A number of years ago you really didn’t have much choice when it came to selecting tow hitch types. Almost everyone used a 50mm tow ball, and that was it.
Today though, you’ve got more options than you can poke a stick at, and they all have their own pro’s and con’s, and cost a hugely different amount. In this post, we take a look at all of the different tow hitch types, so you can choose what is most suitable.
Tow hitch considerations
It does the job you need it to
When buying a product, we always recommend you get something that does what YOU need it to. If you are towing a box trailer to the tip once a year, or you never take your caravan off road, there’s no point going out and spending a thousand dollars on a new, fancy off road hitch.
There are some amazing hitches out there today, but they are built for a purpose and if that doesn’t align with what you need, you are wasting your time and money.
It clears your door or tailgate
A lot of wagons (and Utes) still run doors that swing out, or tailgates that come down. You want to be sure that your tow hitch type clears this, or I guarantee you’ll get frustrated really quickly.
This can happen with any tow hitch type, and it often relates more to the tow tongue orientation and design. You can get drop down hitches which are very useful, but they can easily impede your door or tailgate and if you don’t realise in time you can do some damage.
I’ve seen people drop their tailgate down straight onto the hitch and end up with a nice big dent. Not what you want.
It’s rated for your trailer and vehicle
There’s a lot to take in when it comes to getting towing weights right, and your hitch needs to suit the trailer and vehicle you have. You can’t tow a 4.5 tonne caravan with a 3.5 tonne hitch. If you do, and you are involved in an accident the consequences can be very nasty for your hip pocket, and potentially for you too.
It’s the right length
Some hitches are much longer than others, and this is critical for a number of reasons. You want it long enough that it clears everything nicely, and so you can steer comfortably with your vehicle without fear of the trailer hitting the back of the vehicle (although this can sometimes be unavoidable with short drawbars and big stone guards).
On the flip side, a hitch that is too long will increase leverage, and isn’t good for your tow ball weight. Get something that is as short as possible whilst doing the job you need it to.
It sits at the right height
If your vehicle and trailer are not level going down the road, you have a problem and it needs attention. Obviously there are lots of other variables that make this happen, but your tow hitch should be sitting at the height that will help it stay level.
Everyone has seen vehicles with their headlights pointing towards the moon, and driving a setup like this is very unsafe and likely to get you in trouble. Too much weight on the rear of your vehicle makes the front wheels struggle to steer and brake (as they do most of the braking), and that’s not a good position to be in!
It suits the brake style (and handbrake)
All trailers over 750kg today are required to have brakes fitted to them, and most have hand brakes too. The tow hitch that you purchase needs to marry into the setup your trailer has, and allow for the vehicle to use it.
Some brakes are operated by hydraulics or cable, and your hitch needs to allow for this. If you are running electric brakes you’ll normally get away without the sliding facility that many hitches have, but ensure the handbrake arrangement still works properly. You can’t muck with these things; they need to be right, and they need to work when you want them.
It’s easy (and safe) to use
Some tow hitches are the cause for a lot of anger and frustration, and I’ve seen people lose their mind a number of times. I too have been incredibly angry at some tow hitch types because they are almost impossible to use in some situations, and that’s not where you want to be.
Some hitches make you work really hard too, and you can easily injure your back trying to use them, so find something that isn’t going to take you out of action too!
Get a tow hitch that is going to make your life easy, safe, smooth and calm; its worth the cost, and you’ll be glad you did.
How does it affect your other trailers?
A lot of the tow hitch types on the market today have a different male and female part, which means you need to have multiple tow tongues, or swap it over when you want to use it, or change your tow hitches so they are all the same.
For example, on our Isuzu Dmax, I have a tow tongue with a 50mm tow ball that we’d use for towing a box trailer around on the rare occasion. I then have a tow tongue with the female receptor for a Treg Hitch, which was used for towing the boat around.
If I want to use the camper trailer (which we always do) I have to remove the tow ball and fit the DO35 receptor. This isn’t too difficult, but it does take a bit of time, and if you are constantly swapping trailers its something to think about.
What are the different tow hitch types?
50mm tow ball
Everyone knows what the 50mm tow ball is. You can get them for a couple of bucks, and they are by far and away the most common tow hitch type in Australia. These are great; they are cheap, easy to use, and work fine.
You can also get a 70mm tow ball, which is sometimes used on trucks towing larger trailers.
Tow balls fall short in the fact that they can’t articulate very far in an up and down, or side to side motion. If you are off road and your trailer wants to pivot further than what the tow ball and hitch will allow you to do so, you can put some pretty significant stress on your setup.
If you do have a roll over as well, these have no chance of leaving your trailer on two wheels and will often drag the trailer over as well (although this can happen with off road hitches too).
