Installing a Trailer Hitch on a New Toyota Highlander

I’ve had a number of questions about installing a tow hitch on the Toyota Highlander, so I thought I’d write something up. While there are a number of options out there, I’ll be focusing here on the Toyota trailer hitch.

As with pretty much any Toyota add-on, you can get the hitch and wiring harness installed at the dealer. But you can also save a ton of money by ordering the parts and installing them yourself. While the hitch isn’t as simple to install as the Toyota crossbars, it’s not particularly hard.

Ordering and installation

For starters, you’ll need to buy the hitch and wiring harness. While the receiver hitch and wiring harness list for $450 and $220, respectively, you can find them for a good bit less online.

For reference, here are the Amazon listings:

Though you can pay to have these things installed, the installation process should be pretty straightforward for a typical diy-er. You’ll need two sets of hands for part of the hitch installation, but the rest of it is a one person job. As for the wiring harness, that’s pretty much plug-and-play.

If you want to give it a shot, you can download the instructions here:

Note that they recommend a rotary cutting tool (Dremel or similar) on hand. They also recommend a torque wrench for tightening the bolts, though I’ve always been able to get away with a standard socket set. I’ll leave those details up to you…

Once you have the receiver hitch installed, you’ll need a ball mount and trailer ball before you can tow anything. You have numerous options here; I’ve linked the official Toyota solutions below:

That’s it… Good luck!

P.S. If you already have a hitch, please share the details. Did you get the Toyota hitch or a third-party solution? Did you install it yourself? Etc.

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34 comments… add one
  • Jorge Sanchez May 13, 2015

    Thanks for the information. I was one of the people who asked about tow hitch, so I appreciate you writing on it.

    I have a follow up question: I read that if you get the Tow Package from Toyota, the towing capacity is 5000 lbs, but if you do it after, it’s only 2000 lbs.

    If I add the tow hitch and wiring harness, what else do I need to do, if anything, to ensure I take advantage of the full 5000 lbs tow capacity?

    • Chris Jan 31, 2017

      Your Highlander either has the towing prep package or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, then the idea of adding it to your existing engine is impractical (the package consists of engine oil cooler, auxilliary transmission cooler – like an added radiator, higher amp alternator, bigger cooling fan, heavier duty radiator). The reality is with the towing prep package, you are presumably safe to tow up to 5,000 pounds (with 500 pounds of tongue weight) for an extended period of time (per the now somewhat standard SAE definition – ie. up a certain grade for a certain duration/distance, starting so many times at a specific incline in forward and reverse, etc. . . ).

      The reality is that the Toyota Tow Prep package is designed to provide the necessary cooling to your motor and transmission during extended towing in excess of 2,000 pounds (and up to supposedly 5,000 pounds) without your engine and transmission overheating and posing problems.

      The tow prep package makes no mechanical changes to the vehicle, ie. stronger suspension, heavier duty shocks/struts, larger brakes, etc. . . The entirety of the Toyota towing prep package is designed around added cooling of the engine and transmission.

      If you have a 3,500 boat on trailer and live in a flat area, transporting your boat 2-10 miles on flat land to a boat launch and back . . . the benefits of the towing prep package (engine and transmission cooling) is largely lost for these needs. On the other hand, if you live in LA and want to take your same 3,500 boat to Lake Tahoe the several hour drive, up the mountains, then the tow prep package will play a large role in your success and longevity of your engine and transmission.

      I would not recommend towing 5,000 pounds behind a Toyota Highlander for all but the shortest and flattest distances! And if doing so, I would do it only on less well travelled (ie. busy) roads, go well below the speed limit, avoid high wind days, and would only do so with a trailer that had friction or gravity type brakes (the type that when the breaks on your vehicle are applied causes the trailer to press against the car which automatically applies the brakes on the trailer).

      IMO, the Toyota highlander is not a suitable tow vehicle for larger “camping” trailers with weights in excess of about 3,500-3,800 pounds for longer distances. The problem with towing such trailers is their shape and poor aerodynamic conditions, in addition their taking over the control of the driving experience (ie. windy days, etc. . .).

      Imagine pulling a 3,800 pound trailer at 65 miles per hour . . . that trailer has a flat (or nearly flat) vertical leading face being pulled through the air . . . how much does that air pressure against that trailer impact it “real” towing weight? My guess at 65 mph, that face adds easily several hundred pounds of resistance from that air pressure . . .

  • Michael hood May 15, 2015

    I installed a Curt hitch. 8,000 # rating. As well as I can remember the price
    was in the 160.00 range. The wiring harness was extra. It is extremely well made. Check it out.

