I’m not really the truck type. I’m male, I live in Texas, and I even graduated from Texas A&M University in engineering – but I still prefer my 2003 Civic Hybrid. Whatever gets me from point A to point B reliably (with A/C and a good stereo) is just fine … most of the time.
As a homeowner, however, there are occasionally instances when I need a truck. Actually, I can think of quite a few: I borrowed my brother’s little Ford Ranger to haul mulch. I borrowed a friend’s Aspen to move boxes, and another friend’s truck and trailer to move furniture. I invited some friends (with a truck) to come with us to the Pottery Barn Outlet store to get a dresser. I even rented a truck from Lowe’s to bring home sheets of particleboard. Looking forward I see more of the same: sod for the backyard, mulch (every year), a large dining room table (eventually), our grill (if we ever sell it), etc. This doesn’t count the times I have rented (and will rent) a U-Haul.
Speaking of U-Haul, it’s about time I get to my point. While helping a friend move, I noticed how very inexpensive it is to rent a trailer. We’re talking less than $20 for a nice, covered compartment – without mileage limitations or charges. How nice would it be to have a truck that could pull one of those? Er, well- I guess if I had a truck I wouldn’t need one of those. What I mean is: How nice would it be to be able to pull one of those with the car I already have (the 1999 Honda Accord of emergency light killing fame1)? I just need a trailer hitch, right? Or do they even put those on cars?
Yes, and yes. U-Haul does trailer hitch installations on all sorts of vehicles, and there are numerous online outlets from which to buy hitches to install on your own. Being a cheap, price comparing,2 do-it-yourself-er,3,4 this seemed like the perfect opportunity to save some money by finding good deals online and doing the labor myself. Here is what I cooked up on Google:
- Hidden Hitch Class 1 Trailer Hitch – $1005
- Draw-Tite Class I Trailer Hitch Receiver – $806
- 1998-2007 Honda Accord – Class 1 Trailer Hitch – $1507
Unfortunately, as much as I’d like to say I went through a detailed analysis of the costs involved with each of these, there just wasn’t time to wait for them to ship. We had a trip to Austin coming up on the weekend and my wife was inspired to swing by the San Marcos outlet stores8 on the way. There was a good chance our trip would result in the purchase of more than either of our cars could handle – the perfect time to have a hitch. I had less than 48 hours to take care of it, so I went with something between the professional installation and the buy-online-and-install option: buy the materials from U-Haul and install them myself. It’s possible I could have found the same stuff cheaper online, but at least I knew I was saving the installation charges. Here is how I did it, starting with the parts and tools needed, and then moving on to step-by-step instructions.
I used the following parts, listed with U-Haul part description, code, and price:9
- Ball; Ball, 2x3/4x1-15/16in, 5000lb; 4924; $8.95
- Hitch; Hitch1, Honda Accord; 24995; $84.95
- Pin and clip; Pin & Clip Assy 1.25in RECV; 3130; $1.39
- Wiring Kit; Converter, 3 to 2 Wire; 13486; $16.95
- Extension Bar; Kit, Drawbar, Long, 1.25in Drop; 36053; $19.95
The hitch comes with the following fasteners:
- Square Hole Plate (x4)
- 1/2-13 × 1-1/2 Cge Bolt (x4)
- 1/2 Flange Locknut (x4)
- 1/2-13 × 1-1/2 Hex Bolt (x1)
- 1/2-13 Nylon Lock Nut (x1)
The following tools are needed for the installation:
- drill (I used a cordless.)
- stuff to make a Â½" hole through metal (I’ll explain in a minute.)
- large crescent wrench or vice grips
- Â¾" socket wrenches
- circuit tester ($3.23 at Advance Auto Parts)
Additionally, it would make things easier if there was something to prop up the spare tire cover and the car was positioned to increase access under the trunk (e.g., with the back hanging over a curb or ledge).
