Frame Mount Receiver Hitch - Detailed Instructions for Installation on a 1999 TJ Wrangler
After browsing around the Internet on the fine Jeep WebRings for a few weeks and seeing a plethora of frame mount receiver hitches, I felt somewhat jealous. Then, I took a trip out of town in my TJ along with a 6 foot aluminum ladder and a couple of toolboxes. My hitch jealousy turned into a burning desire. I had to have a receiver hitch of my own, so that I could pull my small trailer behind the Wrangler.
I had noticed a couple of brands for sale on eBay for $55.00-$70.00 and so I bought a new Class III hitch from a nice fellow there. He had most everything I could desire in a hitch; frame mountings, ball mounts, various ball sizes, and even wiring. I paid about $70.00 with shipping. Here is the e-mail address of this fellow, in case you want to contact him. (ABACUSES@aol.com) I understand that he has a warehouse, and that he sells a lot on eBay. He did right by me! Here is a photo of the hitch before installation:
So...let's get down to business. To start the process, at least on my installation, the following tools were used:
Begin by removing the plastic bumper ends from your TJ. There are five screws on each end of the bumper that must be removed with your T-30 Torx tool. The two screws on top of the bumper are longer than the three screws on the bottom. Remove the screws as shown in the pictures below, pull the bumper ends out and lay them aside. Don't lose the screws!
Next, you will remove the bumper itself. There are two 18mm bolts, and four 18mm nuts holding the bumper on. The large bolts are on the bottom at either end, and the nuts are mounted on the front of the frame crossover bar. See the pictures below for removal detail:
Now it gets a little bit difficult, but not too bad. I have never installed one of these before, and it only took me a couple of hours. The instructions are important at this point, since they will show you how everything mounts to the frame. It probably isn't much different with different brands of hitches, since they all use the same mounting holes in the frame.
With your little magnet extension tool, and your fingers, position the two bolts and the long rectangular washer inside the frame crossover bar, with the bolts sticking out. See the pictures below for detail:
Using your magnet tool to hold one of the bolts in place, carefully slide one of the hitch tabs onto a bolt, and then carefully repeat the process on the other side. This is a bit difficult, and it may help to have someone with you to help hold things in place. I was able to accomplish it alone though, so it is not impossible. I found that I could rest the right side of the hitch on top of the tailpipe, while I worked on the left bolt. (This part of the job would have been VERY difficult without my little magnet extension tool) See the pictures below:
Now that you have the hitch hanging from the two protruding bolts, install the two big washers and nuts as shown below. Don't tighten them more than finger tight at this point since you will need to move the hitch around a bit to get it to line up with the bumper and frame holes. See pictures below:
Once the hitch is hanging from the finger-tightened bolts it is time to slide the bumper back in place. Before doing so though, you may want to wipe out the inside of the bumper itself since a lot of muddy dirt might have accumulated inside the bumper toward the ends. This will probably cause rust eventually if left that way, since moisture can hang around there. The bumper will slide back in place with little effort. It actually slides between the frame and the top of the hitch. See the pictures below for detail:
Install the four 18mm nuts (two each side) on the front of the frame mount of the bumper, but not the big 18mm bolts on the bottom yet. Tighten them with a wrench until they are fully seated, although not completely tightened yet. You may have to make some minor adjustments in alignment yet. See picture below:
At this point, lie down on the ground and look up thorough the hole that the big 18mm nuts goes into. We hope that the hitch and bumper and mounting hole all line up properly. If so, great, if not, you may have to make an adjustment. The two tabs that we first hung the hitch on are somewhat flexible. The left side of my hitch didn't line up well, so I took a three pound hammer, a block of wood, and tapped the tab until it lined things up better. This meant removing the bumper and hitch, but it went pretty quickly since I hadn't tightened everything up fully yet. I suggest that you take time BEFORE you install it to see that all lines up well, and adjust the hitch tabs first. In your case, though, I am sure that all will line up well, so let's continue.
Next, we will install the two big 18mm bolts, on the bottom, at each end of the bumper. I added a large washer under and over the hitch frame where the bolt goes through. The bolt heads are now tightening against the hitch instead of the bumper, and the hole in the hitch is elongated (bigger) for adjustment. Plus, there was about 1/16th of an inch of space above the hitch mount. I felt that this was a bit much, so I added a washer there too. You may not feel the need to add these washers. 'Tis up to you! Tighten the 18mm bolts until the bumper, hitch, and frame all meet. Don't tighten completely yet though. There is only one of the 18mm bolts showing in the picture below, but, of course, you'll want to tighten both of them. (One at each end) See picture below:
Now we reach another somewhat difficult task, but with the modern tools we have once again not too bad. The bolt that holds the back of the hitch against the frame must actually be inserted into the frame, and stick out of it. This is a bit difficult since the frame is a solid tube on a TJ. (Unlike a CJ which has an open U shaped frame) So, we must get the bolt, and its rectangular washer into the frame. My hitch kit came with a little wire thing that screws to the end of the bolt and makes it easier to manuever. Without this wire thing, and my little magnet tool, I'd have been in trouble. With them, sliding the bolt through the frame went smoothly. (Chrysler fortunately cut a hole in the frame about a foot away, just for sticking things inside the frame, I guess). See pictures for detail:
The back of the hitch mount has considerable space in it. I added 1/16th by my washer on top, but there was still nearly an inch between the frame and the top of the hitch. Fortunately, my kit came with a bunch of washers, and a wedge thing. These all piled together closed up the space, and didn't look too silly in the process. It seems to me that the hitch maker could have bent the hitch a bit toward the frame, but maybe the hitch will mount to different Jeeps, so they didn't. See picture below:
Now, everything is basically in place. It is time to start tightening bolts and nuts. Examine everything carefully. Lie down behind your Jeep and look at the bumper and hitch. Is everything normal looking. Is everything level. Now stand beside the Jeep and look around at the bumper and hitch. Does it stick out toward the back more on one side than the other? When you are happy that all is lined up well. Tighten all the nuts, and bolts, and reinstall the bumper ends. Be sure to put back all five screws in each bumper end. The long screws go on top, and the short ones on the bottom.
Congratulations, you can now pull up to 2000 pounds with your Jeep!
Here is the finished product, with goodies from Wal-Mart and elsewhere installed in the receiver:
What is really cool about this installation is that, with the ball mount removed, it doesn't seriously take away from my ground clearance. I have the 19 gallon tank on my 99 TJ, and the hitch is above the level of the tank. See the picture above? It shows the gas tank sticking down about an inch below the hitch!
Below are some other hitch goodies I bought at Wal-Mart, although you can buy all this stuff from wherever you get your hitch kit.
I especially like the T-Bone receiver lock. ($20.00 at Wal-Mart). Also, the dual-ball was extra cool. ($24.95 at Wal-Mart). And finally the ball mount itself. ($19.95 at Wal-Mart). The wiring kit, made for my TJ Wrangler was $24.95 on eBay.
If this article helps you, my greatest reward would be an e-mail from you. You can install your own frame hitch. Go to eBay and get one for yourself. Let me know how it goes!
Thanks for stopping by!