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Adjustable Drop Hitch vs. Fixed: Which Is Right for Your Towing Needs?

The correct equipment is crucial for safe, efficient towing. One of the key components in your towing setup is the hitch. However, if your vehicle and trailer aren’t quite meeting up correctly, you may need an adjustable hitch. Some drivers also call it a drop hitch or a rise hitch. 

So, how do you know if a drop, rise, or fixed hitch is right for you? Today, we’re exploring the differences between these hitches, their applications, and safety considerations to help you make an informed choice. Let’s dive in!

What is a Drop (Or Rise) Hitch?

Before we dive into the details, let’s clarify what a drop hitch is and why it can be essential for towing. A drop hitch is a receiving ball hitch that’s lower to the ground than most standard hitches. An adjustable hitch can be helpful when your truck hitch is higher than your trailer. It ensures your trailer is pulled at the correct height to keep it level.

Adjustable hitch
An adjustable hitch can make towing easier when your truck hitch is higher than your trailer.

Drop hitches come in various designs and sizes, capable of adding anywhere from 2 to 10 inches of height to your hitch setup. They’re the link that bridges the height difference between your vehicle’s hitch receiver and the trailer’s coupler, and they can be extremely helpful in many situations.

What’s the Difference Between a Drop Hitch and a Rise Hitch? 

Most drop hitches can be used in the rise configuration as well, which is basically upside down. In this configuration, the hitch can raise the ball instead of lowering it. Check with the hitch manufacturer if it can be used as a rise. Many times it will say right on the hitch what its drop and rise are rated for.

Keep in mind that this configuration frequently interferes with a tailgate so if you need a rise, make sure your tailgate wont hit before denting it.

rise hitch installed on SUV
This hitch is getting configured in a rise setup for this SUV.

What’s the Difference Between an Adjustable Drop Hitch and a Fixed Hitch?

An adjustable drop hitch is a versatile towing accessory that allows you to change the drop or rise height to suit various towing situations. The primary advantage of an adjustable drop hitch is that you can adjust it to different height settings, typically by moving a pin or sliding a component. This adaptability makes it suitable for towing various trailers or vehicles with different hitch receiver heights. For example, if you tow multiple trailers or frequently switch between towing different loads, an adjustable drop hitch is a practical choice. It eliminates the need for multiple hitches, saving you time and money.

On the other hand, a fixed hitch is a hitch that you can’t adjust. They’re pretty straightforward and have no moving parts. Because of this, they tend to be more reliable and require less maintenance than adjustable hitches. Fixed hitches also tend to be sturdier than adjustable ones. They can be beneficial for heavy-duty towing applications. If you have a consistent towing setup with little to no height differential between the receiving hitch and coupler, a fixed hitch may be a cost-effective and practical choice. 

How Do I Know if I Need a Drop Hitch?

Determining whether you need a drop hitch or not is crucial to ensuring safe and efficient towing. To establish whether it’s the correct choice for you, start by measuring the height of your towing vehicle’s hitch receiver. Compare it to the height of the trailer’s coupler. If there’s a significant difference, you’ll likely need a drop or rise hitch to level the setup.

The type of trailer you’re towing also matters. While the average height of a trailer coupler is between 16 to 19 inches off the ground. However, this is only the average. Off-roading travel trailers with higher ground clearances tend to be slightly higher than flatbed trailers or standard travel trailers. Your towing vehicle also influences the potential height differential. For example, a lifted truck will have a much higher hitch than a standard SUV. 

Another factor to consider is your trailer’s weight distribution. If your trailer’s tongue weight causes your towing vehicle’s rear end to sag excessively, it’s a sign that you might need a drop hitch to level the load. By taking these factors into account, you can determine whether an adjustable drop hitch is necessary for your towing needs. 

Pro Tip: Make the measuring process easier by using out guide on How to Measure Hitch Drop (or Rise) Like a Pro.

Trailer being towed by truck
Measure the height of your towing vehicle’s hitch receiver and compare it to the height of the trailer’s coupler to determine if there is a significant difference that would benefit from using a drop hitch.

Do You Need a Drop Hitch for a Lifted Truck?

If you own a lifted truck with an elevated hitch receiver, you may wonder if a drop hitch is necessary. The answer depends on the relative height difference between your lifted truck’s hitch and the trailer’s coupler. While lifted trucks often position their hitch receivers higher, the specific height increase can vary based on the extent of the lift kit and tire size. Always begin by measuring the height of your lifted truck’s hitch receiver and comparing it to the height of the trailer’s coupler. If the hitch receiver height is substantially higher, you’ll probably need a drop hitch to achieve a level towing setup.

