2016 Tesla Model X: Installing the Hidden Trailer Hitch
by Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing on June 2, 2016
I realize you may have a hard time believing this as a picture of a 2016 Tesla Model X because the shot does not depict or refer to open Falcon-wing doors in any way, shape or form. If it helps, feel free to imagine them flying high up there somewhere.
But the closed door/hatch that you see here is a Tesla Model X giveaway, just the same. It conceals something the Model S does not have: a built-in trailer hitch that gives the Model X plug-and-play towing capability of a sort you might not have seen before.
Thus-equipped, a Model X can tow as much as 5,000 pounds, but that only applies if you stick with the standard 20-inch wheels and tires. Opt for the 22-inch rubber (or buy a Signature, like we did) and the rating drops to 3,500 pounds.
But the hitch isn't just for people that tow trailers. The presence of those Falcon doors you are currently imagining makes it impossible to fit a bike or ski rack to the roof of an X. You'll need to use a hitch-mounted rack for anything like that, which means this hitch is destined to be a must-have item for a large percentage of Model X buyers.
You won't find the usual 2-inch receiver when you open the hatch. Instead, you'll see a giant downward facing socket that's protected by a plastic plug to keep dust out, a couple of loops for safety chains and a seven-pin connector that supports electric trailer brakes.
The receiver itself is an odd-looking duck that comes in a plastic bag in the trunk of the car. It has a prominent twist-knob, and there are some keys. It's not immediately obvious how it all works, but the process is explained in glorious detail — with pictures and everything! — after drilling into the on-screen owner's manual to Driving/Towing a Trailer and then scrolling to Connecting the Trailer Hitch Receiver.
Start by inserting the supplied key (that red thing) and turning it to the unlock position. Now you can pull the knob out and turn it clockwise about one-quarter of a turn. There's significant spring tension to overcome in doing this, and when you've turned it far enough you'll feel a strong click as the white indicator dot lines up with the a red mark at the base of the knob.
You've just cocked the hitch retaining mechanism.
Now you can insert the hitch into the socket, taking care to align the triangular wedges that prevent it from rotating. This is not a pivoting hitch.
There are three upper balls and one lower one. The single one is a trigger that gets pressed in by a wedge as the hitch is fully seated in the socket. This triggering action unleashes the stored spring tension in the mechanism and drives the upper trio of balls into a hidden retaining groove that holds the hitch in place.
At this point the knob has snapped back to its original position, with the green band back in line with the dot. Turn the key to the lock position, pull it out, and flop the white strip back into place.
The knob can no longer turn. The balls cannot be released. The hitch is now ready for use.
Needless to say, don't lose those keys. The hitch cannot be removed unless the key is present and turned to the unlocked position. You basically re-cock it to remove it, and if you want to store it with the tension released you must press the trigger ball in firmly with your thumb, taking care to keep your fingers away from the knob as it snaps back into the rest position, then remove the key.
That trailer socket is a seven-pin affair because the Model X supports electric trailer brakes, something Tesla recommends if you'll tow more than 1,000 pounds. This depends on them being present on the trailer in question, of course. It's not unusual for brakes to be absent on trailers in the 2,000-pound range, and most boats have hydraulic surge brakes, which don't need an electric brake signal from the car at all.
In case you do want to hook them up, the hitch baggie also contains a pigtail that's meant to be spliced onto an aftermarket trailer brake controller, much like we did to our long-term Colorado. It plugs into a socket hidden under the dash, which is easy enough, but to complete the installation you must bolt the brake controller to the face of your pristine Tesla dash at about knee level.
Yeah, no, I'm not doing that. Maybe later. Maybe never. We'll see. Or maybe we won't.
The result is a receiver that pokes out below the bumper, which is unfettered by any sort of unsightly notch. But the receiver is pretty low to the ground. You'll probably have to flip your trailer ball mount upside down so the ball sits above the axis of the square receiver.
Why am I telling you all this? I'm gearing up to tow a trailer on the Supercharger network with our Model X. I'm not a diver; I'm the kind of person that wades into a swimming pool. So I'm going to start out with something light and work my way up if all goes to plan.
I have serious doubts about range, and I don't want to get stuck out there between Superchargers. I have other questions and concerns, and I'm sure there are potential issues I haven't yet anticipated. Towing with an electric vehicle is something I've never done.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 2,233 miles