Tow ball hitches are also quite noisy, and you’ll really notice it when you are driving off road. They are however, a great option, and most commonly used today because they work just fine for a large majority of applications.
Treg or Trig Hitch (or Polyblock hitch)
Treg, or Trig Hitches were one of the first Australian made tow hitch, and they are a dream to tow with. You’ll see some companies advertising these as Polyblock hitches today, and these are usually imported copies. I would stay very, very far away from any with a red poly block as I’ve seen a huge number of them fail.
Treg hitches are fully articulating in both directions, quiet and a dream to tow with.
They are however, the bane of my my existence when it comes to hooking up and detaching, and for that reason alone I would never get another one.
On flat ground, using two people these are easy enough to use, but the moment you are on sloping ground, or soft ground these are almost impossible to line up, and any force makes it impossible to put the pin in, or take it out.
You can read more of my thoughts here; Why I’d never get a Treg Hitch, but there’s other options out there today that are better overall, in my opinion.
A few years back now a new player came into the tow hitch game; the McHitch. These use a universal joint arrangement which is fully articulating, quiet, and loved by a huge amount of owners.
I haven’t had much personal experience with these, except for a good mate who has one on his boat trailer, and he’s not that happy with it. They do seem to have a lot of moving parts compared to other hitches, but a lot of people love them. They also make an auto coupler, which we go into below
McHitch Auto coupler
Another McHitch Product is the Auto Coupler, which you literally back into and it connects up. These are also raved about by many, but I can’t personally comment on their performance.
DO35 and DO45
If you look around in the off road camper and caravan market, I’d say the large majority of trailers run DO35, or DO45 hitches. These are made by Cruisemaster (a very well known trailer suspension business), and are rated for 3.5 or 4.5 tonnes each.
They are a relatively simple design, and we’ve had one on our Reconn R2 for about 3 years now. Compared to the Treg hitch, these are a dream, and I don’t have any need to change it.
They work all the time very easily, and on the odd occasion it doesn’t want to release its due to the trailer wanting to roll forwards or backwards. Simply put the vehicle in neutral and let it roll to its ‘home’ position, or put chocks on the trailer wheels and release the force.
They are fully articulating, quiet, super easy to hitch up, and overall a dream to tow with.
I had a comment left on my DO35 post some time ago by a bloke named John, who created the Hitch Ezy. These are fully Australian made, and look like an exceptional bit of kit.
I’d go as far as saying these present on paper as the nicest hitch on the market, but the cost reflects this, and I won’t be moving over any time soon!
Alko off road Ball Coupling
Alko are well known in the Caravan industry, and have released an off road coupling that hooks straight onto a normal 50mm ball. This eliminates the need to swap tow hitch receptors over; you can stick with a 50mm tow ball to do your normal trailers, plus your off road coupling.
Again, I don’t have any personal feedback on these, and they seem to be fairly quiet in terms of market share, but lets see how things go in the future.
Lastly, there are some different hitches on the market that you don’t see too often today. I’ve seen a strange variation of the Treg Hitch, and the you have the Pintle Hook or hitch, which is not too common, but was heavily used on army trailers.
If you have a Ute, you have another option for towing; a 5th wheeler. These hook onto your tray or tub (with engineered bracing) and are towed off just above your rear axle, instead of a tow bar. For obvious reasons this is not an option for a Wagon, and if you have a Ute it basically renders the rest of the Ute Storage useless.
They do have a number of advantages over towing with a normal tow hitch, and are loved by many. If you want a big caravan and can afford the conversion of your Ute to take a 5th wheeler, they are a fantastic option.
There’s a couple of newer hitches on the market that you don’t see around too often. These are becoming more popular with big American 4WD’s, and actual trucks, to take some of the shock load out of the caravan drawbar that you get with a trucks rigid suspension.
Air glide, Ozglide and Airsafe are a couple of the more common options, which use compressed air to absorb the rough shocks when towing. I’ve seen a couple of these in use, and they really are impressive bits of kit; the drawbar of the caravan can go up and down independent of the truck, which means its much smoother and nicer on your gear.
Weight distribution hitches
In most of the above configurations, you can purchase what is known as a weight distribution hitch. These use metal bars to try and transfer some of the weight you apply on the rear of a vehicle to the front, and to distribute the weight better.
These cannot be used off road, and despite people raving about them, with the correct suspension, tow ball weight and overall setup you should not need them.
Where should you go to get a tow hitch?
You can buy tow hitches from all over the place today. Often a great place to start is your local trailer store (we have Martins Trailer Parts here, which are exceptional), but you can get them from local auto stores, and also directly from the manufacturers in some cases.
If you have a setup that is a bit different from the norm, or you are wanting to see what your options are find a company that excels in trailer hitches and that can give you the best advice the first time around.
What tow hitch type do you run?
What are you running? Are you happy with it? Would you get something different next time?