Furthermore, if you have a lifted truck and frequently tow trailers with different hitch heights, investing in an adjustable drop hitch can be a practical solution. It can allow you to adapt to various towing scenarios. 

Ultimately, most lifted trucks end up needing an adjustable hitch. However, the extent of the drop depends on the height difference between the hitch receiver and the coupler.

Are These Hitches Safe to Use?

Safety is paramount when towing, and the use of drop hitches is generally safe when you choose and install them correctly. However, it’s essential to follow best practices to ensure a secure and stable towing setup. This is why it’s best to choose the drop hitch that matches the height difference between your towing vehicle’s hitch receiver and the trailer’s coupler. Using an adjustable drop hitch can help achieve this accurately.

Additionally, ensure that the hitch you select has a weight rating suitable for your towing needs. Exceeding weight limits can compromise safety and result in damage to your vehicle, trailer, or both. With proper installation, leveling, and use, a drop hitch can be completely safe to use. 

Coupler hitch
Stay safe while towing by ensuring you have the proper hitch for your rig.

Drop Hitch Use Dangers! 

While these hitches can enhance your towing experience when you use them correctly, there are potential dangers with misuse or improper selection. Some dangers include overloading your drop hitch’s weight rating and failing to set the adjustable hitch to the correct height, resulting in an imbalanced load. This can significantly affect your vehicle’s stability and handling on the road, leading to possible accidents. 

Another danger that comes with adjustable hitches is the potential for inadequate ground clearance. If your drop hitch is extremely long, it can contact the ground more easily, especially when off-roading. Conversely, rise hitches that are too high can hit your tailgate or impede the back door of your SUV from opening. They can also put extra stress on your vehicle, so stay well under the maximum weight ratings.

Pro Tip: We took a closer look at why you may want to do a Bumper Pull to Gooseneck Conversion for increased hitching flexibility.

How Do I Measure for an Adjustable Hitch? 

Measuring for an adjustable drop hitch is a straightforward process. Start by measuring the height of your towing vehicle’s hitch receiver. Ensure your vehicle is on a level surface and use a tape measure or ruler to determine the distance from the ground to the center of the hitch receiver opening. Next, measure the height of the trailer’s coupler when it’s on a level surface. You would take this measurement from the ground to the bottom of the coupler.

Once you have the two measurements, calculate the height difference. Subtract the coupler height from the hitch receiver height. This calculation will give you the required drop or rise to achieve a level towing setup.

Teardrop trailer hitched with adjustable hitch
Teardrop trailer hitched with adjustable hitch

Will a Drop Hitch Help with Tongue Weight?  

Tongue weight, or hitch weight, refers to the downward force that the trailer exerts on the hitch ball of the towing vehicle. Correctly managing tongue weight is essential for safe towing. It influences the vehicle’s handling and stability. So, will a drop hitch help with tongue weight?

A drop hitch alone does not directly impact tongue weight. You would primarily determine tongue weight by the distribution of cargo within the trailer.

A drop hitch helps level the trailer, ensuring that the weight spreads more evenly between the towing vehicle’s front and rear axles. This can improve handling and reduce the risk of excessive tongue weight causing the rear of the vehicle to sag. However, in situations where tongue weight is a concern, a weight distribution hitch (WDH) is a more suitable option. A WDH can redistribute some of the tongue weight to the trailer’s axles and the towing vehicle’s front axles, enhancing stability.

Pro Tip: Get the inside scoop on Why Your Travel Trailer Needs a Weight Distribution Hitch to Control Sway.

Moving Our Home On Wheels (Without yelling at each other)

Should You Be Using Drop Hitches? 

So, is a drop hitch right for you? The answer depends on your towing needs and vehicle setup; and you can find the answer with measuring tape, a pencil, and a piece of paper. Measure the height difference between your towing vehicle’s hitch receiver and the trailer’s coupler. It will tell you whether you need a drop or rise hitch and the height differential you’ll need to correct to achieve a level towing setup. 

Adjustable hitches are valuable towing accessories that help level your trailer and ensure a safe towing experience. Nevertheless, follow the safety guidelines and make informed choices. If you do this, you can enhance your towing efficiency while keeping safety at the forefront of your adventures.

Do you have any questions about adjustable hitches? Drop them in the comments below!

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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Louis Bryan

Sunday 14th of January 2024

I need a solid, extended shank hitch with adjustable ball height, etc. I see one for sale on Amazon, with a 14 inch shank, etc. The reviews say that with a weight distribution system attached, it's good for 14,000 lbs. Can this be true?

Tom and Caitlin Morton

Friday 1st of March 2024

Weights that high are possible, usually on 2.5 inch receivers tho. go by the manufacturer not reviews.