A Mover’s Guide to Trailers & Tow Hitches

At a glance

Need a tow hitch to hook up your moving trailer but don’t know where to start? We’re right there with you. Understanding tow hitches can be messy and confusing.

To answer all of your questions about trailer hitches, we researched everything from tow hitch types to the cost of professional tow hitch installation.

We’ll dive in deeper, but here are some things to remember when it comes to tow hitches:

  1. There are five different tow hitch classes with varying towing capabilities.
  2. The heavier or more complex the thing you want to tow, the pricier the tow hitch.
  3. The less compatible your trailer hitch is with your vehicle, the harder it will be to install.
  4. DIY installation is totally doable thanks to tons of YouTube tutorials and how-to online articles—but don’t try it all on your own if you have any doubts or confusion.
Definition badge

YOU SHOULD KNOW

YOU SHOULD KNOW

Tow hitches and trailer hitches are one and the same. You’ll hear both words thrown around—and both fit onto the back or front of cars and trucks to either hold things (like cargo racks) or pull things (like trailers and boats).

Everything you need to know about trailer hitches

Types of trailers and trailer hitches

There are lots of trailer hitch options out there, but if you’re hauling a moving trailer or towing your motorcycle (vs. a parade float or heavy-duty construction material), you’ll probably need one of the following:

  • Bumper hitch: Best for cargo carriers and light-duty trailers
  • Rear receiver hitch: Best for pulling heavy-duty trailers, boats, etc.
  • Weight distribution hitch: Controls sway and provides more stability (on any trailer hitch)

Tow hitch types

Hitch classMaximum weight limit (lbs.) Car compatibility Primary uses
Class I2,000Small cars, SUVs, minivansBike racks, kayaks, cargo boxes
Class II3,500–5,000Vans, small SUVs, pickup trucksLight-duty trailers, boats, small pop-up campers
Class III5,000–8,000SUVs, pickup trucksSnowmobiles, utility trailers, small boats, small campers
Class IV12,000–14,000Heavy-duty pickup trucks, SUVs Campers, large boats
Class V20,000–25,000Heavy-duty trucks RVs, boats, horse trailers, multi-car trailers
Hitch class
Class I
Class II
Class III
Class IV
Class V
Maximum weight limit (lbs.) Car compatibility Primary uses
2,000 Small cars, SUVs, minivans Bike racks, kayaks, cargo boxes
3,500–5,000 Vans, small SUVs, pickup trucks Light-duty trailers, boats, small pop-up campers
5,000–8,000 SUVs, pickup trucks Snowmobiles, utility trailers, small boats, small campers
12,000–14,000 Heavy-duty pickup trucks, SUVs Campers, large boats
20,000–25,000 Heavy-duty trucks RVs, boats, horse trailers, multi-car trailers

If you’re heading to the mountains for the weekend and need a tow hitch that can handle a pair of mountain bikes, you’ll probably need only a class I hitch. If you’re hauling a camper, you’ll need something bigger: a class IV tow hitch.

Don’t worry too much about Class V hitches—those are mostly for car dealerships that need to transport a line of cars or farmers transporting herds of horses.

See which trailer size you need in our What Size Moving Trailer Do You Need? FAQ.

If you’re finally crossing “cross-country road trip in an RV” off your bucket list but don’t want to buy a trailer to keep forever, look into renting. Check out these moving companies that offer trailer rentals.

How much does a tow hitch cost?

Here’s the answer you don’t want to hear: it depends. Generally speaking, trailer hitches cost anywhere from $30 to $800.

Hitches that cost closer to $800 are usually for heavy-duty work, like towing farm or construction equipment. A hitch to pull your boat to the lake will be in the ballpark of $150–$200.

How much does it cost to have a tow hitch installed?

You can expect professional hitch installation to start around $100 and go up to $800. Keep in mind that you’ll also have to buy the tow hitch and other parts separately, which can easily run you another $150–$200.

Really, it comes down to the combination of both your hitch and car type. If the installation seems fairly compatible with your car, it’ll be pretty simple. In which case, it wouldn’t hurt to try and do it yourself.

If your ride can’t take a standard hitch, you might have to fork out some extra cash for professional installation.

If you are going the DIY route, there is one caveat: if the installation gets too tricky or if you get confused, go to a professional! No harm, no foul—your safety (and your car’s) isn’t worth risking to do it alone.

Use our guide to find the best tow hitch installers.

(Pssst: Never allow a professional installer to weld a tow hitch to your vehicle’s frame. It could damage it!)

Heads up exclamation

DON'T FORGET TO GET A LOCK

DON'T FORGET TO GET A LOCK

Sadly, stolen ball mounts are a thing. Luckily, tow hitch locks cost as little as $10 (less than the price of your next GrubHub burrito).

How to install a tow hitch

We have a whole guide on DIY tow hitch installation! It really boils down to these six steps:

  1. Calculate your car’s towing capacity.
  2. Make sure you have the right equipment (from a torque wrench to a power drill).
  3. Jack up your car (safely) or chock your wheels and activate your parking break.
  4. Move the hitch into place and attach it to your vehicle following the directions in your hitch’s owner’s manual.
  5. Tighten the bolts on the hitch.
  6. Double-check that your hitch is secure before towing anything!

Take advantage of YouTube tutorials—these videos may not look exactly the same as your installation, but they can give you a good general visual. Also, check out other online resources! We get into all the details in our tow hitch installation guide.

Bullhorn

REMEMBER

REMEMBER

Wiring your tow hitch to your car is essential. Otherwise, cars behind you won’t be able to see your brake lights and could ram right into you if you slow down too fast. The wiring process is a bit complex—but if you’re willing to brave it, follow a tow hitch wiring guide to help you figure things out.

Depending on your tow hitch and the weight you’re towing, you may need additional accessories to support the equipment. For instance, once you have a trailer hitch installed on your vehicle, you’ll likely need a few other accessories to hook up your moving trailer or tow your boat.

The exact equipment will depend on your hitch type and what you’re towing, but here are a few recommendations to get you started:

About Julia Campbell

Julia Campbell
Julia Campbell is a full-time writer who knows the tricks of the trade when it comes to planning a hassle-free move. Having moved seven times in the past five years, she draws from her own experience and industry expertise to help you avoid her biggest mistakes (like that time she thought she could get away with packing her dishes without wrapping them first).