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Old 08-17-2016, 11:29 AM   #1
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Disaster Averted

For 5 seasons and 40000+ kM we have successfully towed our 19 with a Ford Flex. The hitch is after market with a 450lb tongue rating. It is bolted to the bottom of the quarter frame with 4 bolts into the weld nuts provided. We use a load leveller, Last week as I backed off our driveway I heard a loud clunk. The hitch had begun to sag. Off to a frame shop where upon inspection it was discovered the two rear most nuts had pulled through the frame. A third was ready to go. Repairs would be expensive and would never be solid enough to pull an Escape. It was explained that the factory hitch is connected to the frame and also to the thick bumper brace.
I have always had to drive vehicles that form part of my pay packet and the short list to choose from never had an off road version. The Flex was my last company vehicle and I can honestly say it was the best car I ever had. That said we now are about to pick up a 4 runner. It will not have the same highway handling but I will be confident the integrated hitch receiver is solid.
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Old 08-17-2016, 12:23 PM   #2
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We purchased a 2008 4Runner which pulls our Escape 21. In the last 3 1/2 months we have hauled she and Mis-Adventure almost 9000 miles...many, many of which have been over your Canadian Rockies, the Cascades, US Rockies and Sierra Nevada Mts with a few more to go before we end our Madventure. I can say that Runner has handled it all magnificently. No, she doesn't go up the hills as fast as an 8 cylinder would, but she chugs right along without complaining or overheating...and the last 2 weeks have been blasting hot across the California Central Valley and into the Sierra's. The gas mileage has averaged around 14 mpg, which isn't awful considering the grades we've been over.

I hope you have the same good fortune with your 4Runner as we have had so far with ours.

Josie and Craig
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Old 08-17-2016, 02:14 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by BRietkerk View Post
The hitch is after market with a 450lb tongue rating. It is bolted to the bottom of the quarter frame with 4 bolts into the weld nuts provided.
...
Off to a frame shop where upon inspection it was discovered the two rear most nuts had pulled through the frame.
...
It was explained that the factory hitch is connected to the frame and also to the thick bumper brace.
I'm glad to hear that you caught this, but sad to hear that the apparent incompetence of the aftermarket hitch manufacturer ruined a good vehicle. Unfortunately, there is no regulation of hitch designs, and there is not even a standard for testing the attachment of the hitch to the vehicle.

What brand (and model if you know) is the aftermarket hitch?
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Old 08-17-2016, 02:55 PM   #4
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What brand (and model if you know) is the aftermarket hitch?
Not sure. It was either a Reese 44636 or Hidden Hitch 87571.
The hitch shop I used carries both. They are similar.
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Old 08-17-2016, 03:26 PM   #5
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I'm picking up a 19 in November and was going to use a 14 Ford Flex to tow. Was the issue with the hitch, the installation, or the structure of the Ford Flex to tow. I too have enjoyed my Flex very much.


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Old 08-17-2016, 03:28 PM   #6
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Brian,

Quite the story. I'm so glad you heard the clunk. Another take-away is Stay Focussed when hooking up and as you leave. Note to self - no radio for the first bit of travel.

Larry
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Old 08-17-2016, 03:49 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pcrichter View Post
I'm picking up a 19 in November and was going to use a 14 Ford Flex to tow. Was the issue with the hitch, the installation, or the structure of the Ford Flex to tow. I too have enjoyed my Flex very much.


Paul
If your Flex has an integrated factory hitch you will probably not have the same experience.
The factory hitch is fastened to the car much better than an after an market hitch.
The after market hitches all are limited to only fastening to 4 weld nuts provided in the frame. The 350 lb. tongue weight in my case eventually caused metal fatigue and the weld nuts tore out. I was told by the hitch shop that the aftermarket hitch had a 450 lb tongue rating. The web sites now indicate the rating is 400 lb so I was getting close to todays rating.
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Old 08-17-2016, 03:56 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by BRietkerk View Post
Not sure. It was either a Reese 44636 or Hidden Hitch 87571.
The hitch shop I used carries both. They are similar.
Thanks

Those Reese and Hidden Hitch models are not just similar; they are the same product. It is common for Cequent to sell their hitches under all three of their hitch brand names. In this case:
  • Draw-Tite: 75679
  • Hidden Hitch: 87571
  • Reese: 44636
  • U-Haul: 78189
U-Haul is not part of Cequent, but gets hitches from Cequent, Curt, and others, then gives them U-Haul part numbers and labels.

