Posted: June 17, 2013
Heavier Duty Trailer Hitches
New Manufacturing Techniques Improve Towing Capacities On Receiver Style HitchesBy Dan Sanchez
When someone buys a new 2013 pickup truck, they probably don’t realize that the vehicle’s towing capabilities are greater than trucks made just 10 years ago. Manufacturers of hitches for these light-duty pickups and SUV’s have seen this coming for a while. So many have made a variety of upgrades to their most popular hitch designs, in order to handle the increased loads, while also maintaining a high-standard of safety.
Receiver Hitches With Higher GTW Ratings
Take a close look at the specifications for many of the new class-V receiver hitches. Most can now handle gross trailer weight capacities of up to 16,000 lbs. Some commercial grade receiver hitches can now handle GTW ratings of up to 20,000 lbs. In some instances, new receiver hitches can also have as much as a 50-percent increase in tongue weight capacity over previous models. "Giving people 50 percent more tongue weight to work with lets truck owners utilize the full capacity of their trailer," says Paul Caruso, VP/General Manager of Towing Products at Cequent. According to Caruso, pickup truck owners and trailer manufacturers are trending towards heavier towing loads, which also leads to heavier tongue weights. “New innovations in hitch design and manufacturing processes are allowing us to push the limits of towing capabilities,” says Greg Hooks, CEO of CURT Manufacturing. “In addition to increasing the capabilities of our hitches, we’re also proud to be manufacturing in the U.S.A. and competitive to overseas manufacturing.”
Although hitch manufactures go to great lengths to incorporate a high-quality finish to their products, the general consumer may not be aware of the differences in hitches or the increased capacities that have been added. Therefore, it’s up to the retailer to let consumers know what some of these improvements are. A perfect example is Draw-Tite’s new Ultra-Frame hitch. To the unfamiliar eye, it may look the same as the company’s other hitches, but this one uses a cast center section that gives it greater strength and capacity over the tube-style construction the company used in the past. In a different approach, manufacturers such as CURT changed the thickness of the steel, added gussets and higher-grade bolts for its Xtra Duty, Xtra Duty+, Commercial Duty, and Commercial Duty + receiver hitches. “Our Commercial Duty + receiver hitch has a GTW rating of up to 20,000 lbs.,” says Hooks. “We also use 9/16-inch grade-8 bolts in these heavy duty commercial applications. It just ensures that there’s an extra level of reliability.”
Safety Sets The Standards
While the increase in capacity is great, the bottom line for hitch manufacturers is still safety. “When we design a hitch, the most important factor is safety,” says Hooks. “Ease of installation and aesthetics are also important, but those come after we’ve made sure the products provide a high level of safety.”
To this end, hitch manufacturers have changed or improved their testing standards. Cequent for example, has adapted a “Tested Tough” philosophy with its Draw-Tite hitches that opposes material cost cutting to increase profits. “It is felt that by exposing our core values, the industry will understand their importance and do what it takes to achieve tested tough results,” says Caruso. “Increases in truck towing capacities is one reason we decided to upgrade our hitches to higher ratings,” says Doug Anderson, Cequent Marketing Communications Director. “Higher towing standards and higher ratings help make everyone on the road safer, which is our ultimate goal.”
“European standards for testing are different than those in the U.S.,” says John Tiger, Sales Director at Bosal Industries. “Their standards focus on the forces that affect the hitch under real-world towing conditions. Because we also sell our hitches in Europe, our U.S. products undergo the same testing to ensure they meet our high standards.”
CURT opened a 40,000 square foot testing facility in Michigan that places their products through an array of tests. “One thing that people don’t realize is that a hitch needs to flex,” says Hooks. “So we conduct static, dynamic and fatigue testing through various cycles to analyze how the hitches hold up to a variety of real-world conditions.”
