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How to use a Trailer Hitch

Updated on July 31, 2013

Car Hitch

Trailer tongue and hitch ball ready to be connected
Trailer tongue and hitch ball ready to be connected | Source

Towing a Trailer

Trailers can help us move, get feed for large animals or pickup that great deal on firewood. However trailers do require some basic understanding on how to operate them safely, this includes connecting them to your vehicle.

Obviously trucks are the preferred vehicle of choice when using a trailer but some cars and sport utility vehicles (SUV’s), have limited towing abilities. Not everyone is a trailer expert, I’m not a novice but I’m not an expert either, however I am getting better every time I use our five foot wide by eight foot long utility trailer.

For me the backing up part is the hardest. If you have never tried to back up with a trailer hooked to your vehicle basically it is the exact opposite of what your years of driving experience has taught you. If you want to back up to the left you turn the wheel to the left, with a trailer you actually turn to the right. It takes a little practice to get this backwards thing figured out.

Tow Ratings

Before you get into towing anything I would recommend you know a few important details about your vehicle and what its limitations are in the towing department.

For trucks the vehicle manufacturer allows up to a certain weight to be towed directly from the bumper. This weight is limited and usually is noted directly on the bumper where you would install the trailer ball. It is critical that you do not exceed this specified weight; if you do your bumper can actually come off of the truck.

For cars and SUV’s knowing the tow rating will help you get the correct tow hitch installed. If your vehicle can tow two-thousand pounds buying a more expensive five-thousand pound rated hitch is overkill and a waste of your money since the vehicle cannot safely tow that kind of weight.

Another factor in respecting what kind of weight your vehicle can handle is how it is equipped to stop the towed load. If you attempt to tow more than the vehicle’s manufacturer recommends stopping everything in a safe manner might be difficult. A heavy load has a tendency to push the primary vehicle a little bit; this is usually detected the most when you are attempting to stop because the load still wants to move forward. Remember you are calling on your vehicle to stop more weight than it usually is expected to do so it will take more distance to stop too.

Some trailers are equipped with electronic braking systems. If your vehicle has the controls for this kind of system (if it doesn’t you can get one installed) it can help immensely in safely stopping whatever you are towing. This system works when you apply the brakes in the towing vehicle and a signal is relayed to the trailer to engage its brakes too helping to keep the push, mentioned above, from affecting you slowing down safely.

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Tow Hitch

When shopping for a hitch let the shop know what your intentions are for towing. These individuals are professionals and will help you get the right tow hitch for your vehicle and what you plan on using it for.

Typically these shops can also answer any questions you may have on towing if it is a new thing for you. It is OK to ask questions, your fellow drivers on the road would appreciate a conscientious driver who wants to be safe on the road while towing…I know I would.

Trailer Hitch Installation

A popular way to adapt a truck for towing, and to maximize its towing potential, is to have a tow hitch installed. Getting a tow hitch installed should really be something left to professionals, unless you have experience in doing this kind of installation.

When we had our hitch installed on our truck a few years ago they used a convenient rolling machine that suspended the hitch in the proper spot during the installation process ensuring that it was installed correctly. I imagine that installation without this machine would be very cumbersome and may lead to an incorrect install. Make sure your hitch is installed correctly, if your hitch fails when towing something damage to your truck, trailer and other vehicles is highly possible.

Remember that any damage that you cause to some other vehicle or personal property will probably be your responsibility financially. Be careful to not shortcut the installation process, get it done right the first time and you will never have to think about it again.

Trailer Wiring

The types of trailer connections have advanced a little bit but the old standard is still widely used as well.

The typical trailer connection plug is a straight four prong plug. Some trucks come pre-wired like our 2005 Dodge Ram. Since trucks are called on to work pre-wiring them is a good move, it saves the owner the chore of getting the truck wired later.

My brother has a Chevy Silverado and it was wired with the newer style of plug, a circle about the size of a golf ball. I guess the newer style has additional benefits built in but I know for a fact the older style works fine too.

My parents have a 2009 GMC Sierra and it actually came pre-wired with both plugs. With both plugs now seen on the market I think installing both on trucks is a very good idea that potential buyers should appreciate.

If your vehicle doesn’t come pre-wired don’t worry, getting it wired isn’t that big of a deal. Any trailer shop can wire your vehicle for you, budget a couple of hundred dollars for this job.

If your vehicle and trailer don’t have matching plugs one of them is going to have to get a new plug installed. Talk to a shop that does this kind of work to see what they recommend you do but I would assume it would usually be easier to change the plug on a trailer than mess with the pre-wiring on your vehicle.

Trailer Hitches

Trailer Tongue

The tongue of a trailer is the front area that extends from the actual main body of the trailer to the hitch ball on the towing vehicle. This area is relevant because trailers have not to exceed ratings on their tongues. It is very important to completely understand what your trailer is capable of handling, before you fill it up with something.

Tow Ready

Towing isn’t something that should scare anyone. My wife uses our trailer to get hay every few weeks. I rode with her the first time she towed the trailer and gave her little bits of advice as well as votes of confidence. She was worried the first time but did great and has had no reservations about hooking up the trailer and hitting the freeway.

Using a trailer can be just like riding a bike; once you learn how to do it you remember what you need to do to be safe. You remember that you have to turn out a little bit wider and backing up is different. After you use a trailer a few times you will probably be completely confident in the whole process.

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    • kittyjj profile image

      Ann Leung 4 years ago from San Jose, California

      Love the video. It is easy to understand the trailer hitch installation just by watching the video. Great hub! Very informative! Voted up and useful!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      When we lived in Virginia everyone had a hitch on their truck. It was very common as most people need it to tow boats, trailers or cars on trailers. Yes, lots of race fanatics down there. Enjoyed the read and the memory.

    • adjkp25 profile image
      Author

      David 4 years ago from Northern California

      kittyjj - I'm glad the video worked, I hoped it would. Thanks for voting.

    • adjkp25 profile image
      Author

      David 4 years ago from Northern California

      teaches12345 - I have never been to Virgina but I can only imagine how popular hitches are. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Nettlemere profile image

      Nettlemere 4 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      I've always been a bit of a dunce at towing - used to unhitch the quad bike when I worked on a farm and turn the trailer manually to get it out of the sheep shed.

      This is a helpful and informative hub.

    • adjkp25 profile image
      Author

      David 4 years ago from Northern California

      Nettlemere - I was clueless when I first started towing but it didn't take too long to get comfortable. I'm glad this was helpful, thanks.

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