In order to prepare the Accord for hitch installation:
- Remove small trim strip from lower lip of bumper. (This may not be necessary. I couldn’t find any trim on my bumper.)
- Remove the spare tire from the tirewell. (See Figure 6.)
- Prop the spare tire cover up to allow tirewell access. (optional)
Hang the hitch on the bottom of the Accord according to the following steps:
- Position the hitch under the car as shown in Figure 7.
- Lift the hitch and loosely attach it to the tie-down loop at the very back of the car using the Â½" hex bolt and the nylon lock nut. (See Figures 8 and 9.)
Center the hitch, push the hitch up against the bottom of the tire well and mark the locations for four holes. Drill four Â½" holes through the trunk floor. The difficulty of this step varies greatly with what tools are available. I had a cordless drill and a kit of attachments and tried various combinations. The following process worked best for me, but I’m sure there are easier ways:
- Break through using a spade bit
- Enlarge / wallow-out hole using a brad-point drill
- Finish hole using the mystery tool (see photo)
The biggest issue isn’t getting through the metal; it’s getting through the tar-like coating on the upper side. I constantly had to clean this stuff off of my tools, and it was hot, sticky, and sometimes had a jagged edge.
Bolt the hitch to the underside of the car by passing a Â½" carriage bolt through a square hole plate, the trunk floor, and the hitch yoke. Use the Â½" flange nuts on the bottom side and tighten to 75 ft-lbs of torque.
If you (like me) don’t have a torque wrench, simply estimate the force you apply based on the length of the tool. For example, if you’re using a wrench that is about 1 foot long, you’ll need to apply 75 lbs of force to produce the proper torque.
At this point the spare tire can be replaced and the cover lowered. You also won’t need to get under the car anymore.
Attach Extension and Ball
A hitch isn’t much good without an extension / ball mount. Once installed, these two pieces become one assembly that can be easily removed and re-attached only when towing.
First, install the extension bar:10
- Insert the extension bar into the receiver (i.e., the square opening on the hitch assembly).
- Line up the holes and insert the Â½" diameter pin.
- Insert the clip through the hole in the pin protruding through the opposite side.
Then, install the 2" hitch ball:11
- Clean the ball and nut threads of any rust or dirt.
- Apply anti-seizing / anti-galling lubricant (e.g., Loctite12) to the ball threads in two places, being sure to cover five or six threads in the area the nut will be tightened.
- Insert one of the plastic rings into the nut recess with the flat side exposed.
- Insert the ball shank through the extension bar hole and the flat washer.
- Thread on the nut/plastic ring combination and tighten by hand.
- Use vice-grips or another hefty wrench to tighten the nut until both sides of the plastic ring are squeezed out between the washer and the nut face.(You should be able to remove them with a flick of your finger.)
- Install a 1/8" diameter cotter pin through the hole in the bottom of the ball shank and spread the ends.
A hitch installation is not complete without a trailer wiring harness. The particular harness cited above can be installed via the following:
- Open the trunk and pull back the inside cover behind the left taillight assembly. (See Figure 16.)
- Remove the electric tape from the wire junction.
- Test headlights, taillights and turn signals to be sure all are working properly.
- Attach the white (ground) wire to an existing screw on the car body. (See Figure 18.)
- Using a utility knife, cut back a small lip of insulation on each wire – just enough to allow the circuit tester to touch bare copper.
- Turn on the car lights and be sure the taillights are illuminated.
- Use the circuit tester (see procedure below) to find which wire feeds the taillights. (On my Accord, it was the red wire with single blue/silver dots.)
- Attach the brown wire on the harness to the taillight wire using one of the wire taps provided. (I found it easiest to position the tap on the wires and attempt to close the "lid" by hand first, then to finish it off by clamping down with pliers. I also tried to install over the lip I cut previously in order to save myself taping time later.) See Figure 19.
