Whether you’re moving to a house down the street or are planning a camp trip in the mountains, having a trailer attached to your car makes the job of carrying things around much easier. As a first timer, you may be wondering how to get that trailer hitch, or what is more popularly referred to as the tow hitch, in place, right?
Now, you could either approach a professional to do the job for you, or better yet, go the D-I-Y way. Not only would you learn something new in the process, but also definitely save a few precious bucks to use elsewhere.
If you’re wondering whether or not will you be able to do the job yourself, let us reassure you that it’s a fairly common and simple process. And to simplify it further, we have here a step by step guide to help you install a tow hitch on a car or truck. Give it a read, and see how easily you can get the job done.
Types Of Tow Hitches
Before we get to the process of installing a tow hitch, let us get you acquainted with the different types of tow hitches available for a car and truck. It is important that you know which hitch is compatible with your vehicle, because only then will the process be smooth enough. Let us have a look at their specifics and for what purposes could they be used.
Vehicles compatible with: This is the most common type of hitch, which is compatible with the majority of cars and trucks used for everyday purposes.
Average maximum weight limit: Between 2,000 – 20,000 lbs (varies with classes – read ahead)
Can be used for: Depending on the hitch class they belong to, receiver hitches could be used for a variety of vehicles from small utility trailers to full sized campers as well.
This category of hitches is further classified into five main classes based on the maximum weight they can support.
|Hitch Class Category||Receiver Opening Size||Gross Trailer Weight|
– GTW (lbs)
|Tongue Weight Capacity – TW (lbs)||Utility|
|Class 1||1 – 1¼”||Up to 2,000||Up to 200 Motorcycles||Cargo trays, Passenger cars|
|Class 2||2”||Up to 3,500||Up to 350 Snowmobiles||Minivans and Small trucks|
|Class 3||2″||Up to 8,000||Up to 800||Pick-up trucks and utility trailers|
|Class 4||2”||Up to 10,000||Up to 1,000||SUVs, Toy hauler, Large campers|
|Class 5||2 – 2½”||1,000 – 2,000||1,000 – 2,000||Heavy duty commercial trucks, construction equipment|
Front Mount Hitch
Vehicles compatible with: As a variation to the receiver hitch, a front mount hitch is usually compatible with SUVs and trucks.
Average maximum weight limit: Around 9,000 lbs.
Can be used for: Cargo carriers, trailers and snow plows.
Bumper Mounted Hitch
Vehicles compatible with: Most trucks and quite a few SUVs and minivans.
Average maximum weight limit: Around 6,000 lbs.
Can be used for: Light loads like small campers and cargo trailers.
Weight Distribution Hitch
Vehicles compatible with: You will need a hitch receiver when using a weight distribution hitch, and it will be compatible with most cars and trucks.
Average maximum weight limit: Around 15,000 lbs.
Can be used for: Heavy duty horse trailers and campers.
5th Wheel Hitch
Vehicles compatible with: Specifically designed for pick-up trucks with heavy duty towing.
Average maximum weight limit: Around 30,000 lbs.
Can be used for: Heavy duty trailers and tractors.
Vehicles compatible with: Similar to the fifth wheel hitch, a gooseneck hitch is also compatible only with pick-up trucks. The main difference between the two is that, while the fifth wheel uses a kingpin connection, the latter uses a ball and coupler connection.
Average maximum weight limit: Around 30,000 lbs.
Can be used for: Large trailers, livestock, flatbeds and toy haulers.
Vehicles compatible with: Works best for heavy duty trucks.
Average maximum weight limit: Around 60,000 lbs.
Can be used for: Ideal for large commercial trucks in agricultural, construction and military sectors.
Step By Step Guide For DIY Hitch Installation
Step 1: Carefully Read The Instructions Manual
The first and foremost step in the hitch installation process is getting yourself familiarized with the different parts you are going to use throughout the process. For this, it is important that you carefully read the installation instructions that are present in most packed hitch boxes.
If by chance you can’t get hold of a user manual, we recommend going through a few installation videos that are easily available on YouTube. This will give you a clear idea on how the process is going to be as well as help you understand the parts where you may need the help of an extra pair of hands. You could also check if there’s an online version of the user manual available on the internet.
