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BUYER’S GUIDE: Should I Buy a Dealer Installed Trailer Hitch?

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Car dealers offer a wide array of goodies they can add to your vehicle.  Here is a firm answer on the subject of dealer-installed trailer hitches.

Car dealers have always offered new car services and add-on items.  Over the years, some dealers got a bad reputation for selling some questionable items.  However, there are a few things that dealers offer that make sense for many buyers.  Trailer hitches are one of them.

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For those of you that buy trucks and SUVs (and you are the bulk of the auto-buying world), a trailer hitch is a no-brainer.  But should you have the dealer install it, or go the aftermarket route?  Our recommendation is “Yes, buy it from your car dealer”, but that you should plan ahead for this.  Automakers offer a “Trailer Prep-Package” on all vehicles that make sense for towing.  It includes things like a heavy-duty alternator, transmission cooler, and differential cooler.  You want to be sure that the vehicle you are buying has this important factory-installed technology.  Towing has evolved a lot in the past decade.  Trucks, SUV, and even crossovers now have trailer anti-sway systems, exhaust-braking, and trailer connection cameras that all have to be part of the vehicle as it rolls off the factory line.  Get it, and do not buy a vehicle without it if you plan to tow.  Once you have made sure the new vehicle you are looking for has this, the vehicle might already have an integrated trailer hitch, or it might not.  If it does, you’re all set.  Buy your hitch ball, chains, and accessories anywhere you want.  The dealership is a reasonable place to buy that stuff.  However, if the vehicle has the prep-package, but not the trailer hitch itself, you have a little work to do.

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First, ask the salesperson to show you an example of one installed on your vehicle in the lot.  It does not matter if it is your actual vehicle.  You want to look and be sure it is neatly integrated.  Toyota, for example, offered a hitch when I bought my crossover.  It fit perfectly and the black paint has lasted about nine years without any corrosion (just a bit of surface rust that appeared after five years).  It also came with a cap that says “Toyota.”  I frequently see Highlanders like mine that did not have this hitch, but instead, the owners went the aftermarket route.  Without fail, they look like they don’t fit, and most of them look very heavily rusted.  You want to be sure the one the dealer is offering is designed by the company that you are buying from and that it has a custom fit.

colorado tows a vette

Checking our facts on this story, we reached out to two of the industry’s most respected truck reviewers (and owners).  Patrick Rall is an editor and content provider at multiple outlets.  He also owns a horse farm, and he is known for his “Hard-Working Review” series he does on trucks.  He tows with these test vehicles at their max capacity and then tells the un-varnished truth about what he finds.  We asked him if it was important to plan ahead when considering a hitch and he said “I will never buy a half ton truck without a factory tow package. If you ever tow or might ever tow, it’s worth the money to get the package and really, the hitch is just part of the benefits.Tim Esterdahl, a reporter with a focus on trucks agreed, saying, “I would always buy the OEM towing package. In fact, every time I’ve looked for a truck, that package was already installed (dealers like to add it on and put the profit in their pocket). At the end of the day, resale value is a real factor.”


John Goreham

John Goreham