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How to Install a Trailer Hitch

A weight distribution and sway control trailer hitch and ball for RVs and trailer towing

A trailer hitch allows you to pull large, heavy items from one place to the next. A hitch can be convenient and easy to use, but it can also be dangerous if it’s not properly installed. If your hitch isn’t secure, the item you’re towing could come loose, creating a hazardous situation for you and nearby drivers.

For this reason, it’s important to know how to install a trailer hitch. This task is relatively easy to complete, as long as you have the right tools. Typically, it can be done in under an hour.

Before you get started, assemble the following items:

  • Trailer hitch
  • Trailer hitch installation instructions
  • Safety glasses
  • Work gloves
  • Wheel chocks (2)
  • Jack
  • Shop light
  • Socket set
  • Ratchet
  • Torque wrench

Read the instructions that came with the hitch you purchased. Your hitch may have its own unique quirks, and the instructions can provide a clear road map for you to follow. Be sure to don your work gloves and safety glasses before you begin.

Step 1: Place Wheel Chocks on Your Front Wheels and Jack Up the Vehicle

Wheel chocks will help keep the vehicle stable. Jacking up the vehicle can make the process easier by granting you extra space to work underneath your car, van, truck or SUV. Activate your vehicle’s emergency brake during this process.

Step 2: Set Up Your Shop Light

Your shop light can help you see clearly while working underneath the vehicle. Position it so it illuminates the space without obstructing the installation process.

Step 3: Lower the Exhaust and Remove the Spare Tire, if Necessary

With some installations, you’ll need to remove the spare tire located underneath the vehicle to set up the hitch. The socket set and ratchet can help with this task. Some hitches also require you to lower the tailpipe and part of the exhaust.

Step 4: Remove Bolts and Plugs

Certain bolts and rubber plugs may need to be removed to get your vehicle ready for hitch installation. Also, you may need to remove a heat shield or a small panel. The instructions that come with your hitch will let you know what needs to be removed to install the product.

Step 5: Position the Hitch and Install Hardware

Now you’re ready to position your trailer hitch for installation. Some hitches can be quite heavy, so you may need a second person to assist you.

Step 6: Tighten Nuts and Bolts

Once the hitch is in place, tighten all the relevant nuts and bolts to keep it in position. Start by tightening the bolts by hand, and then use a torque wrench to make sure they’re stable and secure.

With this done, your trailer hitch should be in place and ready for safe towing.

Check out all the trailer hitches available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how to install a trailer hitch, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.


Warren Clarke View All

I'm a writer and editor who's a regular contributor with the New York Daily News and Carfax, and my content has appeared in over 20 publications. I've written content that covers industries such as automotive, medical, insurance, healthcare, real estate, plumbing, pest control, dental and hospitality.

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