A Guide To Tongue Weight and Hitch Classes


Are you planning a trip and looking to make the most of your cargo space? If so, packing your hitch cargo carrier is a great way to maximize your vehicle’s carrying capacity and ensure you have all the necessary items for your journey.

But before you pack your hitch carrier, you must understand the different hitch classes and how to measure tongue weight. Knowing this information can help keep your vehicle and cargo safe and enable you to enjoy a stress-free trip. In this blog post, we’ll explain the importance of knowing your vehicle’s hitch class and tongue weight and provide tips for packing your hitch cargo carrier. So if you want to make the most of your journey, keep reading!

What is a Trailer Hitch?

A trailer hitch is typically mounted on the vehicle’s rear and can attach a trailer or other towed object, such as a cargo carrier. The hitch may be permanently fixed to the vehicle or removable.

The trailer hitch is typically an assembly that includes a receiver, hook, and safety chain connector.

Taking a Look at the Different Types of Trailer Hitches

There are many trailer hitches, but they all generally serve the same purpose: connecting trailers or cargo carriers to vehicles.

Receiver Hitch 

The receiver hitch usually has a square opening at the end to connect to the ball of a trailer or a carrier. This type of hitch is typically found on the back of many pickup trucks and most passenger vehicles, motorhomes, and campervans. 

The receiver or ball hitch is attached to the vehicle’s frame. The hitch goes over the bumper and then up and over a curved metal piece called a corrugated brow, which holds it in place. It has a Gross Towing Weight (GTW) of up to 20,000 pounds.

Fifth-Wheel Hitch 

The fifth-wheel hitch is primarily used for towing heavy loads with a truck. It has an opening shaped like a five that connects to the trailer’s ball. It has a GTW of up to 30,000 pounds and is best suited for pickup trucks only.

Gooseneck Hitch 

The gooseneck hitch is an innovative hitch system designed for trailers with large loads. It provides more stability than other hitches, such as the fifth wheel and the ball hitch. The goosenecks are installed on the vehicle’s rear axle and can be easily loaded. This hitch has a GTW of up to 38,000 pounds and is best suited for pickup trucks.

Weight Distribution Hitch

A weight distribution hitch is a great tool for distributing weight evenly across axles and tires and leveling the trailer and vehicle. This hitch keeps the trailer’s weight off of one axle, which can help reduce sway or bounce, and has a GTW of up to 15,000 pounds. They require a hitch receiver for connection.

Pintle Hitch

The pintle hitch is a type of hitch that is best equipped for heavy-duty vehicles and has a GTW of up to 60,000 pounds. The pintle hitch is best equipped for heavy-duty vehicles and is used in combination with lunette rings.

The Different Trailer Hitch Classes Explained

The Hitch Classification System is a guideline for the classification of hitch types. It was created by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) to provide an internationally accepted standard for hitch types. The system has been revised over time and now includes six hitch classes: Class I, Class II, Class III, Class IV, Class V, and Class VI.

What is the Difference Between a Class I and Class II Hitch?

A Class I trailer hitch is a 1¼” receiver hitch, the standard size for most passenger and crossover vehicles. It can be used with a variety of towing trailers and cargo carriers of up to 2,000 pounds and a Tongue Weight (TW) of up to 200 pounds.

A Class II trailer hitch also has a 1¼” receiver hitch designed for light-duty work. This hitch can also be used on small pickup trucks, standard-sized passenger cars, and minivans. Class II hitches generally have a Gross Trailer Weight (GTW) of up to 3,500 pounds with a TW capacity of around 350 pounds.

What is the difference Between a Class III, IV, and V Hitch?

A Class III hitch is a tow hitch rated for a GTW of around 8000 pounds or less with a 2” hitch and a tongue weight of 800 pounds. This type of hitch is most commonly found on pickup trucks and SUVs.They are versatile and designed for towing trailers with small to medium-sized boats, camper trailers, and utility trailers such as those used for hauling lawnmowers, ATVs, and motorcycles. 

With the addition of a weight distribution hitch, some Class III hitches may increase their towing capacity to approximately 12,000 pounds.

A Class IV hitch has a GWT of up to 10,000 pounds with a 2” hitch receiver with a TW of 1,000 pounds. These are often used in commercial settings but can also be used in personal vehicles. They are designed to receive heavy trailers, large boats and trucks, construction equipment, and large utility vehicles.