    • Steve May 23, 2015

      What year and trim model do you have for your Highlander? I have a 2014 XLE and am looking into the Curt 13200 but am not sure what wiring connection unit I need?
      1- 4 flat option T connector (56402) OR
      2- 4 flat option T connector with powered converter (56217)

      Thanks,
      Steve

  • Mike May 15, 2015

    I went to U-Haul and got the whole thing done for about $300.

    • jamie fitz Aug 28, 2015

      Can you post pictures of your tow hitch from uhaul?

  • Jorge May 18, 2015

    @Mike: I thought about u-haul, but I’m not sure the way they install a generic hitch would be safe to haul the total capacity (~5000 lbs). Might be fine for bycicles, but maybe towing something big is not safe?

  • Peter Feenan May 19, 2015

    When I ordered my 2015 Highlander I ordered it with the tow kit. I later came to find out that with that $750.00 tow package there’s a heavy duty radiator also installed. Just something else to consider when installing the tow package outside the factory install.

  • Jo Aug 1, 2015

    I got a hitch from a dealer, I hate it. It looks horrible. It’s for an XLE. I was told it was for 5k pounds, but im sure it’s not. It’s not hidden under the car and I looks like a very cheap part. I paid about $700. I regret not getting the factory one.

  • jamie fitz Aug 28, 2015

    Is the hitch part number listed above the same you would get if you ordered you highlander with the towing package? is the XL and the XLE different?

    • Chris Jan 31, 2017

      The tow prep package does not include a trailer hitch receiver. The Toyota Towing Prep package includes only the engine based items and is supposed to include the wiring . . . but often doesn’t include the preliminary wiring. The trailer hitch (receiver) is a whole additional option and would/could be ordered in addition to the towing prep package. Note, many V6 Toyota Highlanders have the towing prep package even though it is not listed as having such. This depends on the model year and trim level (for some years, but not for other years). Nearly none of the dealerships have a clue about which one’s have it (standard) and which one’s don’t have it (standard) . . . or even how to visually tell if it does or does not have it. Toyota USA itself has a very difficult time with answering this question . . . though they did provide me with a reply in writing pertaining to the model year 2013 V6 AWD Highlanders . . .

  • JSR Sep 15, 2015

    Modify and reinstall LH undercover Instructions for the modify are bad at best. Anyone got a photo showing a better look at what needs to be cut and removed with the OEM hitch.
    A photo is worth a page of written instruction.
    thanks JSR

  • Keith Oct 6, 2015

    I got a hitch from TorkLiftCentral.com and just had my mechanic install it. Looks great since it’s practically invisible… http://torkliftcentral.com/trailer-hitch-and-towing/ecohitch/toyota/highlander/2014-2015-toyota-highlander-ecohitch

  • david Nov 14, 2015

    can you get a bumper with the hitch receiver in the bumper? Or can you only do the under bumper hitch receiver?

    • Chris Jan 31, 2017

      When you say . . . in the bumper, do you mean like on the old pick-up trucks in which the ball hitch literally sat on top of the bumper? If so NO, then unless you are replacing the entire Toyota Bumper with some really special bumper.

      That being said, you can get a hitch (from Toyota and elsewhere) that goes “through” the bumper but is still attached to the frame of the vehicle. It goes “through” the bumper in the sense that their is a lower section of the bumper (plastic insert piece) that can be removed and replaced with a new facia piece (appearance only) that gives the appearance that the trailer hitch (receiver) is coming “through” the bumper. This is like what you see when you look at a Toyota installed hitch.

  • Jose Jan 14, 2016

    I want to install the OEM tow hitch receiver (Part # PT228-48140) however, I noticed that on my 2015 highlander XLE, the spare tire it’s actually the same wheel and tire as the ones installed on the vehicle. My question is, does it fit? because there is no room between the tire and the rear bumper. Any inputs?

  • Jose Jan 14, 2016

    Forgot to tell that the wheels are 19″ and the tire is 245/55/19

  • Steve Jan 29, 2016

    I ordered the Curt hitch and installed it myself. Installation was between 1-2 hrs., but I didn’t do electrical. It looks great and I was thrilled to spend roughly $150 total on it. Borrowing a rotary tool would have saved a bunch of time, as would having a strong partner (or 2) to help lift it in place. It’s heavy and awkward, particularly if the SUV isn’t elevated. I don’t do mechanical stuff too often and found this to be mostly straight-forward, particularly after watching the installation video online.

  • Duc Feb 25, 2016

    Don’t be fooled by the dealer about a “Tow Package” and paying extra for it. All V6 Highlanders comes with the Tow Package standard besides the tow hitch. The OEM tow hitch would be extra. The Tow Package include the transmission oil cooler, larger 200-watt fan coupling, heavy duty-duty radiator with engine oil cooling.

    The vehicle is certified to tow up to 5000 lbs. Do not go over regardless of whatever hitch you install.

