Factory Hitch Install -
I just installed the Nissan factory hitch on my 2004 SE this weekend. I wanted to write this post so that others that are considering installing the hitch themselves could get a better feel for what it takes.
Here's some background: I've spend weeks, if not months, researching hitches for the Murano. Mostly, it's been me dwelling on the right decision and coming to terms with the investment. The factory hitch is expensive. It cost me $353 for the hitch and $75 for the armature assembly. The wiring was $99, but I didn't buy it since I'm only going to use the hitch for a bike rack. The dealer wanted about $700 total for the parts and installation (including the wiring), so their install cost was around $250. 3rd party hitches are in the $150-$200 range w/o wiring. A couple of local dealers stated that they would install a 3rd party hitch for about $225 total including the hitch but w/o wiring. The problem with 3rd party hitches is that they don't look as good as the factory hitch. Some argue otherwise, but it's clear to me which is better. I decided that I wanted the benefit of the looks of the factory hitch but I would not give the dealer another $250 to install it. Was that the right decision? For me it was, but it may not be for everyone - read on!
As far as my abilities or mechanical inclination are concerned, I enjoy building and wrenching on things from time-to-time, but I am by no means highly skilled in auto repair (BTW, I push a mouse for a living in the computer industry).
Here's the summary: The hitch took me 6 hours to install 100% by myself. I know that other members have installed it in far less time, but that's what it took me. My time was measured starting at the point where I turned off the TV and my ass left the couch until I was able to restore my ass back to the couch.
Here's the gory details: Unlike others, I don't have my tools / workspace at the ready. In this case, it took me at least 30 minutes just to get the cars out of the garage, Murano rear wheels up on the ramps (~$30 from pep boys), tools out and ready, workspace cleared off, hitch box opened and parts removed, and lighting in place (I did my install in the evening which gave me the benefit of fewer interruptions, but made it more difficult to see so I needed my flourscent light and flashlight).
I spent another 30 minutes pre-reading the instructions, emptying out the 2nd row (I have 2 kid car seats in the 2nd row) and rear of the Murano (more kid stuff), folding down the rear seats, cleaning the bumper, and puting masking tape on the areas of the paint likely to come into contact during disassembly. Many of these steps are called out in the instructions. Mind you, I would never have guessed that a hitch install would affect the contents of the 2nd row seating in my car, but it did. It turns out that the instructions state that you use the interior of the Murano to hold the rear bumper (facia) while you're installing the hitch. The interior of the car is an effective and safe place to keep the bumper safe. Of course, you can skip this if you've got a clean, soft location to store the bumper (like an old piece of carpet).
Jumping ahead for the moment to when the install was done, I spent about an hour on cleanup. More importantly, I spent even more time having to charge the battery on the Murano because I let the battery run down too much by leaving the rear hatch open for over 5 hours (interior light on)!
The "main" steps to the install are fairly straightforward. The following is a summary (and not a detailed list) but should give you some idea of what's in store:
- Pop off covers/inserts for tail lights
- Unbolt / pop off tail lights
- Unbolt / pop off rear bumper (facia)
- Remove interior foam bumper (energy absorber)
- Unbolt / remove armature
- Unbolt / remove heat plate
- Unbolt / unfasten and remove muffler
- Install hitch L-brackets (2)
- Install hitch
- Re-install muffler
- Install new heat plate
- Install new armature
- Re-install foam bumper
- Re-install rear bumper
- Re-install tail lights
- Re-install tail light inserts
During the install, most steps went very smoothly. The steps that did not go smoothly, how much extra time I spent on the step, and why are listed below:
Tail Lights (+30 minutes): These are a big pain. There are 2 bolts, and then there are a number of plastic bosses (tabs) that require you to pull hard at the proper angle (back and to the outside of the car) and hope for the best. I spent a lot of time trying to pull these out gently. In the end, I just had to keep applying force until they popped out. I got the first light OK, but one the second I broke one of the very small plastic alignment pins features. The bolts are still the primary holding force, so in the end I have no real concern. It was frustrating, though.
Rear Bumper (+30 minutes): I was really careful on this step no to scratch anything. I spent extra time trying to make sure I wasn't missing anything in the instructions.
Install Hitch (+1 hour): When you get to this step in the instructions, it tells you that 2 people should hold the hitch in place while it's being bolted to the frame. I agree that 2 people would be easier. I got around this by using a large cardboard box to prop up one end and bolt the other end. However, this was not my problem. The problem was that the holes in the hitch did not line up to the frame. The hitch is mounted with 14 bolts. Of those, there are 2 holes that bolt to the vertical wall of the frame (on the passenger side) that would not line up. What's worse is that these bolts are install *after* it's been mounted by other bolts. In my case, I had the hitch mounted and my "support rig" already put away when I realized that I had to take it all apart and re-install the bolts in a different order just to make it fit. I lost about an hour on this step alone.
In addition to the above, here are some other random thoughts regarding the install:
+ Nissan did a bad job with the standard armature assembly. We are basically forced to buy another version of a part that we already own. The differences between the standard armature and the hitch armature are some small cutouts for the hitch. If you had more time and had something to cut aluminum, I believe that you could modify your standard armature to fit around the hitch.
+ Removing the muffler was a lot easier than I thought. It's only a couple of bolts and some soap & water to allow the elastomers to slide of easier.
+ Have someone around to help you install the hitch. If you can't, then be sure to have some boxes or wood to help support one end of the hitch while you bolt the other end of the hitch. Also be sure to install all hitch bolts (loosely) before you go too far, just to ensure that the hitch assembly fits.
+ Buy masking tape ahead of time. I happened to have some art tape that has very low sticking force (to make it easy to remove), but you might need some tape if you didn't already
+ Be sure to check the tool list. You need some important tools like a torque wrench to ensure the proper install torque. Others have suggested an air wrench. I agree that would be best, but I would only use it for removal and to get bolts started. The torque specs in the instructions should be followed carefully.
So, there you have it. Anyone attempting to do this on their own may be able to take advantage of my experience.
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