Installing a receiver, ball hitch, and electronic brake controller as a newbie? - Fiberglass RV
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Old 04-30-2021, 02:37 PM   #1
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Installing a receiver, ball hitch, and electronic brake controller as a newbie?

Hey all,

I recently got a trailer and need to install a receiver, ball hitch, and electronic brake controller onto my car. I called a few nearby places, and they've quoted me ~$1000 for the parts + the work, which seems reasonable (but I'm not knowledgeable on this stuff at all).

I saw that the parts alone I could purchase for ~$300 or so, and then could just install them myself. Does anyone know how doable it is for a newbie? And how long it might take me to do?
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Old 04-30-2021, 03:12 PM   #2
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Look up the parts on etrailer.com. They will most likely have the hitch for your car. They will have videos of installing it, and directions. Read the directions carefully as sometimes washers or bolts that look the same may be slightly different depending on where they go.
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Old 04-30-2021, 03:19 PM   #3
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You don't say what your car is.
Wiring a brake controller can be easy or very difficult, depending on the vehicle.

I pay people to do stuff like this.
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Old 04-30-2021, 04:25 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mary and bob View Post
Look up the parts on etrailer.com. They will most likely have the hitch for your car. They will have videos of installing it, and directions. Read the directions carefully as sometimes washers or bolts that look the same may be slightly different depending on where they go.
Thank you, yeah installing the hitch looked relatively easy, at least as compared to installing the brake controller.
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Old 05-01-2021, 07:32 AM   #5
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Not knowing your tow vehicle or your trailer, we’ll all be guessing a bit here. However, I installed my own receivers on two vehicles after finding hitches that “exactly” matched. I put exactly in quotes because both hitches had a hole or two that didn’t quite match up with the holes in the vehicle frame. This took extra drilling and finagling to get all bolts through and solid. It was a couple hours work for each installation, but your experience may be different.

Installing the brake controller could be simple plug and go if your tow has a pre-wired harness or it could require splicing into the wiring system and running new wiring. My vehicles had the plug and go harness all ready, so I don’t any expertise with more intensive installations. I would trust a good shop for that.
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Old 05-01-2021, 09:21 AM   #6
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An RV and tow hook-up can be quite easy or difficult depending on all the components. I suggest you get your tow vehicle to a U-Haul or similar place for a quote. You will tell them the trailer specs and get the proper set up. There are 3 sizes of ball plus the Euro version. Do you have trailer brakes? etc. Trailers can be very simple or more complicated than a normal house and in tight spaces. You will have enough projects to do later.
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Old 05-01-2021, 09:21 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevin A View Post
Not knowing your tow vehicle or your trailer, we’ll all be guessing a bit here. However, I installed my own receivers on two vehicles after finding hitches that “exactly” matched. I put exactly in quotes because both hitches had a hole or two that didn’t quite match up with the holes in the vehicle frame. This took extra drilling and finagling to get all bolts through and solid. It was a couple hours work for each installation, but your experience may be different.

Installing the brake controller could be simple plug and go if your tow has a pre-wired harness or it could require splicing into the wiring system and running new wiring. My vehicles had the plug and go harness all ready, so I don’t any expertise with more intensive installations. I would trust a good shop for that.
Thanks very much!
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Old 05-01-2021, 10:12 AM   #8
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Wink Lessons Learned...

A couple of years ago, after retiring with the thought of traveling & camping, I, too, was “in the market” to get a pickup and a travel trailer.

So I traded in my commuter car and when bought my Chevy Colorado pickup, the salesman glibly told me that:
  1. I could get a hitch receiver from U-Haul
  2. the wiring was in place for the trailer connector; all I needed was a snap-in bumper connector
Well, (1) not true and (2) far from being anywhere close.

Ultimately I bought a Curt hitch receiver on Craigs List and blissfully watched the how-to-install videos on YouTube. Everything went more or less as “planned” until I got to the part where the videos suggested that a helping had might be needed. I had removed the bumper support bolts, dropped the Chevy factory “hitch” before realizing I had neither the proper ground clearance nor the bench-press capabilities to “slip” the hitch receiver up into place. I finally got that done with a little help from a local mechanic.

Next up was the trailer connector. Bought a bumper connector at my local auto supply store. Then I found that the wiring harness was seven bare wires without the wiring harness connector to slip into the back of the bumper connector. After returning the bumper connector to the auto supply store, I finally found a connector with a pigtail + connector that I could solder/crimp connect to the truck's wiring harness.