The fact is that there are no set universal standards. So hitch manufacturers are left to create their own high standards that exceed the U.S. Department Of Transportation requirements for hitches. To this end, many hitch manufacturers want to move towards adapting a set of standards proposed by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). “As an industry, it would be great for hitch manufacturers to get together and adapt a base set of testing standards, like those proposed by the SAE,” says Hooks. Until then, most continue to listen to their customers and adapt testing criteria that they feel exceeds those expectations.
Reducing Carbon Footprints
Meanwhile, some new innovations from hitch companies have little to do with the capacity of their hitches, and have more to do with reducing their carbon footprint. Many manufacturers use powdercoat or an E-coat to prevent rust. It’s a tried and true process that also provides a great-looking and long-lasting finish. But E-coat and powdercoating involves large spray areas that cause concern over volatile organic compounds, VOCs. To reduce, or completely eliminate this problem, manufacturers such as CURT recently invested millions of dollars to incorporate an A-Coat finish. "It involves dipping steel hitches into a liquid coating, prior to applying a spray-on finish," says Fayne Peck, Marketing Manager at CURT. “Because the A-coating does not require electricity or involve any VOCs to worry about, it’s much more environmentally friendly. In addition, this process also allows the products to be coated inside and out, improving the rust resistance."
New Designs Reflect Customer Input
Listening to customers is one of the many ways hitch manufacturers have improved the capabilities and ease of using their products. One of the best examples of this is a new line of tow bars manufactured by Bosal. The line of detachable and retractable tow-bars was introduced last year, but is now available on the market for truck accessory retailers. "We listened to what many of our customers were wanting," says Tiger. "Many people didn't like the look of a hitch hanging out from under an expensive sport utility vehicle, so we came out with new products that can be removed or retract. This way, the vehicle looks the way it was designed to, but also has the capability of being able to tow a small trailer."
Feedback from truck owners also pointed out the difficulty they have attaching the electrical wiring harness to their receiver hitch. So CURT responded with an easy-mount electrical bracket that simply rests over the receiver tube. The bracket is very simple to install and relocates the tow wiring socket to be more easily accessible. This simple idea won Curt a “Best New Product” award at the 2012 SEMA Show in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Making trailer hook-up easier and faster was also one of the reasons Draw-Tite added larger chain loops to their Ultra-frame hitch. “We work with our dealers to connect us with professionals to test and critique our products,” says John Walsh, VP of sales at Cequent. “At the end of the day, this approach helps us understand what our products are being used for and how to make sure the consumer will be happy.”
Looking Towards The Future Of Hitches
While it appears that manufacturers have made advances in the old receiver hitch, the exciting news to come will be with new innovations with goose-neck and fifth-wheel hitch designs. “This area is where we’re going to see some big changes next,” says Hooks. “These types of hitches are being used extensively in the commercial and agriculture industry, and several hitch companies are listening to their needs and are ready to come out with what we think are better products for this category.” Here too, a push towards an industry-wide standard is being proposed. The SAE offered the J-2638 standard which many hitch manufacturers want to adhere to. “SAE J-2638 was sponsored by Cequent engineering and is a testing criteria for fifth wheel and gooseneck hitch attachments up to 30,000 lbs gross trailer weight,” says Anderson. So in the near future, we may see new designs that further increase the capabilities and ease in which heavy towing can become easier and safer than ever.
Curt Manufacturing’s Xtra Duty and Commercial Duty receiver hitches have higher capacities due to improvements in steel thickness, hardware and gussets added in key locations.
Draw-Tite’s Ultra Frame heavy-duty hitch has a higher GTW capacity by switching to a cast center section over the standard tube used on its products in the past.
The Curt easy mount electrical bracket is an innovation derived from consumer feedback. It allows the electrical harness plug to be easily accessed near the receiver tube.
Bosal now has its line of retractable or detachable tow-hooks available. This innovation came from consumers not wanting to see an ugly hitch behind their expensive sport utility vehicles. You can see a complete installation of this hitch in an article we published called The Invisible Hitch.