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Heavy Towing With Light-Duty Pickups Is More Confusing Than Ever

Sifting through the confusion of class V hitches
Sifting through the confusion of class V hitches
Dan Sanchez

Big trucks that can tow heavy loads are what we often see in televison commercials these days. The facts are that the towing capabilities of late-model trucks have increased dramatically over the past 10 years, and many hitch and accessory manufacturers are trying to stay ahead and design products that meet or even exceed the truck's capacities. For example, gross Vehicle Weight Ratings (GVWR) of light duty pickups are well over 10,000 to 12,000 lbs. So many hitch manufacturers are producing aftermarket Class-V hitches that have weight ratings of up to 17,000 lbs. for standard applications, and up to 20,000 lbs. in commercial applications.

According to Carl Andreasen, project manager at TestLink Services Inc., there is some confusion among hitch buyers, regarding class-5 hitches and any type of standardized testing that is able to keep up with increasing GVW ratings. Companies like TestLink Services has been serving the hitch and trailering industries since 2002. "Members of our staff have been testing hitches to SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) and V-5regulations since 1980," says Adreasen. "The proper scenario is for test standards to be written and published to encompass the full range of hitch capacities in the marketplace. Unfortunately that has not been the case since the late 1990’s."

Andreasen points out that SAE J684 is the voluntary test standard of choice for nearly all manufacturers of towing products to be marketed in the U.S. and Canada. SAE J684 is an active technical report that includes all test parameters of the old, idle Regulation V-5. "It, however, only addresses trailer connections whose Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) does not exceed Class 4, 10,000 lbs.(4540 kg) and the latest revision was July of 2005," says Andreasen, "Anyone marketing a Class 5 hitch has probably tested it to exceed SAE Class 4, 10,000 lbs. But Class 5 is not a category described not covered by SAE."

The basic industry understanding and acceptance of a Class-V hitch are:
- Class-V hitches are weight carrying (WC) and weight distributing (WD) hitches depending on the vehicle and hitch specifications.
- Class-V hitches used as weight carrying are rated up to 12,000 lbs. gross trailer weight (GTW) with a maximum trailer tongue weight (TW) of 1,200 lbs.
- Class-V hitches used for weight distributing are rated up to 17,000 lbs. gross trailer weight (GTW) with a maximum trailer tongue weight (TW) of 1,700 lbs.
- In order to tow these kinds of weight loads, the ball mount and hitch ball need to be rated for Class-V in order to safely tow these kinds of weight loads.
- Weight distribution systems are required to use a Class-V hitch for weight distribution.
- A Class V hitch has a 2-1/2-inch square receiver opening and should only be attached to the vehicle frame.

So until there's more of a standardized testing consumers are dependant on the testing that manufacturers are doing to ensure the products meet up to increasinlgy heavier ratings. Many hitch manufacturers we've spoken with over the years have said they would like to see some type of standardized testing that the industry could follow, but agree that its difficult to get everyone together to make that happen. Fortunately, many manufacturers are applying higher-grade hardware, thicker steel and improved manufacturing techniques to make their products stronger and compatible with the towing capabilities of late-model vehicles. According to Andreasen, the SAE Trailer Committee does show a work in progress for a Conventional Towing System up to 20,000 lbs.

In the meantime, anyone wanting to to heavy loads with their new truck should consider using a tongue scale. Tongue scales are becoming an essential part of determining how to properly match a hitch to the load someone will be towing. In addition to using a tongue scale, many hitch manufacturers also feel it is important to carefully examine the specifications listed for each hitch retailers sell, and find how the manufacturer comes up with those ratings.

While standardized testing for Class-V hitches is still up in the air, it's at least good to know that aftermarket hitch manufacturers are not slacking off on the quality of their hitches, and are dedicated as a whole, to provide the safest towing experience out there, not matter how heavy the load.