.

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