While studying adjustable ball mount styles I noticed nearly all have a stationary rack and a floating attachment. Have you noticed that too? It’s a pretty important detail when we look at which one to choose.
Just to satisfy my curiosity, I did a Google search on “Adjustable Ball Mount” to see what would come up. The results are in the image. (Click the image to see it full size.) Yup, only one style has a floating rack.
Well . . . What’s the big deal? Does it matter?
As part of my regular Engineering profession, I do a lot of analysis and evaluation. This caught my eye, because there are some important, practical considerations. It may not be readily obvious, but please follow along, and hopefully I’ll explain it well enough.
For this article, we are talking about the “Ball Mount” — the piece that goes on the tow vehicle to hold the hitch ball. Please note, this is NOT the adjustable hitch to weld on a trailer tongue. While they are similar, an adjustable hitch on a trailer tongue is another discussion. For more on that, please see the article asking about the differences for choosing an adjustable hitch or a ball mount.
** Please note: Mechanical Elements has no connection or affiliation with any of the products or companies in this article. We talk about them as we see them, nothing more. **
“Stationary” and “Floating”
Let’s start with the definitions. What is the “Rack“? And, what is the “Attachment“? Then, what do we mean by “Stationary” and “Floating“?
An adjustable ball mount system typically has 2 main parts. One has multiple holes, notches or positions where the other part can connect. The part with all the holes or notches is the “Rack“. The other piece is the “Attachment“.
Next, one part connects directly to the tow vehicle and is “Stationary“, or always in the same position with respect to the tow vehicle. The other part is said to “Float” because it can attach in one of many positions – making it adjustable.
In this image, the “Rack” is the bar with all the holes. It is stationary here since it connects directly to the tow vehicle. The ball mounting platform floats because it can mount to the stationary part in one of many positions. Just pull out the bolts, then put it in a different position.
That is the nomenclature for “Stationary” and “Floating” in this discussion. I realize it is not truly “stationary” as it can come off the tow vehicle or come out and flip over. I also realize the ball mounting platform does not really “float” as it is attaches firmly with the bolts. Yet, in spite of the terms, please follow as we make this relevant.
Adjustable Ball Mount Advantages
Obviously, the big advantage for an Adjustable Ball Mount is the ability to set the height of the ball so it is correct for the trailer. It helps with the trailer level attitude. That’s easy enough.
Adjustment up and down is also pretty easy to understand. Simply remove the pins or bolts, then reposition the ball up or down as needed. Re-install the fasteners and it is ready to go. It’s a great system if you pull various trailers with different tongue heights.
The Big Hiccup For Adjustable Mounts
As mentioned in our previous article about Adjustable Hitching Concepts, we discuss some of the disadvantages. While these products are fairly popular and they generally perform quite well, they do have one big hiccup. Because of the height (vertical), they can drag the ground in awkward roadway transitions.
Yes, this can be an issue with some vehicles no matter what hitch you use, but the design of adjustable hitch components can exacerbate the situation. The adjustable systems often have parts that make some portions hang lower than a similar rigid style drop hitch.
Compare these two drawbars with about the same ball height. (Measuring from the tow vehicle receiver to the ball.) You can see, even without the double ball on the adjustable one, it hangs much lower than the rigid ball mount (one on the right).
So how does this all relate? And, why are we talking about it?
The first sentence above, talks about a stationary rack and a floating attachment. In the image above we see the rack is stationary, and the ball part floats with respect to the rack. Notice that this system is always lower to the ground than a typical drop hitch. (For some systems, the lowest adjustable position is similar for ground clearance to that of a rigid one.) Since ground clearance is one big disadvantage for an adjustable ball mount, it stands to reason that a good system will minimize this issue. Right?
Floating Rack Adjustable Ball Mount
For a system like this, clearance at the hitch is less of an issue if you only need a short drop. It means you don’t have a long portion still protruding down as shown with the adjustable ball mount in the image above. That helps a lot with departure angle for the tow vehicle, and approach angle for the trailer.
