Can I put a hitch on my car?
You're probably reading this page because you're wondering whether it's possible to install a trailer hitch to your car. The short answer to that question is that yes, it probably is possible. Almost any vehicle is a capable of towing a trailer. Even a small car can benefit from the installation of a trailer hitch. For example, there is even a hitch available for the Toyota Prius. In some cases, you will only be able to tow a very small trailer. But even being able to tow an extremely small trailer can really increase the versatility of your car. This page explains what you will need in order to add this capability. In most cases, it's probably much easier than you expected.
The ability to tow a small trailer can be useful for many reasons. Occasionally, you will have the need to haul bulky objects. In some cases, you need to haul dirty items that you would prefer not to put in the trunk of your car. Being able to use a small trailer can make these jobs much easier. You can also save money. Rental trucks can be quite expensive, and they are sometimes in poor mechanical condition. Rental trailers, on the other hand, are considerably less expensive, and there are fewer mechanical parts to worry about. Being able to tow a trailer can simplify your life when those jobs come along.
You might also be thinking of getting a camping trailer. Unfortunately, most modern camping trailers, even the smallest popup campers and tent trailers, are often too heavy for many sedans. But even here, having a hitch on your car can open up possibilities. There are quite a few tent trailers designed to be towed behind a motorcycle. While these lack many amenities, they do provide the most important luxury: the ability to sleep up off the ground. Also, many older tent trailers from the 1980's and 1990's were might lighter than their modern counterparts. Many of these are still available in good condition. Many of them are well within the safe towing limits of most passenger cars.
In addition, a trailer hitch is sometimes used for other purposes. For example, many bike racks and cargo racks are designed to be mounted on a car's trailer hitch. If you want to use one of these, you will need to install a hitch on your car.
If you're thinking about installing a hitch on your car, the first thing you need to do is determine the towing capacity of the car. In most cases, the car's manufacturer will specify the maximum weight the car can safely tow. This information is usually found in the vehicle owner's manual. If the manual has an index, it is usually listed under "trailer towing." If you don't have the manual handy, this information is also available online at a number of places. Chances are, the vehicle's manufacturer has this information on its website. A good database of vehicle towing capacities can be found at this online database.
More often than not, a small passenger car will have a maximum rating of about 1000 pounds, meaning that you can safely tow a 1000 pound trailer. In some cases, there will be restrictions. For example, a trailer might need brakes over a certain weight. In some cases, this figure assumes that the interior of the car is not loaded to its full capacity. And in many cases, the tow rating will depend on the size of the car's engine or which transmission it uses.
In some cases, when you look for this information, you will see words to the effect of "towing not recommended." If this is the case for your car, it still might be possible to tow a very small trailer safely. For example, if your car has a back seat, then it has been designed to transport two adults in the back seat. And let's assume that those two adults weigh a total of 300 pounds. In most cases, if the back seat is empty, it's probably safe to move part of that 300 pounds elsewhere in the car. So if you have a load of leaves that you need to take to the compost site, it would be safe to put them in the back seat, as long as the leaves weighed less than 300 pounds. In most cases, there is very little difference if you move this weight behind the car, and tow a trailer and leaves, as long as the combined weight is less than 300 pounds.
If your car is listed as "towing not recommended," then you certainly want to do your homework before towing. For example, if it is a new car and still under warranty, you will want to find out whether the hitch will affect the warranty. And if it's a brand new car, you probably don't want to take the chance of doing any damage. But if it's an older car, and you don't mind adding a little extra wear and tear, then it could very well be worth it ignoring the recommendation.
In most cases, you'll find that your car is capable of towing a few hundred pounds, and is more than capable of towing a small utility trailer. If so, you'll need to install a hitch. And this is much less expensive than most people think. It can be a relatively easy do-it-yourself job, or you can have it done for a reasonable price. In most cases, a custom hitch is available that simply bolts on to existing holes in the frame. In a few cases, it might be necessary to drill holes. But all of the hitches described on this page are attached with bolts. Many years ago, trailer hitches were welded on to cars. These days, virtually all trailer hitches, even those on trucks and SUV's, are bolted to the vehicle frame. And in most cases, you can buy the hitch and install it yourself.
