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How Hitch Couplers Work


Installing Hitch Couplers

Once you've determined your vehicle's towing capacity and the maximum weight your trailer can haul, you're ready to purchase a coupler. Most channel and A-frame couplers range in price from $15 to $100, depending on the grade of steel and finish. For some of the more specialized couplers such as lunette rings and goosenecks, expect to pay upwards of $250 to $400. Couplers can be found through online retailers that sell towing accessories or catalog companies such as JC Whitney. Don't be afraid to shop around to get the best price once you've qualified your needs.

Launching a large boat
John Simmons/iStockphoto
No matter what type of load you're towing, it's important that you have the proper hitch coupler.

Now that you have selected the right coupler, it's time to consider installation. You have the choice of installing your coupler on your own or having it done professionally. In some cases, where welding is necessary, you may have no other option than to have the coupler installed professionally. But if you purchase a channel or A-frame coupler, you may be able to install it with common hand tools. Let's walk through installation of a channel or A-frame coupler.

Whatever you choose, the coupler must match the tongue on your trailer. Most of the time, the coupler has pre-drilled holes for inserting mounting bolts. Before bolting the coupler to the tongue, make sure everything fits properly. Check the space between the two components to make sure you have no excessive play. The coupler should have an internal stop that the tongue will rest against. A properly fitting coupler will butt up against the tongue and allow for maximum overlap. In essence, your installed coupler will become an extension of the tongue. For this reason you may choose to weld the two components together; however, bolting the two should provide enough strength in most cases.

You will probably have to drill holes in the tongue before you can mount the coupler. Use the pre-drilled holes in the coupler as a guide and drill appropriate sized holes for whatever bolt size you have. Once your holes are drilled, make sure the two surfaces are free of metal shavings and slide the coupler over to check the fit once again. After you have ensured the proper fit, insert the bolts and lock nuts and tighten with a torque wrench. If the coupler came with hardware and instructions, refer to the specifications for torque settings.

If you are able, you may decide to weld your coupler in place. Keep in mind, welding the coupler will make it more permanent and if you ever decide to change it out, you may have to cut it off with a torch and weld on a new tongue.

If you just don't feel up to the task or have a more unique situation and want to make sure you have your coupler installed correctly, you may want to consider having a professional handle the installation. Prices ultimately vary by market and job complexity, but most automotive shops or rental centers can do the job. Self-installation is obviously the less expensive way to go, but there is no shame in handing the welding and complex installation over to someone who does it for a living.

Be sure you select the correct coupler before any installation. Also, keep in mind the factors for selecting the right coupler so you can steer clear of the scenario we saw when towing that precious Camaro.

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