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Trailer hitches come in all sizes and shapes for a variety of applications. However, hitches are classified as either weight-carrying or weight-distributing.
Weight-carrying hitches (such as a bumper pull) are recommended for use when the trailer weight (including cargo) is 3,500 lbs. or less. Make sure the tow vehicle is rated by the manufacturer to accommodate that load. The tongue weight is carried directly on the rear of the tow vehicle and on the hitch. You can find your vehicle's tow rating online at www.campinglife.com or download a listing of tow ratings at www.trailerlife.com .
Use weight-distributing hitches for heavier loads. These hitches redistribute the tongue weight (see Trailer Terms ) throughout the frame of the tow vehicle. The result is that the trailer's weight is distributed among the trailer axles and the front and rear axles on the tow vehicle. Ask your dealer about weight distribution hitches if you intend to tow using a "bumper" type hitch or hitch receiver.
Fifth wheels and goosenecks are two weight-distributing hitches used most often with pickup trucks. The weight of the trailer is carried directly over the rear axle with the hitch mounted in the truck's bed.
A fifth wheel hitch is used for larger trailers and is a small version of the type of hitch used on semi trucks. A gooseneck coupler attaches to a tow ball that usually is mounted in the bed of a pickup truck. Underneath the bed are support rails that are bolted or welded into place.
A frame-mounted hitch is one where the hitch is attached to the frame of the tow vehicle. This gives more stability to a bumper pull type of hitch.
Before every trip, check the tow ball and coupler to ensure they are the same size and that all bolts are securely tightened. Also, make sure the latching mechanism is locked in place.
To safely tow a trailer, you need a tow vehicle with adequate horsepower, torque, weight and length. Some of these elements are reflected in the towing capacity that the vehicle manufacturer sets. The tow vehicle towing capacity must exceed the weight of the trailer when loaded. Using an under-rated tow vehicle is dangerous and illegal.
Start by choosing a tow vehicle that has a towing capacity higher than the trailer's gross vehicle weight rating. For instance, if a SUV has a 500-pound towing capacity, it should be able to tow a trailer up to a 500-pound GVWR. You can find your vehicle's tow rating online at www.campinglife.com or download a listing of tow ratings at www.trailerlife.com .
However, the towing capacity of tow vehicles generally is based on the ratings of the vehicle's components, such as wheels, tires, suspension and transmission. The vehicle manufacturer may not have factored in the pulling power of the engine. This is where you should take into account the vehicle's horsepower and torque.
The tow vehicle's engine creates torque and uses it to turn the crankshaft. The gears in the transmission convert this torque into a vehicle's horsepower, or its ability to pull a trailer.
While it's difficult to provide guidelines for what is enough torque and horsepower because it varies with trailer size and load, it is important to maximize both in your tow vehicle.
A vehicle with more torque can move more weight with less stress on the engine. This is important because towing a trailer puts a lot of additional load on the engine. This contributes to the wear and tear on the vehicle. More horsepower simply helps you get around more quickly and accelerate faster.
Generally, look for more engine displacement. A six-liter engine will give you more horsepower and torque than a five-liter engine. Larger engines are capable of dealing with heavier loads.
Many manufacturers will actually design a towing package for dealers. The package can include heavier duty components to accommodate towing heavy loads, such as the radiator, battery and transmission. They will also install the equipment necessary for hooking a rig to the vehicle.
Towing live animals places greater demands on the vehicle because the animals move around, shifting thousands of pounds to different places in the trailer. For live animals, experts recommend hauling 25 percent less than the vehicle's maximum tow rating.
Also consider the terrain where the towing will occur. Hilly terrain or unpaved roads place more stress on the tow vehicle and may require you to haul less than the vehicle's maximum tow rating.
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