Trailer hitch installation is a task that many people choose to have done professionally. However, it is a job that you can potentially tackle yourself.
To help you to work out if this is the right course of action for you, we have put together this basic tow hitch installation guide.
Buying the right hitch for the job
Step one is buying the correct hitch. There are four classes available, which class you need largely depends on the weight of what you are planning to tow. They are available in two basic designs – fixed tongue and receiver hitch.
You can also buy tow hooks, tow loops and trailer loops, but these are specialist items that are rarely fitted to domestic vehicles. Here we are talking specifically about tow bars.
Which is right for the task depends on a long list of variables including the weight, power and body type of your vehicle. What you are towing also plays a role in determining which you need to buy.
Every towing situation is different. Therefore, you should seek professional advice or the owners manual of your vehicle before purchasing your trailer hitch kit.
Regardless of which trailer tow bar you need, it is usually worth investing in a branded product like a Draw-Tite, Hidden Hitch, Reese, or U-Haul hitch. All of these manufacturers sell a good range of pre-drilled trailer hitches, which makes them super easy to install.
Before getting started, it is wise to read the installation instructions. This will enable you to determine whether you have the necessary skills and tools to do the installation yourself.
Tools needed for a trailer hitch installation
To carry out the installations safely you will need the following equipment, as a minimum:
- Safety glasses
- A good pair of gloves
- A work light with a built in clip
- A tape measure
- A ratchet with an extension and the right size socket(s)
- A torque wrench
- A carjack and stands
- Wheel chocks
- Someone to help you – hitches are heavy, so a spare pair of hands is essential
These tools are typically needed to complete a CURT or “no-drill” trailer hitch installation. If you have not bought a pre-drilled kit, you will also need a good quality power drill, a tape measure, a marker, and potentially other items to complete the job.
A safe space to work in
You need an area of flat hard standing that is big enough to allow you to jack up the car, van or RV, and maneuver the tow hitch assembly into place. Working in a cluttered workspace is dangerous, so should be avoided.
Jack up the vehicle
Once you have gathered the necessary tools, apply the emergency brake, chock the wheels and jack the vehicle up. Place the safety stands properly to keep the vehicle stable while you work.
If your spare tire is stowed under the vehicle, it is normally necessary to remove it. Now is also a good time to set up your work light, so you can see your working area clearly.
You may have to remove other bolts and plugs to create enough space to fit the frame securely. In some cases, you may have to trim the fascia, and/or lower the exhaust, and remove other components like heat shields. If any of that is necessary, it will be made clear in the instructions.
Positioning the hitch
If you have bought a trailer hitch that has been specifically designed for your make, model and age of vehicle you will not have to drill any holes. To install your trailer hitch, all you will need to do is to position it, line up the screw holes, insert the bolts and tighten them enough to hold the bar in place.
From a safety point of view, you really should get help with this part of the operation. Some trailer hitches weigh 50lbs, so if it slips it can cause serious injuries.
Tightening the bolts
Once you are sure that the hitch is positioned properly, and have checked that you do not have any bolts or other components leftover you can go ahead and tighten them. It is very important that you tighten each bolt to the right torque. Loose tow hitch bolts are the biggest cause of accidents that involve travel trailers, horseboxes etc breaking away from the towing vehicle.
Adding the ball mount or trailer ball
If you have bought a receiver hitch, you will need to add a towing ball to the assembly. Fitting a ball mount is easy. All you need to do is to insert the shank into the receiver slot, line up the holes, put the pin in and secure it. Before you hitch up the trailer, always check that the ball mount is still secure.
Some ball mounts do not come with a trailer ball already attached, which means that you have to attach one. The fitting process itself is simple. All you need to do is to place the shank into the slot of the trailer ball, and tighten the washer and nut, by hand. If a tongue sleeve or reducer bushing is included in the kit, you need to fit that too.
You will need a torque wrench to finish the fitting process. It is really important to tighten the nut to the right torque. If you do not do so, your trailer hitch will not be stable enough to use safely. Details of the torque you need to use should be included in the mounting instructions.
Installing weight distribution hitches
It is worth noting that fitting a weight distribution hitch is more complex than the process outlined above. If you set things up wrong, you can cause major damage to your vehicle. Understandably, most people opt to employ a professional to install a weight distribution hitch.
Need help selecting the right trailer hitch for your towing needs? Take a look at our trailer hitch guide here.