How To Tighten A Hitch Ball

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An important thing to know in towing a trailer is how to hook it to the tow vehicle, which means using a hitch and a ball. How do you tighten a hitch ball?

The best way to tighten a hitch ball is to use a torque wrench so that everything tightens to the manufacturer’s specifications.

  1. Insert the ball mount into the receiver and secure it with a cotter pin
  2. Ensure that the thread of the hitch ball is through the hole on the ball mount
  3. Hand tighten the nut and lock washer to prevent slipping.
  4. Put the torque wrench (or another wrench) on the nut and tighten it.
  5. Tighten the nut to the manufacturer’s specifications or as tight as possible

Let’s face it, you can’t even begin to think about towing until you have the right-sized ball fit on the back of your truck or car. Whether you are planning on pulling the family camper, an UHaul trailer, or even just a couple of mowers, having the right hitch and ball is critically essential. Without the right-sized towing ball, your trailer and its contents might not make it to your destination in one piece. And the last thing you want to do is to cause harm to yourself, your family, or anyone else on the road.

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What is a Hitch Ball and How Does it Work?

The hitch on the back of a truck or car comprises a few integrated pieces. Knowing what they are can help you tow successfully.

The receiver tube

On the back of every truck or car modified for towing, there is a receiver tube. This square pipe is right under the middle of the rear bumper. These receiver tubes come in several sizes and are bolted to the towing vehicle's frame.

The ball mount

The anchored hitch (receiver) is designed to hold a ball mount. The ball mount is a long shank with a trailer ball platform. (It is what most people consider the actual hitch). This accessory to the hitch provides the connection between the trailer and the truck. The ball mount has a small level pad with a hole in it where the trailed ball is held in place.

The ball

The trailer ball is the actual connection point of the hitch to the trailer. (It has a ball on one end and a screw-like shank on the other). The ball tightens to the mount with a large nut and locking washer. When connected to the trailer, the ball allows for smooth cornering and travels safely over bumps in the road.

Trailer balls come in many different sizes depending on the weight to tow. The most popular are 1 ⅞. 2, 2 5/16, and 3-inch diameter balls. The most common tow ball is a 2-inch.

Trailer coupler

On the very front of the tongue of the trailer, there is a coupler, which looks like a round upside-down cup. This coupler sits on top of the ball and is adjusted down (tightened) to ensure the connection between the trailer and the towing truck or car.

Most couplers have a lever or apparatus on top of the coupler (like an outdoor water spigot handle) designed to clamp the coupler to the ball. Ensure that you have locked or tightened the coupler into place so that the trailer doesn’t come loose from the hitch ball while in transit.

How To Tighten a Hitch Ball

There are several steps to ensure that the connection between your trailer and truck is secure. Be sure that the size of the coupler matches the size of the trailer ball.  We have listed a simple step-by-step process below.

Insert the Ball Mount into the Receiver and Secure it with a Kotter Pin.

The ball mount is inserted into the receiver and acts as an anchor for the trailer ball. Line up the holes in the hitch and the mount and insert the pin to hold everything in place. A cotter pin holds the bolt. Ensure the mount is secured correctly, or the bolt could work loose, and the ball mount would dislodge from the trailer.

Ensure that the thread of the hitch ball is through the hole on the ball mount

Insert the screw end of the hitch ball through the hole on the ball mount platform. Put the lock washer first and then the large nut. Hand-tighten the nut until snug, and the ball rests on the ball mount platform.

Put the torque wrench (or another wrench) on the nut and tighten.

A torque wrench is the best way to ensure that you tighten the nut well enough. Many trailer manufacturers will require a torque wrench to be used on the nut. Use a large plumber's wrench if you do not have a torque wrench (many auto parts stores will have them to rent out or loan).

Tighten the nut as much as possible

As you tighten the nut, check on the lock washer. Continue to tighten the nut until the lock washer is crunched down completely. The ball should be secure and not move.

If the ball spins, when tightening, you can use a large crescent wrench to clamp onto the stationary nut while tightening the nut on the screw shank. Some online forums recommend a bonding compound like Loctite, but I think that this makes removing the ball much more tedious down the road). It is okay for the ball to get scratched while the nut is tightened.

Give the Ball a Good Tug

I always like to give the ball a good tug or shake just to ensure that everything is tight. Some play is okay, but I prefer there to be none. If the ball is tight, the shake test should feel solid with the truck's frame.

Please note that the trailer's coupler must be latched or secured around the hitch ball. Failure to do so could mean that the trailer comes unhooked from the ball the first time you hit a bump in the road.

Connect the Trailer to the Truck.

Pull the trailer to the ball (or vice versa) and set the coupler on top of the ball hitch. Secure the coupler to the trailer with a latch or handle.

Why Are There Different Size Hitch Balls?

Different trailer balls handle different size trailers and different weights. For most trailers, there are four different sizes of trailer balls. The coupler opening of the trailer must match the trailer ball. If the size of the coupler is not stamped or labeled onto the tongue of the trailer, measure the diameter of the underside of the cup to determine the size.

Size of Ball Max Weight Load
1 7/8 200 - 2000 lbs
2 3500 - 12,000 lbs
2 5/16 Up to 30,000
3 30,000 (gooseneck)

Another excellent idea is to check with your local trailer manufacturer for the specific weight requirements and limits for the trailer you are towing. They can give you detailed instructions or even put the trailer ball on for you if you ask them nicely enough.