Front Receiver Hitch Installation Experience | Ford Explorer Forums - Serious Explorations

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Front Receiver Hitch Installation Experience


Well-Known Member
May 5, 1999
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Board has been down, fortunately I copied this before posting - too much verbiage, sorry.
I installed a Reese front receiver hitch this weekend. It's my wife's truck, and we put it on mainly to make winching out from a stuck easier. Only has happened bad once, but it would have been really handy.

Also, she eventually wants a winch, and if she gets one, I want to share it with my Ranger, so a hitch mount is the obvious way to go.

A very beneficial side effect is that the hitch bar is directly in front of the bottom of the A/C condenser and the radiator. They stick down well below the bumper, and can easily be damaged off-road. That's been a big concern for us for some time. The hitch completely protects them from the front now.

The lower air control shroud is still hanging low, but that's relatively cheap to replace compared to the parts WELL protected by the hitch.

Also, I got a front hitch skidplate for $23, that's extra insurance.

We already have a Reese tube rear hitch.

Here's what I found:

1998 XLT, 4L SOHC 4X4 w/factory tow package
Plastic lower valence with NO driving lights

Reese front receiver hitch - $131+ tax, ordered through Kragen's b/c the net shipping was $$$$$.

Various ratchets and sockets are needed, and the instructions clearly state that a 1/2" drill bit and a 9/32" drill bit are required (along with a drill). An air grinder with a cutting wheels is VERY handy for trimming the plastic bottom piece.

The directions were basic, but adequate if you are willing to turn wrenches. They included a detailed diagram about winching angles and limits, which I appreciated. The hitch is rated to 9000 pounds pulling, and 300 lbs tongue weight.

The directions say just pull the lower valence off. Well, I did, and realized it wasn't going to work after about 15 minutes.

First off, the transmission oil cooler (stock factory from tow package) totally blocked the receiver from fitting through the slot in the bumper. Also, the various plastic air directors got in the way. I pulled the oil cooler screws, still no joy.

18 mm deep socket + big ratchet or breaker bar, get the 4 bolts holding the bumper on AT THE BRACKET. There are 8 smaller bolts that bolt the bumper to the bracket - DON'T get those, get the 4 main nuts from frame horns (the frame ends).

This helped enormously, though I was upset to discover just how light the front bumper really is. Significantly lighter than the receiver hitch.

On the bottom, pull off the big plastic air director from the bottom of the radiator assembly. There's 4 screws PLUS a plastic plug on each side - this is important later.

From the top, I pulled the plastic cover for the grill area to get to the airflow directors. DO NOT DAMAGE THEM as you pull them off - I did on one, and had to cut a new hole. You need those cheezy add-ons, I suspect they were added with the new 134a air conditioners (they're less efficient). Pull them out, and get tin snips ready to trim them a little.

OK, the trans oil cooler isn't going to like this, but you can push the rubber tubes up and back and the crossbeam will fit. It's not idea, I would like to cut the metal tubing back at least an inch and then put the rubber back on, but they fit.

The frame has two holes already in at the proper location for the front bolts. The nuts are mounted on flat pads for support, PLUS they have long bendy wire spot welded to them.

The instructions show feeding the pad/nuts through these tiny holed on the side of the frame - who are they kidding?? Having taken the bumper off, it's easy to feed them through the front holes into the frame rail area.

The frame fully enclosed (boxed section) and double-thick on the bottom, which is important to note for drilling.

So, the frame is now mounted by two of the four bolts, and I pulled mine all the way forward before tightening. It's kind of an oval section, so there's room to wiggle.

Get the 1/2" drill bit lined up with the holes in the hitch. Get a towel to cover your arm or arms - the metal shavings are HOT and there are a lot of them. I wore shorts, and did't put towels over my legs for the first hole - bad choice. Also get a broom to sweep them up before you crawl back underneath to turn more wrenches - you don't need metal slivers in your head/back.

Having got those drilled, put the other two nut/plates in there and tighten it all down to 75 lb/ft or as tight as you can get it.

The lower air control box will not fit - you need to trim it a little with dikes. This is a pain, and then you need to drill with the 9/32" bit to fit the screws to hold them on the front. I wasn't able toget the factory screw in to one side. It was too short to reach the frame and get a purchase, since it had to go through the thickness of the hitch mounting plate. I put an ugly temporary screw in, which I will replace soon.

It's VERY important to get this back in place securely - cooling is a huge issue.

From the top, put the side air control pieces back. I fed them in through the bottom, then grabbed the flexible rubber stuff and pulled them from the top. No big deal.

Get your air grinder out. Don't have one?? Go to Harbor Freight and get an electric one for $23, then. Seriously. I spent 15 minutes snipping with dikes to get clearance around the center receiver channel, then realised it still wasn't fitting.

There are two HEAVY (5/8" inch, maybe?) D-ring type things sticking out on the side, perfect for tow hooks. They protrude well past the gray trim peice, so you need to cut holes for them, too. Hence the cutting wheel. It would have been hell without the cutting wheel, and it's not really the right tool, but it's what I had.

I hacked my way on one side to a decent fit, then made a template out of cardboard for the other side. One extra cut, and I was done. I should have cut more from the top, as a hook will likely grab the plastic. There's room below to put a hook in, though. They don't stick out much, just a little, so it's not totally obvious that I butchered the plastic there.

8 bolts to put the plastic valence back on, good to go.

Took 3 times longer than the rear hitch did, mainly b/c the plastic trim needed so much trimming. It was neat to see the front stripped, and realize how strongly built the Explorer really is. The frame is VERY solid, and it makes me feel better knowing there's a huge chunk of strong metal behind the bumper protecting parts, and more importantly, passengers.

For those with Limiteds, you're out of luck. For those with the fog lamps down there, you have wires to disconnect. More work, but still worth it.

I was dropping my son off today and saw an XLS trimmed Explorer. I like the wheel well flares - I need to put some on my wife's truck, I always get mud all over my arm when she's driving. However, in looking at the front air dam/valence, it sure looks like there's no way the hitch would fit. I'd have to get a better look at one, but my initial impression was "No way!"

This is a cheap upgrade for anyone that drives their truck offroad. Considering the 99 Ranger owner I know that bought $750 of new radiator (very similar to Explorer setup), a $130 hitch investment is cheap insurance. I highly recommend it.

Incidentally, FDR Hitches sent me a quote on a Draw Tite front receiver after I'd already ordered and paid for the Reese, so it's not a "unique" type upgrade.

Brian in CA

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Do you have any pics?

Post-installation pics

Sorry I didn't take any while I was putting it on. I drove it to work today (it needs a bath) so I just took some pictures for Petech.

Dead Link Removed

Looks good! I fabricated my own front hitch for my 91 Explorer. I use it for a tow point and an occasional moving a trailer from the front. I have a warn hitch insert with a d-ring that I put in it for a good tow point.

Thanks briantf. The pics really help. I think I will get one soon. That way, i can also finally get rid if the garbage ford license plate mount.

Thanks Brian,

Your instructions were right on! I'm really happy with the utility and look. If I ever go digital I'll post pics. Install took about 2 hours. I only used the 1/2" bit since I left the plastic valence and radiator cover off. If I remove the hitch it won't be hacked up and I can replace it.

There are two hoses exposed at the bottom of the radiator that I'm a little worried about getting "hung up". If anyone knows what I'm talking about, can those be easily replaced with a flexible hose?