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).