Both the Cequent receiver and the product from Curt (13551) attach only to the four weldnuts provided by Ford. It is normal with many vehicles to use only those nuts, and they are intended for a hitch, but it in this case they do appear to be inadequate. My Toyota Sienna's dealer-installed genuine Toyota hitch receiver - like the aftermarket models - mounts to two welded-in nuts on each side at the rear end of the bracket, plus one at the front of the bracket... with a rated towing capacity of only 3500 pounds.

Quote:
Originally Posted by BRietkerk View Post
It was explained that the factory hitch is connected to the frame and also to the thick bumper brace.
The actual situation is far more extreme than that. The actual Ford factory hitch (part 17D826 or 9A8Z-19D520-D) is the bumper support bar, and is supported by the bumper mounts (two bolts each side), and a centre mount (two more bolts into the rear frame crossmember), plus those four welded-in nuts (which serve as the less-stressed lower part of the bumper mount). To build and sell an aftermarket hitch which is attached to only the four lower weldnuts - not even close to the ten bolts used by Ford - seems highly irresponsible to me.

These diagrams show the Ford hitch (with the bolts going into those lower weldnuts labeled HS2), then for contrast the Cequent design, attached only two those four minor mounting points:
Attached Images
File Type: png CequentHitchForFordFlex.png (56.6 KB, 28 views)
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Old 08-17-2016, 04:00 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pcrichter View Post
I'm picking up a 19 in November and was going to use a 14 Ford Flex to tow. Was the issue with the hitch, the installation, or the structure of the Ford Flex to tow
Quote:
Originally Posted by BRietkerk View Post
If your Flex has an integrated factory hitch you will probably not have the same experience.
The factory hitch is fastened to the car much better than an after an market hitch.
Paul, I agree with Brian - the problem with his hitch clearly appears to have been inadequate design of the aftermarket hitch. I would have zero concern with Ford's proper design... but I would not tow with the aftermarket setup.
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Old 08-17-2016, 04:08 PM   #10
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I was told by the hitch shop that the aftermarket hitch had a 450 lb tongue rating. The web sites now indicate the rating is 400 lb so I was getting close to todays rating.
Any rating of the aftermarket hitches is validated by testing (according to the VESC V-5 and SAE J684 standards) which does not involve the tow vehicle at all - the hitch is attached to a test structure which is as strong as massive as the hitch builder wants, so only the ability of the four bolts is tested. With an aftermarket hitch, there is no testing to ensure that the points used of the vehicle structure can withstand the forces applied to them.
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Old 08-17-2016, 04:12 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian B-P View Post
Any rating of the aftermarket hitches is validated by testing (according to the VESC V-5 and SAE J684 standards) which does not involve the tow vehicle at all - the hitch is attached to a test structure which is as strong as massive as the hitch builder wants, so only the ability of the four bolts is tested. With an aftermarket hitch, there is no testing to ensure that the points used of the vehicle structure can withstand the forces applied to them.
A very good point. And, if a WDH is involved, it can stress the hitch further. This thread reminds me why I don't like aftermarket hitch systems, and much prefer the factory setup.

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Old 08-17-2016, 04:16 PM   #12
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A very good point. And, if a WDH is involved, it can stress the hitch further. This thread reminds me why I don't like aftermarket hitch systems, and much prefer the factory setup.

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That would work, but, the factory hitch for my RAV4 would have been class 2 and I wouldn't be able to use a WDH.
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Old 08-17-2016, 05:29 PM   #13
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Brian, thanks for your response. Again the forum is very helpful!!
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Old 08-17-2016, 09:43 PM   #14
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Be sure to check Ford's web site for towing with a Ford Flex - we have a 2011 Flex and a WDH is REQUIRED to tow with it. We rarely tow with it anymore and use the F-150 instead but it was an OK TV while we used it for that.
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Old 08-17-2016, 10:22 PM   #15
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Be sure to check Ford's web site for towing with a Ford Flex - we have a 2011 Flex and a WDH is REQUIRED to tow with it. We rarely tow with it anymore and use the F-150 instead but it was an OK TV while we used it for that.
Good info. If a WDH is required on that model, I would think that's another good reason to make sure it has the factory hitch.

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Old 08-17-2016, 11:14 PM   #16
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Be sure to check Ford's web site for towing with a Ford Flex - we have a 2011 Flex and a WDH is REQUIRED to tow with it. We rarely tow with it anymore and use the F-150 instead but it was an OK TV while we used it for that.
It would be unreasonable to require WD for all trailers, so it is presumably required for trailers above a particular weight, or tongue weight.