If you plan on having the hitch installed by someone else, then it's a good idea to buy the hitch from that shop. Often, there will be a single price quoted for parts and installation. To shop around, the best starting point is to call recreational vehicle (RV) dealers or boat dealers in your area. In some cases, they will do the work. But even if they don't, they will be able to recommend good hitch shops in the area. Prices will vary, of course, but you can probably expect to pay about $200 for the complete job. This will be the cost for a "class 1 hitch." I'll explain that term later. If you get a price much higher than that, then you should probably shop around.
All of the hitches shown on this page are class 1 receiver hitches. A class 1 hitch means that the hitch has a maximum rating of 2000 pounds, and a maximum tongue weight of 200 pounds.
This is an industry standard, and you are unlikely to find hitches with lower ratings. When you buy the hitch, it will have these numbers stamped prominently onto it. Don't be confused by the presence of these numbers: Your car will not magically be able to tow 2000 pounds just because the hitch says so. This is the maximum number for the hitch. That same hitch might get installed on a larger vehicle. But if your car will tow a maximum of 1000 pounds, installing a 2000 pound hitch won't change things. The maximum is still 1000 pounds.
The main limit you need to be concerned about is the maximum towing capacity, which is the total weight of the trailer, as loaded. Most of this weight is carried by the trailer's wheels. But in addtion, this type of hitch will have a maximum "hitch weight" of 200 pounds. This means that the amount of weight resting on the hitch itself can't exceed 200 pounds. For most small trailers, this is not an issue. But if, for example, you use the hitch for a bike rack or cargo rack, then the maximum weight cannot exceed 200 pounds.
A trailer hitch generally consists of three parts. The first is
the receiver, which is the part that permanently attaches to the car.
It will look something like this:
Most of this will mount under the car and will not be visible when
installed. The part that will be visible is a square tube that looks
For the hitches shown on this page, this tube will measure 1-1/4 inches on each side. On larger hitches for larger vehicles (class 3 and class 4 hitches), this will measure two inches.
When you are not towing, this is all that is visible. The hitch
itself will slide into this tube and be locked in place by a pin
passing through the hole. The portion that is removed consists of two
parts. The first is the ball mount:
The ball mount that is shown here has the ball a few inches below
the receiver. It can also be installed "upside down" so that the
hitch is above the receiver. On a passenger car, it's likely that
you'll want the ball up higher, so you will use the mount "upside
down". You want the trailer to be fairly level, so the exact
configuration will depend on your vehicle and trailer.
Finally, onto this is mounted the ball. These generally come in two
sizes, 1-7/8" and 2". The size will depend on the trailer. Some
require 1-7/8" and some require 2". A few can be used with either
size ball. Before hooking up a trailer, you want to make sure you
have the right size ball. One great thing about receiver hitches is
that it is very easy to switch if necessary.
As you can see, you will need a large wrench to attach the ball to
the ball mount. You can sometimes buy the ball and ball mount
together as a single assembly. The trailer's coupler, shown below,
fits over the ball.
The hitch pin is usually included with the ball mount, but in case it is not,
you'll need to buy one:
If you think you can tackle the job yourself, you'll need to buy the receiver. Buying the receiver online is very convenient. You can check and make sure that you have the correct receiver for your car, and you can download the installation instructions before buying. By reading the instructions, you can determine whether it's a job you are comfortable tackling yourself. Chances are, if you buy the receiver locally, you won't be able to open the box to read the instructions. So at least shopping online is much more convenient, even if you take the part number to a local store and buy there.
