Is a trailer hitch necessary?

Is a trailer hitch necessary?. Trailer coupling (Source: Getty Images/Astrid860)

Trailer hitches are practical, versatile, and even a small car can be transformed into a cargo donkey with them. However, if you misuse them and use them for towing, for example, you risk consequential damage.

Just quickly take away the pruning, transport bulky furniture from A to B or fetch wood for the fireplace: With the right trailer and a trailer hitch, this is no problem.

Retrofitting only partially possible

In principle, almost any car can be equipped with them, says Dietmar Clysters of the German Association of Motor Trades and Repairs (ZDK). “Technically, this is not a problem, and in many new cars it is even possible ex works. Otherwise, a trailer coupling can always be retrofitted.”

If necessary, ordering them when buying a new car has advantages: “This is usually the cheaper and also more elegant option.” Because manufacturers compute then usually only the pure material costs. In addition, the installation is also easier. And the matching bumper with the corresponding recess is mounted immediately.

Often no trailer hitch on hybrid vehicles

E-cars and hybrid vehicles are usually the exception: “This is due to the limited ranges of these vehicles anyway”, explains Rudiger Niemann of the company Westfalia Automotive. “In order not to place additional loads on the drives from rear carrier systems or even trailers, most manufacturers do not approve their electric and hybrid vehicles for the installation of towbars.”

Retrofit trailer hitch

When a trailer coupling is retrofitted, the rear bumper must always be removed. “A steel bracket, on which the trailer hitch then sits centrally, is attached to the floor assembly, which distributes the load to be towed well.”, says Clysters. In addition, usually an additional wiring harness must be pulled into the interior or trunk to connect the 7- or 13-pin power plug and the electrical system to the onboard network. Basically, the cost of retrofitting a detachable trailer hitch, according to Clysters, is between 800 and 1.000 euros. A permanently installed trailer coupling is somewhat more favorable.

It is certainly the cheaper option and also the better choice for very frequent or commercial use, says Niemann. “There are no differences in terms of attachment or technical requirements.” If, on the other hand, you only occasionally drive with a trailer and want to maintain the appearance of your vehicle, you should opt for the version with a removable ball bar.

What to look for in a trailer hitch

“As a general rule, the ball bar should always be dismantled when not in use, because then it is not exposed to the weather”, Niemann recommends. He advises inserting a plug in the intake pipe to prevent dirt from accumulating here.

If a detachable trailer coupling covers the license plate, motorists must remove it in any case when not in use. “Then paragraph 27 of the vehicle registration ordinance applies, according to which the license plate must not be concealed”, says Tobias Goldkamp, specialist lawyer for traffic law. Whether removable models must otherwise be dismantled when not in use is disputed.

“According to section 30c of the Road Traffic Licensing Regulations, no parts may protrude in such a way that they endanger traffic more than is unavoidable”, he explains and advises to remove. “If a trailer coupling increases an accident damage, because it remained unnecessarily at the vehicle, this can be considered with the adhesion.”

Duties in the event of an accident

After a rear-end collision, drivers should have the trailer hitch checked at the workshop. “Even if the trailer coupling has visually not been damaged and looks completely intact, hairline cracks can be the result in the event of an impact from behind”, warns Clysters.

The trailer hitch can also be damaged if it is not used for its intended purpose. “They are not designed for recovering other vehicles or pulling out tree roots, for example”, says Niemann.

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