Costs of Installing a Trailer Hitch for Bike Racks
If your current car, truck, minivan, or SUV does not have a hitch, the world of hitch bike racks is still open to you. You can most likely have one set up as an aftermarket part.
On average, the total cost of a complete Class 3 trailer hitch install ranges from $510 to $950. This price includes a minimum of $400 for material for the tow hitch and wiring harness and $180 for a mechanic’s labor. Car repair shops are less expensive than car dealerships while offering the same functionalities.
The total amount varies depending on the type of vehicle and the type of hitch. Since such an installation includes many bigger and smaller parts, with varying amounts of work that comes with those, there is potential to save some money at many corners.
Pro-tip: Hitch racks can be significantly more fuel efficient than roof racks. If you want to do further research, check out the best-rated hitch racks on Amazon or the best hitch rack brands listed in this article.
What a professional tow hitch installation includes
A complete tow hitch installation includes the actual trailer hitch, a wiring harness, and the labor necessary for the installation of both those kits.
In detail, a complete package includes:
- Trailer Hitch Kit
- Hitch Receiver (Class 1-6)
- Ball Mount & Hitch Pin
- Trailer Ball
- Safety Chain
- Wiring Harness Kit
- 4 or 7 pin
- 1 hour max. for each the trailer kit and wiring kit
The following table shows how much you can expect to spend on each on average:
|Car Repair Shop||Car Dealership|
|Trailer Hitch Kit||$ 250||$ 500|
|Wiring Harness Kit||$ 100||$ 250|
|Labor (2 hours max.)||$ 160||$ 200|
|Total||$ 510||$ 950|
These prices are a mix of quotes I got offered from my local shops, are offered online (U-haul etc.), and reported by forum posts.
Note the stark (average) difference between the type of workshops. Don’t expect to get a drastically better hitch for that premium though. Aftermarket parts can carry and tow just as well. This is why you should try to avoid car dealerships in favor of your local mechanic.
With all the shops I sent an inquiry about hitch install prices, there were also some repair shops in the dealership-pricing territory. So, it does not hurt to seek out a couple of different offers.
The best prices came from larger companies, that offer their own branded aftermarket parts and have experience from countless of installations to reduce the time needed.
While car dealerships like using only their first-party parts and usually charge more for labor per hour. Since there are no tangible benefits of going this route, I would advise against it. Trailer hitches are a pretty standardized product, that does not need to be first party.
Not specifically included in this list is a trailer hitch lock, which is very much recommended as an additional layer of security to avoid theft. These locks do exactly what they say: locking the receiver hitch to the vehicle so only you can take it (and everything attached to it) off. They replace the hitch pin and can cost anywhere between $20 and $50.
But back to the parts actually included in a trailer hitch kit. There is a decision to make, that affects the price as well as the number of purposes you can get out of the whole hitch. The question is…
What class of trailer hitch do you need for a bike rack?
This is where your intended use makes a tangible difference in what parts you need and what the price will be. You are generally able to choose between 3 hitch types:
- basic receiver ball
If you are mainly interested in mounting bike racks, the basic receiver ball is what you are looking for. This one is set up at the back of a car and sticks out from below the rear bumper. It is probably the most familiar to you. The fifth-wheel or gooseneck are not relevant in this context. They are set up on truck beds and are usually used to tow big trailers.
Now that we have discussed the part of the hitch, that your future bike rack (or trailer) will actually attach to, we still need the part that attaches it all to the back of your vehicle.
This part is called a hitch and is bolted to the vehicle chassis from below. This is the unseen hero that allows trailer hitches to carry incredible amounts of loads. And it is where there are several classes with varying load capacities and prices to choose from.
While each has its own characteristics and strengths, looking for a hitch to mainly carry bike racks is pretty easy. For this specific purpose the factors to keep in mind are:
- The most common hitch bike racks require a 2″ receiver ball size. They also have more capacity.
- For hitch bike racks a hitch needs to support enough tounge weight capacity – not total weight capacity.
- An average bike weighs 25 lbs, while an average e-bike weighs 65 lbs.