Before you begin with the process, we would also suggest that you have a complete understanding of your tow hitch, the maximum weight it can support and if it is perfectly compatible with your vehicle. These may look like baby steps, but if ignored can actually turn the process a great deal around. So, take your time but have a clear understanding of what you’re stepping into.
Step 2: Keep Your Tools Prepared
Once you’ve gotten yourself acquainted with the process, the next step for you would be to get all the tools and materials ready. A tow hitch and its supplementary accessories you would be purchasing, but to install the tow hitch you may need some additional tools. Most of these would be the common tools that your garage tool kit will be having. Check the following list of tools you need to keep handy during the process:
- Socket set
- Ratchet (and ratchet extension, if needed)
- Shop light
- Work gloves
- Swivel socket
- Torque wrench
- Safety glasses
- C-clamp or Jack stands
- Wheel chocks
While majority hitches only require these basic tools, you may also need a few more tools for specific kinds of hitches. These could be:
- Pry bar
- Power drill
- Box wrench set
- Metal shears
- Utility knife
- Masking tape
- Trim tool
Step 3: Set Up Your Workspace With The Correct Lighting
You have the hitch and are ready with all the equipment to install it on your vehicle. Next up on your list is to set up your workplace. We suggest you choose an area that is openly spaced and well lit. Additionally, it is always better if you have an extra light or torch while working underneath your vehicle. It will help you see all the bolts and other components clearly, and at the same time, will also come handy when you need to refer to the user manual from down under.
You can also call a friend over to help you with the process. Even if they can’t fully assist you with the process, they can at least help you reach out to things you need or at the most give you good company.
Step 4: Activate Your Brake And Remove The Spare Tire
Now that you’ve completed all the pre installation requirements and are set to install the tow hitch, you can begin by securing your car or vehicle. As your primary safeguard against rolling, remember to activate your parking brake. Additionally, if the spare tire of your vehicle is stored underneath it, we suggest you remove it and keep it aside. It may come in your way for some trailer hitch installations.
Read Also: Best Trailer Hitch Installers
Step 5: Choke The Wheels And Jack Up Your Vehicle
The next step is to firmly place wheel chocks on your front wheels. You can also place them on the other tires as an additional precautionary measure. While this may not be a necessary step for all hitch installations, you could also jack up your vehicle to get yourself some additional space to work underneath your vehicle. Even after using a Jack, make sure that your emergency brakes are activated and the vehicle is safely stabilized.
Step 6: Remove Plugs, Bolts And Other Parts Necessary
Again, this step may not be common to all hitch installations, but some of them will require you to remove certain bolts and plugs to mount the hitch frame. A few of them may require only small panels or a heat shield to be trimmed or removed. And some of them may even require you to drill holes in your vehicle frame for hitch mount installation. That is why it is necessary for you to get acquainted with your hitch and user manual in the beginning, so you know exactly what needs to be done for your vehicle.
Step 7: Clean Thoroughly
After removing the bolts, make sure to clean out the bolt holes. You could use WD-40 for soaking up the bolt holes and then use a wire brush and scrub to free the holes of grime and debris. This step will ensure that your bolts fit more easily and stay firm at their places.
Step 8: Position The Hitch And Attach Hardware
Here is when you may need those extra pairs of hands. With your hardware and vehicle prepared, the next step is to place your hitch into position. Since a few trailer hitches could weigh higher than 50 lbs, we suggest that you take someone’s assistance to lift the hitch into position. Even if it is lighter, you should not be straining your back if you can get those extra pairs of helping hands.
You could use a C-clamp to hold the hitch in place and tighten all the bolts to at least keep the hitch intact on the vehicle. At first you can attach and tighten all the bolts with your hands. Once they are set, you could use a torque wrench in the next step.
Step 9: Tighten all the bolts and double check
Now that your hitch and bolts are in place, the final step for you is to use a torque wrench and tighten them to the exact values specified in the user manual. While some hitches may require 100 foot pounds of torque, it would vary based on the size of the bolts. Follow the instruction manual carefully to finish the final step in your tow hitch installation process.
