Trailer Hitch Classes
Trailer Hitch Classes are determined by two major factors:
- The rating of their maximum weight capacity as defined by the manufacturer.
- The opening size of the receiver hitch. In this article, I explain thoroughly the different receiver hitches and which one corresponds to your particular requirements.
Hitches are divided into five trailer hitch classes and each one of these classes has their own maximum TW or tongue weight limit and the maximum GTW or gross trailer weight limit.
A hitch class’ maximum limits on your vehicle could be much less than that class’ upper limits; the reason is the fact that both the weight capacity limit of the vehicle and the hitch structure’s physical strength are usually taken into consideration while the hitch is being rated by its manufacturer.
TRAILER HITCH CLASSES ARE DETERMINED BY THE RATING OF THEIR MAXIMUM WEIGHT CAPACITY AND THE OPENING SIZE OF THE RECEIVER
For instance, a vehicle of small size may be compatible with class I hitch, which is rated by its manufacturer at the tongue weight of 100 lbs and gross trailer weight of 1000 lbs. On the other hand, a large vehicle may come with identical hitch already installed, but the rating given by its manufacturer is at 200 lbs tongue weight and 2000 lbs gross trailer weight.
Furthermore, the tongue weight limit changes further when you use a weight distributing system with class IV and III receivers, which we will study below.
Trailer hitch classes rating based on the receiver’s opening size and its maximum weight capacity. The class range starts from Class I, which comes with the lowest capacity among all the classes and an opening of 1-1/4 inches X 1-1/4 inches, to Class V, which comes with the highest capacity compared to the rest 4 classes and generally a 2 – 1/2 inches X 2-1/2 inches opening.
There are five different trailer hitch classes which are determined by their individual weight ratings, and we will study them in detail, right below in this article.
Trailer Hitch Classes: Factors To Consider For Choosing The Right Hitch
When selecting a trailer hitch there are two important factors to consider:
- How much does the trailer weigh?
- In what vehicle you will be towing the trailer?
So we can analyze how to define these two factors. To determine how much the trailer weighs, you can find this information by looking at the label stamped on your trailer or by taking it to a certified scale, or to a public scale. Understanding the weight of your trailer will also allow you to assert if you need additional heavy-duty towing components, such as a brake control, sway control, or a weight distribution system.
The towing capacity of many class III, IV, and V trailer hitches can be increased with the use of weight distribution systems. Likewise, also depending on the coupler style of your trailer, you may need specialty towing equipment such as a gooseneck hitch or 5th wheel hitch, suitable, as you know, for fifth-wheel RVs.
There is a lot more to understanding the tow vehicle than knowing just your year of manufacturing, make, and model. Before you tow, you should also know your towing capacity. This information can be found in the owner’s manual or by contacting your local dealer.
Trailer hitch classes relevant ratings are determined by the manufacturer through a number of testing and validation techniques. They do not reflect the towing capacity of YOUR INDIVIDUAL vehicle. In some cases, they may exceed the towing capacity of your vehicle. This is because your tow load should never exceed the maximum towing capacity of your vehicle as specified by the vehicle manufacturer.
So as I explain above, trailer hitch classes are determined by the rating of their maximum weight capacity and the opening size of the receiver. The classes range from the lowest weight capacity to highest weight capacity and smallest opening size to largest opening size; based on that the class range starts from I to V. Each class comes with unique applications and capacities.
Let’s have a look at all the 5 trailer hitch classes.
Class I Hitch
Class I hitches are the lightest kind among all the trailer hitches classes. The class I trailer hitches are capable of handling a GTW (gross trailer weight) of almost 2000 lbs. They can handle the maximum tongue weight of up to 200 lbs. The class I hitch is sometimes a simple type of drawbar or the type of bumper hitch.
Other class I hitches may come with crossbars with small 1 inch or one and a half-inch square receiver. Sometimes they come with a small two-inch by five by weight (5/8) inch receiver. Such types of hitches are usually used on the smaller vans or minivans, smaller pickups, and smaller cars for light-duty towing, camping racks, and bicycle racks.
