How to Pick the Right Trailer Hitch for Your Car

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Before attaching a trailer to your vehicle, you will need to make sure that you have the proper trailer hitch installed on the back of your car or truck. Having the right trailer hitch is an absolute necessity for safe and secure trailer towing.

There are three basic kinds of trailer hitches: weight carrying, weight distributing, and fifth wheel.

A weight carrying hitch is usually what is used for cars and SUVs, and smaller trucks. A weight distributing hitch is usually called for with large trucks, and a fifth wheel hitch is reserved for the largest vehicles. However, if you’re not sure what trailer hitch is right for your vehicle, it’s fairly easy to figure out.

Part 1 of 4: Collect basic information about your vehicle and trailer

close up of owner

Step 1: Gather basic vehicle information. When you purchase a trailer hitch, you will need to know the make, model, and year of your vehicle, as well as the maximum towing capacity of the car.

  • Tip: You can find the maximum towing capacity in your owner’s manual.

Step 2: Gather basic trailer information. You need to know the type of trailer that you have, the coupler socket size, and whether or not the trailer came equipped with safety chains.

You can find all of this information in the trailer’s owner’s manual.

  • Tip: Not all trailers need safety chains, but most do.

Part 2 of 4: Finding the gross trailer weight and tongue weight

vehicle way station

Step 1: Determine the gross trailer weight. The gross trailer weight is simply the entire weight of your trailer.

The best way to determine this weight is to take the trailer to your nearest weigh station. If there are no weigh stations nearby, you will have to find some other place that has a vehicle scale.

  • Tip: When determining the gross trailer weight, you should always have your trailer filled with the items that you will be carrying in it. An empty trailer provides a very inaccurate reading of how heavy the trailer will be.

close up of trailer coupler

Step 2: Determine the tongue weight. The tongue weight is the measurement of the downward force that the trailer coupler will be exerting on the trailer hitch and ball.

Because the force from the trailer is split between the hitch and the trailer’s tires, the tongue weight is much less than the gross trailer weight.

To determine the tongue weight, simply rest the trailer coupler on a standard household scale. If the weight is less than 200 pounds, then that is your tongue weight. However, if the force is more than 200 pounds, then the scale will not be able to measure it, and you’ll have to measure the tongue weight in a different fashion.

If this is the case, place a brick of the same thickness as the scale four feet away from the scale. Next, place a small pipe on top of the brick, and another on top of the scale. Place a board across the two pipes, so that it creates a platform. Finally, reset the scale so that it reads zero, and place the trailer coupler on the board. Read the number displayed on the bathroom scale, multiply it by three, and that is the tongue weight.

  • Tip: As with determining the gross trailer weight, you should always measure the tongue weight when the trailer is filled as it normally will be.

Part 2 of 4: Compare the gross trailer weight and tongue weight with your car

Step 1: Find the gross trailer weight and tongue weight ratings in your owner’s manual. Your owner’s manual tells you the gross trailer weight and tongue weight ratings for your car. These are the maximum numbers that your vehicle can safely handle.

trailer hitch table

Step 2: Compare the ratings to the measurements you made earlier. After measuring the gross trailer weight and tongue weight of the trailer, compare them to the car’s ratings.

If the measure numbers are lower than the ratings, you are good to proceed with buying your trailer hitch.

If the numbers are bigger than the ratings, you will need to either lighten the load of the trailer, or purchase a stronger vehicle.

Part 4 of 4: Find the right style of trailer hitch

Step 1: Match the gross trailer weight and tongue weight to the right hitch. Use the table above to figure out what kind of trailer hitch is best for your car, based on the gross trailer weight and tongue weight that you measured earlier.

It’s very important that you use the right trailer hitch with your vehicle. Failure to use the right trailer hitch is unsafe, and can cause malfunctions easily. If you are at any point unsure about what trailer hitch to use, or how to install it, simply have a reputable mechanic - such as the ones at YourMechanic - come and check out your vehicle and trailer.


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Mario

18 years of experience
101 reviews
Mario
18 years of experience
Honda Prelude - 75 Point Safety Inspection - Fort Myers, Florida
on Arrival he introduced himself. Extended his hand with a warm and welcoming shake as he addressed me my name. Mario got right to work. He looked at everyThing under the hood. Then he Showed me and explained The discoveries that needed attention and repairs. He is soKnowledgeable and veryCourteous. I will beUsing Mario for all the needs, repairs for/to my Honda Prelude. I highly recommend Mario! He is an ace!!!
Dodge Avenger - 75 Point Safety Inspection - Fort Myers, Florida
I scheduled for work to be done to replace my vehicle's serpentine belt, pulley, and tensioner ('cause Firestone said that it needed to be "replace"). When Mario arrived and checked the belt, he was very honest and informed me that the serpentine belt did not need to be replaced. He showed me the serpentine belt and pointed out that it did not have any cracks. It didn't need to be replaced for "preventive maintenance" either. I appreciate his honesty and the time that he took to show me other issues (that Firestone failed to mention) and explained it.

Jerimiah

17 years of experience
324 reviews
Jerimiah
17 years of experience
BMW 528i - 75 Point Safety Inspection - Las Vegas, Nevada
Fantastic....There is a lot of work needed. He informed me that I needed work done on my control arm which was replaced in Dec 2018 by Big O Tires. Not sure how long they should last but I am pretty sure that I can get atleast a year. They replaced them(supposedly), but the issue continued after. Anyway, I am glad that Jeremiah pointed this out. Thank

Pardeep

19 years of experience
578 reviews
Pardeep
19 years of experience
Ford Escape - 75 Point Safety Inspection - San Jose, California
Pradeep immediately found the suspension problem I was worried about and fixed it. We had just purchased this car and now feel a lot better about it now that he has checked it out.

Alexander

18 years of experience
58 reviews
Alexander
18 years of experience
Toyota Sequoia - 75 Point Safety Inspection - Kissimmee, Florida
Look at issue with my vehicle. Quickly diagnosed the problem, which actually saved me some money. Problem was fixed and vehicle running in less than one hour. Suggested other things I should due to keep vehicle in running shape.

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