Chapter 8: Hitch Installation
If your tow vehicle did not come equipped with a trailer hitch from the factory, you’ll need to install one, or have it installed by a professional hitch installer. The majority of receiver hitches today are “no-drill” applications. That means that the trailer hitch and hardware were designed to fit into existing bolt holes in the frame of the vehicle. This usually makes the job pretty simple and most do-it-yourselfers can successfully install a hitch easily. Sometimes, you may be required to temporarily move exhaust components out of the way, but even then, the job shouldn’t be too difficult. Some applications require fascia trimming so you will want to be very careful and take your time.
There are some applications that may require an extensive, mechanical background to install. In this event, unless you possess excellent mechanical abilities, you may wish to consider having a professional installer do the job for you. If you bring your own hitch to a professional installer you can expect to pay hourly shop rates to have the pro do the work. You may be able to get a better total deal by purchasing the hitch and the installation as a package from the professional hitch installer.
Go online and look at the installation instruction sheet for the hitch you are selecting and then decide if this is something you should tackle yourself or leave to the experts.
Get the Right Tools for the Job
To install your hitch so it stays installed, you need to have the right tools – don’t tackle this with a pair of pliers and a crescent wrench! At a minimum, you’ll want these tools:
Hitch Installation Tools
- A set of good combination box/open end wrenches in both SAE (standard) and Metric sizes up to at least ¾-inch and 19 mm.
- A good wiring kit, including a proper stripping and crimping tool and good quality electrical connectors, plus a roll of electrician’s tape. Heat-shrink tubing is even better. If you have a custom T-Connector application, you should not need any of these accessories. T-Connectors are basically plug and go.
If you have these tools, your job will be even easier:
- A good socket wrench and set of ½-inch drive sockets in both SAE and Metric up to ¾-inch and 19 mm.
- An air impact wrench and appropriate heavy-duty sockets – but be careful not to over tighten.
- A torque wrench and appropriate sockets.
Additionally, you may need a jack and jackstands to raise your vehicle safely to perform t he installation. Always use safe work practices and never get under a jacked-up car without using quality jack stands to support the vehicle.
You may also need snips or other tools if your vehicle requires any cutting of bumper fascias or other materials to install the hitch. This is where the installation instructions come in handy. See Figure 8-1 for an example of installation instructions for a particular hitch on a Chevy ¾-ton pickup. For this installation, you need a ¾-inch wrench to tighten the main frame bolts, plus a 21mm wrench for the two bolts that attach the hitch to the welded nuts in the bumper. You also need a means to cut the bumper trim for access to the welded nuts. Read through your instructions carefully and assemble the required tools before you begin installation.
Installing Your Hitch Receiver
As previously mentioned, many pickup trucks, SUVs and RVs come with some holes pre-drilled at the back of the frame to accommodate a hitch receiver, and in these cases it’s very likely that the hitch you buy will have matching holes, if the hitch was designed to fit your particular make and model of vehicle.
Figure 8-1: Class 3 RV Hitch
However, even if your vehicle’s frame is not pre-drilled, you can drill the necessary holes with an ordinary heavy-duty, ½-inch chuck, handheld drill and bolt your receiver into place. Most receivers will come with the necessary nuts, bolts, and washers to complete the job. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s directions exactly and tighten all fasteners securely.
Thread locking treatments such as Loc-Tite are a great idea. Even if your hardware kit includes lock washers or locking nuts, it never hurts to have a little extra security.
Figure 8-1: A well-installed hitch
A typical hitch installation goes like this:
- Get your car or truck as high as safely possible to give yourself room to work. It is essential to use jack stands to make the vehicle stable to make sure it doesn’t fall on you.
- Get under the vehicle with good light on the installation instruction sheet; locate all the bolt holes and other connections you need to make. If you need to lower or remove the spare tire to perform the installation, do that now. Also, perform any trimming or cutting at this point.
- If the installation involves dropping a carriage bolt through a hole in the frame, pointing downwards (and this is usually the case), do that now, so you can offer up the hitch to the frame as easily as possible. In many cases, two of the bolts drop through the frame, and two are installed up through the hitch with the nuts on top of the frame.
- Bring the hitch under the vehicle and place it in position. Some hitches weigh a lot – up to 50 pounds or more, so you might want to use a jack or other support. If you have a helper, get them to place the washers and/or spacers and start the nuts on at least one bolt per side. Generally speaking you’ll be using lock-nuts of some kind, so once the nut is started, you’ll need a wrench to turn it.
- Tighten all nuts and bolts to the specified torque.
And that’s all there is to it! Of course, there’s still the wiring to do, and that’s covered in Chapter 6.