Forester Trailer Hitch: Installation Notes

Start with loose parts rattling around inside a battered cardboard package:

Trailer hitch receiver - as received
Trailer hitch receiver – as received

I backed the Forester up to put the rear tires over the edge of the garage apron, which provided enough room to work underneath without jacking the thing; there’s a chock under the left front wheel, never fear.

The instructions from were entirely adequate, so there’s not much point in a detailed writeup. Their time estimate (an hour) seems grossly understated, but I wasn’t in any hurry.

A morning of pleasant wrenching produced a good-looking, albeit nearly invisible, result:

Forester trailer hitch - installed
Forester trailer hitch – installed

Both hitches bolt directly to the frame and I have no idea what effect that has on the collision behavior. My guess is that the Subaru hitch would be more bendy, if only because it has a much lower load rating, but that probably doesn’t make much difference.

Some notes:

Remove the muffler, which is trivially easy on a new car, and reuse the crushable gasket, which is probably not recommended. After releasing the muffler, you can ease the mounting pins out of their rubber supports without applying any lube or issuing many curses. The tailpipe remains in place, conveniently away from the proceedings.

As others have noted, remove the heat shield, snip a few square inches from the inside front corner, and reinstall with only three screws. I chopped clearance holes for the hitch bolts using a box cutter, but you could probably just punch them right through the butter-soft aluminum sheet.

The instructions suggest drilling / rasping the center mounting holes to 1-1/8 inch diameter. Being that type of guy, I used a step drill to get a 1 inch hole, filed slots on the front and rear sides to accommodate the reinforcing plates, then filed the corners where the slots meet the hole for the carriage bolt heads. The bolts and plates just barely fit, but that leaves more metal on the frame;  I doubt any of that matters.

I felt badly about leaving steel filings inside the frame, but there’s no practical way to extract them. I didn’t prime-and-paint the raw edges, either, as they’re buried deep inside the hitch frame; I may regret that decision.

Wear eye protection: those six fish wires have lethally sharp and very whippy ends.

You can support the hitch on your chest to maneuver it into position, but an assistant must hold it in the proper alignment while you fiddle with fish wires, bolts, and nuts.

I don’t know what happens to the raised bump in the frame under the heat shield, but I suspect it gets crushed flat after torquing the nuts on either side.

When you reinstall the muffler, remember to take the gasket off the mounting pin where you put it for safekeeping before maneuvering the pins back into the hangers …

The Official Subaru OEM Hitch Assembly Instructions commence with loosening the taillight housings and then get complicated. That hitch mounts on a crossbar that completely replaces the bumper beam inside the dress cover, the receiver extends through a small square section of the cover that you cut out as part of the process, the mount occupies the two rearmost holes in the frame members, and it doesn’t require trimming the heat shield. It also costs nigh onto $800 including dealer labor.



2 thoughts on “Forester Trailer Hitch: Installation Notes

  1. Haven’t done a hitch on our Forester, but both the summer and all-year pickups have them. Since they both needed electrical hookups, I let the pros do them. FWIW, a fair number of small vehicles have considerably different tow ratings depending on the country of use. I gather the same vehicle in Canada might have a rating 2X higher than the USA. I suspect lawyers and/or regulations.

    Their time estimate seems grossly understated

    I ran into that when I did the heater blend door in the summer pickup. They said 1.5 hours, took me about 5. I think a pro could have done the Ranger in a couple of hours with general purpose tools, or half that with some specialized templates and tools. (I would have killed for a dental rig at that point.) On the gripping hand, the dealer fix was north of $700, and the kit gave me a much better door for $120 and some quality shop time. I am glad I had a selection of Dremel bits.

    1. I did the wiring harness, too, a few days later, which went reasonably well; the writeup is in the queue.

      a selection of Dremel bits

      Many years ago, Eks pointed out that a Dremel cutoff wheel can slice through nearly any recalcitrant object in a minute, which takes much of the stress out of muffler & tailpipe work. I’ve been misusing those things ever since!

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