Class one trailer hitches have an inch and a quarter receiver tube in a maximum gross trailer weight rating (GTWR) of 2,000 pounds. Typically these trailer hitches can be found on compact to midsize cars.
Class II Hitch
Class II hitches are capable of taking loads of 3500 lbs. of gross trailer weight. They can also handle a tongue weight of 300 lbs. This class is therefore ideal for a camper, motorcycle trailer, snowmobile trailer, or small boat trailers.
The class II hitches are perfect for SUVs, a full-sized pickup vehicle, full-size vans, and other large cars. The majority of the class II hitches are specifically designed for large vehicles. However, a drawbar of a higher class will not increase or improve the towing capacity. A class II hitch usually attaches to the vehicle frame or bumper.
Class two trailer hitches have an inch and a quarter receiver tube in a maximum gross trailer weight rating (GTWR) of 3,500 pounds as I explained right above. These hitches can be found from small cars all the way to light SUVs. Therefore, if you are planning on using a hitch-mounted bike rack to haul your bike in your small car, you should be sure to check the shank size of the bike rack.
Class III Hitch
Class III hitches are capable of handling up to almost 6000 lbs of gross trailer weight and can handle 600 lbs of tongue weight. Such types of hitches usually come with a two-inch rectangular receiver. They are considered as the standard type among all the other hitches that are used for general towing.
Interestingly, there are class III trailer hitches that are considered as “universal-fit class.” Not only the hitches of this are weight carrying, but also weight distributing. However, it depends largely on the hitch and vehicle specifications, so it is not possible to envisage a general rule.
The class III hitches generally come with the receiver opening of a 2-inch square. They are used for the weight distribution are rated 10000 lbs for gross trailer weight and can handle a maximum weight for the tongue weight of 1000 lbs. These hitches can only be attached to the frame of the vehicle.
Trailer hitch classes II and III are very common for travel trailers of standard size and also for boating.
Class three trailer hitches have a two-inch receiver tube and a maximum gross trailer weight rating (GTWR) of 8,000 pounds. These are, along with class II, as I mentioned above, the most common hitches found on vehicles on the road. Today you can find them on anything from full-size cars to full-size pickups. These are perfect for handling the family pop-up camper or boat, perfect for that weekend getaway.
Class IV Hitch
Class IV hitches can handle weight up to 10000 lbs gross trailer weight and 1200 lbs of the tongue weight for weight carrying. It is generally a hitch known for weight distributing. They are sometimes category WC (weight carrying) and WD (weight distributing).
It largely depends on the hitch and vehicle specifications. However, not every class IV hitch can be rated to be weight carrying as well as weight distributing. A class IV hitch that is used for WD (weight distributing) is usually rated to 14000 lbs GTW (gross trailer weight) with a capability of the handle a maximum weight of 1400 lbs for tongue weight.
Class IV generally has a two-inch square receiver opening. A higher class of drawbar does not improve or increase the class IV hitch’s towing capacity at all. To utilize the class IV hitch for WD (weight distribution), it needs a weight distribution system. The class IV hitches can only be attached to the vehicle frame, as generally with these trailer hitch classes.
Class IV trailer hitches also have a two-inch receiver tube with a maximum gross trailer weight rating of 10,000 pounds. They are perfect for those who need to haul larger trailers such as heavy construction equipment or large camper trailers
Class V Trailer Hitch
The class V hitches can be both WC (weight carrying) and WD (weight distributing) hitches. It depends mainly on the hitch and vehicle specifications. The Class V hitches, which are used as WC (weight carrying) are rated to 12,000 lbs. GTW (gross trailer weight) and it can handle the maximum weight of 1200 lbs for trailer tongue (TW).
A Class V hitch that is used for WC (weight distributing) can be rated to 17,000 lbs. GTW (gross trailer weight) and are capable to handle a maximum weight of 1700 lbs for TW (trailer tongue). The hitch ball and ball mount must be rated for the Class V for safely towing the weight loads.
In order to use the class V hitch for WD (weight distribution), it will also require a correct system of weight distribution. The class V hitches come with a receiver opening of 2-1/2 inches square. A Class V hitch can only attach to the frame of the vehicle.
