Trailer Hitch Installation, A First Hand Look

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Having a hitch on your car, truck or SUV can really come in handy whether you have a tow capable vehicle or not!

 A tow hitch is the easiest way to put a bike rack on your vehicle and even a great way to get extra space during a move by allowing you to add a luggage rack to the back of your car. Not to mention all of the fun toys you can pull behind your truck if you have the tow capacity, from boats to gators to RVs!

3 Ways To Have A Hitch Installed To Your Vehicle

  • Bolt the hitch on yourself
  • Take the vehicle to a mechanic
  • Have a hitch installed at U-Haul

The best option will vary from person to person, but the best and least expensive option for me was getting a hitch installed through a U-Haul. I looked at various options from ordering a hitch online from Amazon or Ebay and having them installed to taking the car to a mechanic. Not all vehicles will be able to use certain hitches as body styles and therefore frame structures vary. 

For me, I was in a bit of a time crunch and had a lot of personal and professional obligations on my plate. I didn’t want to do the research necessary to make sure I was ordering a hitch that was appropriate for my car. I feared having the hitch arrive just for the mechanic to tell me this hitch wouldn’t work for my car. 

Another push was cost, the hitches were more expensive to buy online than it would cost to buy them through U-haul when combined with the cost of install at a mechanic. For me it just made the most sense to let U-haul handle the entirety of the responsibility, and I must say they did an awesome job!

How Much Does It Cost To Install A Hitch

The cost of hitch install will be somewhere between $150 and $400 for parts and labor. If you need wiring for your hitch if you plan on using the vehicle to tow, you can expect to pay around $300 for this install. If you don’t need wiring because you just want a hitch to put some form of rack on your car, you can expect to pay under $200 for this simple installation. 

Some mechanics will be less expensive than others, though I did find U-Haul to be the least expensive option for my personal situation. For parts and labor of a class 1 hitch without wiring I spent $187 after taxes and fees. Hitches which allow you to pull more weight tend to be more expensive to purchase. 

U-Haul Hitch Install First Hand Experience

As I mentioned before, last week, I had U-Haul put a hitch on my vehicle so that I could put a luggage rack on the back of my Honda Pilot SUV. The process had very few hitches (sorry for my puns). Jokes aside, dealing with U-Haul was a relatively seamless process, though I have known people who have had issues with the company in the past. The most difficult part of this process for me was finding a provider in Colorado who had the part for my vehicle.

Know that not every U-Haul does hitch installs and the ones that do may have to order the proper hitch for your vehicle! Plan ahead and call U-Haul to set your appointment at least a week in advance. Another helpful tip is to keep the time of the month in mind. As mainly a moving and storage company, the beginning and end of the month is very busy for U-Haul and you will want to make a reservation well in advance if you intend on using their services at that time. 

U-Haul Booking and Install Process:

  1. Call U-Haul corporate and discuss the details of your vehicle to ensure they can put a hitch on the make and model car you own.
  2. Make an appointment at least 10 days in advance (for security) or up to the day of, but this is a risk.
  3. Take your car in on scheduled day (installation takes between 45 minutes and 2 hours so bring a book or your laptop and a hotspot.

The U-Haul Booking Process:

I called U-Haul twice on their 1-800 number and spoke with two different women who assisted me in finding a time, date and location from install. The first of the two who I spoke with, to be honest, she really didn’t have a clue what she was doing and gave me a decent amount of misinformation. I booked an appointment with her before going on to explore other options because she was under the impression they wouldn’t be able to get the hitch I needed in my time frame. 

As it turned out, she had completely booked the appointment incorrectly, which I learned when I called back to cancel my appointment. The second representative I talked to was much better informed and fixed the errors made by her coworker. After fixing the computer mistakes we were able to find a U-Haul with a hitch appropriate for my car in the area. I was able to book the appointment for several days after my call. If you are trying to book at the beginning or end of the month don’t count on such a wide availability. This took place around the 8th of the month.

