7

I recall a day when adding just A/C would mean adding several other options to a vehicle, at a price tag that's three or so times what would be justified for an A/C—but at least those were useful add-ons.

A hitch nowadays, as it perhaps always has been, cannot be bundled with anything else. Yet the price tag is six or so times what an outside shop would charge for installing a hitch.

What is the difference between dealer-installed and non-dealer installed hitches? Are there particular details I should be looking for to make sure I'm not comparing apples and oranges?

In case it matters, I only need a hitch to install a bike rack. The car itself is nearly just a tool to haul bikes to the trails, but that's a different story.

6
  • At some point someone else may own the car and use the hitch up to (or over, sigh) the rated towing capacity of the vehicle. Personally, I'm happy my hitch was welded to the frame at the factory when the rest of the frame was made.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 14:35
  • @JonCuster I'm content with the use of (appropriately strong) bolts for attaching a hitch assembly. But what is otherwise the difference? Is the gap between chassis and bolted hitch assembly a concern? Would it, for example, be space for rust to start unseen?
    – Sam7919
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 14:39
  • 1
    Done properly an after-market hitch should perform just fine. Check the bolts every once in a while perhaps. Some can be welded on rather than bolting.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 14:43
  • 6
    I just ride the bike to the trail - that's the warmup.
    – Criggie
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 0:25
  • 1
    @Criggie I tried that, but the gnawing and shattering of teeth (from the rumbling of the MTB tires) is much too close to the biblical teeth gnawing and shattering.
    – Sam7919
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 1:14

4 Answers 4

13

If you are talking about adding a hitch to an existing car then there are no advantages to a dealer installed hitch as opposed to one installed by a reputable shop. Hitch installers do it all the time on a wide variety of cars and trucks, dealers do it rarely so if anything the independent shop has the advantage of experience. You will pay over the odds for no extra benefit.

If you are ordering the car from the factory then there may be some advantages if the hitch is going to be added on the assembly line. As they have access to the frame they won't have to cut through things to add the hitch, so you may get a cosmetically nicer result, possibly stronger too if the hitch is welded on. If the assembly line is going to just bolt it on after it's built then there's advantage whatsoever.

My money would be on the independent shop on this one.

1
  • 1
    Would completely agree. Dealer/manufacturer option installation is almost always going to cost you more in the long run for no added benefit ... so long as the aftermarket installer is reputable, that is :o) Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 17:29
9

A hitch nowadays, as it perhaps always has been, cannot be bundled with anything else. Yet the price tag is six or so times what an outside shop would charge for installing a hitch.

That's not true on many vehicles. Take the Chevy Blazer. You don't buy a factory hitch, you buy the trailering equipment group. This includes a heavy-duty cooling system on the V6 engine, hitch guidance and hitch view (shows a top-down of the hitch on the backup camera and a line to help align the trailer), trailer sway control (allows the stability control system to detect and counter trailer sway oscillations), and a 7-pin trailer connector (which may require a converter/relay to interface with vehicle lights).

Other vehicles may include a higher powered alternator to allow for higher lighting loads and camper battery recharging, bigger towing mirrors, improved brakes, transmission coolers, an integrated trailer brake control (or wiring provisions for one), trailer tire pressure monitoring, provisions for a trailer-mounted rear camera, automatic trailer backing steering, blind-spot radars to cover the trailer, trailer lane change guidance, jackknife detection, among others.

A hitch adds weight and lowers fuel economy, and so can features like improved cooling and larger mirrors. If a vehicle is sold new with a hitch or trailer package, the carmaker will take a hit on its CAFE mileage. Some of the cost is to compensate for this.

A very important part in anything a carmaker sells is safety. The carmaker will have conducted tests, such as rear-end crash tests to ensure the hitch does not puncture the gas tank.

For a factory accessory hitch, some of these features may be provided. In most cars, a trailer wiring harness is provided, with vehicle-specific interfaces. Additionally, the vehicle's software may be updated; for example if you have rear automatic braking or a kick-to-open tailgate, those features may need to be adjusted.