When a 5-ton gross trailer weight rating is not enough for your full-size pickup, it comes into the scene the class V hitch line. Here is where some subdivisions may appear among manufacturers.
Class V is the only one in all trailer hitch classes where you will find discrepancies in different manufacturers through variations in their product families. Normally we will see that there are in the market two relevant subcategories.
The first subcategory is related to a heavy-duty or extra duty series, where the manufacturers differ in the branding and naming, and the second subcategory is the commercial duty or regular duty product family, where the naming also is different depending on the manufacturer.
In Curt, for example, they have also these subcategories, following the aforementioned industry standard. They have their “Xtra Duty” series, and their “Commercial” series, both in the Class V of trailer hitch classes.
Extra duty trailer hitches have a 2-inch receiver tube opening with a maximum gross trailer weight rating of 17,000 pounds.
The commercial duty trailer hitches, instead, have a two and a half-inch receiver tube with a gross trailer weight rating of a whopping 20,000 pounds.
These Class V hitches come with a rugged scratch and fade resistant carbide finish. While on the other hand, the Class I through IV trailer hitches are coated in a high gloss black finish.
The major differences between the trailer hitch classes IV and V are their opening size and their capacities. The class IV hitch comes with an opening of 2 inches, which has a tongue weight of 1,200 lbs with a total weight of 12000 lbs of the trailer. On the other hand, the class V hitches come with a capacity bump of almost 20000 lbs for the total trailer weight. Further, it can also manage a maximum weight of 2000 lbs of tongue weight.
Generally, the class V hitch comes with the two and a half hitch opening. However, there are hitches available that have an opening of two inches.
The class V hitches are also available with a tongue weight range from 1800 to 27000 lbs. Such types of hitches is usually installed on commercial-grade work trucks, dual axle pick-ups or super duty. The class V hitches are designed keeping heavy towing works in mind.
A class V hitch is capable of pulling almost anything, right from heavy equipment trailers, recreational vehicles, boats to trailers. However, just like every trailer hitch system, the class V hitch system should not go beyond the maximum capacity limit of the trailer ball mount assembly, trailer ball, hitch, and truck frame.
Trailer Hitch Classes Conclusions
Above we have discussed the five trailer hitch classes. I hope that the distinctions I made are useful so that you have a better understanding and can choose smartly!
How do you select the perfect trailer hitch for your own towing situation? Do you investigate factors like safety, your vehicle’s features and the class of the trailer hitch? There are a lot of factors that you need to consider while going for the right one; but at the same time, you need to know all about your options as well!
Choosing the perfect trailer hitch for any vehicle can be very simple when you know all about them and the 5 classes. If you have a clear understanding of your vehicle’s weight capacities and you have the basic idea of the types of trailers, then it will be much easier for you to just go and get the right one for you. However, you need to understand the difference between the classes as well. For example, choosing between trailer hitch classes IV and V could be tricky and would require you to be adequately informed.
Now that you have understood the trailer hitches classes much better, you can surely use the understanding and the information while selecting the right hitch for your vehicle and also selecting the right receiving hitch.
You should always remember that a hitch is just one component among other of the towing system. You need to understand and be aware of the characteristics and the capabilities of the equipment and your vehicle.
Making sure of your and your family’s safety and comfort while towing is not as easy and simple as one may think. Doing the proper research and getting all the information right will make sure a stress-free and safe towing experience. We hope that you got everything you wanted to know about the 5 trailer hitch classes and now you are fully capable of choosing the perfect one!
I am Tony, an RV designer and RV developer. I create bill of materials for RV manufacturers for travel trailers and fifth wheels. I worked as a freelance transportation consultant for Lyft. As an RV development consultant, I create customization trees for RV manufacturers who want to offer a solution to prospective customers to design their custom RV with variant configuration. Apart from this, I sell in Indiana trailer hitches, hitch balls, goosenecks and weight distribution systems where I provide advice to customers who want to know which is their towing capacity, which hitch ball should they utilize and how to deploy a weight distribution system. I do my best to explain all these processes and their installation, here in RV Favorites.