A hitch may have a Class V rating when it has a 20,000 pounds Gross Trailer Weight (GTW) and accommodates a 2½” hitch receiver. They are designed to carry heavy loads and are best suited to full-size pickup and commercial trucks. A Class V hitch has a tongue weight of around 2,400 to 2,550 pounds.

Hitch Class Classifications

Hitch Tongue Weight and What it Means for You

By definition, the tongue weight (TW) is the amount of downward force applied to the hitch ball of a vehicle when a trailer is attached. The tongue weight should be about 10% of the gross vehicle weight for a standard hitch and 20% for a fifth-wheel or gooseneck hitch.

Knowing the appropriate tongue weight for your vehicle is important because it affects the weight distribution on a trailer or carrier and overall stability.

Tongue weights typically range from 500 to 2000 pounds, with most trailers weighing around 1000 pounds.

Tongue weight requirements are determined by the trailer’s classification based on its gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR).

How to Calculate Tongue Weight?

To calculate tongue weight, you have to take the total weight of your vehicle without the loaded cargo carrier or trailer attached and subtract it from the total weight of your vehicle with the fully loaded trailer attached.

Example: Weight of fully loaded trailer attached to the vehicle – Weight of the vehicle without the trailer attached = Tongue Weight (TW). A trailer with a ball-mounted hitch should have a tongue weight between 10 and 15% of the Gross Towing Weight (GTW).

Rackmaven - How to measure tongue weight

For instance, if a 4,000-pound trailer is loaded with 1500 pounds of cargo, the acceptable tongue weight of the fully loaded trailer should be calculated somewhere between 550 – 825 pounds (which should be between 10% and 15% of the 5,500-pound total).

Ways to Measure the Tongue Weight of Your Trailer

A specialized tongue weight scale, a bathroom scale, or a commercial vehicle scale can be used to measure tongue weight.

The tongue weight scale is a simple and easy way to calculate the tongue weight of a trailer. The tongue weight scale is an industrial scale that can hold up to 2,000 pounds and includes a digital display. These scales can be found in most towing supply shops.

A home bathroom scale can also be used to measure the tongue weight of your trailer as an alternative method. If you expect the tongue weight (TW) to be under 300 pounds, you can place it directly onto the scale. Otherwise, it’s best to use a form of protective material, such as a plastic cover or plywood, as a buffer to protect the exterior finish of your scale.

Another way to measure your trailer’s tongue weight is to use a commercial vehicle scale located at many truck stops or landfills. This would also usually require a small fee. 

Important Safety Tips When Loading a Hitch Cargo Carrier

  1. Properly loading your trailer or hitch cargo carrier is one of the most important steps in safely transporting goods. Before loading, it is important to consider many factors, such as distance from the loading point, the trailer’s height, and the vehicle’s weight capacity.
  2. The trailer hitch cargo load should be distributed evenly. Heavier objects should be placed at the center of the hitch, and lighter objects should be placed at the outer edges. This will prevent too much weight on one side of the trailer and keep it level. Make sure that the cargo load is properly balanced in the carrier.
  3. Never overload the trailer with cargo.
  4. Make sure that all cargo is properly secured. Ratchet straps, cargo nets, or cargo boxes are great options. 
  5. As added safety precautions, ensure your carrier will be visible in low-light or adverse weather conditions through specialized lighting kits or reflectors. 
  6. Remember that your vehicle’s length has increased with the added cargo carrier at its rear. This is important to consider, especially if you’re overtaking other cars. Please do not cut them off. 

A Final Word

Regarding your road trip, the last thing you want is for your hitch cargo carrier to disconnect from your vehicle. So before you hit the road, ensure you have the right size hitch and tongue weight for your cargo carrier.

Connecting your cargo carrier to the wrong hitch size can cause significant damage to your vehicle and even be dangerous. It is important to consult your owner’s manual or a professional to ensure your cargo carrier is connected correctly. Once connected, do a thorough check of all the components to make sure everything is securely fastened.

Maintaining the correct tongue weight is also essential for a safe road trip. Make sure you always have the proper weight for your cargo carrier and adjust accordingly for any changes in your load.

Taking the extra time to ensure you have the right hitch size and tongue weight for your cargo carrier will ensure a safe and enjoyable trip for everyone.

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Marzanne is an active outdoors enthusiast with a passion for kayaking, hiking and camping. During summer months she dedicates the majority of her free time to ocean kayaking trails alongside all the beautiful beaches of Cape Town, South Africa. She combines her love for the outdoors with her creative pursuits such as wildlife and landscape photography.

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