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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, what if I told you that you might be able to turn your towbar tongue upside down, and gain about 80mm of clearance? You literally unbolt your towball, 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 turning it over

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 hitches

The alternative to flipping the hitch over is to get yourself an adjustable 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.

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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