Whether you’ve decided to caravan around Australia or you’ve just bought a new fishing boat, a tow bar is one of the most useful 4WD accessories that allows you to enjoy both adventure and leisure activities. From towing trailers, jet skis, motorcycles, or simply helping someone in trouble, the cherished tow bar gives you the freedom to indulge in your favourite activities while also providing plenty of protection to the rear of your vehicle.
If you do some research online, you’ll find a vast array of different tow bars, shapes, and sizes, and choosing the right tow bar for your vehicle can be a little overwhelming at first. There are numerous factors which must be considered before making any decisions, so we’ve created a helpful guide to assist you in selecting the best tow bar for your vehicle.
Types of Tow Bars
Generally, there are three types of tow bars available in Australia that are suited for different purposes:
The flat tongue tow bar is typically used on sedans and is designed for lighter towing. This tow bar features a detachable tow ball that slides into a horizontal slot on the tow bar. The tow ball ‘tongue’ is attached to the vehicle using two large bolts through the top of the hitch
The horizontal hitch tow bar uses a square tongue that connects to the hitch receiver. Available in both 40mm and 50mm sizes, this tow bar is secured to the receiver by a thick metal pin which is inserted through the side of the hitch. Designed for towing heavier loads, the horizontal hitch can be thought of as the ‘big brother’ to the flat tongue tow bar. This tow bar is also compatible with a weight distribution hitch.
The rear step tow bar is designed specifically for 4WD vehicles and have a range of benefits for off-roading. This type of tow bar extends further from the back of the vehicle and has a rear step attached to it. This tow bar has better ground clearance than standard tow bars, however they are much heavier and are only suitable for certain 4WDs and utes.
A hitch is the device that the trailer coupling attaches to, such as a tow ball. The type of hitch you select for your vehicle depends on the type of touring you enjoy. Using the wrong hitch on your vehicle can have disastrous consequences, so it’s essential that you select a hitch that is suitable for both your vehicle and your touring needs.
50mm tow ball
Given that most trailers are designed with a 50mm coupling, the standard hitch fitted to most vehicles is the 50mm tow ball. While a 50mm tow ball is appropriate for most towing, they are not as flexible as an articulated hitch and the tow bar can get damaged if its limits are stretched. Other applications like spare wheels and bike carriers can also be mounted to the tow ball.
Articulating hitches / off-road couplings
The articulated hitches are designed for off-road adventuring as the hitch is flexible and allows for extreme horizontal and vertical articulation. Also known as off-road couplings, articulated hitches are perfect when navigating steep inclines and declines. This type of hitch can be connected to a standard 50mm tow ball or used with a hitch receiver if they have a tongue.
Weight distribution hitch
Weight distribution hitches are designed to effectively balance both the trailer and your vehicle. When tuned correctly, the hitch distributes the weight across the chassis of the two vehicles, as opposed to focussing all the weight on the tow ball. Those interested in heavy towing such as caravanning always use a weight distribution hitch to improve handling and performance. Weight distribution hitches come in a range of sizes, although you’ll need to check if your vehicle can support one.
Tow Bars are essentially split up into three weight classes which specify the tow capacity of the tow bar. The type of tow bar and how it is mounted to your vehicle will often determine the weight class.
The lightest of all the classes, Class 2 has a tow capacity of 1,200kg which can only really support a small trailer or solo motorcycle trailer. Class 2 tow bars generally only use a flat tongue style hitch.
Class 3 tow bars have a tow capacity of up to 1,600kg and are designed for medium weight loads. People generally use Class 3 tow bars to move small boats, larger trailers and compact cars. Despite this, Class 3 tow bars are relatively uncommon as most people will spend a little more money to buy a Class 4 tow bar.
Class 4 tow bars are primarily designed for heavy duty towing and have a towing capacity of up to 3,500kg, more than double that of a Class 3. Class 4 tow bars are used to tow boats, caravans, car trailers, and horse floats. This class of tow bars are also compatible with weight distribution hitches.
So, which tow bar is right for me?
Generally speaking, the make and model of your vehicle will often dictate the best type of tow bar. For example, a small sedan can only tow up to 1,000kg so there’s no point in buying a Class 4 tow bar. On the other hand, large SUVs or utes may only have the option of a Class 4 tow bar.
Always keep in mind what you’ll be towing and ensure your vehicle has the ability to tow the intended load. Additionally, ensure you purchase a tow bar that is appropriate for what you’ll be towing. Once you’ve done this, simply choose an appropriate weight class and decide whether you want to install it yourself or have a professional do it for you. Some tow bars are very easy to install while others can be fairly complicated, so it’s best to speak with the manufacturer for advice.