Trailer Hitch Classes – How To Choose The Right Size?

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Trailer hitch classes and receiver size you need depends on two factors: what you want to tow or carry, and what your vehicle can handle!

If you’ve never dealt with trailer hitches before, it can be kind of confusing. What do the different classes mean? What sizes are there, and what size do you need?

You can put the strongest hitch in the world on the back of a Ford Focus, but you’re still not going to transform your Focus into a trailer-towing giant!

The quickest and easiest way to figure out which hitches will work for your vehicle is to use our fitguide. Just input your vehicle’s year, make, and model, and we’ll show you only the hitches that fit.

But what if multiple hitch classes or sizes turn up, and you have options? What trailer hitch class do you need then?

We’ll go over trailer hitch classes in more detail below, so you can confidently make the choice best suited for your vehicle and towing situation.

What are the Different Trailer Hitch Classes?

There are a total of 5 trailer hitch classes, with Class I having the lowest capacity and Class V having the highest. Hitch classes essentially designate the hitch opening size and weight capacity.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the 5 trailer hitch classes, their associated capacities, and their typical receiver sizes.

5 trailer hitch classes

Okay, great, you may be thinking. But what do these numbers actually translate to? For context, we’ve broken out the 5 trailer hitch classes below, including the typical tow vehicles, trailers, and accessories you’ll see associated with each size.

Keep in mind that you are always limited by your lowest rated component. For instance, if your hitch can haul 8,000 lbs but your vehicle can only haul 3,000 lbs, you’re maxed out at 3K.

Gross Trailer Weight (GTW): Weight of the loaded trailer. To determine GTW, weigh the loaded trailer on a vehicle scale.
Tongue Weight (TW): The downward pressure placed on the ball by the coupler. To determine TW, use a tongue weight scale or other method.

Class I Trailer Hitch?

A Class I trailer hitch is the lightweight champion of the 5 available classes, making it perfect for small loads like kayaks or cargo carriers. These hitches are most often found on passenger cars and smaller SUVs.

Class I and Class II trailer hitches typically have a 1-1/4″ x 1-1/4″ receiver opening. Class II accessories will not work with Class I hitches.

Max GTW: 1,000-2,000 lbs
Max TW: 100-200 lbs
Receiver opening: 1-1/4″

Class I Typical Loads

  • Bikes (max 2)
  • Cargo carriers
  • Kayaks
  • Canoes
  • Mobility scooters
  • Small trailers

Class I Typical Tow Vehicles

  • Compact cars
  • Midsize cars
  • Full-size cars
  • SUVs
  • Minivans

Class II Trailer Hitch

A Class II trailer hitch is just a bit heftier than a Class I hitch. Like Class I hitches, they are typically found on passenger cars and smaller SUVs.

Because Class I and Class II hitch receivers are usually the same size, many people wonder if their Class II accessories will fit their Class I hitch. But alas, this is not the case!

Class I hitch receivers have a built-in stopper so that drawbars and accessory shanks can only slide into the trailer hitch opening to a certain point. Class II accessories have a longer shank, so they’ll run into the stopper and won’t be able to slide all the way into the receiver. This is to keep you from accidentally overloading your Class I hitch with a heavier Class II accessory.

On the other hand, you CAN use a Class I accessory in a Class II hitch.

Max GTW: 2,000-3,500 lbs
Max TW: 200-525 lbs
Receiver opening: 1-1/4″

Class II Typical Loads

  • Bikes
  • Cargo carriers
  • Kaykas
  • Canoes
  • Mobility scooters
  • Small trailers
  • Pop-up campers (small)
  • Small boats

Class II Typical Tow Vehicles

  • Compact cars
  • Midsize cars
  • Full-size cars
  • SUVs
  • Minivans

Class III Trailer Hitch

Class III hitches are some of the most common due to their wide range of weight capacities (about 3,500 lbs GTW to 8,000 lbs GTW). If you want to tow a camper, you’re best off sticking with at least a Class III hitch. Since this is the most common trailer hitch classes, you have way more options for everything from trailers to bike racks to cargo carriers.

Class III hitches have 2″ x 2″ wide receiver openings. However, you can still use 1-1/4″ accessories if you’ve got them by using an adapter.

Max GTW: 3,500-8,000 lbs
Max TW: 300-800 lbs
Receiver opening: 2″

Class III Typical Loads

  • Midsize campers
  • Utility trailers
  • Lawn maintenance equipment
  • Bikes
  • Cargo carriers
  • Kaykas
  • Canoes
  • Motorcycles
  • Snowmobiles

Class III Typical Tow Vehicles

  • Full-size cars
  • Large SUVs
  • Minivans
  • Trucks

Class IV Trailer Hitch

We again step up the weight capacities with Class IV hitches. Like Class III hitches, Class IV hitches typically have 2″ x 2″ receivers. However, they come with an even beefier weight capacity (up to 12,000 lbs GTW).

Class IV hitches have 2″ x 2″ wide receiver openings. If you want to use your 1-1/4″ accessories with your 2″ hitch, you can use an adapter.

Max GTW: 5,000-12,000 lbs
Max TW: 500-1,200 lbs
Receiver opening: 2″

Class IV Typical Loads

  • Large campers
  • Large boats
  • Toy haulers
  • Horse trailers

Class IV Typical Tow Vehicles

  • Heavy-duty trucks
  • Large SUVs

Class V Trailer Hitch

Class V trailer hitches are as big as they come. These are the heavy-duty hitches made for hauling your heaviest trailers and toy haulers. Most Class V hitch receivers have a 2-1/2″ receiver opening. Although some have a 2″ opening, and the largest even have a 3″ opening (these giants are welded to the tow vehicle’s frame).

If you need to carry a smaller accessory with a Class V hitch, adapters are available.

Max GTW: 10,000-25,000 lbs
Max TW: 1,000-4,000 lbs
Receiver opening: 2″, 2-1/2″, or 3″

Class V Typical Loads

  • Large toy haulers
  • Equipment haulers
  • Multi-car trailers
  • Horse trailers

Class V Typical Tow Vehicles

  • Heavy-duty trucks
  • Commercial trucks

Each trailer hitch classes are designed for a specific trailer weight range. When selecting the appropriate hitch make sure the weight rating of the hitch is greater than the loaded weight of the trailer that will be towed. The tow vehicle capacity for weight carrying and hitch attachment will vary and will sometimes dictate the class of hitch that can be used.