The 5 Trailer Hitch Classifications

trailer hitch
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’re new to the world of trailer hitches or just need a little reminder, here’s your quick guide to the trailer hitch classification system:

Trailer hitches are classified into 5 categories based their weight tolerance.  The two most important weights are Gross Trailer Weight and Tongue Weight.

  • Gross Trailer Weight (GTW) is the total weight of the hitch, the trailer, and any and all cargo that is on or in the trailer.
  • Tongue Weight is the measure of the downward pressure on the trailer hitch–usually the weight of the trailer tongue or whatever hitch accessory you have attached to your trailer hitch.

A class I hitch is considered light duty, generally recommended for any vehicle.  The maximum GTW for a class I hitch is 2,000 pounds with a max tongue weight of 200 lbs.

A class II hitch is a little stronger, generally recommended for mid-size vehicles (or larger).  It’s max GTW is 3500 lbs with a max tongue weight of 350 lbs.

  • Class I and II receiver hitches have 1.25″ square receivers.

Class III hitches are considered heavy duty hitches.  You’ll find them on full size cars, mid-size trucks, and SUVs.  Maximum GTW for a class III hitch is 5000 lbs with 500 lbs max tongue weight. These are common for a lot of small camper trailers.

Class IV hitches are also heavy duty with a max GTW at 7500 lbs and tongue weight at 1000 lbs.  LIke the class III hitch, class IV hitches are appropriate for full size cars, mid-size trucks, and anything larger.

Finally, the class V hitch has a GTW of 10,000 lbs and a max tongue weight of 1200 lbs. Class V hitches are recommended for full size trucks, vans and SUVs.

  • Class III, IV, and V hitches all have a 2″ hitch receiver.

It’s very important to note that the load your vehicle can pull is not solely determined by the size of your trailer hitch.  First and foremost, check your vehicle’s owners manual to determine it’s towing capacity. Overloading a vehicle with excess trailer weight can seriously hinder your ability to drive safely–the vehicle’s acceleration, braking, and steering mechanisms are designed to function properly at a set weight and will fail if overloaded.