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Fitting a Towbar

Selecting a towbar and step-by-step fitment

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • Choosing a towbar
  • Step-by-step fitment
  • Near-stealth appearance
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A towbar might be as fashionable as tweed pants but it’s inevitable you’ll want one at some stage. Whether you need to tow a race car or something more mundane, that steel tongue can be very, very handy.

But what if your car doesn’t have one?

Well, there are plenty of aftermarket towbar specialists and, as you’ll see, there are some very good quality products available at a modest price. Spend about AUD$300 and you can tow loads up to around 1250 - 1500kg (in the case of a Commodore size vehicle).

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When we decided to whack a towbar on our ’97 Mitsubishi Verada, we were initially going to buy a basic package for around AUD$270 - the cheapest on the market. However, we soon decided to step up to a 1500kg Hayman Reece product which boasts laser-cut steel plates, noticeably superior welding, a thicker tongue, sturdier mounting bolts and, when the tongue is removed, a stealth appearance. All this for about AUD$45 extra.

Let’s follow the professional installation at Adelaide’s Southern Towbars...

Step-by-Step Towbar Installation

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After raising the vehicle on a hoist, the first step is to create maximum access to the towbar mounting area. In our Verada, this meant removing the retaining screws for the bumper’s lower apron and removing the muffler hangers (to allow some movement of the muffler).

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The Hayman Reece towbar utilises the factory towbar mounting facilities with three attachment points on each side of the car. One of those attachment points doubles as the attachment point for the rear bumper and, because adding a towbar requires a longer bolt, the factory bumper mounting bolt must be removed.

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The next step is a cut-out in the lower apron. This is necessary to provide space for tongue mounting plate. Hayman Reece provide comprehensive instructions including dimensions for the cut-out. As seen here, the cut-out is made with a razor and is then filed smooth.

Now comes the awkward bit.

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In the case of the Verada it is possible to fit the towbar frame without removing the bumper bar – but only just! However, in many other cars - such as late-model Commodores and Falcons - it’s necessary to remove the bumper. Manoeuvring the towbar into position behind the bumper generally requires an assistant and several bites.

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Once the towbar is manoeuvred into position, it is carefully adjusted so that all mounting holes are aligned. We’re told that the holes sometimes don’t align (possibly due to accident damage) and it may be necessary to enlarge the holes in the bodywork. Note that some cheaper towbars require new mounting holes as a matter of course.

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Hayman Reece provides a full set of heavy-duty mounting bolts. One bolt is for the combined towbar/bumper bar mounts and two smaller bolts brace the towbar frame to the side of each chassis rails. In the Verada, one of these bolt holes is not threaded from factory so a supplied thread block (as seen here) is required.

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The thread block is essentially a steel plate with a threaded fitting and a wire ‘handle’ which lets the installer guide it into position inside the chassis rail. Once the thread block and the hole in the chassis rail are aligned, one of the supplied bolts is partially fastened.

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At this point, all of the towbar mounting bolts are tightened in sequence.

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Now it’s time to go back and refit the lower apron retaining screws and muffler hangers. The wire handle on the thread blocks can now be broken off or wound into a coil and poked inside the chassis rail (though this can cause rattles).

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The final hardware addition is the towing tongue. Our Verada had already been fitted with lowered suspension so, to maintain a relatively level trailer angle when towing, the supplied tongue had to be modified slightly – a 3-tonne press was used to raise the ball height to around 400mm (measured from ground level). The tongue is secured with two heavy-duty bolts and is easily removed when not towing. A single D shackle accepts the trailer’s emergency chains.

Now comes the wiring loom and plug for trailer lights.

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Traditionally, the trailer plug is mounted alongside the tongue but, because we wanted a stealth installation, we opted to have the plug concealed in the boot. In this configuration, the plug is normally stored in the spare wheel well and can be hung over the bumper whenever you’re towing. A flat loom allows the boot lid to be closed without fear of wire damage.

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The trailer plug is wired to the factory taillight loom which, in the Verada, is found behind a trim panel inside boot. A wiring diagram and/or test light can be used to identify the wires for brake, indicator, taillight and number plate lights. Southern Towbars use crimp terminals to connect the trailer loom to the factory loom and are quick to point out these terminals extremely reliable if crimped using a proper tool. Electrical tape is used to protect the connection and help prevent the wires pulling out of the terminals.

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The wiring is then checked by bridging specific terminals in the trailer plug. This photo shows a test light being used to bridge what is known as the brake light circuit. As you can see, the car’s brake lights are illuminated indicating all is well.

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The final step is to whack on a tow rating sticker on the inside of the driver’s door.

Total time for installation is around 1 ½ hours.

Verdict

Towbar fitment can be cheap, quick and, with a concealed trailer plug, relatively stealth.

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In our opinion, it’s often worthwhile to spend a few dollars extra for an upmarket product. The biggest advantages of the Hayman Reece towbar are its increased strength, neater appearance and an eliminated need to cut holes in the bodywork.

If you’re going to put on tweed pants, you should at least make sure they fit properly and aren’t see-through quality...

Contact:

Southern Towbars +61 8 8276 8244

The towbar installation covered in this article was paid for at full retail price.

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