Everything appeared to work except for a lack of voltage on the brake circuit. That got me to the point where I learned that I needed a breaking controller. After researching the difference between “proportional” and “timed” controllers, I chose a proportional controller. This time I checked out the truck's wiring harness and, yes, I needed a controller that came with a pigtail & connector.

After that it was “downhill” to choose my travel trailer and get “on the road”.
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Old 05-01-2021, 10:16 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LarryB. View Post
A couple of years ago, after retiring with the thought of traveling & camping, I, too, was “in the market” to get a pickup and a travel trailer.

So I traded in my commuter car and when bought my Chevy Colorado pickup, the salesman glibly told me that:
  1. I could get a hitch receiver from U-Haul
  2. the wiring was in place for the trailer connector; all I needed was a snap-in bumper connector
Well, (1) not true and (2) far from being anywhere close.

Ultimately I bought a Curt hitch receiver on Craigs List and blissfully watched the how-to-install videos on YouTube. Everything went more or less as “planned” until I got to the part where the videos suggested that a helping had might be needed. I had removed the bumper support bolts, dropped the Chevy factory “hitch” before realizing I had neither the proper ground clearance nor the bench-press capabilities to “slip” the hitch receiver up into place. I finally got that done with a little help from a local mechanic.

Next up was the trailer connector. Bought a bumper connector at my local auto supply store. Then I found that the wiring harness was seven bare wires without the wiring harness connector to slip into the back of the bumper connector. After returning the bumper connector to the auto supply store, I finally found a connector with a pigtail + connector that I could solder/crimp connect to the truck's wiring harness.

Everything appeared to work except for a lack of voltage on the brake circuit. That got me to the point where I learned that I needed a breaking controller. After researching the difference between “proportional” and “timed” controllers, I chose a proportional controller. This time I checked out the truck's wiring harness and, yes, I needed a controller that came with a pigtail & connector.

After that it was “downhill” to choose my travel trailer and get “on the road”.
Lol thanks for sharing that, sounds like I should just let a Pro do it?
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Old 05-01-2021, 11:12 AM   #10
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Cool Installing the breaking controller...

Quote:
Originally Posted by thrifty bill View Post
Even on my F150, that was pre-wired for a Ford brake controller, it was involved. ...

Time is my most precious commodity anymore. While I am a committed D-I-Y'er, I do jobs I enjoy, and hire out the rest.
Yup, that is true. But, in my case, I figured most of that out when I did my analysis on the “proportional” vs. “timed” controllers.

However, most of the OEM controllers come with instructions to install them just under the dash to the left of the steering column. In my case, I did not want to hit it with my knee every time I got in/out of the truck and, since I am right handed, I wanted it elsewhere. That, in turn required me to “extend” the length of the controller’s pigtail using 3' of matching stranded wire I got from Home Depot.

I also installed it in the console in the spot that is probably intended for a CD player with “minimal” console surgery. I didn’t need to do anything with the truck’s computer since the truck's wiring harness was already set up to “deliver” a “signal” that the brakes were being applied. The controller then sends the appropriate voltage to the trailer’s brakes to correspond with a hard/soft stop.

The controller I chose, came with a snap-in mounting bracket which allows me to remove it for the 98% of the time when I am not using my travel trailer.
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Old 05-01-2021, 11:26 AM   #11
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?

Quote:
Originally Posted by James in NJ View Post
Hey all,

I recently got a trailer and need to install a receiver, ball hitch, and electronic brake controller onto my car. I called a few nearby places, and they've quoted me ~$1000 for the parts + the work, which seems reasonable (but I'm not knowledgeable on this stuff at all).

I saw that the parts alone I could purchase for ~$300 or so, and then could just install them myself. Does anyone know how doable it is for a newbie? And how long it might take me to do?
What you need depends on your type of car and type of trailer?
We needed a frame hitch with weight distribution system, swaybar, 7 pin wiring with brake module, transaxle cooler, side mirrors and dealer insisted on extra safety systems for warranty coverage.
You have a truck so the car rules do not apply, there are many here that do know though truck requirements.
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Old 05-01-2021, 03:53 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by James in NJ View Post
Hey all,

I recently got a trailer and need to install a receiver, ball hitch, and electronic brake controller onto my car. I called a few nearby places, and they've quoted me ~$1000 for the parts + the work, which seems reasonable (but I'm not knowledgeable on this stuff at all).

