While the many and varied hitch-supported applications and options can make choosing a trailer hitch confusing today, in truth all that’s really changed are the bells and whistles, and the additional possibilities for marrying a carrying need with a trailer hitch’s capacity to meet it. The probability is high that somebody somewhere is modifying his hitch to transport the latest thing in outdoor gear, and angling to get it marketed. But the fact remains there’s only three basic factors you need to consider when adding a trailer hitch to your vehicle.

1. How much weight will you be towing or carrying?

Select a trailer hitch rated for your anticipated gross trailer weight and/or required tongue weight. You can find the Gross Trailer Weight Rating (GTWR) (combined weight of the trailer plus its maximum load) on the trailer’s capacity plate, or have it weighed on a certified scale. If you are putting accessories on the hitch you need to know their poundage. You can figure tongue weight capacity (weight of the downward force on the tongue/hitch) at 10 to 15% of hitch GTW rating.

2. What’s the towing capacity of your vehicle?


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Your vehicle’s towing capacity can be found in the owner’s manual or at the dealership. Some models offer an additional towing package option. The vehicle towing capacity should be matched to the appropriate class hitch. Typically smaller cars and light SUVs call for Class 1 or 2 hitches, with Class 3 and 4 hitches matching the towing capacities of full-size SUVs and trucks.

3. Choose the hitch rated to your needs

Hitch manufacturers follow the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) rating system to help you match your needs with the right size hitch. Hitches are rated as Class 1 (2000# GTW), Class 2 (3500# GTW), Class 3 (5000# GTW), Class 4 (5000# GTW) and Class 5 (12000# GTW). Class 1 and 2 hitches usually feature 1 ¼ inch receivers (accepting accessory inserts of that size), while Class 3 and 4 hitches often have 2 inch receivers with Class 5 receivers at 2 ½ inches. By knowing your trailer weight, tongue weight and vehicle towing capacity you can choose the right size hitch for your needs.