- The actual hitch rack weighs between 40-60 lbs, depending on the number of bikes it can hold.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the normed hitch classes:
|Receiver Size||Tounge capacity||Bike Rack Capacity|
|Class 1||1 1/4″||200 lbs max.||2 – 4 bikes|
|Class 2||1 1/4″||350 lbs max.||5 bikes|
|Class 3||2″||800 lbs max.||5+ bikes|
|Class 4||2″||1.000 lbs max.||Overkill|
|Class 5 XD||2″||2.500 lbs max.||Overkill|
|Class 5 CD||2 1/2″||Overkill|
As you can see, all 6 classes of hitches allow for bike transportation using a hitch-mounted rack.
Just for e-bikers class 1 may not be suitable in most cases as it quickly reaches its limits. Generally, it is advised to go for a 2″ receiver ball size, since most hitch racks are supported and the selection is far greater. The same goes for bike capacity.
At the end of the day, a tow hitch is also able to tow stuff. For classes 1 and 2, the ability to do so just is not that great. If your vehicle allows it and it is at all a possibility that trailer towing is in your future, I would opt for a class 3 hitch. This way you are not limited in what your new hitch can do in the future. And you can carry more than enough (e-)bikes.
How long it takes to install a trailer hitch
With all the variables in the whole process, this one you have no influence over. The amount it takes to mount the hitch to the chassis of a vehicle largely depends on the vehicle rather than the hitch.
On average, a professional mechanic can install a trailer hitch in between half and one hour. Similarly, installing the matching wiring harness generally does not take more than one hour. Actual numbers do vary based on the type of vehicle and type of tow hitch.
Anything over two hours total is already unusual to see if done by a professional. Experienced mechanics should be able to inform you up-front of the time an installation would take on your specific vehicle.
While installing a wiring harness is best done by a pro, there is still an easy way to completely eliminate up to an hour of labor expenses entirely…
Install a tow hitch by yourself
You will not be able to eliminate the material side of the equation. But if you are handy and have the tools, you can save money for a professional mechanic.
Installing a trailer hitch is entirely possible to do on your own. These are standardized parts, often fitted to the specific vehicle. And the installation does not require specialized tools.
All in all, this is a fairly simple process that should not take more than an hour from start to finish. Even if you have never done it before. Most kits come with detailed and easy-to-follow instructions. Besides, the amount of individual parts is limited. This is just not a very extensive procedure for most cars.
So, leave yourself the option to try for yourself, before opting for plan B and calling your local mechanic. Make sure you have access to one that is willing to install parts that are not ordered or bought through them.
U-Haul and Curt both made excellent videos showcasing how it is done by the pros. While the cars shown may not resemble the one in your garage, the general principles still apply. This way you can get a feeling of what it takes and if that is something you are confident in doing.
Do you need wiring for a trailer hitch?
Electrical wiring is probably the most overlooked part of a tow hitch. However, it is just as important because without it other motorists will not be able to see what is going on with your vehicle.
As a general rule, most purposes for a trailer hitch do require wiring as well. By traffic law, a vehicle’s taillights are not allowed to be blocked from view by an object in front of them. Transporting bikes on a hitch rack or towing a trailer are specific applications where this is the case.
These kinds of laws may or may not be enforced overtly in your state or country. In any case, it makes sense to have the corresponding wiring when there is a trailer hitch installed on the vehicle. Having a hitch but not the wiring drastically reduces the many purposes you can (legally) use your hitch for.
Luckily, just as you can do with the actual hitch, the wiring can also be installed as an aftermarket upgrade. So if your vehicle did not come equipped with a factory hitch or trailer wiring, you can install all of that without any compromises.
Just like the hitch, this can be done by yourself. However, it is more complicated to do and often requires partly disassembling the interior in order to get to the existing wiring on board.
Here are some of my favorite resources for mountain bikers:
- How to read MTB tires.
- Best car bike rack manufacturers.
- Bike rack security guide.
- Best action cams for mountain biking.
To see all of my current gear (including action cameras) and up-to-date recommendations, check out this resource I made for you.