Ford's 2011 towing guide says this about the Flex:
Quote:
... will easily tow up to 4,500 pounds when properly equipped.
Quote:
4,500-lb. towing capability when equipped with Class III Trailer Tow Package, which includes a class-exclusive Trailer Sway Control
4,500 pounds is more than 3,500 pounds, so a Class III hitch is required, whether weight-carrying or weight-distributing. "Class III" means only a maximum trailer weight of over 3,500 pounds but not more than 5,000 pounds, although in practice all Class III hitches have a 2-inch receiver size and most can handle WD systems. The whole package is required to reach this maximum capacity, which means all of the features Ford includes in the package (which may include, for instance, increased transmission cooling).

So what's in the 2011 Flex manual? First, a note attached to the 4500 lb rating for a suitably equipped 2WD Flex:
Quote:
For towing trailers up to 3500 lb (1588 kg), use a weight-carrying hitch and ball which uniformly spreads the trailer tongue loads through the vehicle’s underbody structure. For towing trailers over 3500 lb (1588 kg), up to 4500 lb (2042 kg), it is recommended to use a weight-distributing hitch to increase front axle load while towing.
This is normal - although technically nonsense as loads are not "uniformly" spread by any hitch - and clearly says that if a trailer is heavy enough (by which they really mean if the tongue weight is over 350 pounds), WD is recommended... but not required. The reason for WD is explained: it is to avoid loosing drive traction at the front tires due to hitch weight transferring load off the front and onto the rear axle.

Then, an interesting statement for a suitably equipped AWD Flex:
Quote:
For towing trailers up to 4500 lb (2042 kg), use a weight-carrying hitch and ball which uniformly spreads the trailer tongue loads through the vehicle’s underbody structure.
This doesn't even mention WD; it doesn't require WD, and doesn't even recommend it. The reason would presumably be that the AWD version doesn't have the issue with loosing drive traction due to hitch weight, the way a front-wheel-only-drive vehicle does.

Dave - who told you that WDH is required?
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Old 08-17-2016, 11:30 PM   #17
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My question would be, 'does Ford Flex AWD actually drive all the wheels all the time'? Or, is it mainly front wheel drive and engage the rear wheels when it detects slippage?
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Old 08-18-2016, 12:12 AM   #18
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My question would be, 'does Ford Flex AWD actually drive all the wheels all the time'? Or, is it mainly front wheel drive and engage the rear wheels when it detects slippage?
It appears to be closer to the latter. Very few current AWD systems actually drive all the wheels all the time - instead of having a centre differential (like RAV4 up to 2004), they drive one end all the time, and drive the other end through a clutch as appropriate (like RAV4 starting 2005). With modern computerized control of the clutch, the result works pretty well (although performance varies widely between brands, models, and years). They even anticipate the need for rear drive, based on factors such as engine power requested (accelerator pedal position), so there is no need to wait for front tire slippage.

The Flex is on the same platform as the current Ford Explorer, which started as a Volvo design with Haldex AWD, but has evolved to a Ford-built system. Its AWD system is indeed front-always and rear-as-required, but can put all the power to the rear tires if the front tires have no traction. It appears that Ford sees no issue with traction when towing.

Anyway, the thread topic is a Ford Flex hitch mounting failure, and while the use of weight distribution systems does affect loads on mounting points, that's not the reason Ford recommends WD with the Flex, in those limited cases that it makes that recommendation.
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Old 08-18-2016, 12:31 AM   #19
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Brian,

Have you ever thought of a career as a technical writer? I think Ford could use one.

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Old 08-18-2016, 05:55 AM   #20
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Now on to the OP's thought to "pick up a 4Runner".
I originally towed my 21' with a 2003 4Runner V6 4WD that did very well, all things considered. However if picking up a used one, some 4Runners came with a lighter duty weight carrying receiver which bolted only into a rear cross-member--all bolts within about 4 inches of each other. I switched that out for a weight distributing receiver that bolted more securely to both frame rails.

These terms are important since the weight carrying receiver was rated at 5000 lbs and would not allow a weight distributing hitch (Andersen) but the weight distributing receiver was rated at 6500 lbs and would allow a WDH. I'd hate to see a repeat of the Flex adventure with just the weight carrying hitch on an older 4R.
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