What is Trailer Hitch? How Does a Trailer Hitch Work?

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Last Updated on September 30, 2022

If we have a closer look at a towing system, many components shall grab our attention from time to time, that are working for the whole mechanism to run smoothly. 

And if you are someone who doesn’t have much clue on how towing takes place through all of these components, perhaps visiting the basics will be a great initiative right now!

Well, we’ve got your back. Today let’s discuss what is trailer hitch, how a trailer hitch works, and all the basics that will clear your confusion, hopefully!

What is trailer hitch

What is Trailer Hitch?

A point that acts as the connection between the towing vehicle and trailer for towing, is what a trailer hitch provides. 

It is a mechanism that stays attached to the truck, car, or SUV back area. It comes with a mountable tube that includes ball mounts, accessories, and some coupling points.

To make it even simple, the mechanism that gives a coupling point for trailer hooking up is the trailer hitch. 

Some people confuse it with a ball mount, something that looks-wise is quite similar. However, both are different. The ball mount is nothing but a trailer hitch accessory.

Here’re Some Key Pointers To Know:

  1. It’s the main connector between towed trailers and vehicles.
  2. Depending on the opening size of the hitch and weight capacity, it can be rated in 5 classes.
  3. Trailer coupler parts, ball, receiver, ball mount, and other components combinedly make it up.

How Does a Trailer Hitch Work?

This now would seem way easier if you check the parts of a trailer hitch diagram or a video that demonstrates the components. 

But not necessarily, you can still be good by going through some detail on the parts and how they function for the whole mechanism to run smoothly. Which we will cover in this section.

The components that make the whole trailer hitch system, are given below:

  • The key component is the tow vehicle, of course, it can be anything from a car, truck SUV, or other automotive. Something that can tow a trailer. There are different capacities for towing that vehicle comes with. But they should be able to handle the weight you are dealing with.
  • Then comes the hitch receiver, it is a backward-facing opening found on the hitch. And it can accept hitch-mounted accessories, cargo carriers, detachable ball mounts, and hitch bike racks.
  • The third component is the ball hitch or ball mount. It is a receiver hitch accessory. And it includes a trailer ball platform as well as a shank. The hitch receiver tube accepts the shank. And the platform needs to give a tough mounting point for the trailer ball.  
  • A hole in the shank shall be present for receiving the hitch lock or pin with all ball mounts. You need to know how to lock the trailer hitch to the ball using the part for the appropriate application.
  • Then there’s the hitch ball that is an attachment for the trailer coupler. It looks like a ball and you need to do trailer hitch coupler adjustment for connecting the point properly.
  • The hitch pin is also a very important component of the whole trailer hitch mechanism. And its job is to make sure the parts such as the ball mount do not slip out from recovery. It looks like a metal rod. 

And the design is compatible with sliding motion with the hitch receiver’s side. It goes through the ball mount shank. And then it comes out from another side. There’s a hole on the very end. And it receives a hairpin-looking clip. So that there’s extra security.

  • Another part called the trailer coupler needs to work along with the trailer ball for making the physical connection of the trailer with the vehicle. The coupler latches with the ball and this creates a safe joint that allows smooth towing. 

There are several trailer coupler types and sizes that you need to explore for finding the right match for the trailer ball. Understanding how a trailer hitch coupler works will help in the selection.

  • There are safety chains for ensuring the trailer is wholly separate from the tow vehicle in case there’s a disconnection while rowing. There will be two safety chains that connect with their chain retainers.
  • Another part called safety cable makes sure there’s no runaway trailer scene on the highway. And it does so by staying connected with the braking system to cause automotive engagement.
  • And that’s all the components that play their roles in making the trailer hitch work. However, another thing also classifies the use of trailer hitch, and it’s the classes. There are several classes for different hitch applications.

Different Setups of Trailer Hitch – Vehicle Wise

You won’t be able to go with one trailer hitch setup for all the different types of vehicles out there. So, to understand the working mechanism better, it only makes sense if we explore the common setups. LET’S Go!

For Car

The towing capacity is going to be lower than a truck. You need to find that out from the manual and then work on the towing setup. Also, the setup with cars is fairly simple. This is due to its ability to tow less weight. 

You will require a trailer hitch ball, trailer ball mount, and a trailer hitch receiver. For small to medium-sized trailers, go with a 2” hitch ball having a 1” diameter. There are two other sizes of hitch balls that also support different purposes.

Make sure the ball size is allowing a safe fit of the shank of the ball with ball mount. Level trailer hitch connection is also important. A little downward angle towards the car also helps. So, even weight distribution takes place. Also, for lessening the trailer sway.

For Trucks

Trucks come with different types of trailer hitch setups. One that comes without a trailer hitch. And it includes a hitch built into the rear bumper. Then there’s also the one that comes with a normal hitch installed from the factory.

The hitch ball sizes are also similar, you can go with a spindle hitch, a special hitch that allows heavy loads. There are also huge-size trucks that come with 4th wheel mounting points. So that 5th wheel hitch is mountable to this. 

This type supports heavy-loaded purposes. And gooseneck hitch is also a typical type that comes with a conventional ball-style hitching mechanism.

In case of extremely heavy loads, you should invest in a weight distribution system. To reduce the trailer sway, one can also use stabilizer bars.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a hitch and a receiver?

Directly attaching with the tow vehicle so that it can play a connecting point between the trailer and tow vehicle, that’s what the trailer hitch is all about. Now with a receiver-style hitch, you will find a receptacle specifically. This part needs to receive a special style of ball mount or bike racks.

Can I install a trailer hitch myself?

If you promise to find out the proper way to hitch a trailer by yourself and make sure to follow all the necessary state guidelines, why not? Installing the hitch is a fairly easy DIY and you can save quite a bit of money that would have been spent on hiring another person for the job. But then again, this does not apply to someone who has zero ideas of how such installation works.

Can you attach a trailer to a car without a hitch?

For the utmost result, it is always highly recommended to use the suitable hitch meant for the vehicle. But if the situation demands urgent hitching of a trailer to a car but there’s no which for the job, you can try an alternative. 

The bumper-style trailer can be pulled for a limited distance without a hitch. However, it’s still not a good idea for long-distance. Also pulling trailers on public roads can be illegal and you need to confirm that before trying something like this.

Wrapping Up

And now you have an idea of what is trailer hitch, how a trailer hitch works as well as a few more relevant matters to this. Was it helpful? We hope you are nodding in yes. 

Also, it’s fine if there are still some things you find confusing. You can take it slow, give yourself some time and find out about hitches more gradually. 

Hitches are no doubt one of the crucial components to have for towing safely. And your interest in understanding the part better makes us happy.

Well, see you again in another similar guide soon, till then take care!

About the Author: Brian Silvestro

Brian Silvestro is the founder and chief editor of OffroadersArena. He spends his free time tending to his BMW iX SUV and explaining its merits to anyone who'll listen.

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