Honda Pilot Tow Hitch

We downsized from a Honda Odyssey minivan last year to a Honda Pilot. It’s been a great vehicle (despite the lack of a volume knob). However, one of the biggest disappointments last summer was that we could no longer toss four bicycles in the back of our vehicle and go to a park for a family bike ride. Our neighborhood is ok for very short rides, but we enjoy parking at one of the area greenways and going for a car-free ride, often on a shady path.

So I’ve been planning on getting a trailer hitch-mounted bike rack to solve the issue but of course, that meant having to get a trailer hitch first as our vehicle doesn’t come with one. I didn’t want a third-party hitch because 1) they hang below the bumper, which is an eyesore and 2) I had really bad luck with the wiring on a U-Haul tow hitch on our old Ford (the damage it caused to the system wiring cost me more than the hitch). My son has been really wanting to or more bike rides, so I figured the time had come to order some parts.

Tow hitch, torque wrench, and bike mount

I did some research and found a couple of videos on how to install the oem Honda tow hitch for a 2017 Honda Pilot. It’s about as simple as it could possible be, with only six bolts to mount it. The part comes with the replacement bumper inserts and bolts. I ordered the part from Amazon, but you can get it cheaper (though not with free shipping) from https://www.hondapartsguys.com. It does not, however, come with any instructions per se; just a note on the box that you have to download them. The first thing the instructions state is that this is not a job for do-it-yourselfers. Other than the fact that you need a torque wrench, I honestly cannot image why not. Well, except that they want to funnel some business to dealership service depts. But no way am I paying someone hundreds of dollars to tighten down a half dozen bolts for me. I can’t deep-link to the PDF on Honda’s site, but it’s easy to search for the year and model and then find the trailer hitch instructions.

The first steps, and in my opinion, the most difficult (or at least time consuming) is to remove the old bumper insert. It’s just a bent piece of plastic but it’s held in by multiple screws, bolts, and clips. The only real trick is to understand how the pair of center-push clips work. This video does a great job of explaining how to easily pop the center down to slide them out. You save a couple of metal clip-on-nuts to reuse on your replacement insert that has the openings for the hitch. Getting the new insert back in placed required some persuasion, but once it was aligned onto all the clips and holes, it was very easy to reverse the process.

Mounting the hitch itself wasn’t hard to do by myself, either. I literally just sat it in my lap and the slid myself under the bumper. I was able to rest the hitch in the insert’s hitch opening and get two of the bolts started to then support the rest of the weight. I used my small power driver to get the bolts snug tight (I set it to 20, which I assume is Nm). The bolt heads are 19mm, but you can safely use a 3/4″ if you only have SAE sizes (19 mm = 0.748 inches; which is within the tolerance of most sockets anyway). I didn’t use an extender, but rather just a 1/2″ to 3/8″ adapter on the 3/4″ socket and was able to get all six bolts tightened to spec. The instructions mention a 22mm socket, which I didn’t have but purchased at Lowes for 99¢. However, I never needed it and honestly don’t even know what it was supposed to be used for!

Torque wrench dialed to 95 N-m (70 ft-lbs) and the useless 22mm socket

I saw at least one video where the installer only lowered the spare tire but I’d recommend getting it entirely out of the way. The spare wench system on Pilot allowed me to just drop it onto a furniture dolly. I also saw where one person detached the muffler to get better access to one of the mount bolts. As I had gotten that one very tight using a small ratchet, I didn’t need a lot of room to get it to the full 70 ft-lbs of torque with the large torque wrench. I had never used a torque wrench before, but it’s pretty straight forward. The relatively cheap ($25) one I purchased from Amazon seemed to work fine and was easy to set to the desired torque (loosen a small nut, turn the handle to the measurement, tighten the nut back down). Just tighten until it “clicks” (which sounds a bit like a ratchet going backwards). This video demonstrates it nicely; though they apparently were using some after-market part and mention “140 pounds” (sic: foot-pounds) but the oem part was far lower torque.

Just for estimates, the difference between 30 ft-lbs and 60 ft-lbs was less than a full turn of the bolt, I think. The difference between 60 ft-lbs and 70 ft-lbs was maybe only 1/8th of a turn! But that last 1/8th of a turn required me to get into position for each bolt and brace my knees to the frame to pull. You’re not likely to accidentally over tighten these bolts to the full tension using a driver (unless it’s an air-powered hammer tool) or a smaller ratchet. I’d strongly suggest buying or borrowing a torque wrench and getting these tightened up right, though. They are so much more unwieldy than a driver or small ratchet, I would only recommend them for going from snug (or tighter) to full torque, though. Sure, $25 is a bit much for a tool you use so briefly but it’s good knowing the hitch is on to stay.

Torquing down one of the hitch mounting bolts to the frame. The frame itself has three threaded holes along each side on the Pilot.

The nicest thing about the oem Honda kit is that it’s hardly noticeable once installed. It doesn’t stick out past the bumper (it’s actually recessed a bit), so no one is going to lose a knee cap or shin bone to this thing. It came with a little rubber Honda insert to stick in the receiver when it’s not in use, too.

The finished trailer hitch is barely noticeable

I also ordered a Yakima Longhaul bike rack. It appears this model is intended for RVs or similar vehicles, where you would likely leave it in place. It doesn’t move out of the way or fold down. Further, it attaches with a large thru-nut. However, it was the cheapest Yakima-brand rack for four bikes supported on a trailer hitch. I’ve had very good experiences with their equipment so I decided to go with this one. It’s fairly massive but does the job. The bikes were easy to mount onto it using their zip-tie style straps and didn’t budge at all to-and-from the bike trail.

Wyatt and I ready to go on our bike ride

One downside we noted to the bikes mounted is that the backup sensors constantly think collision is imminent. So any time you’re in reverse (such as backing out of the garage), there is a constant beep that must be ignored.

Check Your Surroundings! We’re all gonna die!

As I was installing this for the purpose of a bike rack, I didn’t spring for the additional $175 wiring harness. I think I’ll likely have to take the trailer hitch back off to place it in the mount, which is not going to be fun (though at least I’ll get some more value out of that torque wrench investment!). That’s something to consider if you’re looking at doing something like this yourself as well. I’m not sure a dealer will be willing to install only the trailer hitch without the wiring harness (they’d probably still charge you just as much even if they did).

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