One very good place to buy a hitch receiver is Amazon. They carry all of the major brands, you'll be able to check on their site whether it fits your vehicle, and in most cases, you'll be able to download the installation instructions before buying.
Here's the easiest way to find a hitch for your vehicle on Amazon.
The links below go to class 1 hitches from various manufacturers:
Amazon offers free shipping on most of these hitches. The actual hitch shown above probably won't fit your car, but the manufacturer will have one or more similar ones that do. Click on one of the links above, and near the top of the page there will be a field entitled "Find Parts that fit your vehicle." Enter the year, make, and model of your car, and click "Go." It will then tell you if it fits your vehicle. If not, it will allow you to select other ones that do. Simply click on the word "receivers", and you will be shown a list of ones that do fit your car. You will generally have several choices. As you read the descriptions of these choices, you will see that most have the installation instructions available for download. By reading these instructions, you will be able to determine whether you can tackle the job yourself. In particular, if you don't feel comfortable drilling your car's frame, watch out for this possible requirement. But in most cases, the hitch will bolt into existing holes, and no drilling will be required.
Another online source of receiver hitches is Auto Everything. By
clicking on the image below, you will be taken to their site,
and can select the hitch that fits your vehicle:
Auto Everything also offers free shipping on most hitches.
As noted above, you will need the ball mount, the ball, and the hitch
pin. It's probably easiest to buy these locally after you have the
receiver installed. But they are also available online. Amazon has a
wide selection, but here are some samples. (Note, for the ball mount,
you can use either class 1 or class 2, both of which are the same
size. Class 3 or 4 will not work, since they are the wrong size.)
In addition to a hitch, you will need an electrical connection between your car and trailer, so that the brake lights, turn signals, and running lights on the trailer work. In some states, if the trailer is very narrow and the car's lights are visible, these might not be required. If you have any aptitude with electrical connections, this is a fairly easy job. Before tackling this job, you will need to determine if your car uses the same light for the brakes and the turn signal. Most American cars use the same light for both. Many foreign-made cars use a separate light for the turn signal: The brake light is red, and the turn signal is amber. If your car has separate amber turn signals, then the job is slightly more complicated, but still very straightforward.
If your car has only one set of lights (red) used for both brakes
and turn signals, then you need to buy only the connector:
This connector is commonly known as a "flat four" connector.
The corresponding connector on most small trailers looks like the one below.
As you can see, one is the opposite of the other:
As you can see, these connectors have four wires, which are color coded. The wires are coded as follows:
To hook up this connector, you will need to find the wire going to your car's left turn signal/brake light and tap into this wire with the yellow wire. Then, find the wire going to the car's right turn signal/brake light and tap into this wire with the green wire. Then, find the wire going to one of the car's tail lights, and tap into this wire with the brown wire. Finally, connect the white wire to some convenient spot on the car's chassis.
If you plan on towing infrequently, it is convenient to install this connector inside the car's trunk so that it's protected from the weather. Leave enough wire so that you can run it outside and slam the trunk over it. If you prefer, you can mount the connector outside with mounting hardware.
If your car has separate turn signal lights (usually amber), the
process is slightly more complicated. You will need to buy a
converter like one of the following:
Some of these have the "flat four" connector included, and some do not. In any event, these are fairly easy to hook up. You will need to tap into the left turn signal, right turn signal, brake light, and tail light. Some of these will also require you to tap into a source of 12 volts. In addition, you'll need to hook up the white ground wire. They all come with installation instructions.
If you are towing a small trailer, and you can see over it and to
the sides with your existing mirrors, then you won't need towing
mirrors. But if the trailer obstructs your view through the mirrors,
then you will need towing mirrors. In some cases, you'll be able to
find extensions that attach to your existing mirrors. If these are
not available for your car, you can use mirrors that mount on the
Now that you have the hitch, you might consider buying the trailer. Interestingly, small utility trailers are available on Amazon. They ship disassembled, and simply need to be bolted together. Here are some of the available options, starting under $200: