You will need a tow hitch (also called a trailer hitch) attached to your truck, whether you are taking your new boat to the lake for a summertime spin or towing your camper into the mountains. To have a hitch properly mounted, you might fork over a few hundred, but you don’t have to.
In fact, the installation of DIY tow hitches is fairly popular (and relatively easy). On some vehicles and with certain hitch types, it can get complicated, but most simple installations only require basic tools, so you won’t have to splurge on a new toolbox just for this project.
You’re in luck if you’re DIY-inclined: here is the overview of the entire construction process of the trailer hitch so that you can save some cash (and learn a new ability to show off to your friends).
6 steps to a DIY tow hitch installation
Know your numbers
First things first: you have to know how long your car will tow in order to pick the right trailer hitch. The last thing you’d like to do is to drill your hatchback with a tow hitch built for a heavy duty truck.
In your vehicle manual, you will normally find your towing ability. You can also give it a good Google search or (they should have this information handy) call your car dealership. You can pick the right hitch with your towing skill, but it also tells you how much stuff you can attach to that hitch. The weight of the tow hitch itself is subtracted after you have worked out the maximum amount your vehicle can tow and found a trailer hitch.
Get your workspace ready
You’ll need to make sure you have the right machinery before you get down and dirty with your tow hitch. To find out what you need for installation, this depends on the type of car and tow hitch you are dealing with, refer to your hitch instruction manual.
ere are the basics to have on hand for most installations:
- Wire tube brush
- Torque wrench
- Wheel chocks
- Pin and clip
- Power drill (if your vehicle doesn’t already have holes)
If you’re pulling your new tow hitch right out of its box, you’ll likely find the washers, bolts, and instructions inside the hitch itself. Take these pieces out of their packaging and keep them within reach.
Second, if you mount your tow hitch in your garage or a position with dim lighting, make sure you have sufficient light. Plug in external lights or get someone to shine a torch for you. Make sure your instruction manual is on hand for you. Trust it, use it, and hold it close. It’s your mate. Then assemble your whole hitch (if it isn’t already) according to the instructions of the maker. A trick for keeping your back secure: play it safe and call a buddy to help you lift it if your tow hitch weighs over 50 pounds. (And even though it’s lighter, we say that you have someone nearby to help, no matter what.)
Prepare your car
Before you just wedge your hitch into its place, you’ll want to make sure your vehicle is secured, clean, and clear of any obstacles to installation. Here are a few steps to take:
- Activate your parking brake: this is the first safeguard against rolling.
- Chock your wheels: firmly place two wedges in the center of both rear tires in case your vehicle accidentally rolls. For peace of mind, feel free to put chock wheels on the other side of the tires too.
- Remove the spare tire: depending on where your vehicle’s spare lives, it may get in your way.
- Jack your car: this step isn’t required, but this can give you more working room.
- Remove any plugs or bolts from your car: some hitches require that you remove certain parts and pieces to make space for the actual tow hitch. You can check your instructions to see if this step is necessary.
- Clean thoroughly: use a wire tube brush and lubricant to clean the holes in your car your hitch will hook into. (Don’t cut corners by using an old toothbrush—it doesn’t get the job done as well!)
- Drill holes: if your car or truck doesn’t have pre-drilled holes for hitch mount installation, you’ll probably need to drill them into the frame of your vehicle. (Some tow hitches, like the CURT hitch, have no-drill installation.)
Attach the hitch
Now your car is ready for the main event: attaching your hitch. Here’s how to proceed:
- Lift the hitch into position: if you have a friend nearby to assist, this is when you’ll want them to help.
- Attach the hitch to the frame of your vehicle: use C-clamps to hold it in place.
- Tighten the bolts: use your hands to tighten them just enough so that your hitch stays in place, but don’t worry about torquing them just yet (we’ll get to that later on). Adjust the other side to finger-tight as well.
Tighten the bolts
Tighten the bolts as much as you can with your fingers until your hitch is attached. Using your torque wrench to tighten them to the values specified on the tow hitch’s instruction manual when you have all the bolts in place.
Finally, for your brake lights and turn signals, attach some electrical wiring. To legally tow a trailer, the brake lights and turn signals of your vehicle need to be wired via a trailer wiring harness to your tow hitch. A wire that runs from the back of your car to your trailer is a trailer wiring harness.
Double-Check Your Work
By shaking, wiggling, and tugging on it, measure the protection of your tow hitch and check your brakes and turn signals to make sure that your wiring is sound. Protection first, once you are confident that your hitch is properly mounted, do not tow something. And if you need reassurance, have your handiwork checked by any competent hitch installer.
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