A 5000 lb trailer hitch for the Stretch
Every car that I have seems to end up needing a hitch sooner or later. I wanted to get one on the Westie ASAP in case the front half that I found needed to be towed across the country. It turned out that I found a running front half, but I often need a hitch for towing some 3000 lb Electric Vehicle to a show or some such anyway.
Years ago I put a hitch on the old stretch by making it up from scratch. This time I wanted an easier way. I went down to the local U-Haul where the counter person was kind enough to let me go in back and measure the hitches that they had in stock. The frame members on a Vanagon are farther apart than most vehicles so it's hard to find one with a main tube that's wide enough. I wanted one that didn't have the reciever below the main tube for a cleaner look. I also didn't want one with a long reciever that would stick out too much.
I ended up with a hitch off of a 87 to 95 Nissan Pathfinder, U haul part # 75020 for $154.53 including tax. Its main tube was exactly the right width to fit between the Vanagon bumper mounts.
The hitch comes with large plates on the side for mounting to the Nissan frame. I cut them off with a sawzall and cutting torch. I then bolted the bumper mounts in place, fit the hitch, and tack welded it to the original bumper mounts. The hitch was then removed and welded fully. I spent about 4 hours on it total.
It could be made stronger by fabricating new bumper mounts that go deeper into the frame. This would allow for another set of bolts to mount it to the Vanagon frame (which I figure is the weak link here).
I've towed up to about 6000 lbs so far. That was a full size Ditch Witch on a flatbed trailer. Crazy! I was being very careful. I use it often for towing electric cars up to about 3800 Lbs. I don't think that I'd regularly tow over that without replacing the stock bumper mounts with longer tubes.
The hitch stayed at this level until I stretched the Van. At that time the bumper was installed by drilling a couple holes in the bumper and tapping holes in the hitch to hold it. The bumper was cut out to slide over the reciever and hammered in a bit to clear the pin that holds the reciever in place. In the end the bumper is about an inch farther back than stock.
Update: I've now updated to a better fitting Ford Hitch. Pictures are Here
My notes from 2004: The hitch in the Ford Expedition 97-02 is perfect. Nice bend, plenty wide and has a high load rating. (5000/500 std tow, more with load leveling) $165.93 from Ford. Cut and welded it to a 2.5" square tube which I sawed down the middle for the side channels. 1/4" x 2" x 18" straps spread the load on the outside of the frame members. This unit should be good for 5000 lbs.
Here is a picture of it with the bumper installed.
Last update: 3/30/13