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How to Choose an RV Hitch

Trailer hitch

If you’re looking for a hitch to tow your RV, it’s important that you choose the proper hitch for the RV you have, or plan to have, as well as for your tow vehicle. The wrong hitch can make towing difficult and can even cause damage to your tow vehicle, the hitch, and the RV. Here’s how to choose an RV hitch that will work with the unit you intend to tow.

Receiver Hitch for Travel Trailers

The receiver hitch, sometimes called a ball hitch, is used to tow travel trailers. These are hooked to the rear frame of the tow vehicle and extend out at the bumper. This is why some people refer to travel trailers as “bumper pulls.” Let's take a look at the five different types of receiver hitches:

Class Ⅰ Receiver Hitch

Class Ⅰ Receiver Hitch

Class Ⅰ hitches are meant for lightweight items. The receiver opening is 1¼” and they’re meant to only carry up to about 2,000 lbs. These hitches are great for small, folding pop-up campers that are super lightweight. These hitches fit small passenger vehicles and crossovers.

Class Ⅱ Receiver Hitch

Class Ⅱ Receiver Hitch

A Class Ⅱ hitch also has an opening of 1¼”. However, a Class Ⅱ can usually handle up to 3,500 lbs. These are meant to be used with SUVs, minivans, and small trucks. These hitches work well with larger pop- ups, hybrid trailers, and some of the smaller and more lightweight travel trailers.

Class Ⅲ Receiver Hitch

Class Ⅲ Receiver Hitch

The Class Ⅲ hitch is the most common hitch used by RVers. This has a 2” opening and is meant to handle up to 8,000 lbs. Used mostly on mid-sized or larger trucks, it can have a weight distribution system added to it for easier and better towing.

Class Ⅳ Receiver Hitch

Class Ⅳ Receiver Hitch

The Class Ⅳ is similar to the Class Ⅲ in that it has a 2” receiver. However this hitch is meant to carry between 10,000 lbs and 14,000 lbs, and can be used with heavy-duty trucks. These are great for the larger, heavier travel trailers. Since most travel trailers fall under the 12,000 lbs. mark, this is typically the highest grade you'd need to go for a hitch.

Class Ⅴ Receiver Hitch

Class V Receiver Hitch

The Class Ⅴ hitch is pulling out the big guns, and you better have a pretty powerful truck to handle this one. Here you’ll find a receiver that’s either 2” or 2½”, depending on the hitch. This hitch is meant to handle between 16,000 lbs. and 20,000 lbs. These are usually used for heavy duty cargo trailers that carry things like construction equipment.

Weight Distribution for Receiver Hitches

If you’re looking at a Class Ⅲ or higher, it’s good to consider a weight distribution system for your hitch. These help to distribute the weight between the tow vehicle and the trailer. This way not all the pressure is being put directly on the hitch. This helps to keep the rear of the tow vehicle and the front of the trailer from sagging. This sag can put added strain on your tow vehicle and even affect steering, stopping, and accelerating. When there is sag in the rear it tends to lift up the front of the tow vehicle. This can take the traction of the front tires off the road. You’re then relying mainly on the rear wheels to guide you. While a rear-wheel drive vehicle has the power back there and wouldn’t experience the lack of power accelerating like a front-wheel drive vehicle would, both will have trouble steering without the front wheels fully engaged with the road. The same goes for stopping since you are now relying primarily on one set of brakes to stop you instead of two sets. Many hitches come with a weight distribution system already built in. If your hitch does not have this, and you notice that the rear of the tow vehicle is lower than the front, you will want to look into it.

Fifth Wheel Hitches

Fifth wheel hitches

A fifth wheel hitch is meant to handle a much heavier load. The reason these hitches can do this is that instead of being anchored to the frame of the vehicle, they’re mounted above the rear axle in the bed of the truck. As you may know, the axle is designed to handle a lot more pressure and weight than the frame itself. This allows for more of the trailer weight to be put on the pin, and RV makers are able to make these units larger and able to handle more weight themselves. The ability of the hitch will greatly depend on the brand and model of hitch you purchase.

Weights and Planning for your Hitch

weight your hitch can hold

Understanding the weights of your RV, hitch, and ability of your tow vehicle is crucial to ensuring you get the proper hitch, as well as making sure your tow vehicle and RV are matched accordingly. Here’s a run down of the weights you should know when planning to make sure you have the proper blend.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR)

The GVWR is going to be found on both the tow vehicle and the RV. This is the max amount of weight each can handle, including itself. It is crucial to look at this for both. The GVWR of the tow vehicle tells you how big of a trailer the frame of your tow vehicle can support. The GVWR of the trailer tells you how much it will weigh at its heaviest, and with some math, how much stuff you can put in it without overloading it. You want to ensure that the GVWR of the RV is never more than what the tow vehicle can handle. To find out what the tow vehicle and RV can handle other than themselves, you want to look at Unloaded Vehicle Weight of the trailer, and the Curb Weight of the tow vehicle.

Unloaded Vehicle Weight Rating (UVWR)/Curb Weight

The UVWR of the trailer is what it weighs as it rolls off the assembly line. This is before any options are added, water tanks are filled, or you put your own stuff inside it. To find out how much stuff your RV can handle, you simply subtract the UVWR from the GVWR to see what’s left. This weight is also referred to as dry, or shipping, weight.

The curb weight of your tow vehicle is similar to the UVWR of the RV. This is the weight of an empty vehicle, however it does include all fluids and a full tank of fuel. You will need to keep in mind that you’re going to be adding in passengers and possible cargo to this. You can get a general idea of how much your trailer can weigh by subtracting curb weight from the GVWR of the vehicle. If you want a more accurate calculation, take your vehicle, all your passengers, and all your stuff to a weigh station to find out what you weigh in at when you’re traveling.

Hitch Weight

Your hitch itself, as stated above, is going to have a weight on it. This does not cancel out any other weights you’re working with. For example, if your hitch says it can handle 5,000 lbs, but your tow vehicle calculations come out to only being able to handle 3,500 lbs, you want to stick to the 3,500 lbs. Just because your hitch can handle it doesn’t mean your vehicle can. Going over could do some severe damage to the frame of your vehicle. The same goes for the opposite. If you have a hitch that can handle 5,000 lbs, but your math tells you that your tow vehicle can handle 8,000 lbs, you still don’t want to pull anything more than the 5,000 lbs. capacity of the hitch. You’ll do damage to your hitch and possibly everything else.

Max Towing Capacity

The max towing capacity is the last thing you want to check on the tow vehicle. All other weights so far are to see if the body of the vehicle can handle the weight of the RV. Max towing weight tells you what the engine can do. So while you may have a truck built on a frame that can handle massive amounts of weight, if it doesn’t have an engine strong enough to move it, you’re not going to be going very far, and will probably cause damage to your engine.

Ensure you check all your weights and limitations before making any decisions. We would hate to see you cause serious damage to your tow vehicle, RV, hitch, or all three. If you have any questions on towing, weights, or anything else RV related, feel free to give us a call. We have specialists well versed in towing that would be happy to help you out!

Lakeshore RV's guide to choosing the right hitch for your RV