Chapter 6: Trailer Hitch Installation
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Answered in this chapter:
What tools do I need to install my hitch?
What steps are involved in a common installation?
How do I install a ball mount?
How do I install a trailer ball?
How do I set up a weight distribution hitch?
When it comes to installing a hitch, the majority of CURT receiver hitches are “no-drill” applications. This means that the trailer hitch and hardware are designed to fit into existing bolt holes in the frame of the vehicle, and this usually makes the job fairly simple. However, with any trailer hitch installation, it is very important to take your time and start with the right tools for the job.
In this chapter, we will discuss some of the common steps that go into a typical hitch installation. We will cover what tools you might need and how to install some of the additional towing components, such as a ball mount, trailer ball and weight distribution hitch.
Towing Tip: Before purchasing a hitch, look up the installation instruction sheet or installation video online for the hitch you are considering, and then decide if it is something you can handle on your own or if you will need to bring it to a professional installer.
Tools Needed for a Trailer Hitch Installation
Before you even begin removing the spare tire, set aside the tools necessary for the install. These may be different depending on your specific hitch, but in general, a hitch installation only requires some basic tools found in the average do-it-yourselfer’s tool box.
We also recommend looking at the installation instructions or installation video before you begin. Check out our YouTube library of installation videos! If you find that you lack the necessary tools or do not have the capability of installing your trailer hitch yourself, you may want to go to a professional installer.
The following are some of the tools used during the installation of a trailer hitch:
1. Shop light
2. Socket set
4. Ratchet extension
5. Swivel socket
6. Work gloves
7. Safety glasses
8. Torque wrench
9. Jack and stands
10. Pry bar
11. Tape measure
12. Torx bits
13. Trim tool
14. Screw driver
15. Paint pen
16. Die grinder
17. Carbide drill bits
18. Cutting lubricant
19. Box wrench set
20. Power drill
21. Rotary cutting tool
22. Penetrating lubricant
23. Rat tail wire brush
24. Masking tape
25. Utility knife
26. Aviation sheers
Keep in mind that every trailer hitch installation is different. One installation may require only a few of these tools, while another may require a select combination from all three lists. Before starting an installation on your own vehicle, check the installation instructions to find out exactly which tools you will need.
Common Steps in a Trailer Hitch Installation
To give you a general idea of how to install a trailer hitch, we will go through some of the common steps. We have also provided one of our installation videos as an example. Installation of your own trailer hitch will likely have some differences, but this video will give you an idea of what a trailer hitch install can look like on a particular vehicle.
Preparing Your Work Space
Step 1: Chock your wheels and jack up your vehicle. Jacking up the vehicle is not necessary for most hitch installations, but it does help to have some extra space underneath the vehicle to work. Make sure the emergency brake is activated, that your vehicle is at a safe height and that you use jack stands to ensure the vehicle is properly stabilized.
Step 2: Find a strategic location for your work light. It always helps to have extra light when working underneath the vehicle, and it will help when referencing the installation instructions. At this time, you should familiarize yourself with the various bolts, holes and other components you will be using during the installation.
Removing Components if Necessary
Step 3: Remove the spare tire. On some vehicles, the spare tire stored underneath the vehicle will be in your way as you install the hitch. If necessary, remove it and set it aside.
Step 4: Remove any bolts or plugs specified in the instructions. This step will not be needed for all hitches, but some require the removal of certain panels or a heat shield in order to get the hitch into place. The hitch may also use the holes created from removing this hardware as mounting points for bolts.
Attaching the Hitch
Step 5: Move the hitch into position and attach the necessary hardware. You may need some assistance at this point as trailer hitches can weigh up to 50 lbs. or more. For now, you will only need to tighten the nuts enough to hold the hitch in place until you are ready to torque.
Step 6: Fully tighten the bolts. When all of the bolts are in place, torque them to the values specified in the instruction sheet.
Some of the other steps that may be part of your hitch installation include lowering the exhaust, trimming fascia, fishing bolts through the vehicle’s frame and, in some cases, drilling holes for mounting bolts. Also, before or after torqueing the bolts, you may need to reattach certain components such as panels, a heat shield or the exhaust. These steps are not typical for all trailer hitch installations, but they are required from time to time.
For a helpful guide to completing these steps, see our Trailer Hitch Installation Techniques video, available on our YouTube channel at youtube.com/curtmfg. Be sure to check the instructions or installation video for your specific hitch to see what additional steps are needed.
Towing Tip: If your hitch installation requires you to feed bolts in through a hollow frame and you accidentally lose a bolt inside, getting it out can be extremely tedious. However, it CAN be done. Insert a telescoping magnet in through the hole, and lure the bolt to the hole until you can pull it out.
How to Install a Ball Mount
Compared to a trailer hitch, installing a ball mount is very simple. To begin, insert the shank into the receiver tube and line up the holes of the shank and receiver tube. Then, secure the mount using a pin & clip or a hitch lock.
It is a good idea to tug on the ball mount and try to wobble it back and forth once you have it secured. If your ball mount has a little wiggle room, you may want to buy an anti-rattle kit for a quieter ride. Anti-rattle kits typically only work with hollow-shank ball mounts.
