As exciting as purchasing a new RV can be, it can also be confusing and sometimes a little frustrating. There are lots of things to think about and remember, and sometimes the stacks of owner’s manuals can feel overwhelming. How much weight can my vehicle tow? Is my vehicle large enough? What kind of hitch and wiring do I need?

As Chilliwack’s trusted provider for high-end truck, motorhome, and towing accessories, these are just some of the questions that we get every day at the Trademasters shop. Our towing experts are here to help! We have the knowledge and experience to answer all of your questions about towing, hitches, weights, weight distribution, anti-sway systems, suspension enhancement, wiring, and braking.

Today, in the first of our Recreational Towing 101 blog series, we’re taking a look at trailer hitches, weight distribution systems, and axle ratings. Read on to learn more, and contact us for more answers to your towing questions today!

Essential Terms

Before we discuss trailer hitches, there are some terms you need to know:

  • Gross vehicle weight (GVW): The operating weight of the towing vehicle, including the vehicle’s chassis, body, engine, fluids, fuel, accessories, passengers, and cargo, but not including the weight of any trailers. The maximum GVW, or the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is specified by the manufacturer.
  • Gross trailer weight (GTW): The total weight of a loaded trailer including the weight of the trailer itself plus any fluids, fuel, and cargo. The maximum GTW, or Gross Trailer Weight Rating (GTWR) is mostly dependent on the trailer’s gross axle weight ratings (explained below) and tongue weight, and it is specified by the manufacturer.
  • Gross combination weight (GCW): The vehicle’s loaded weight plus the trailer’s loaded weight.
  • Tongue weight (TW): Also known as tonnage weight or hitch weight, this is the amount of weight pressing down at the connection point on the towing hitch. This typically should not exceed 10% of the trailer’s weight.
  • Weight carrying (WC) rating: the amount of weight that a receiver hitch can tow when it is used as a “deadweight” hitch — only using a standard ball utility mount to connect the hitch to the trailer. In a weight carrying setup, all of the trailer’s tongue weight is placed onto the ball, which directly affects braking and handling.
  • Weight distribution (WD) rating: the amount of weight that a receiver hitch can tow when it is coupled with an additional weight distribution system (WDS) to “even out” the tongue weight across the trailer and truck frame. This number is always higher than the weight carrying rating, because weight distribution systems allow for much better handling and control.

Weight Distribution Systems

Making sure your trailer is level while you’re towing is of vital importance, and a weight distribution system can help with that.

WDSs are compatible with Class III and Class V receiver hitches (more on hitch classes in a moment).They are designed to take the tongue weight of the trailer and re-distribute it from the connection point to the front axle of the vehicle and the trailer’s axles. This provides for a much smoother and more stable ride, the difference being especially noticeable when driving through dips and rougher roads. A WDS can also enable smoother steering and braking.

For RV travel trailers, a Weight Distribution System is a must-have — and sometimes even a legal requirement.

Trailer Hitches

So how do you decide what kind of trailer hitch you need?

Most newer pickup trucks and SUVs already have a factory receiver hitch. Some don’t have it included in the option package, but there are aftermarket receiver hitches for almost every make, model, and year of vehicle on the road today, so with a little research, you can find one to fit your vehicle!

Receiver hitches for towing are separated into three main classes: Class II, Class III and Class V. There are some Class IV hitches out there, but they are rare enough that we will only focus on the other three today.

What Are the Different Receiver Trailer Hitch Classes?

Class II

A Class II trailer hitch is best used for light trailers and accessories, like small boat trailers, popup campers, and even bike racks. Class II trailer hitches are solely for weight carrying — they are not compatible with weight distribution systems.

  • Ideal for: cars and small SUVs
  • Example uses: bike racks, small boat trailers, small popup campers
  • Gross trailer weight (GTW) towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
  • Maximum tongue weight: 300 pounds
  • Receiver opening: usually 1¼ inches, square

Class III

Class III trailer hitches are ideal for mid-to-large sized trailers and accessories, and for most half-ton trucks and SUVs, these are the only receiver hitches available. Class III hitches can used for weight carrying, or be combined with weight distribution systems for smoother handling.

  • Ideal for: half-ton trucks and SUVs
  • Example uses: medium-sized campers, boat trailers, and utility trailers
  • Gross trailer weight (GTW) towing capacity:
    • Weight carrying: 6,000 pounds
    • Weight distributing: 10,000 pounds
  • Maximum tongue weight:
    • Weight carrying: 600 pounds
    • Weight distributing: 1,000 pounds
  • Receiver opening: usually 2 inches, square

Class V

Class V trailer hitches are reserved for heavy towing. They are typically only found on three-quarter to one-ton trucks. Class V hitches can be used for both weight carrying and weight distribution.

  • Ideal for: ¾-ton to one-ton trucks
  • Example uses: large campers, horse trailers, and utility trailers
  • Gross trailer weight (GTW) towing capacity:
    • Weight carrying: 12,000 pounds
    • Weight distributing: 17,000 pounds
  • Maximum tongue weight:
    • Weight carrying: 1,200 pounds
    • Weight distributing: 1,700 pounds
  • Receiver opening: usually 2½ inches, square

5th Wheel Hitches

Now let’s talk about 5th wheel hitches. In many respects, they are much more basic than a receiver hitch. The 5th wheel hitch is easy to couple and uncouple, and is designed to fit in the truck box with vehicle specific install kits.

The only decision to make is: fixed hitch or slider hitch?

A fixed hitch sits approximately 2 inches ahead of the rear axle and cannot move from that position. Alternately, the slider hitch is designed to tow the trailer in the same position, 2 inches or so ahead of the rear axle, but it can be slid back by 9 inches to allow for tighter turning radius in short box trucks in order to avoid the bunk of the trailer bumping into the truck’s rear window. This is a great option for short box trucks and is cheap insurance against the inconvenience of having to replace a rear window. 5th wheel hitches are typically rated to tow between 16,000 to 24,000 pounds, which is plenty for almost all 5th wheel trailers.

Our Trademasters Towing Experts Are Here To Help

Still confused? Have more questions about how to safely tow your trailer? Be sure to browse our blog for more helpful resources and answers to your questions, or else contact the Trademasters team in Chilliwack, BC. We proudly provide high-end towing products and services, and we can help you get started today. Call now at 604.792.3132, or email us at info@vehiclesolutions.ca. We look forward to hearing from you!