Over the past few years the Adjustable Hitch and/or Adjustable Ball Mount have become quite popular. They are great for adapting to a wide variety of tow vehicle heights and trailer tongue heights. But, which should you use? Does it make any difference?
In this quick article we will look at some benefits — and some worry for each.
While adjustable hitch concepts have been around for a long time, they have not always been really common. I’m not sure if it’s acceptance of the ideas in the market, or if it’s just the availability of parts. Either way, we now have a lot of choices, and a lot of acceptance in the marketplace.
This is good for us as trailer users because it gives options. But, which way is better? Is it better to adjust the hitch height? Or the ball height?
Adjustable Hitch Questions
In concept, most adjustable connections have a rack with a bunch of positions, then a movable part that mounts in one of the positions. Each position offers a change in vertical height for the actual trailer connection. By changing the height of the connection, it’s easy to set the attitude of the trailer for best towing.
Q: Some have the rack internal, like a bar, while others have the rack external, like a large Channel. Does it make any difference?
A: Not really. The difference is more about quality from different companies in clearance. If it bolts, or pins together snug, then it will work just fine. If there is a lot of clearance, it will add clatter to your towing.
Q: Is an Adjustable Ball Mount on the tow vehicle better or worse than an Adjustable Hitch attaching on the trailer tongue?
A: While both will work, the choice depends more on how you will use it. Read more below.
Q: Sometimes the Adjustable Ball Mount has rubber isolation built in – some even have air bladders – for cushioning. Are the extras worth it?
A: Cushioning can make the towing experience softer. The value is proportional to your personal annoyance with trailer jostle, versus the size of your wallet. They only cushion in one direction, pivoting up and down, but towing is a 3 dimensional proposition.
Let’s look a little deeper.
Adjustable Trailer Tongue Coupler
We see them more on larger trailers — like Car Haulers / Equipment Transports, and Deck-Over trailers. They are not as common on the smaller trailers. Do you think it is more important to level a large trailer?
The most common style of adjustable trailer hitch has a steel channel with a movable coupler to mount in one of many vertical positions. There are other styles, too, but not as common.
Some mount the hitch portion with bolts, and some designs use pins. Some have 3 positions, and some have 5, 6 or even 7. They come in a variety of capacities (and ball sizes). Also, they can weld to the trailer tongue as a lift or a drop, or in the middle depending on the need.
I like the adjustable trailer tongue couplers primarily because they mount rigid to the trailer. They weld solid to the tongue, and it’s easy to place gussets for added strength and stiffness. With proper tightening of the bolts, and possibly some shims, the couplers clamp the assembly solid.
Another good feature . . . When building a trailer, you can set the height of the adjustable hitch to meet the needs of the trailer. If it has a low tongue, set the adjustable channel high. If the trailer has a high tongue, set the hitch low (as in the image below) to meet the needs for towing.
- They add a small additional moment to the trailer tongue when set at the extreme position. Not a big deal, because the tongue end is not high stress. (Always do a stress analysis to be sure it works.)
- If the connection is with pins, there is a little free space allowing movement (jostling). (I don’t think it is less secure, but movement can allow noise and feel bumpy.) Maybe with bolts, too. — One solution is short bolts, from each side with nuts in the middle area. (Meaning 4 short bolts instead of 2 longer bolts or 2 pins.) It allows tightening to each side, so no free play. (Don’t over tighten.)
- Because the channel can be well below the ball, it has more risk of dragging the ground in transitions of the road. This depends, of course, on tongue height, and tow vehicle overhang. It also depends on the height position setting of the adjustable hitch.
Please carefully consider #3 if you put one on your trailer.
Adjustable Ball Mount
More and more styles of Adjustable Drawbar Ball Mount products are available. They range from simple steel pieces like the above photo in all black, to much more complex ones with special cushioning.
The image here shows two versions from Curt Manufacturing. One has a solid ball adjuster (gold), and one has a ball holder that adjusts. These are just simple examples of the many adjustable hitch variations that are available.
Almost everything now is made to mount using a typical drawbar style. Although a 2″ square drawbar is typical, other sizes (like 2/5″) are available. Check your tow vehicle to be sure the one you choose will fit with surrounding items like the bumper, spare tire and accessories.
Potential concerns for the Adjustable Ball Mount are similar to the negatives list above for trailer tongues.
- They often stick out further than a solid drawbar, so they add additional stress to the tow vehicle. If you are near the limit for capacity, you might want to upgrade one class.
- A connection which has a little space will allow a little movement (jostling). For instance, those connected with pins. This will add to the noise because it can jostle — if that matters to you.
- Because the adjustable channel can be well below the ball, it has more risk of dragging the ground in transitions of the road. You can see that by looking at the Curt drawbar above with the Gold double ball. At that position, it has a small drop, but there is a lot of material, several inches below the hitch. Dragging the hitch on the ground is very likely, but of course, it depends on the tow vehicle height and overhang. This can even make high vehicles scrape the ground when going through a dip.
Cushions in the Mount
A newer trend in more up-scale connections is cushioning. Some cushioning is fairly simple like this example also from Curt Manufacturing. On the other hand, there are some complex mechanisms using air bags to support the trailer tongue.
Do we need it? As mentioned above, they only cushion in one direction around a pivot. That means up and down motion — but towing is a 3 dimensional proposition. Every trailer does a little bucking as the vehicle goes over undulations and bumps in the road. What you feel is the inertia of 2-part system (car and trailer) that articulates in the middle.
If we damp the connection, certainly it makes the ride a little smoother. I can’t tell you how much it will help, or if it’s worth it, because that depends on your vehicle, your trailer, and most of all, your patience with the extra jostling.
One important point: Bad jostling is one sign of poor trailer loading. If tongue weight is too light, it will jostle and buck more. Something to check along with many more trailer towing tips.
When Should I Use An Adjustable Hitch?
The big benefit is adaptability. An adjustable ball mount makes one tow vehicle easily match a variety of trailers. An adjustable tongue hitch easily makes one trailer meet the height of many tow vehicles.
So, do you have one vehicle that pulls multiple trailers? Then, consider an adjustable ball mount.
Or, one trailer pulled by multiple tow vehicles? Then, consider an adjustable coupler on the trailer.
The answer to these questions help us choose for an adjustable trailer tongue, or an adjustable ball mount.
The one big drawback an adjustable hitch — both for the ball mount and for the trailer tongue — they reduce clearance for roadway transitions. It is more likely to scrape when going in to /or/ out of a gas station driveway, for instance. We see scrapes on the roads frequently after speed dips and other places. Sometimes they are from the front of a low car, or the tail of trailers, but often, they are from the hitch area. Adjustable mounts make scraping much more likely just because they are lower. (Honestly, this is true even if you have a higher clearance vehicle.)
There’s More To The Adjustable Hitch Story
In this article we have covered the basics and did some comparisons. But there’s more. It turns out, it’s the adjustable ball mount is more common than an adjustable hitch, so let’s examine that in more detail. On the practical side of engineering, there are some designs that can cause you trouble.
We look at various designs in the article about “Practical Considerations of Adjustable Designs“. It’s more of an engineering perspective of the practical side of how they work, and things to think about as you choose one style over another. It’s not what you might think. See you there soon.
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