Also, if you own a ball mount that does not fit into your receiver tube opening, the solution is usually as simple as a receiver tube adapter. Ball mount shanks are typically available in standard sizes of 1 1/4″ x 1 1/4″, 2″ x 2″ and 2 1/2″ x 2 1/2″. For each of these shank sizes, adapters are available to fit into your particular receiver tube size and provide the necessary size opening to accept the shank. Keep in mind that most adapters are rated for a particular weight capacity. Always abide by the lowest rated towing component.
How to Install a Trailer Ball
If your ball mount does not come with a trailer ball already attached, you will need to install one. Trailer balls are very simple to attach. However, the installation process should not be taken lightly. Each trailer ball requires attention to detail when it comes to its particular torque specifications.
To install your trailer ball, remove the nut and washer from the threaded shank and place the shank into the hole on the ball mount platform. Then, replace the washer and nut, and tighten them by hand. When you can no longer turn the nut, use a torque wrench to tighten the trailer ball the rest of the way.
Trailer balls require different amounts of torque, depending on the diameter of the shank. The table shows the various torque values for different size trailer balls.
Also, some trailer balls may require a reducer bushing or tongue sleeve during installation to allow the trailer ball to better fit the ball mount. If these parts are included with your trailer ball, be sure to mount them during the installation.
How to Set Up a Weight Distribution Hitch
Installing a weight distribution hitch is very different from installing a receiver hitch or any ball mount. Read the steps below and watch the video to familiarize yourself with the process. It is very important when installing a weight distribution hitch that you carefully follow all of the manufacturer’s instructions.
An improperly adjusted weight distribution hitch can create problems in your driving and can even cause major damage to your vehicle, including warping, bending and weakening of the frame and body. If you do not feel confident setting up a weight distribution hitch on your own, do not hesitate to take it in to a professional installer.
Tools Needed for Installing a Weight Distribution Hitch:
1. Wheel chocks
3. Tape measure
4. Ratcheting wrench set
5. Torque wrench
When you have the necessary tools set aside, you can begin setting up your weight distribution hitch. Below are the common steps involved in a weight distribution hitch installation. These are meant to give you an idea of what a WD installation is like. Some of the steps may be different for your specific hitch, and there may be a few additional steps required. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions before you begin.
Preparing Your Vehicle and Trailer
Step 1: Level your vehicle and trailer. Park your vehicle and trailer on a level surface and use the trailer tongue jack and a level to make sure your trailer is parallel with the ground.
Step 2: Measure and record the height of your vehicle and trailer. You will need to know the distance from the ground to the top of the trailer coupler and the distances from the ground to the bottom of the rear bumper and front bumper on your tow vehicle. You can also use the distance from the ground to wheel well if you prefer.
Setting Up the Hitch Head
Step 3: Insert the weight distribution shank into the receiver tube. Be sure that the shank is fully inserted in the receiver tube of your trailer hitch and secure it using a hitch pin & clip.
Step 4: Position the head assembly on the adjustable shank. The head should be raised into position so that the top of the trailer ball is one to three inches above the coupler height. Use one mounting bolt at the bottom of the assembly to hold it in place, but do not tighten with a nut.
Step 5: Install the adjustment rod. Pivoting the head downward, place two washers on the adjustment rod and insert the rod into the lower hole on the head.
Step 6: Pivot the head up into the mounting position. It should be vertical or slightly tilted back toward the trailer. You may need to add or remove washers to achieve the proper angle.
Step 7: Secure the head with a bolt. Insert the second bolt into the top hole in the hitch head and fasten both bolts with the provided nuts and washers. Tighten the bolts but only enough to hold the head in place.
Installing the Spring Bars
Step 8: Mount the spring bars on the hitch head. If the spring bar chains have not yet been attached, attach them to the spring bars before mounting the bars to the head.
Step 9: Couple the trailer. Raise the trailer coupler, and back the tow vehicle up to couple the trailer to the trailer ball.
Step 10: Lift the tow vehicle using the trailer jack. With the coupler latched onto the trailer ball, raise the coupler three inches using the trailer jack.
Step 11: Attach the hookup brackets to the trailer. Position the spring bar brackets on the trailer frame using the spring bar chains as a guide, and mount the brackets using the provided bolts.
Step 12: Attach the spring bar chains to the brackets. Make sure both sides are spaced vertically with the same number of chain links, and then pry the brackets into the locked position using the provided lift handle.
Note: There must be a minimum of five chain links between the bracket and the spring bar.
Make Final Adjustments
Step 13: Re-measure the height of your vehicle. Retract the trailer jack so that the full weight of the trailer is resting on the hitch. Then, re-measure the distances between the ground and the front and rear bumpers. Each distance should be within 1/2″ of the original measurement. If the distances have changed too drastically, you can adjust the number of links on the spring bar chains to increase or reduce the tension, or you can adjust the tilt of the head unit.
Step 14: Fully tighten the bolts. Uncouple the trailer and torque all hardware to the values specified in the instructions.
Weight distribution setup differs across various models. With your weight distribution hitch, always follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer, and remember to take your time.
With your trailer hitch, ball mount and trailer ball installed and ready to be hitched up to a trailer, there are a few more things to take care of before towing. One of the most important aspects is wiring and electrical systems, and we will cover these in the next chapter.