How we did our Ford Excursion Trailer Hitch Replacement

The Ford Excursion was largest mass-produced SUV made with production running from the 2000 – 2005 model years.  Their large size and solid towing capacity have kept them as a popular choice for family travel trailer towing today.   We have had 2 of them and currently use a 2001 V10 to pull our travel trailer.  As you can probably guess, any vehicle that is 18 years old will have some issues.  While exceptionally reliable in general we did have an issue recently that needed specific attention.  With over 25,000 miles of towing that we know about and 18 years of corrosion, the trailer hitch on the old girl had seem better days.  The biggest issue was that the pin hole used to secure the hitch mount to the receiver had rounded out dramatically.   It had gotten to the point where starting and stopping at intersections would result in a stiff bump as the hitch mount slid back and forth in the receiver.  It was time for a Ford Excursion Trailer Hitch Replacement.

Choosing a Replacement Hitch

There are only two direct replacement hitches available for the Excursion.

  1. Curt Class IV Receiver Hitch Model #C14011.  This is a 12,000 lb rated hitch that is a direct replacement for the stock unit.  No drilling or modifications to the truck are needed for installation.  It looks nearly identical to the stock hitch and the receiver opening sits in essentially the same spot.

  2. TorkLift SuperHitch #TLF1006 – This is a class V hitch with two 2″ receivers.  It bolts up to the standard holes so there is no need to modify the truck to install it.  With a weight distributing hitch it can handle 20,000 lbs tow weight and 2,000 lb tongue weight.  That’s impressive, but it is way over what a stock Excursion can handle.  At over twice the price of option #1 it is hard to justify the cost unless you have a heavily modified Excursion that can handle the extra capacity or you have a specific need for 2 receivers on the same hitch.

For our Ford Excursion trailer hitch replacement we opted for #1… well… sorta.  Initially we tried to have UHaul install a new hitch for us.  At the time, we were at a campsite that didn’t allow vehicle work on site.  There’s some tricks to installing these that can make it difficult to do in a campsite anyways.  More on that later.  So we made an appointment at UHaul and they got the hitch.  Turns out they use a UHaul branded version of the Curt C14011.  It was supposed to be $379 installed and when I made the appointment I was clear that this was a replacement.   I knew I was in trouble when the tech there looked at the truck and said “It already has a hitch”.  It just went downhill from there.  After having to read the instructions to them (twice) and about of hour of my time they decided to give up because they didn’t have the right tools and couldn’t get the original bolts off (they were a bit rusty).  So it was time for plan B.

Prior to this, we had a local small shop replace the fuel pump that had failed.  Since they already had the gas tank off once and did a great job I decided to see if they could get the old hitch off for me.  Partially, or fully, removing the gas tank is part of the hitch removal/installation process.  All the shops I spoke to said that due to liability they would not put a new hitch on.  I figured getting the new one on was the easy part and I could do that myself.  Getting the old one off is the problem.  The shop said they would have no problem getting it off.  3 hours later, it was laying on the ground in one big heaping mess.

How it is installed and what you really need to put a new one on?

We ordered a new Curt C14011 from E-trailer.  It arrived quickly and in great shape.  The instructions are clear and well written, but inaccurate.  Most of the instructions are correct but there are two omissions.

  1. The tool list fails to mention you need a 1 1/16″ socket for the nuts.
  2.  There is no discussion of how to attach the stock hitch wire harness bracket.  The stock hitch has the bracket bolted through the top of the hitch.  The Curt hitch is not predrilled or tapped for that bolt.  I called Curt tech support and they suggested drilling a 1/8″ or smaller pilot hole and then using an appropriate sided self tapping screw to secure the bracket.  That’s what we did and it worked great.
The factory wiring harness mounted with a self tapping screw.

The way this hitch is attached from the factory is using 18mm bolts run up from the bottom, through the hitch bracket, through the frame rail and into weld-nut plates on the backside of the frame.  There are two weld-nut plates with two nuts each to secure the four bolts on each side.   On the surface it sounds like a 10 minute job right?  Not so fast.

Rust and Shear Bolts, the evil of the install.

Of the four bolts used on each side to hold the hitch on from the factory, 3 are normal bolts.  1 is a shear bolt.  The shear bolt spins when you try to remove it.  They use those to prevent people like me from taking the hitch part.  The Curt instructions have info on how to deal with this.  In a nutshell, it involves brute force.  Our shop used a torch to cut them off – this was the one thing that really made this something that can’t be done in a campsite.

The other three bolts, if you’re lucky, will just come out.  Of course, I (or the shop I had working on it) wasn’t that lucky.  They were rusted in.  Of the 6 normal bolts, only 2 came out.  They other 4, they turned them hard enough to break the weld-nuts free of the backing plate.  When that happens, the only options are to drop the gas tank entirely and get a wrench on it, or cut the bolt.  The shop dropped the tank and wrenched it.

As a side note, there is not enough space to remove the gas tank completely with the truck on the ground.  You must jack it up and keep it elevated on jack stands.   This was another “no can do” factor in our campsite.

Unfortunately, the destruction of the weld-nuts necessary to get this hitch off left a problem.  The new hitch does not include the weld nuts.  It has all the other hardware, but it assumes you salvaged the factory weld-nuts.  A quick internet search confirmed my biggest fear – there are no aftermarket weld-nuts available.  So, off to the dealership I went in hopes that they are still available.

As it turns out, they are.  But they didn’t come easily.  I was debating using new stock factory bolts instead of the ones supplied by Curt.  Not specific reason why other than I like factory parts.  In either case, the dealer had the bolts in stock but their drawings showed they did not have the weld nuts in stock for the bolts.  I ordered those and they arrived two days later.  They were the wrong size.  So the drawings that the dealership had access to were incorrect.  I had done some other research on the internet and came up with a different weld-nut part number.  I gave them that number and it turned out they had one in stock.  It was the right part!

Here are the parts…

18 mm Bolt – Ford Part # W708772-S439
18 mm Weld-Nut – Ford Part #W709318-S441

Since the weld nuts were toast they had to be replaced.  If you do the job all yourself and already have the gas tank out then getting the new weld-nuts in is easy.  Just put them up there (the frame rail is open on the gas tank side).  In our case, the truck was reassembled at the shop so we could drive it home to do the install later.  To install the weld-nuts without dropping the tank again we had to fish them through with a piece of wire.  I used some 10 gauge ground wire I had lying around and it worked great.  Just make sure you hook the end so it doesn’t pull through the nut until you want it to.

Fishing the new weld-nets into place with the gas tank installed.

The only other issue was that we did have to lower the tank more than the instructions called for to get the new bolts in.  We ended up using the supplied Curt bolts except for the weird smaller one they supplied that needed to be fished through.  That bolt is used because they assume you will cut off the shear bolt and you won’t be able to get the stub out of the weld-nut.  Since we replaced the weld nut we were able to use a full size factory bolt there.

All in all, it took 2 weeks to replace.  The Curt instructions say 1 hour for a shop, 3 hours for DIY.  I can tell you, unless your truck is pristine there is no way you’ll come close to those times.  The installation part that we actually did (there were 2 of us) took about 2 hours.  The extra time was consumed by fishing the weld nuts in and lowering the gas tank nearly to the ground.  Doing that made the install much easier, but requires disconnecting all the bolts and the fuel filler neck.  We could have done it all in one day if we had all the planets aligned properly.  That wasn’t the case.

Information on doing this job is pretty scarce on the net.  I hope this helps you when it comes time to do your Ford Excursion trailer hitch replacement.

The final install.

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