About 24 hours after I had booked the appointment, I got a follow up call from the U-Haul location with whom I would be visiting for the install. This was my first time speaking with them directly. The representative on site told me that they didn’t have the hitch I needed because it had already been booked and promised to another customer. Before I had the chance to panic or get frustrated, the man, Andrew, assured me that they would take care of this mistake for me, but we would have to push back my scheduled install date. 

Luckily, I had built in a few extra days to my travel schedule to accommodate these sorts of unforeseen problems. Andrew sent one of his employees to another U-haul to pick up a hitch for me, driving over an hour’s distance! 

The Gist Of It: U-Haul’s booking process was a bit sloppy, but they did make up for their disorganization by finding a suitable accommodation for me. Every person from the company who I spoke with was incredibly nice though some were more knowledgeable than others. I would have been in a much tighter spot had I not planned ahead and built in a few days of wiggle room from my appointment. 

The Installation

When the day of the installation rolled around I drove about 45 minutes to get to the location of the U-Haul I had booked at. For most of you this won’t be the case, I was living in a more remote area of the country and the U-Haul closest to me didn’t have the necessary parts. Andrew, the representative handling my install called me up 24 hours before my appointment to confirm and also let me know that they had acquired the hitch they needed for the install. 

When I went in for the install, I waited around for about 15 minutes before someone at the store was able to assist me, that phone was ringing off the hook! When I met Andrew in person he was every bit as nice and helpful as he had been over the phone. He took my keys and told me the install would be completed in under two hours. 

Being as far from home and in the middle of nowhere that I was, I took the emergency camping chair I keep in my vehicle for situations like this out and hung out in their lobby for the hour and a half that it took them to complete my install. I put a Netflix show on my laptop using the wifi hotspot on my phone and the time passed by quickly. 

It is important to note that I did not have any wiring done on my hitch install so it did take about half an hour less time than the average. If you intend on towing anything such as a trailer or a boat, you will need wiring so that the trailer lights will imitate that of your brake lights and turn signals. 

All in all this hitch installation through U-Haul was my best option and one that I was not unhappy about making. Total cost of this experience was $187 and probably 2.5 hours of my time between the appointment and the time spent on the phone. 

Getting A Hitch Installed Through A Mechanic Or Dealership

You also have the option to have your local mechanic or dealership put the hitch on your vehicle. I found that this was more expensive than going through U-Haul so I didn’t take this option. 

When you go to a mechanic, most will want you to provide the hitch or will need to order it themselves so account for the time of shipping for the hitch when making this schedule. You can buy hitches on Amazon or other online retailers. You’ll need to enter in the make, model and year of your vehicle to ensure the hitch will fit the frame of your car. 

The cost of having a mechanic install a hitch to your car is on average around $150 and again this is JUST FOR LABOR. You supply the part. Most of the quotes I got for a class 1 hitch without wiring installation was around $100 and for the install plus wiring $200.

Dealership:

Your dealership will likely have a hitch on hand that fits your vehicle and if they don’t they will order it for you from a supplier that the brand supports. So if you have a Honda Pilot like I do, your best bet is going to be going to an authorized Honda dealership. 

Going to a dealership for a hitch install, like most maintenance items you would go to a dealership for is going to be the most expensive option for getting a hitch put on your car. 

Cost Of Hitch Install At A Dealership

You can expect a hitch install at a dealership to cost around $300 on average with the price being closer to $225 without wiring. 

Installing A Hitch Yourself

If you have the proper tools and experience, you can bolt a hitch on your car yourself. The most important thing you need to consider here is how much your vehicle can tow SAFELY.

Knowing Your Tow Capacity

If you have a Toyota Prius, you aren’t going to need a class 3 hitch designed for an F350 and towing 20,000+ pounds. The first thing you want to do is know how much your car can tow and highlight what your goal is for your hitch. You NEVER want to exceed your vehicle’s towing capacity. It is very unsafe, and you’ll generally find when you do exceed your tow capacity that pulling the weight isn’t the issue but stopping your vehicle and trailer is. 