This design works well when you need a drop for your ball mount. However, if you think about flipping it over – to get a ball lift – it is completely different. When flipping it, this unit will have a lot hanging down to create scrape problems.
As A Side Note:
I actually really like this particular adjustable ball mount design – for drop ball applications. The offset of the drawbar gives some opportunities as well as cushioning in the tubes – in both directions. (Up and down, also in and out.) I have not used one, but I like what I see. Find this one at Dales Super Store. (No affiliation. I don’t know if they are good guys or not. I just found it on the web.)
I’ll just throw this out. The adjustable ball mount is a pretty cool devise – and there are many designs. The big difference I see with the various ball mounts is what they are good for. Do you need Ball Lift? Or Ball Drop?
Lift Or Drop?
To me, this is the big difference in the designs. If you tow a trailer where the tongue is lower than the tow vehicle receiver, (Drop), you really want one that has a floating rack, like the one above. One that does not have things hanging below the ball mounting platform.
However, you can pretty easily see that if you want to Lift the ball (for a trailer tongue that is higher than the tow vehicle), this one has a lot of ground clearance issues. (Think about it flipped over, Rack facing down – upside-down from the image.)
So what style of adjustable ball mount do I want for a ball Lift?
Find one where there is very little hanging below the tow vehicle receiver hitch level. See the one in this image. The rack is stationary and set facing up. It does a nice job of lifting the ball mounting platform, without much material poking down to cause clearance issues.
Typically, a stationary rack will provide better ground clearance when the ball needs a lift.
However, please note that if you use it upside down, for a drop ball, there is a long bar hanging down to create a ground scraping disaster.
Again, this emphasizes the statements above, where the stationary rack is generally better suited for a ball lift, and a floating rack is generally better suited for a ball drop. (This is not true of all designs, but generally. Also see the last section below.)
So, that is my assessment. Different tools for different jobs.
The Right Tools
Whichever adjustable ball mount you choose, make sure it will handle the trailer weight (and tongue weight) you will need.
While this may seem off topic, here is a good point to note about using the right tools. I know we are talking about adjustable ball mounts, but I have to point out that I personally like the non-adjustable types. They just seem more robust to me, with fewer parts and more solid. They also do not have any extra movement to add areas for extra banging or clicking. Again, that’s just my opinion.
Unless you pull a variety of trailers where you need the adjustability, just get the drawbars you need for the height of your trailer.
Finally, speaking of the right tool for the job, most adjustable ball mounts either have looseness for using pins in the adjustable connection (meaning rattling or noise when pulling a trailer), or they have bolts that are not super quick and easy to adjust. I find it easier to pull out the right rigid drawbar than to fiddle with adjustments. (I actually have a drawbar for each trailer that I just swap out when I switch.)
Adjustable Ball Mount Designs To Avoid
Now what about all the rest? There are a lot of different designs out there. The worst you can get, IMHO, are the ones that try to do it all. (Try to do it all, but everything is mediocre.) The one below for instance.
This one has clearance issues no matter what way you position it. Plus, the 2-ball end means you’ll always have one ball ready to scrape the ground — damaging the thing that needs to be smooth and nice for the hitch. This kind of adjustable ball mount makes no sense to me. Take that for what it’s worth — one opinion. If the tow vehicle and trailer just happen to work with this, then go for it. It looks like a pretty small window of circumstances to me.
Hopefully some of this article will help with seeing things in a way to work best for your situation. The adjustable ball mount is a great tool if it fits your situation. Now you know more. If you decide an adjustable hitch on the trailer side of the equations will work better for you, check out this similar article about Adjustable Hitches (attaching to the trailer tongue). You don’t need both.
Good luck in choosing your adjustable ball mount.
** Again, Please note: Mechanical Elements has no connection or affiliation (good or bad) with any of the products or companies in this article. We talk about them as we see them, nothing more. **