Installing a Trailer Hitch on a Small Car





Introduction: Installing a Trailer Hitch on a Small Car

I installed a Class I trailer hitch on a small sedan. I ordered the hitch online. All parts fit perfectly. The supplied instruction sheet was excellent. No body mods were necessary. The job was surprisingly simple. It took me about 2.5 hours total. If you have safety glasses, a torque wrench, and assorted tools, I'd encourage you to try it.

Warning: Never exceed the towing capacity ratings of your car.

Step 1: Parts and Tools

Buy the hitch to fit your car. Several manufacturers offer hitches for most makes and models of car. (I ordered a Reese hitch from for my 1996 Honda Civic sedan with 150K miles (don't laugh)).

Unpack the package. Look at the bag of parts. Read the instructions. Note the torque specs.

Gather your tools. Safety glasses (to protect your eyes), torque wrench (to make sure the hitch stays attached), hammer and chisel (to remove any schmutz on your car frame), inspection mirror (to make sure the carriage bolts are installed right), etc.

One change: To attach the ends of the hitch to the frame, I used big round washers instead of the u-shaped washers which came with the package. I'm not a mechanical engineer, but my gut didn't like the u-shaped ones. Caveat emptor: deviate from the manufacturer's recommendations at your own risk.

Step 2: Tips

1) The ends of the hitch attach to the car frame with carriage bolts and blocks of steel with square holes. Be sure the square part of the carriage bolt is fully inserted into the square hole, when it is installed in the frame. Otherwise it could come loose. I used a little round inspection mirror to look inside the frame. I did this several times while installing it and after it was finished.

2) The holes in my frame had a little raised flange around the opening. Ensure the big washers seat snugly against the flat surface of the frame. Do not get them hung up on this flange, else it will be weak and could come loose.

3) One of my frames was covered with shmutz (undercoating, road kill, whatever). Chisel off this crud to get a nice flat surface. Coat it with primer paint to prevent rust.

4) The center of the hitch attaches to the tie-down bracket under the trunk/boot with a small u-bolt. Remember to insert this u-bolt while you are test-fitting the two main frame bolts. Otherwise it is impossible to wiggle into place.

Step 3: Assemble and Finish

The rest of the job involves wrestling the hitch into position, getting everything to fit loosely, then tightening to torque spec.

One last time, ensure the carriage bolt heads are properly seated, and ensure the big washers are not hung-up on the frame hole's raised flanges.

Here are some more photos.



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    18 Discussions

    I have an 06 Pontiac Vibe, which comes with a roof rack. I've also read that it has a 1500lb towing capacity. I assume weight of passengers and cargo within the vehicle would affect this? What if I had 2 adults, a 6yr old, luggage inside the vehicle, and stuff on a rooftop carrier strapped to the top of the vehicle? Would I have any towing capacity left for a trailer?

    I installed a Thule 1-inch light duty hitch receiver on my friend's late-1990s Honda Accord about 9 years ago. It was better than the Reese receiver shown in this Instructable, as it had extensions to suspend it from the bottom of the spare wheel well, and the kit had large, heavy duty fender washers for the carriage bolts inside the wheel well to distribute the stresses. Instead of two attachment points, it attached at four points, further reducing stress at each point.

    The problem with small cars like the Honda Civic and Accord is that their unibody construction doesn't provide any strong structural members for installation of a hitch receiver. Everything is thin sheet metal. My friend wanted to mount a rack to haul three bicycles, but the Thule dealer looked it up in his book and said it was a no-go: The rear end of the Honda Accord wasn't capable of supporting the weight. The limit was a two-bicycle rack.

    The limitations on the weight of a bicycle carrier also means a severe limit on the tongue weight and gross weight of any trailer one might want to tow with a small car. To avoid risking expensive damage to the rear end of one's car, one should consult with a competent hitch dealer before proceeding. The ratings of the car's brakes and transmission are other limits to consider, as modern passenger cars are not designed to tow trailers as big, heavy American cars of the 1970s and earlier were.

    Not laughing. My first car was an '83 Civic, and I only got rid of it at >200k miles because I couldn't get it to pass smog. I loved that car. I still dream about it :)

    Glad to find this, since I've been wanting to put a hitch on our little car for years. Much appreciated!

    4 replies

    Same here, I think :) When I had it...well, it was far from meeting that requirement at the time ;)

    That caveat is pretty significant. The manual for my '95 Honda Civic DX specifically states that it is not to be used for towing. There are a few reasons for this. One the brakes aren't designed to stop a heavy load. If you are towing a trailer behind your Civic it will wear your breaks much faster. Take a look at the break design of an SUV or truck and you'll see they are MUCH larger and heavy duty. Another reason is the transmission in most small cars are light duty. A manual transmission will burn through the clutch much faster and an automatic will strain worse and can slip or stutter. The money you save on a truck rental for a weekend vs. a cheap trailer mount for your car can come back to haunt you. Lastly the weight on the frame is a lot to bear on springs and suspension not designed for it. So be careful when doing this. Part of the above can damage your car or wear parts much faster than normal. The break issue however can be very scary. If you are hauling a small bike trailer you will likely be fine. If you decide to haul the boat well... that's another story.

    2 replies

    The reason me personally I looked at doing this to my Chevy Lumina, is to either tow a 2nd trunk (small trailer) or a cargo platform most rated at 500lbs the lumina 3.1L is rated at 1klbs

    Zonk3r, thanks for the good advice. I added a warning to the main page. I use it with a hitch-mounted bike rack.

    A general point worth making is that fitting the tow bar yourself can be seriously cheaper than getting a dealer to do it, at least in the thieving UK - I have a Citroen C5 for which I was quoted £1,200 for fitting a tow bar by my Citroen dealer, whereas I was able to do it myself for £275 in about 2 hours. It was the exact same bar that Citroen fit.

    It's also worth noting that you should get one with a removable ball if you have reversing sensors.

    Myself, I'd only be using one to get, say, a TV set or other appliance home if I didn't have access to someone's pickup. Friend has a fridge in his garage he's willing to give me, but neither one of us has a truck available! (T_T)

    lol, my dad once did this to his 1996 Doge Stratus before he bought a truck. it was so hilarious watching that little car pulling around his boat. :D unfortunately my dad sold his Stratus a few years ago and bought a Toyota Solara, nice car but no trailer hitch...

    This is exactly what I needed! I've wanted to install a hitch (for a bike rack) on my '97 civic and didn't know if it was even possible on such a small car.

    Could you share where you ordered it from and how much it costed? Thanks so much!

    1 reply

    While I don't plan on doing this soon, I like that I can see what's involved. Thanks!