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Front Mounted 2" Hitch Receiver Installation
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|Hidden Hitch - This is the final look. Notice the air dam has been notched slightly to fit. A sturdy beach rack plugs right into the receiver.|
This article will be about the installation of a front receiver hitch (Hidden Hitch brand) on a 1997 Dodge Ram 1500 Extended Cab 4X4 pickup. Some of you might ask, "Why would you put a receiver hitch on the front of a truck?" Well, if you live near the beaches of the east coast, there is a sport called surf fishing. This involves driving your four-wheel drive vehicle on the beach and fishing from the edge of the shore with long (typically 7’-12’) rod and reel combinations. In order to keep aromatic bait and caught fish outside of the vehicle interior, we use what is commonly called a surf rod rack. These are usually made of aluminum (to avoid saltwater corrosion), hold a fairly large cooler (40 - 100 quart) as well as rod holders, and are mounted to the front of the vehicle frame. Anglers Aluminum Products in Wanchese, NC makes some very nice ones (they are not cheap) along with custom mounting kits. The problem is when you change vehicles, you have to buy or fabricate a whole new mounting system if you want to transfer your rack. This is further complicated by the lack of substantial steel frame to mount to on a lot of the newer four wheel drive trucks and SUVs. Older vehicles, especially those with box frames, had many more mounting point options.
Finally, someone thought of mounting a rear receiver hitch on the front of the vehicle in order to mount the racks. Not only will this allow you to transfer your surf rod rack within your own vehicle stable, but also to other's vehicles, making it easier to sell if you decide to upgrade racks. In addition, his can also be used to mount some of the racks and accessories from Hidden Hitch (no website found), Hitch Haul , Larin , or Quad Rack . Another accessory that will fit into a front receiver hitch is a step/platform, so if your truck is lifted, you can stand on the step and work on the engine or wash the hood without a ladder or stool. There are many more applications such as wench mounts, bike racks, motorcycle racks, spare tire carrier, cooler racks, etc. I have even seen some people launch their boats using a front hitch with a hitch ball.
I bought my hitch from J.C. Whitney ($99.95). It was on sale ($84.95), and it arrived directly from Hidden Hitch (a Canadian firm) in about five days. The model number for my Dodge was #5017 and was supposed to fit 1994 -1998 models. Strange, the same models fit 1999 - 2001 models also, but they print different instructions on the back. But the instructions and parts are all the same??? The kit came complete with all needed hardware. As a matter of fact, by the time I finished, it came with extra hardware.
I had never installed a receiver hitch, so I read the destructions a couple of times prior (I know this is mechanical sacrilege) to trying to install the hitch. I am marginally mechanically inclined and it looked like a pretty straightforward bolt on installation. The main problem was that the diagram bolts and holes did not match up with the actual frame holes on my truck. As I began to follow directions and actually install the hitch, I realized after about ten minutes it was futile. I pitched the destructions, held the hitch up to the frame, and realized what I had to do. While it didn’t match exactly to the destruction diagram, it did match up to some of the holes in my frame. The destructions called for eight new bolts (four per side) to secure the hitch. The final installation was comprised of four new bolts (two per side) and two existing 18mm bolts (the ones that hold the bumper brace on each side).
The kit provided steel wires so that the new bolts could be "fished" through the inside frame rail access holes and secured. These worked very well and I saved them for future use. Also provided were metal plates for the carriage bolt heads to fit into. These bolts and plates worked very well with only one problem. The access holes in the frame of my truck were ½" wide. The bolt heads were ¾" wide and the plates were even bigger and longer. I had to grind down the head of the bolts flat on two sides so they would fit through the access holes. I also found that I did not need the plates because the carriage bolt heads fit into the outside frame openings and allowed the nuts to tighten up on the bolts without spinning. It is a very clean final installation. You will also have to trim the plastic air dam in the front a small amount to fit around the receiver, or take the air dam off completely.
The whole project took me about 2 ½ hours, working alone. It would have gone much quicker if I did not have to figure out the right combination of original hardware vs. provided hardware, grind the bolt heads, trim the air dam, and could have had someone to help me hold and position the receiver up on the frame. It is not light. With a helper, the right tools (do you have a grinding wheel?), an exact fit, and what you have learned from my experience, I believe this could be done in an hour or less. Saved me about eighty dollars (what a hitch shop would have charged).
Hitch Height - From the ground to the bottom of the hitch is almost 18". This is more than enough ground clearance for the rod rack at the beach or in most off road situations. Some other front Hidden Hitch applications (i.e. Chevy Tahoe) come out under the air dam. The problem then is that it leaves limited ground clearance on un-lifted vehicles. My truck has the 2" Tuff Country leveling kit in the front, and 285X75X16 tires (33" tall).
November 8, 2002