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Can you flip your tow hitch?

How many vehicles do you see driving down the road with the trailer pointing towards the road, and the vehicles headlights pointing towards the sky? There’s a distinct lack of understanding when it comes to towing safely, and a portion of this comes from not setting your tow hitch to the correct height.

The other part of it comes from people not understanding, or just ignoring the weight limitations of their vehicles. There are 7 things that you must comply with, and most people are only aware of one or two. For more information, check this easy to understand post that we wrote; Towing capacity; a simple guide to keep you legal.

Most people run their tow hitch in the following configuration:

Tow hitch orientation

The normal tow hitch orientation

However, everyone wants to know if you can you flip a tow hitch upside down. What if I said you might be able to, and gain about 80mm of clearance? You literally unbolt your tow ball, or DO35 hitch, or Treg/Mchitch attachment, turn the hitch around and do it back up.

Tow hitch flipped

Can you flip your hitch like this?

Are you allowed to turn your hitch upside down?

In general yes, you can turn your hitch around, and enjoy the extra clearance. However, before you do, there’s a few things you need to do:

Check with the tow bar and hitch tongue manufacturer

With a bit of luck, both the tow bar and tow tongue will be made from the same company, and you can ring and ask. Some tow bars and tow tongues have stickers on them, clearly stating which way you can use them, and whether there are any weight reductions from turning them over. If they don’t, ring the manufacturer to make sure its OK to do.

Tow bar name plate

Have a look at the name plate, then contact the manufacturer for advice

Check with the vehicle manufacturer

Of course, you also need to check with the manufacturer of your vehicle, to see if they allow it or not. If you are running an aftermarket tow bar this can be problematic, as they won’t give you the go ahead for anything non genuine, but if its OK for genuine and the tow bar manufacturer says go for it you are good to rock and roll.

Tow hitch ratings

Our Isuzu Dmax tow hitch ratings, with no mention of direction of the tongue

Watch for the weight reductions

I have seen instances where rotating your tow hitch around reduces the allowable tow ball allowance. Despite the difference in strength for most tow tongues being negligible, there are some instances where it is not as strong, and the manufacturer de-rates the maximum tow ball mass to account for it.

Why would you turn it over?

For most people, the reason for turning the hitch over is to gain more clearance. Ideally, if you look along your vehicle and trailer, it should all be sitting level. The trailer shouldn’t be pointing up or down on either end, and neither should your vehicle.

In our case, the Soft Floor Camper Trailer we had was pointing towards the ground with the hitch in its normal position, so we flipped it around and then it sat perfectly level. However, since getting the Reconn R2 which is taller, if the hitch is reversed the camper points upwards, so we’ve flipped it back to the original position.

What’s the downsides of running a towbar tongue upside down?

Tailgates and barn doors

One of the main reasons people often don’t turn their hitches over is because if you do, the barn doors, or tail gates hit the hitch and make it extremely difficult to use. If you do swap it around, make sure the tail gate drops with enough of a gap between the tow ball/hitch and the panel, or you’ll end up with a nice dent.

Likewise, for those of you who own Pajeros, Prado’s or any of the other vehicles with doors that swing open, if the hitch is too tall you wont be able to open the door of your 4WD, and that’s no good either.

Prado tow bar

Sometimes flipping the hitch makes it impossible to open barn doors, or you risk denting the tail gate

Reduced tow ball weight

Sometimes this is a good thing, but when you flip the hitch around, you lift the draw bar up, which shifts more weight to the back of your trailer, and reduces the tow ball weight. This is a very important factor to consider, as a light tow ball weight will end up in tears. You can read more about this here; What is tow ball weight, and why does it matter?

Measuring the tow ball weight

Changing the hitch height will reduce or increase your tow ball weight, so do it carefully

Adjustable tow hitches

The alternative to flipping the hitch over is to get yourself an adjustable tow hitch. There are plenty of options out there, which have numerous adjustment options to suit your exact setup. 

What’s the maximum height?

Apparently, there is a maximum and minimum height that your tow tongue/ball can be at. This comes from VSB 1:

“Ball couplings on towbars are required to be installed so that the height of the centre of the body of the ball coupling is between 350mm and 420mm from the ground when laden (Refer to ADR 62/01). Alternatively, if complying with the requirements of ADR 62/02 the maximum height of the centre of the body of the ball coupling may be increased to 460mm. However, the ball may be installed at any other height, provided it is also capable of being adjusted to at least one height within the 350-460mm range.”