With all these steps done, you’ve successfully completed the tow hitch installation on your vehicle. But before you finally put an end to this process, make sure to double check the security of your hitch. Wiggle the tow hitch, shake it and pull it to be assured that it has safely been installed. And if you aren’t confident enough, you could reach out to an expert or professional to check your hitch installation. Only after complete reassurance, do we suggest that you take your trailer on the road.
Tips For Easy Hitch Installation
- If you’re drilling holes on your vehicle to install the hitch, make sure that they are either the same size as the bolts or are not more than 1/16” of the width and thickness of the bolt you’re working with.
- Additionally, if you are drilling the holes by yourself, be extremely careful of not drilling into any wrong vehicular components, otherwise you could end up damaging your car or truck.
- We suggest that your hitch is placed in solid metal contact with the vehicle attachment points and you remove any excessive undercoating or weld on the vehicle.
- Always use your trailer safety chains that hook up to your hitch. And make sure you cross the trailer safety chains and not just run them straight. For if under any circumstances, your trailer just gets detached from your vehicle, the cross chains would at least form a cradle and prevent it from falling straight down.
If you need to install a ball mount:
Some vehicles may not have a ball mount already attached to them. In that case, you need to install it separately. After installing the receiver tube on your vehicle, insert the heavy part or the ball mount shank into it. Next, you can adjust the ball mount until the holes on the receiver tube and the shank are in line with each other. Lastly, you only have to secure the ball mount using a hitch pin and the clip.
If you need to install a trailer ball:
One of the other important accessories of a tow hitch is a trailer ball. If it isn’t already installed on your vehicle, you will need to do it before you can install the tow hitch. To do so, you will first need to remove the nut and washer from the shank using a wrench. The next step would be to install the ball mount shank in its designated hole. Finally, replace the nut and washer, and tighten them as much as possible. You could ensure they are tight enough by using a torque wrench if required.
Things To Keep In Mind Before You Tow
When you’re installing a tow hitch on your vehicle, keep in mind to never modify the hitch on your own in any way. Also, do not modify the assembly by cutting holes or using a torch as it may weaken the metal and may cause an unforeseen fire hazard. And when installing the hitch, make sure to never weld it to the vehicle frame as it may weaken and damage the frame to some extent.
Towing a hitch is going to add some stress on your vehicle. So, whenever you are installing a tow hitch, make sure that your vehicle maintenance is up to date and the brake pads and engine have been properly checked.
Along with a spare tire for your vehicle, you should also have a spare tire for the trailer you’re planning to take on the road trip. This is only an additional step to ensure that none of these controllable circumstances are responsible for getting you stuck in the middle of the road. If you’re ready to go that extra mile, you could also consider getting tow mirrors and a larger fuel tank.
How Much Does It Cost To Install a Tow Hitch On A Car?
The process of hitch installation by a professional could cost you anywhere between $100 to $700. This wide range of prices is because some vehicles may need additional procedures to get a tow hitch installed. Along with this, you may also need to spend an additional amount to buy the tow hitch and other required parts. This could cost somewhere between $120 – $250.
Overall, the total cost to install a tow hitch on a car by a professional could range between $250 – $1,000 depending on your vehicular requirements. However, if you choose to go the DIY way, then you may only have to spend your money on buying the tow hitch and the other necessary parts.
See Also: How Much Does it Cost to Ship a Car | Should You Ship Your Car Or Tow It Behind Your Moving Truck?
Can I Put A Tow Hitch On My Car?
Yes, definitely. By following our step by step guide mentioned above, you can easily put a tow hitch on your car.
Is U-Haul Good For Hitch Installation?
Along with offering competitive prices, U-Haul will also mostly have the perfect tow hitch for your vehicle. As per reviews and popular opinions, and with experience of many decades, U-Haul for many, does seem to be a good choice for hitch installation.
Also See: What To Expect When You Move With A U-Haul Trailer?
So, now that you’ve got a head start on what the process can be like as well as a few tips to make it simpler, you can get your tow hitch installed on your vehicle in no time. However, if you don’t feel very confident or are a little sceptical of using the tools, you can also approach a mechanic or an auto shop professional to get the job done. They are well acquainted with the process and can get the tow hitch installed with complete safety. You can choose going either way that best suits your needs and interests.
Also Read: Best Moving Truck Rental Companies