Smokey Got Hitched

I’m still juggling a lot of balls at once right now, so it feels good to get one job done (almost): installing the trailer hitch.

One of the only things that wasn’t perfect about this particular van was that it wasn’t set up for towing. The dealer doesn’t install trailer hitches, so we “conceded” this point in negotiations, knowing that the $500-600 a shop will charge to install it for me goes down to about $250 if I do it myself. I ordered the parts from eTrailer, who I’ve used many times before. They came through for me this time as well, with an affordable house-brand hitch that meets all of my weight requirements, plus a wiring harness that prevents me from having to cut into the factory tail light wiring. The hitch install was easy, just six bolts after removing the rear tow hook. The hitch itself will serve that purpose if needed.

With my morning coffee, and before it got too hot and humid outside to work, I set about installing the wiring. My iPad was an essential tool in this process since eTrailer has tutorial videos that walk you through every step of the process on the exact vehicle you have. Even someone with just basic mechanical skills could do this. I removed each tail light, plugged the trailer wiring harness in between the factory wiring and tail lights, and reinstalled them.

I also installed my Noco shore power plug at the same time. I somewhat copied what Yellow Wolf did on her Transit, except mine is off to the side of the bumper instead of in the back since I have parking sensors. (So fancy!) This also let me drill the necessary hole through the plastic bumper trim instead of the sheet metal of the van. The fewer holes I can put in the body, the better.

The shore power plug is nothing more than a watertight pass-through like a short extension cord. I ran that and the trailer light wiring through a rubber grommet underneath the van. After taking this picture I taped up the slit for even more weatherproofing.

Instead of just dribbling the trailer wiring out the back door like my last van, I splurged for a little extra hardware to mount the plug to the trailer hitch. Now I don’t have to worry about damaging the wiring while shutting it in the door.

I ran out of Liquid Nails, so I took a drive to Home Depot to pick up some more, as well as some aluminum L-channel. I’ll bolt this to the roof racks, and the solar panels will bolt to it. I haven’t started that part of the project yet, but since I had the van there anyway, it made sense to pick them up since they’re long. I have a couple more polyiso insulation panels up, including much of the second layer on the roof. For once, I was able to just stick an entire four-by-eight-foot panel up without any cutting!

I also hit a nearby Walmart for cat food, cat litter, and an enclosed litter box. We designed a special compartment in the last van specifically for the litter box, all lined with plastic to contain any mess Lister might make in there. Since I’m not building out an interior just yet, a covered litter box will contain his mess. I have it set up inside the house where his old one was so he can get used to it before it goes in the new van.

The deliveries are starting to come in. My new bed arrived today, as well as one solar panel. This is strange, because I ordered two of them, and Amazon still says they’re both scheduled for delivery on Friday. As long as the other arrives, everything will be fine. If two arrive on Friday, I guess I got one for free and will run 800 watts on the roof!

A few other odds and ends arrived, too, like some wiring for my solar panels, the electric faucet/pump for my sink, and a ten-foot extension cord. I’ve been waiting for the cord to arrive because it will run power from my shore power plug all the way up the driver’s side of the van to the front, along with the power wire for the trailer light wiring. (The extension cord will plug into the 20-amp battery charger I’m keeping from the old van.) It makes sense to run all of that wiring together at the same time. I can do that now that it’s here, but summer is in full swing in Florida, and now it’s too hot and humid to keep working outside — the problem with building a van here and now. So I’ll work the day jobs this afternoon inside the air-conditioned house. Life could be worse.

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