Types of Camper Trailer HitchesAnthony Day
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You are considering buying a recreational trailer and hitting the open road with your family this summer. What kinds of camper trailer hitch types are there?
Research is one of the best things a person can do when considering purchasing any kind of recreational vehicle. Information is power, as they say, and there are many things to know about owning and towing a camper trailer. For example, what kind of weight do trailers have? Do I need a special hitch for my trailer? Do I have enough truck to pull the trailer/ The last thing you want to do is buy a gorgeous camper only to find out that you don’t have the right equipment to move it anywhere? Why purchase an RV trailer if you can’t get it towed to your favorite camping spot?
There are many different kinds of camper trailer hitches. Depending on the needs of the trailer, the right equipment can affect towing factors, like weight, mileage, performance, and safety. It is best to understand the towing process so the trailer does not endanger yourself or others on the road.
The correct hitch does more than just secure a camper trailer to the back of your truck. It can provide safety for you, your family, and everyone else on the road. If you try to pull too much weight without a good connection between the truck and the trailer, the experiment can end in disaster. An owner can avoid trouble by becoming more educated on the types of trailer hitches available and why there is a direct correlation between the size and weight of a camper and the hitch.
Let’s explore the subject of the types of camper trailer hitches and see if we can help keep you and your family safe while you enjoy everything a recreational trailer has to offer.
Trailer Hitch Vs. Receiver Hitch
One of the first things to know is the difference between a trailer hitch and a receiver hitch.
A trailer hitch refers to the broad spectrum of towing apparatus used for hauling a trailer. Effective towing depends on the trailer's weight and the towing application, from standard ball hitches to complex fifth-wheel units. The terms have become common.
A receiver is a specific hitch that bolts directly to the underside of the towing vehicle and provides a tube for a ball joint or other type of connection. This typical configuration secures the receiving end of the hitch directly to the towing vehicle to provide more stability and support and offer the ability to change the towing apparatus for securing multiple trailers. You don’t have to have your truck refitted for a new ball joint when you switch trailers. This is a considerable advantage for farms, construction, and other applications. Four standard trailer hitch ball sizes are 1-1/4", 2", 2-1/2", and 3".
What is the Most Common Kind of Camper Hitch?
The standard receiver hitch is the most common camper hitch, with a 2-inch ball being the most common ball size. The wide range of weight capacity (3,500 lbs to 12,000 lbs) allows this configuration to handle most basic camper trailers, depending on the size or weight.
The average size of a camper trailer is around 5900 lbs, so a Class III can usually handle most recreational needs.
However, it is always best to consult your truck’s owner’s manual and the RV camper center or installation facility to ensure that you are mounting the correct receiver hitch to your vehicle and that it matches the trailer's coupler you intend to pull.
Trailer Hitch Weight Classes
There are five different classifications regarding the weight of a trailer and the type of hitch that can be used. The following is a brief overview of each.
Class I Trailer Hitch
This basic small hitch is designed to handle a trailer up to 2,000 lbs with a tongue weight of 200 lbs. The hitch is attached to a bumper or the underside of the towing vehicle. The receiver hitch usually uses a 1 ¼ size ball.
Class II Trailer Hitch
This hitch is designed for hauling a trailer up to 3,500 lbs with a tongue weight of 300 lbs. Again, the hitch can be attached to a bumper or the underside of the frame of the towing vehicle. It is designed to pull lightweight trailers that will sleep two to four individuals depending on the configuration. For an excellent review of camper trailers that are less than 3,000 lbs, see the review on camperreport.com.
Class III Trailer Hitch
This hitch is designed for trailers with up to 8,000 lbs and a tongue weight of 350 lbs to 800 lbs. This is the hitch you see on the back of smaller pickups, SUVs, and crossovers.
Class IV - Trailer Hitch
This hitch can accommodate trailers up to 12,000 lbs and a tongue weight of 1000 lbs. This is a heavy-duty hitch for hauling large boats and good-sized trailers and not for being hooked to cars or small crossovers. Many standard half-ton and higher pickups with receiver hitches operate with a class IV style hitch, depending on what they need to tow.
Class V Trailer Hitch
This is the big Daddy trailer hitch used in commercial applications or to tow large recreational vehicles. It is used for trailers that weigh up to 17,000 lbs and tongue weights of 1700 lbs.
Types of Camper Trailer Hitches
There is a lot to be learned from the different types of camper trailer hitches. Each type of trailer hitch has its own specific set of characteristics and weight capacities.
Standard Ball Hitch -
A standard ball hitch is 2 - 3 inches and consists of a ball that protrudes from the receiver of the back of the truck or SUV. The trailer will have a tongue on it that includes a coupler designed to fit on top of the ball. The two components fit (the ball fits into the coupling unit) and are then secured with a locked chain that runs from the tow vehicle's frame to the trailer.
