How Gooseneck Hitches Work


2008 HowStuffWorks

Whether it's a gigantic RV or a herd of draft horses, if you're looking to do some major towing, you're going to need the right equipment to get the job done. This not only includes a serious pickup truck and a sturdy trailer, but a hardcore hitch as well. Class I and II hitches can be used for the lightest loads with simple drawbar systems. Class III and Class IV hitches will take you up to around 10,000 pounds (just under 4,536 kilograms) of gross trailer weight and are often handy if you're hauling campers and boats. Beyond that are the Class V hitches -- gooseneck hitches included -- that can handle up to around 30,000 pounds (about 13,000 kilograms).

Unlike regular hitches that extend from the back of the towing vehicle, gooseneck hitches, and the closely-related fifth wheel hitches, are anchored through the bed of a pickup truck. Gooseneck hitches use a hitch ball to lock into place, while fifth wheel hitches use a wheel-shaped plate to accomplish the connection. Besides their strength, gooseneck hitches are also popular because the types of trailers they pull are able to make tighter turns than the ones that connect off the back of the towing vehicle.

Depending on the model, gooseneck hitches generally cost a couple hundred dollars and an installation kit may or may not be included in that price. Some are easier to install on certain makes and models than others, so if you're the do-it-yourself type, you may want to take that into consideration. On the next page, we'll look at a few more factors to take into account while choosing a gooseneck hitch.

Choosing Gooseneck Hitches

If you have a horse trailer, you might be in the market for a gooseneck hitch.
If you have a horse trailer, you might be in the market for a gooseneck hitch.
© iStockphoto/Eric Ferguson

If you're in the market for a gooseneck hitch, one must-have is the correct kind of trailer, because only a specific type can be attached to this sort of hitch. The trailer needs to be the sort that has an area in the front that sticks out from the rest of the trailer, sort of like the one below.

Another thing to consider is the issue of weight. Gooseneck hitches can handle quite a load, but it's important to double check whether they're up to the task by finding out the weight of the trailer, along with the weight of the trailer when it's fully loaded. A couple thousand pounds of trailer weight is one thing -- add a half dozen horses or a summer's worth of camping gear and you've upped the ante a bit. You also need to make sure your pickup is up to the challenge. Manufacturers can usually provide information on their vehicles' recommended towing capacities, but remember to give yourself a little leeway in case you need to add some cargo at the last minute or accidently calculate the weight of your load too low.

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When choosing a gooseneck hitch, it's also important to consider how the installation will go. Some versions can be much more complicated to install than others. As we discussed on the last page, both the make and model of the car, along with the brand of the hitch, can vary how challenging the experience will be. Don't scorn the thought of hiring a professional for the installation if you have a pickup that's going to make the job tricky. It's critical to have everything done right, from drilling the hole for the hitch ball in the proper location to securely bolting the hitch assembly to the truck's frame. In some setups, you may need to remove certain parts of the pickup truck to get the assembly in place, and you often need to watch out for critical components like fuel lines and brake lines during the installation process. Let's read more about the installation of gooseneck hitches on the next page.

Installing Gooseneck Hitches

Trailers shaped like this one can make use of gooseneck hitches.
Trailers shaped like this one can make use of gooseneck hitches.
© iStockphoto/oksanaphoto

The process of installing gooseneck hitches varies depending on the brand, but the one thing every installation job has in common is the importance of following the directions to get everything done just right. Otherwise, you might glance out your rearview mirror only to watch your trailer fade off into the sunset the first time you try to take it for a spin.

To install a gooseneck hitch, sometimes a few modifications need to made to the truck. Most notably, a hole typically needs to be drilled through the center of the truck bed. This way the underlying frame can attach firmly to the hitch ball, which in many versions can be folded away or detached when there's no need for towing.

The hitch assembly is usually bolted to the truck's frame in a number of places, providing a secure connection between the truck and the trailer. Safety chain anchors are frequently a built-in feature of gooseneck hitch assemblies to ensure the trailer won't come completely loose if the hitch should fail.

Tools for the job generally include those already found lying around the garage, with various drills, saws and wrenches topping the list. Important steps of the process involve locating where the hole for the hitch ball needs to be made -- both in terms of the distance away from the back of the truck bed as well as in centering it to the left and right. Expect to do lots of measuring during the installation; you want to make sure everything is properly aligned. Also, don't forget to make certain you're not damaging any key components of the truck while you're getting everything into place. If you aren't sure about the process, you can always call up a professional to get the job done.

On the next page, you'll find lots more links related to autos.

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