So know what your tow capacity is and know what type of towing you are trying to accomplish. If you just want a bike rack or a small towing capacity (around 2000 pounds) then you’ll only need a class 1 hitch. Here are a list of hitch varieties and their tow capacity. 

  • Class 1 hitches: Up to 2000 pounds
  • Class 2 hitches: Up to 3500 pounds
  • Class 3 hitches: around 8,000 pounds up to 12,000 pounds with a weight distribution hitch

Check out this hitch guide from Move.org for more information on hitch varieties.

Hitch typeImageCompatible vehiclesPrimary useAverage maximum weight limit
Bumper hitchbumper hitchSome SUVs and minivans, most trucksBike rack, cargo carrier, ball mount–compatible trailers~6,000 lbs.
Front mount hitchfront mount hitchTrucks and SUVs, some carsTrailers, snowplows~9,000 lbs.
Rear receiver hitchrear receiver hitchMost cars and trucksLight trailers20,000 lbs.
Weight distribution hitchweight distribution hitchMost cars and trucks (requires hitch receiver)Heavy-duty trailers, campers15,000 lbs.
5th wheel hitch5th wheel hitchPickup trucksHeavy-duty tractors and trailers30,000 lbs.
Gooseneck hitchgooseneck hitchPickup trucksHeavy-duty tractors and trailers, agricultural use30,000 lbs.
Pintle hitchpintle hitchHeavy-duty trucksConstruction, agricultural, and military use60,000 lbs.

If you are planning on purchasing a truck with a hefty tow capacity, most already come with tow hitches installed when they are sold new. Most people don’t purchase a super tow vehicle without the intention of towing something heavy. Go figure. 

Self Install Steps

Okay if you’re installing a hitch yourself, here is the main event.

Step 1: Prepare Tools and Space For Install

You’ll want to have the proper tools and environment for a hitch install. In terms of space, a roomy garage would be best, but find a flat hard space where you can safely lift the back end of the vehicle. You will also want a well lit area to work in. 

Next you’ll need some tools. Here are the things that you should have on hand when planning on installing a hitch yourself. 

  • Wire tube brush
  • Lubricant
  • C-clamp
  • Torque wrench
  • Wheel chocks
  • Pin and clip
  • Drill 

If you are installing a brand new hitch then the bolts and other hardware should come included in addition to the instructions. BE SURE TO READ THE INSTRUCTIONS ATTACHED TO YOUR HITCH!!!! You may also want to have a friend or assistant present for the installation and for lifting the hitch as they can be heavy and cause back injury in lifting. 

Step 2: Preparing The Vehicle To Be Lifted

Now we’re going to follow the standard rules for lifting any vehicle.

  1. Park the car on a hard and even surface
  2. Engage the parking brake
  3. Chock the wheels that will remain on the ground
  4. Place the jack in the appropriate location for your caron the back of the vehicle
  5. Lift the vehicle and secure with jack supports

Step 3: Remove Bolts and Car Parts If Necessary

Check with the instructions of your hitch. In some cases you may need to remove certain car parts or lower your exhaust. Check with your instructions to see if this is necessary. 

Step 4: Drill Holes and Clean

If your vehicle doesn’t already have the holes you need for installation, you’ll have to drill them yourself. Once the holes are in the frame, clean them thoroughly with the wire tube brush you have set aside. You need to do a thorough job on the cleaning process so don’t cut corners. 

Step 5: Attach the hitch

With a friend, lift the hitch into place and hold it in place with C clamps until you bolt it into place. Attach the hitch to the frame of the vehicle with bolts, hand tightening. Torque them down and test your work. Voila! You’ve installed your very own tow hitch. Add a ball hitch or your bike rack and wiggle them around to test your work. 

Helpful Hitch Install Resources

How To Install A Ball Hitch Or Bike Rack

If you thought the hitch install was straightforward, you’re really going to love this. To install a ball hitch, luggage rack, etc. you are going to slide the end of the rack or hitch into the receiving end of the hitch bolted on the car. Line up the holes, slide in the pin and secure it with the clip. That is it. 

Removal is simple as well. Remove the clip and the pin then pull out the bike rack or ball hitch.  

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