- Repeat steps 6-8 for the following (wire color on my Accord in parentheses):
- * the left turn signal and the yellow harness wire (green with single blue/silver dots)
- * the right turn signal and the green harness wire (green with yellow stripe and single blue/silver dots)
- * the brake light and the red harness wire (off-white with black stripe and double indian-red dots)
- If possible, test connections by hooking up harness to trailer and activating/observing each light function.
- Mount the harness box unit using a cable tie or by drilling a 3/32" hole and the screw provided. (See Figure 21).
- Replace the trunk liner. (See Figure 22.)
As mentioned previously, a circuit tester is needed to determine which wires are which. Here are instructions on how to use the model listed in the tools section:
- Connect the test lead to the top of the tester. (It should stay in the tester and allow you to depress the internal spring.)
- Attach alligator clip to ground. (I used the same screw I did to ground the wiring harness.)
- Touch the tester to the wire to be tested while depressing spring.
The tester bulb will light up if a 6 or 12 volt circuit is found.
When it’s all said and done, you can store the extension bar and ball assembly in the trunk (for a lower profile):
Lastly, take note of the following safety precautions:
- Check the hitch pin and cotter pin for positive locking before towing a trailer.
- Check nut tightness every time a trailer is hooked-up and at the beginning of each towing day.
- Remove the assembly when not in use (particularly if it obstructs your license plate).
- Only use with trailers that have a socket-type coupler of a matching size (2").
- Never attache a tow rope, chain, cable, or any other similar item to the ball.
1 Hansen, Brandon. "Killing the Maintenance Required Warning Light in a 1999 Honda Accord." OmniNerd_, 11 May 2007. Accessed August 2008 from "http://www.omninerd.com/blogs/ Killing_the_Maintenance_Required_WarningLight in_a_1999_Honda_Accord":http://www.omninerd.com/blogs/Killing_the_Maintenance_Required_Warning_Light_in_a_1999_HondaAccord.
2 Hansen, Brandon. "Comparing Prices and Encouraging Competition." OmniNerd_, August 2008. Accessed August 2008 from http://www.omninerd.com/articles/Comparing_Prices_and_Encouraging_CompetitionCompetition.
3 Hansen, Brandon. "How to Build a Glass Mosaic Tile Fireplace." OmniNerd_, 3 February 2006. Accessed August 2008 from http://www.omninerd.com/articles/How_To_Build_a_Glass_Mosaic_Tile_FireplaceFireplace.
4 Hansen, Brandon. "How to Install an Underground Sprinkler System on a Budget." OmniNerd_, 15 July 2005. Accessed August 2008 from "http://www.omninerd.com/articles/ How_To_Install_anUnderground Sprinkler_System_on_a_Budget":http://www.omninerd.com/articles/How_To_Install_an_Underground_Sprinkler_System_on_aBudget.
5 "Hidden Hitch Class I Trailer Hitch." eTrailer.com. Accessed September 2008 from http://www.etrailer.com/pc-H~60913.htm?vehicleid=19993708.
6 "Draw-Tite Class I Trailer Hitch Receiver." eTrailer.com. Accessed September 2008 from http://www.etrailer.com/pc-H~24791.htm?vehicleid=19999256.
7 "1998-2007 Honda Accord – Class 1 Trailer Hitch." SuspensionConnection.com. Accessed September 2008 from http://www.suspensionconnection.com/cgi-bin/suscon/CT11290.html.
9 Prices reflect those at the U-Haul center at Hwy 290 and Fairbanks in Houston, TX as of July 24, 2008.
10 The extension bar installation instructions are also included on its packaging.
11 The 2" hitch ball installation instructions are included in detail on its packaging.
12 "Loctite." Henkel_. Accessed September 2008 from http://www.henkelna.com/cps/rde/xchg/ henkel_us/hs.xsl/1557_USE_HTML.htm? countryCode=us&BU=ua&parentredDotUID= 000000022U&redDotUID=000000022U&brand= 0000000251HTML.htm?countryCode=us&BU=ua&parentredDotUID=000000022U&redDotUID=000000022U&brand=0000000251.