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Basic Towing Tips: Ball Mounts, Tow Balls, Wiring

My Vehicle Came With a Hitch. Now What?

I've come to realize I haven't offered enough of the useful information that I learned over the years selling truck and SUV accessories, so I would like to offer some simple information in regard to towing. I am by no means an expert in towing, but I can help with the very basics you may need to know if you want to hook up a trailer for the first time.

Ok, so your new truck or SUV came with a trailer hitch. Most trucks and some SUVs can be bought with almost everything you need, meaning they come with the hitch and necessary wiring connection, but there are a couple of things they don't come with. Don't feel bad when you go to the store and look at the towing accessories and be a little intimidated by what you see. There's a rack full of all different sizes of things, so where do you start?

Ball Mount

So this is really the first thing you need. There are other terms for it, but I always called it a ball mount, because that's what it is—the thing the ball mounts to. This is the piece that slides into your receiver, which is probably a 2" x 2" hole, aka a class III hitch. If your vehicle is a smaller SUV, it may have the smaller receiver size, but most are the 2" x 2".

Ok, so you know the size, but a ball mount will either stick out (straight) or have a drop to it, also referred as a rise (but more on that later). The rule is—and what you need may vary depending on how your trailer sits—from the ground to the top of the ball should be around 10" to 12", that is the ball should be roughly a foot off the ground. Like I said, that can vary, but the idea is you want the tow vehicle, and the trailer, to be as level as possible, or straight I guess.

You may have seen big lifted trucks with these ball mounts that drop down a lot—that's because their truck sits so high. The tongue of that trailer needs to be level, so whether a vehicle is lifted or lowered will determine what that drop or rise should be. Don't forget those ball mounts can be flipped upside down; yep, they work both ways, hence the term "rise'" not drop.

Ball Mounts

The many different drops and rises of ball mounts
The many different drops and rises of ball mounts
Yes, these can be, and often are, flipped upside down
Yes, these can be, and often are, flipped upside down
This allows you to tow and add an accessory at the same time.
This allows you to tow and add an accessory at the same time.

Tow Balls

Seems stupid, but if you notice, there are a lot of different balls to buy. Most trailers require a 2" ball, some could be smaller, like 1 7/8". Larger trailers need larger, fatter balls, but the 2-inch is the most common size.

There's also a different diameter and length to the size of the shank on the ball. You might be wondering why: don't they all fit on the ball mount, shouldn't they all be the same size? Yes; however, before we all started using trailer hitches, people would mount trailer balls directly onto the hole of a bumper, and that hole is narrower than the one on a ball mount, so, the shank on the ball is narrower.

Some tow balls also come chrome or zinc. The zinc balls won't rust as quickly, and they tend to be cheaper, but when it comes to the finish on the balls, it really doesn't matter what you get.

Balls for towing

Two inch balls are the most common
Two inch balls are the most common

Wiring

So maybe you already knew that other stuff I was talking about, but now you're wondering how do you actually connect the wiring plug from the trailer to my vehicle. Let me first say if I was writing this 20 years ago, the answer to that would be much more complicated. Fortunately, today most trucks and SUVs come with a wiring harness all ready to go. You may need an adapter plug, and if you do need a wiring harness, always check with your towing/hitch dealer to see if they have a factory-specific part; it will make the install much easier.

Wiring Plugs

Back end of a 2017 Tacoma. Notice the factory hitch and wiring outlets. All this needs is a ball mount and ball and it's ready to go.
Back end of a 2017 Tacoma. Notice the factory hitch and wiring outlets. All this needs is a ball mount and ball and it's ready to go.
This is a 7-way to 4-way adapter. Very small trailers have the 4-way flat, also known as a 'pig tail'.
This is a 7-way to 4-way adapter. Very small trailers have the 4-way flat, also known as a 'pig tail'.
A very typical setup that most pickups come with these days.
A very typical setup that most pickups come with these days.

Add-Ons

There's always other stuff to add on, like locks for security, and a whole host of accessories, but that's for another hub. As always, I hope this info is at all useful, and feel free to ask me any questions.

Popular receiver locks. Most people like to leave ball mounts in place, but if they aren't locked down, they can and will go missing.
Popular receiver locks. Most people like to leave ball mounts in place, but if they aren't locked down, they can and will go missing.
This is a simple class II to class III adapter, but this should only be used for racks and accessories
This is a simple class II to class III adapter, but this should only be used for racks and accessories

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