    I installed a Curt hitch #13200 myself and the hitch was only $160. Installation is pretty much plug and play with 6 bolts and some trimming of the under panel.

    • Chris Jan 31, 2017

      This statement that all V6 Highlanders have the tow prep package is not correct. While it is true that for some model years, all V6 gas Highlanders have the prep package – this is NOT true for all model years and all trim levels.

      That being said, virtually no Toyota dealers seem to have a clue and cannot answer the question as to which have it and which don’t (unless it is clearly stated on the “window” sticker or indicated as part of another “option package”).

      If you are buying used, take the time to know how to identify if the interested vehicle has it by knowing what to look for inside the engine compartment.

  • Kyler Brown Mar 22, 2016

    This post was perfect for me because I’m kind of clueless with these things. I’m glad to see that the installation process should be pretty straightforward. I’ll get my neighbor to help me since we need two sets of hands. Thanks for sharing this!

  • mark kreinbrink Jun 5, 2016

    Amazon states that the wiring harness will not fit the 2016, is this correct?

  • Bob Schlege Jun 8, 2016

    I installed Toyota Hitch and wiring harnesses – got a good deal from selling dealer – almost as cheap as on-line OEM stuff but no shipping charge and they had it in stock – I drive my brand new vehicle home from the dealer with the parts in the back. Only hard part was lifting the heavy hitch into place – my wife isn’t that strong. Hitch was exceptionally well designed and instructions very good – I used a pair of aviation shears to cut the parts off the two under-corner plastic covers that needed to be modified per the Toyota instructions – no real problems.The Toyota hitch is unobtrusive and I am glad I ignore d the salesman’s recommendation on a U haul hitch “they use”.

  • Gene Jun 17, 2016

    First off, thank you for the factory install instructions. In the factory kit you get a well made hitch and a replacement facia panel. I got the hitch at the same dealer I recently bought a used ’13 from. With their 10% parts ( car purchase ) it was the same as any internet price with shipping. I did pick up the harness off the internet as it was priced $25 less with shipping. Cant wait to hoist it in place!

  • Dinah Jun 24, 2016

    The OEM wiring harness for the 2016 Highlander is flat 4-pin; all the travel trailers I am considering have the round 7-pin connection. I asked at the dealer and was told that installing additional wiring and a brake controller in the vehicle voids all Toyota warranties. Yet the owners manual specifies that a trailer of more than 2000 lbs must have brakes. What gives?

  • luis Jul 1, 2016

    I can’t seem to set up Bluetooth , it won’t let me go and use mu nluoth sosj#

  • Mark Jul 5, 2016

    I just installed the hitch and harness on my new 2016 Highlander Limited. Took me about 2 hours and went in easier than I thought it would. Thanks for the instructions!

  • Rotary hitch Dec 22, 2016

    When I ordered my 2015 Highlander I ordered it with the tow kit. I later came to find out that with that $750.00 tow package there’s a heavy duty radiator also installed. Just something else to consider when installing the tow package outside the factory install.

  • Jeff Jan 6, 2017

    The dealer agreed to install the class 3 hitch on my new 2016 Highlander with the 4 and 7 pin wiring for $800. They said that would have included the brake controller if I had the wiring harness, which I didn’t have yet. Everything came out well done.

  • Frank Jan 6, 2017

    Thanks to Keith for his post on TorkLift Central hitch. Its the only after market hitch I found that didn’t show the cross bar underneath. Hooked up easy and looks good per his pictures. Hooked up a Curt 56217 harness that through a code when I hooked it up, and had to have dealer reset the code (proprietary garbage) . Other than that worked out great. Saved half of what a oem hitch would have cost.

  • Charlie Jun 17, 2017

    Anyone know the length of the m5 bolt holding the wiring harness? I’ve lost one, and need to replace.

  • Mark Jun 27, 2017

    Anyone know the part number of the replacement fascia for above the factory hitch mount for 11- 13 highlander (part of package PT228-48100)? I got the factory tow hitch used off a wreck, but doesn’t include the replacement fascia. Tried toyota parts dept, but they won’t reveal the part number. (Shown in figure 9-1 in https://trdparts4u.toyotaofdallas.com/ProdPDF/PT228-48100.pdf) Going to attempt to dremel the original fascia and put back on, but fear the fasteners won’t work with the tow hitch now.

  • Maurice Jul 8, 2017

    I purchased the oem hitch from http://www.toyotamcdonoughparts.com and got Pep Boys to put it on for$49.99.

  • Carl Jul 24, 2017

    Bought the OEM hitch for my 2017 HL online for $348. Just installed it at of those DIY auto shops. Took and hour and a half. Will do wiring tomorrow with the Curt wiring kit.

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