5
  • 1
    I may be out of date on this, but one of the main reasons the US auto makers have switched so heavily to trucks is that trucks do not count towards CAFE numbers. (Plus they're massively popular, so they're sold at massive profits.)
    – FreeMan
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 13:14
  • 1
    @FreeMan Fuel economy standards apply to everything on land. CAFE applies to all vehicles <=8500 lbs GVWR. The standards are somewhat relaxed for light trucks, but they still apply. Heavy trucks, >8500 lbs GVWR, are subject to a different set of rules, the GHG series, which also dictates efficiency for anything heavy-duty on land with an engine, such as trains, construction equipment, generators, etc.
    – user71659
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 15:52
  • @FreeMan the CAFE rules are much more generous to "light trucks" on the rationale that tradesmen (plumbers, carpenters) need trucks and making a high MPG truck is not practicable. Due to this loophole, the only sane way to build a large car is categorize it as a light truck. SUVs aren't popular on merits, they're the only option for a vehicle bigger than a Ford Focus. People would rather have a station wagon that fits a 4x8 sheet of plywood with the seats folded down. Honestly they actually held more stuff than SUVs. Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 18:04
  • My point, @Harper-ReinstateMonica. I'm not an SUV fan. My very un-hip minivan will take a few 4x8s without issue. I don't know that there's an SUV on the market that could do that. It will also seat 6 and their luggage for 4 days out of town without putting anything on the roof or in a trailer. As noted above, "light" trucks may have moved up in size of late (there's a reason realtors all drove H3s in the early 2000s - tax write off!) but you are 100% correct on the marketing aspects.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 18:12
  • @Harper-ReinstateMonica Not always. The issue is if a vehicle is a light truck, it has to be manufactured in the US or in Mexico/Canada under USMCA rules, or else it's subject to the 25% chicken tax. Take the Subaru Forester or Mazda CX-90, despite them being a CUV, they're not a light truck, and are made in Japan.
    – user71659
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 18:40
6

One difference is the hitch would be covered by the vehicle's manufacturer's warranty rather than the aftermarket installer's warranty.

An unlikely but not impossible situation - a hitch is fitted to the factory mounting points in a workmanlike manner by an aftermarket installer. But the factory mounting points are not strong enough and fail. Who's job is it to fix the vehicle.

Personally I'd expect any reputable vehicle would have mounts up to spec with safety margin to spare. And my vehicles are decades out of any warranty.

4
  • 1
    You seem as though you're saying the aftermarket won't account for such things when they are engineering/manufacturing such parts? Also, as far as warranty goes ... the auto manufacturer will only warrant the part for usually as long as the bumper-to-bumper warranty is good. The aftermarket can/will warrant it for lifetime. Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 18:03
  • 1
    Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act already covers this. You do a postmortem and if the aftermarket item was quality, and the work was correct, the warranty must stand. Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 19:01
  • @Harper-ReinstateMonica never heard of that - is it US / state specific ?
    – Criggie
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 21:06
  • 1
    @Criggie US federal law. Foreign countries are free to adopt it. They were laser focused on the auto industry when they wrote it, but it certainly applies to e.g. inkjet cartridges. Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 21:56
3

The dealer work can be folded into your auto financing. The mechanic's work cannot. That is pretty much the "killer app" for dealer-installed add-ons.

Are there particular details I should be looking for to make sure I'm not comparing apples and oranges?

Yes! The dealer is probably selling a trailer package soup to nuts, including the trailer lighting harness, car-side electronics for that, any computer programming needs done for that, and possibly a Class 3/4 hitch - and you'll be fit to haul a boat.

Whereas the bike shop will mount none of that since bike racks don't have lights or electric brakes... and give you a Class 2 hitch.

1
  • Not being able to get a 2" hitch, which is necessary for a 4-bike (or "party") rack, is a deal breaker. I'm assuming independent hitch installers have options for both 1 1/4" hitches as well as 2" ones.
    – Sam7919
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 22:25

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .