If you’re a hobby farmer, you probably have a utility trailer (or two) around your farm. They’re useful in endless ways, from hauling supplies to transporting machinery and fetching/delivering hay.
Typically, a utility trailer is attached to a vehicle using a ball hitch, an ingenious invention both simple and effective in design.
A hitch ball (literally a round, metal ball on the end of shaft) is installed on the hitch of the vehicle. The tongue of the trailer fits snugly over this ball and locks into place.
Quick and easy? You bet.
I recently needed to purchase a hitch ball so I could tow my utility trailer around my farm with a garden tractor. But determining which one to buy is easier said than done, because there are many sizes to consider.
Indeed, there are four main measurements to consider when shopping for a hitch ball:
The Ball Diameter
While all the measurements are important, the diameter of the ball is where it all begins. Hitch balls come in several different diameters—1 7/8 inches, 2 inches and 2 5/16 inches are three standard sizes.
For safety reasons, you should never use an incorrectly sized ball. If your trailer requires a 2-inch ball, don’t try making do with a 1 7/8-inch model instead.
The Shank Diameter
Shank diameter is also important to measure precisely. The shank, in case you were wondering, is the threaded bolt extending down from underneath the ball. The nut is threaded on this to secure it to the hitch.
Suppose you’re planning to mount the hitch ball on a tractor, and the opening for the shank measures 3/4 inches across. Make sure the shank of your ball is also 3/4 inches. A shank too wide won’t fit, and a shank too narrow will allow the ball to wiggle around and potentially cause issues.
The Shank Length
Don’t forget to consider the length of the shank!
You want to purchase a hitch ball with a long enough shank to thread through the hitch and still provide enough length for securely tightening the nut and locking washer. Measure your hitch to determine how long a shank you need.
The Weight Capacity
You might assume any hitch ball that fits your trailer is suitable for use. But that’s not necessarily true.
Hitch balls have rated weight capacities that should not be exceeded. A light-duty 1 7/8-inch ball might be rated to tow 2,000 pounds. As balls increase in size, their weight capacities understandably increase as well.
Some of the toughest can handle 30,000 pounds.
When analyzing weight capacities, you should also consider the rating of your trailer (can it carry the amount you have planned?) and the hitch of your vehicle (can it tow the weight your ball is rated to handle?)
A hitch ball rated for 12,000 pounds isn’t much use if your vehicle’s hitch can only handle 5,000.
As you can see, choosing the right hitch ball requires some careful thought and consideration, as well as some checking of vehicle and trailer documentation. But finding the right size is well worth the effort. A sturdy hitch ball is an investment built to last.