I saw that the parts alone I could purchase for ~$300 or so, and then could just install them myself. Does anyone know how doable it is for a newbie? And how long it might take me to do?
We had ours done by an RV place that is a smaller shop that has good employees. Our Tahoe came with 7 pin plug and receiver/hitch. But the brake controller we paid the $200 or so to get it put in. They knew what to do and how to do it. The Tahoe came prewired but still had things I'd rather not mess with when it comes to the newer vehicles with their computers. One little mistake could cost more than having it done. They put it to the right of the steering column to prevent the knee hitting it problem. This was the 4th one we've had done. So we are familiar with all this stuff.
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Old 05-01-2021, 05:38 PM   #13
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Name: Terry
Trailer: 1971 Hunter compact Jr, 1979 Terry 19', 2003 Scamp 16'
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If you have no experience with auto wiring, brake controllers, receivers, etc. And you don't feel that you have the time to do the neccessary research then it is best to have it done. The one time I had to have it done I went to a company that specialized and I new had been in business for years. They did it quickly, correctly and were cheaper probably because they knew exactly what to do. That was in '84'. I've done several since, but at 70 I may have the next one done. My hands don't fit in the same spots the use to.
If you do it your self have someone there so you don't have to stop for little thing.
Either way, happy camping.
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Old 05-01-2021, 05:46 PM   #14
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Name: You can't call me Al
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I'm getting a new Volvo XC-40 with the factory tow package and I didn't want to invade into that highly complex wiring system at all, so I chose a brake controller that completely installs on the trailer and requires ZERO changes to the tow vehicle.

Tekonsha 90250 Prodigy RF Electronic Brake Control.

It's not CHEAP at US$375, but you can probably install it yourself and maybe save US$250 over a cheaper in-car brake controller plus installation costs.

In addition, any vehicle that has a 7-pin connector can tow the trailer and have trailer brakes.

I'll let you know how it goes after the trailer gets back from having the axle with brakes installed.

There are cheaper on-trailer brake controllers that might work just fine for you also. Just take a look using duckduckgo.com to find them. (autowbrake? Redarc? I don't remember)
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Old 05-02-2021, 02:20 PM   #15
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Do you have a torque wrench, and know how to use it. You will need one to install the receiver and ball hitch. You should be able to get a plug in and play wiring adapter for the light wiring. But you will still have to run the wiring for the brake controller.
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Old 05-05-2021, 10:27 AM   #16
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No issues to installing any of this IF you can read and follow the instructions and have confidence in your ability. My last truck I checked the boxes for brake controller, wire harness and hitch...inexpensive and ready to go.
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Old 05-05-2021, 10:56 AM   #17
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Transfer the liability

This is a job that in most cases should be passed-off to a professional. If you are a competent mechanic and savy with repairs you should still consider passing it off. If something happens to any of these components that results in damage or an accident you want to be able to pass the liability on to someone else. It's like roofing; its easy to do but if it starts to leak on a cold and rainy November night do you want to get on the ladder and get on the roof or do you want to make a phone call? No right or wrong or good or bad to these decisions but there can be different consequences.

Your price sounds high; but I see you are in New Jersey. I've had several complete hitch, wiring, and brake controller jobs completed by our U-Haul hitch center for about $650 to $750 on two Mercedes and an Xterra. They barely mark-up their parts cost so it adds up to about $300 labor; not bad.

You will find that your dealer is woefully ignorant of the potential existence and location of your brake controller wiring; the internet can provide good information about your make and model. Do a little poking around. It's less expensive and simpler if the job approximates plug-and-play.

Good luck with your project.
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Old 05-05-2021, 12:01 PM   #18
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I installed our hitch & brake controller myself. If I can do it... anyone can! There’s a YouTube video for it!
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Old 05-06-2021, 05:31 AM   #19
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Miami, FL
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My pickup came with a 4-pin wiring setup, so upgrading it to a 7-pin was easy - eTrailer makes a kit specifically for that purpose. Trickiest part was adding the control wire to the brake switch, they don’t make a plug-in adapter for an 02 Tundra.

Also, you may want to add a transmission cooler, most factory tow packages include this, and sometimes a larger capacity battery and alternator.
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Old 05-09-2021, 07:02 AM   #20
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Name: ken
Trailer: Scamp 19ft
Nova Scotia
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took my 2006 F150 to the "recommended by the RV Dealer" to get a hitch and brake controller installed for the new to us 1987 Scamp 19. After towing 200km home, we had rear light problems so I went to my local garage who work on RV and Trailers. They had to rewire the brake controller install because it was done wrong (and sloppy). So much for going to the "pro's". Thankfully we are now safe and good to go once we are allowed to travel again.
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