Types of Trailer Hitches: Find the Right Hitch for Heavy Equipment
Using a trailer to haul heavy equipment or materials? Getting the type of trailer right is important, but getting the trailer hitch right is equally important, for the safety of your truck, your load and other motorists. With several types of trailer hitches available, you’ll need to choose one that’s a match for your towing vehicle, your trailer type and the loads you want to haul.
To choose the best heavy equipment trailer hitch for your application, first understand the main types of hitches and their uses.
4 types of trailer hitches and when to use each
The four main types of trailer hitches are receiver, pintle, gooseneck and fifth-wheel.
Receiver hitches, the most common, range from light duty to heavy duty and can accommodate almost any vehicle make or model. Pintle hitches are designed for heavy hauling with dump trucks, flatbed trucks, tractors and other commercial vehicles. Gooseneck and fifth-wheel hitches can be used only with pickup trucks or flatbed trucks for heavy-duty towing.
Here’s a closer look at each type.
Receiver hitch: Bumper hitch for a range of vehicles and loads
A receiver hitch works with a car, truck, SUV or van for a wide range of towing applications. It is bolted to the vehicle frame below the rear bumper and uses a receiver tube to connect and secure a ball mount.
Receiver hitches are classified by weight capacity, ranging from Class I (light duty) to Class V (heavy duty). Class I hitches can be mounted on vehicles ranging from compact cars to midsize SUVs and are suitable for hauling small bumper-pull trailers with loads up to 2,000 pounds. Class V hitches are typically used with pickup trucks, SUVs or commercial trucks and can haul heavy construction equipment and other loads of up to 30,000 pounds.
Pintle hitch: Hook and ring system for heavy-duty jobs
A pintle hitch is a heavy-duty hook mounted to the rear of a vehicle. It connects to a lunette ring attached to the trailer. Compared to ball hitches, pintle hitches are stronger and more durable. They offer a more secure connection and better performance on rough terrain.
Pintle hitches can tow up to 60,000 pounds and are often used for heavy-duty applications such as military, agricultural and industrial hauling.
A combination pintle/receiver hitch is another, more versatile option. It allows you to haul a trailer with either a ring hitch or a ball coupler without changing out the hitch.
Gooseneck hitch: Truck bed hitch for gooseneck trailers
A gooseneckhitch is a ball that’s anchored into a pickup truck bed. It is used with gooseneck trailers, which have a trailer tongue that extends over the bed of the pickup. These trailers position the trailer weight over the truck’s rear axle for improved stability and strength and enable the trailer to make smoother turns. Gooseneck hitches can tow up to 25,000 pounds and are often used with flatbed equipment haulers.
Fifth-wheel hitch: Truck bed hitch for fifth-wheel trailers
A fifth-wheel hitch, compatible with fifth-wheel trailers, is most often used to tow horse trailers and RVs, though it can also haul heavy equipment trailers, with a weight limit of up to 30,000 pounds. It’s mounted to a pickup truck bed between the front cab and rear axle and requires a pickup truck with a compatible mounting platform, either factory installed or added after market. The trailer connects to the truck by a kingpin that locks into the jaws of the hitch and allows rotation.
A fifth-wheel hitch takes up more space in the truck bed than a gooseneck hitch, and it’s more expensive and harder to install, but it offers better weight distribution, smoother towing and more stability for tall trailers.
Tips for choosing and using a trailer hitch
As you consider your trailer hitch options, here are some important things to keep in mind:
- Capacity rating: Choose a hitch rated to haul at least the combined weight of your trailer and load, a number called the gross trailer weight (GTW). Of course, you’ll also need a truck with sufficient towing capacity and trailer with sufficient payload capacity. It’s smart to choose a hitch with the highest capacity rating that matches your tow vehicle in case you want to tow heavier loads in the future.
- Tongue weight: Tongue weight is the downward force exerted on the coupling point when the trailer is loaded. A tongue weight scale is designed to measure this. Generally, the tongue weight should be approximately 10% to 15% of the trailer's GTW. Too much or too little weight on the tongue may make the trailer fishtail or the vehicle hard to control.
- Weight distribution: Proper weight distribution is essential for safe towing. You can add a weight distribution system to some hitches to distribute the load more evenly and minimize trailer sway when hauling heavy or unbalanced loads.
- Installation: Be sure to install the hitch according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Consider having a professional install it for you.
- Maintenance: Regularly inspect the hitch and accessories for damage. Replace worn or rusted parts as needed to ensure proper performance and safety. Some hitches require regular lubrication.
A hitch may seem like a minor detail, but choosing the right heavy equipment trailer hitch is critically important and can make the difference between a safe, comfortable towing experience and an accident waiting to happen.