A heavier trailer that requires more stability will likely be hitched directly to the truck's bed. A fifth-wheel hitch uses a U-shaped coupler connected to a locking bar to fasten it securely. This configuration is similar to the hitch used for commercial and semi-truck/trailer applications. A fifth-wheel hitch is helpful if the camper trailer is 25 - 40 feet long or weighs 16,000.
A gooseneck hitch is similar to a receiving hitch in that it uses a ball and coupler to connect the trailer to the truck. The difference is where the ball is placed. A gooseneck trailer hitch is positioned in the bed of the towing truck. It is called a gooseneck because it stretches out and curves down. Gooseneck hitches are typically rated for pulling up to 30,000 lbs and are primarily used in agricultural or livestock applications for pulling farm equipment or horse trailers.
A pintle hook hitch is used in heavy-duty construction situations. The hitch is composed of a hook on the back of the vehicle to a ring that protrudes from the trailer. This hitch requires a Class A CDL license.
Weight Distributing Hitch
A weight distributing hitch is designed to help even out the weight of the tongue to allow for the maximum amount of weight to be pulled. Keeping the tongue weight to 10 - 15% of the trailer weight prevents the trailer from sagging the back of the tow vehicle. A weight distributing hitch is designed to keep the camper from swaying and provide a more stable, secure ride.
Do You Need a Class A License For a Fifth Wheel?
Generally no, depending on whether you tow a recreational or commercial vehicle. A Class A CDL license is required if using a Pintle Hitch and, in some states, towing a trailer over 26,000 lbs. It is always best to check with your state DMV regulations to ensure that no specialized training is required. (In most states, qualifying for a class A CDL license allows an operator to drive a trailer with two or more axles, like a semi-tractor trailer unit.
Strongest Camper Trailer Hitch
Class V trailer hitches are the strongest in the initial category of receiver hitches. They can haul 17,000 lbs of a camper trailer, and any recreational trailer would rarely exceed this weight. The average weight of recreational camping trailers was 5900 lbs and was 26 feet long, according to askthervengineer.com.
Anything over 10,000 lbs should be fitted with a fifth-wheel or gooseneck connection that uses the truck's bed to provide additional support. Trailer sway (the movement of a trailer back and forth while being towed) is one of the top reasons that camper accidents occur in the US. The NHTSA reports that there are about 76,000 RV accidents each year.
Do I Need a Drop Hitch for My Camper?
A drop hitch is a metal rod built into a receiver hitch or tongue and is designed to help level a trailer to the exact height of a towing vehicle. They are especially effective because they ensure that the height of the receiver and the trailer coupler are the same. This keeps the load evenly placed and provides a more stable ride.
A drop hitch can help with hooking a trailer to a tow hitch so that you don’t have to lift the trailer's weight up and onto the ball of the tow hitch. This can save you from pulling something you shouldn’t or, worse, getting a hernia by trying to lift a fully loaded trailer by yourself.
In addition, a drop hitch can prevent sagging when a loaded trailer puts strain on the back end of a towing vehicle. If you have seen a truck or Suv pulling a trailer that is sinking the back end while causing the front grill to point upward, you might realize that this kind of condition is highly unsafe. A drop hitch prevents this from happening.
Is Other Safety Equipment Needed?
You can do some things to ensure that your trailer is riding as safely as possible.
Most current camping trailers are equipped with electronic brakes, so your truck needs an electronic brake controller. This unit allows the driver to adjust the braking force of the trailer, keeping the ability of the truck and trailer balanced. Because your truck slows down by creating friction by a pad on a disc, having to slow the momentum of a trailer without brakes means more wear and tear on your truck’s system. The heavier a trailer is, the more force must be exerted to slow the momentum or inertia of a moving trailer. Putting a braking system on the trailer and coordinating it with the system on the tow vehicle helps minimize the chance of an accident caused by a truck that is stopping and a trailer that is still moving.
Ensure that you have a strong, heavy safety chain positioned from the tongue of the trailer to the tow vehicle. Should the hitch and coupling fail, a chain can act as an additional safety measure, keeping your trailer hooked to the tow vehicle rather than breaking free and causing a severe accident.
Some campers can benefit from the installation of a sway bar. It is designed to keep the side-to-side movement of a trailer at a minimum. A sway bar is a metal rod hooked from the tongue of the trailer to the receiving hitch on the tow vehicle.
Electronic Trailer Sway Control
Electronic Trailer Sway Control (also known as Trailer Stability Control) employs sensors that can detect wheel slip or yaw by a trailer and begin to make corrective actions by applying individual braking forces or an easing of engine RPMs to slow the vehicle. The electronic sensors continuously record readings sent to the vehicle’s stability control systems. They work in much the same way as the ESC of your car, sensing wheel traction and adjusting the grip to other wheels as needed.
As more and more safety features are included as standard equipment on both trucks and trailers, there is no substitute for the vigilance of a well-trained and informed driver. Many trucks have sway control, where the truck is equipped with sensors that send signals.