Now, make of it what you will, but for many 4WD’s this is simply not possible, and a lot of people are saying most trailers for off road use don’t have ball couplings so its all irrelevant. I cannot find any concrete information either way.

Raised tow balls

Lastly, if you need to raise your tow ball height but can’t, or don’t want to flip the hitch over (or perhaps you need a bit of an increase but not too much), you can actually get a tow ball height extension by way of a raised tow ball. They are made taller, with a larger spacer under the tow ball, which effectively lifts them up.

So, can you flip your tow hitch?

If the tow bar and tow tongue manufacturer approve, along with the vehicle manufacturer, you are good to go. Make sure its not going to hit anything, and that it doesn’t upset your tow ball weight, and you’ll be just fine.

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8 comments… add one
  • Willem June 1, 2021, 4:28 AM

    Does weight distribution bars reduce towball weight? How can one measure impact?

  • Aaron Schubert June 1, 2021, 5:31 AM

    Hey Willem,

    Very interesting question. When you hook a trailer up, the rear of your vehicle will go down. The leverage causes weight to come off the front axles, and move to the rear.

    By installing a weight distribution hitch, or bars, you essentially move a portion of weight back to the front axle on your vehicle, and some extra to your trailer axle(s). In essence, it will reduce the tow ball weight, and the only way you’d measure it is to have scales on all wheels as you tighten it up, and see what the change is (or a scale on the hitch, which you can actually get now).

    Weight distribution bars are not intended for use off road, or even for crossing a spoon drain or whatever it might be, so they are ruled out for us. I believe its entirely possible to make your towing setup safe and correct without the need for a WDH, but that’s a story for another day.

    All the best
    Aaron

  • Allan Russell July 25, 2021, 9:10 AM

    Can I put a Hayman Reese goose neck on A Isuzu mux

  • Bill July 26, 2021, 1:13 PM

    I’ve had a few vans over the years and always used a WDH but all were heavy 3.1-3.3 tonne vans with around 300+kg ball weights. Our new van weighs 2.45T loaded with a towball weight of 220kgs. I’d be interested to know how to avoid using a WDH this time around as they are a pain in the butt, not to mention worrying about the stresses applied entering and exiting servo driveways etc. I thought a WDH was the only way to return weight to the front axle, or is there a certain tolerance you can get away with and still not overly affect braking and steering. Does it involve having the right suspension setup?

  • Aaron Schubert July 26, 2021, 7:37 PM

    Hey Bill,

    I have never used a WDH, and never will, as they aren’t suitable for off road applications. The correct suspension setup that makes your van and tow vehicle sit level and distribute the weight properly is all you need.

    220kg on the ball is easily doable with a good suspension setup; you just need it so the rear doesn’t sag down and remove too much weight from the front. Correctly rated springs for the load and tow ball weight will do this. You will lose some weight from the front by its very nature, but if you have a bull bar, bash plates or any other accessories this can easily be re-applied, or you can live without it too.

    All the best
    Aaron

  • Aaron Schubert July 26, 2021, 7:39 PM

    Hi Allan,

    Absolutely you can. Isuzu would prefer you use the genuine ones, but Hayman Reece is a very reputable business, and if you get their advice for choosing the right unit there is no reason why you couldn’t run one

    All the best
    Aaron

  • George Mamo November 17, 2021, 11:39 PM

    Hi Aaron,

    My view is that a tandem axel caravan should be towed on a 5 degree angle sloping downwards towards the tow vehicle and reason for this is to distribute the friction on both axels and wheels.

    My view is that when your towing your caravan level your actually towing with most of your load on the rear axel and not distributing the load and not utilising the tandem axel design.

    Regards

    George Mamo

  • Aaron Schubert November 18, 2021, 9:04 AM

    Hey George,

    Having the trailer point down a small amount is probably permissible (and I have heard other people recommend this too), but you have an issue when it points down considerably, or the back of your vehicle is way down too (or just the vehicle is pointing down). I would still rather both be level, with the weight distributed correctly.

    Wayne from Weigh to Tow actually suggested you are better off having between 80 – 110kg more weight on the front axle than the rear. You could do this by lowering the hitch, or by distributing weight better

    All the best
    Aaron

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