Your first consideration when considering any towing equipment is, "What will it do to my vehicle?" Always check your vehicle's owner manual for towing limitations and tips. Towing more weight than your vehicle was designed to handle can overwork your engine and brakes, and substantially increase the odds of an accident. When it comes to towing, always play it safe!
Makers of new cars and trucks often offer a "towing package" that features beefier brakes and a larger-capacity cooling system for the engine, as well as the necessary towing hardware itself.
In the United States, tow hitch receivers come in categories ranked by the weight of their towing capacity:
- Class 1 - 1,000 to 2,500 pounds gross trailer weight (combined weight of trailer and contents)
- Class 2 - 3,500 GTW
- Class 2.5 - 4,000 GTW
- Class 3 - 6,000 GTW
- Class 4 - 8,000 GTW Class 5 - 10,000 GTW
Assuming you've already had the appropriate class of trailer hitch installed on your vehicle, you'll want to figure out how much height separates it from the connecting part of the trailer.
The entire trailer hitch assembly consists of a few simple components. The trailer hitch receiver forms the base: It's a tubular steel frame welded in a configuration that snugly bolts to the underside of the vehicle. It has a square opening (between 1 ¼" to 2 1/2" across, depending on class) to accommodate the drop hitch. The drop hitch consists of additional pieces of rectangular welded steel and it extends the "reach" of the ordinary trailer hitch. It fits into the original trailer hitch on the vehicle and secures with a locking pin. The ball mount mates a short length of square steel tubing to a steel flange. This thick flange provides a platform with a hole drilled through it. The hitch ball fits through that hole. The entire ball mount connects with the trailer hitch receiver quite simply, with a locking pin. The hitch ball then secures to the ball mount by means of a threaded shaft and a nut that locks it into place. Make sure that the size of your ball hitch (ball diameter) matches that of the trailer's coupler. If you have trouble determining the proper specifications for your hitch accessories, you can always bring your vehicle to a reputable dealer or tow kit customizing shop.
Sophisticated electronics have taken over several crucial systems on cars, trucks and SUVs. But towing accessories remain an area where the driveway mechanic can still tinker without being a computer whiz. To learn how to install a drop hitch receiver, go to the next page.