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Truck and Trailer with Hitch Coupler

How Does a Trailer Hitch Coupler Work?

What is a Hitch Coupler, and How Does It Work?

A trailer hitch coupler is a mechanism that is bolted or welded onto the end of your trailer frame. It is used to connect your trailer to your tow vehicle hitch.How does this work? Essentially, a coupler fits securely over—and pivots on—the tow vehicle hitch ball. The coupler must be the same size and equal or greater weight capacity of the hitch ball to ensure a safe connection.Specialized couplers are also available. For instance, gooseneck couplers fit over gooseneck hitch balls. Couplers with lunette rings can also be mounted to your trailer to attach to a tow vehicle's pintle hitch mount for heavy-duty towing. Many overlanders choose to go with a fully articulating coupler like the Lock N Roll.Brake actuator couplers are also available. These couplers allow your hydraulic trailer brakes to activate when you apply the brakes in your tow vehicle.
Trailer Hitch Coupler
Coupler with Hitch Ball
Coupler with Gooseneck Ball
Coupler with Pintle Hook
Lock N Roll Coupler Hitch
Essentially, your coupler should match both the trailer frame (A-frame, gooseneck, straight tongue, etc.) as well as your vehicle-end connector (hitch ball, pintle hook, etc).

How a Coupler Attaches to a Trailer Frame

Couplers are either welded or bolted onto trailer frames. However, just as there are multiple different trailer shapes, there are different trailer couplers to match. Couplers fit over the end of the trailer (or inside, in the case of the gooseneck coupler).
Fortunately, finding a coupler to match your trailer frame and size is pretty straightforward. Once you've chosen a coupler of the right size, shape, and weight capacity, you can either install it yourself or have a professional welder do it for you, depending on whether the coupler is a bolt-on or weld-on model. (Read more about choosing the right coupler here).
Q&A: - Can I Bolt a Weld-On Coupler, or Vice Versa?Two questions we get a lot are whether you can:
  • A) Weld a bolt-on coupler to a trailer
  • B) Bolt a weld-on coupler to a trailer
You can weld a bolt-on coupler to a trailer in addition to or in place of bolting it in place. However, this will not increase your coupler's weight capacity in any way. If you choose to weld a bolt-on coupler, it's typically best to paint it afterward, as welding can eliminate the coupler's protective finish and discolor the exterior. Welding should be completed by a certified welder so as not to damage the coupler's integrity.You cannot bolt a weld-on coupler in place. Weld-on couplers are not designed to be bolted on, and doing so can seriously damage the unit.
Watch video installation of bolt-on coupler

How a Coupler Attaches to a Hitch Ball (Or Other Accessory)

Once you've matched your trailer shape to the proper coupler, you can then move onto matching the vehicle-end of the coupler with the right accessory (hitch ball, pintle hook, etc).Couplers attach to hitch balls by means of their latching mechanisms. These latching mechanisms clamp around the ball, allowing for pivot during turns while also maintaining a secure connection. Similarly, pintle hooks clamp over the lunette ring coupler and enclose the ring.There are several different coupler latch types available. Entry-level couplers generally include a trigger or handle used to latch/unlatch the coupler. If you'd prefer a more convenient option, you can also purchase an upgraded coupler with an automatic latching feature. In cases where there is no hitch ball, such as setups using a lunette ring, the coupler will instead attach to the pintle hitch mount, clevis mount, etc.Not sure which coupler type you need? Still have questions?Give our experts a call at 800-298-8924, or contact us online. We're happy to assist any way we can!
Amber S.
About the AuthorAs a content writer for etrailer, I might spend my morning loading and unloading a bike on five different bike racks to figure out which is easiest to use. I might be in the parking lot, taking pictures of an impressive RV battery setup our techs came across in the shop and discussing the benefits of the setup with the owner. I might spend an afternoon in a manufacturer training classes for some hands-on experience with new products, and then sit down to assemble all this information into a coherent article.At etrailer, one of our core values is that we are always learning, and I learn something new every day. I start each morning with the goal in mind of taking all of this information and figuring out the best way to answer the questions people ask us (and the ones they don’t know to ask yet), and helping people get the solutions they need to make their lives easier, safer, and more fun. I’m a DIYer at heart, so it brings me great joy to help a fellow DIYer find what they’re looking for, whether that’s a product, an answer, or a community.
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Related ArticlesRelated ProductsWritten by: Amber S.Updated on: 12/3/19

Carol H.

3/5/2021

What is it that I need to attach a handicap trailer to a car to transport a scooter? Like an Apex Aluminum Basket Cargo Carrier with Ramp?like

Etrailer Expert

Jon G.

3/5/2021

You need a trailer hitch and a car with a tongue weight rating high enough to handle the weight of both the carrier and the scooter. If you let me know what year/make/model vehicle you have I can let you know what hitches are available in our fitguide.


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