A man chains his van to another car during a hurricane in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Do you think this guy needed a hitch hook?

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How Hitch Hooks and Anchors Work

You've got a trailer hitch attached to the rear bumper of your pickup truck. You think you're ready to tow anything, like a boat or even another car, just because you can attach it to your hitch. But what do you do if you're called upon to get a buddy's car out of a huge muddy hole? Your trailer hitch might not be the best option for towing another vehicle out a tight spot. When you have a truck that's going to be doing some towing, it's good to have options. Besides, what happens if you get stuck in the mud?

­­This is where hitch hooks and anchors come in. These towing accessories open up the possibility of towing more than just boats or RVs. They're also there to ensure stability while towing. Hitch hooks, also called tow hooks, are mounted on either the front or rear bumper. Attaching chains, cables or ropes to these hooks allow a driver to tow another vehicle or to get pulled out of mud when stuck. These can go on a wide variety of vehicles, and they often come with factory-issued hooks.

Hitch anchors, also known as truck anchors or stake anchors, can be welded to or inserted into the walls of a truck bed. Many trucks have designated places to place anchors. They also serve as attachment points for cables and ropes, and can be used to tie down items inside the truck's bed.

In the next section, we'll discuss how to buy hitch accessories like hooks and anchors.

An airman tightens a crank connecting an F-16 jet fighter to a tow truck. That boat of yours shouldn't be a problem.

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Choosing Hitch Hooks and Anchors

There's a wide variety of hitch hooks and anchors available for your vehicle. Some hooks are custom-fitted specifically for that make and model, and typically "bolt-on" somewhere to the grill guard or frame. Other hooks are "universal fit", which means they can be adapted to any vehicle. However, that usually requires some modifications first, like drilling or removing the bumper. In any case, it's important to make sure that the hooks you buy are compatible with your particular vehicle.

When buying tow hooks, you'll want to look at its rated capacity - the load each product can take before it fails. Different tow hooks range from decorative ones that can support hundreds of pounds to the super-duty hitch hooks that can tow tons. Simply make sure your vehicle can actually pull that much, and that you have the proper tow straps or chains to get the job done.

Hitch anchors come in all shapes and sizes as well. They are designed to be inserted into the stake pockets of your truck bed walls, or they can be bolted in or welded on. You may want to consider anchors that fold out of the stake pocket, as they may not get in the way as much and might have a better aesthetic [source: Curt Manufacturing].

In the next section, we'll examine how these hitch accessories are installed on two popular towing vehicles: a Jeep and a pickup truck.

Hitch hooks are often used to pull people out of tight spots, like these flood waters in New Delhi, India.

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Installing Hitch Hooks and Anchors

Hitch hooks can be mounted on your vehicle on a variety of places, including the front and rear bumpers, the frame, or even the grille. You should use tow hooks attached directly to the frame of the car to ensure stability. It's not a good idea to connect tow hooks to anything flimsy or to anything that moves on the vehicle - radiators, tail pipes, brush guards and the like [source: Lewellyn].

­Usually, mounting the hooks onto the frame underneath the car would do the trick. However, depending on the vehicle and where you want to mount the tow hooks, you may need to remove your front bumper. Don't worry too much, though: On some models, you can buy an entirely new bumper with hitch hooks already in place.

Let's look at installing hitch hooks on a Dodge Ram pickup. It's not a hard job if you have the right tools and some mechanical skills. In this case, you'll need 18 and 19-millimeter sockets and wrenches. You'll also need a screwdriver to remove the front air dam, slide the bracket over the exposed area, drill some extra holes in the bumpers, put nuts and bolts over the bracket, and install the hooks in the correct place [source: Pavement Sucks].

The order is a little taller on a Jeep Cherokee. This process involves completely removing the bumper and cutting pieces off the bumper bracket with a bench grinder to accommodate the hitch hooks [source: Jeep Horizons]. Other tow hooks can simply be bolted onto the vehicle in designated areas or by drilling small holes. If you're inexperienced, or if you don't have all the tools necessary to get the job done, it may be in your best interest to get your hitch accessories and towing equipment professionally installed.

Fortunately, hitch anchors are much easier to use. Most of them fit into designated pockets on your truck bed. They can include covers that pop off so the anchors can be inserted. Anchor points can also be installed on the bed, but when you're doing so, make sure you don't accidentally drill into the gas tank or electrical and drive train parts [source: eSsortment.com].

For more information on hitch hooks and anchors, please see the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks ArticlesMore Great LinksSources:
  • Curt Manufacturing. "Fold Away Rope Hook." (10/2/2008)http://www.curtmfg.com/index.cfm?event=prodetail&id=1 85&categoryid=51
  • eSsortment. "Customizing your truck: installing pickup truck accessories for truck beds." (10/2/2008)http://www.essortment.com/hobbies/customizingtruc_sdvx.htm
  • Jeep Horizons. "Jeep Cherokee XJ Tow Hook and Bracket Install." (10/3/2008) http://jeephorizons.com/tech/xj_hook.html
  • Keeper Corporation. "Hand-D-Ring Installation Instructions." (10/2/2008)http://www.keepercorp.com/prod/br2.htm
  • Lewellyn, Harry. "Towing Basics." (10/3/2008) http://www.4x4now.com/sf0100.htm
  • Pavement Sucks. "Mopar Tow Hook Install." (10/2/2008) http://www.pavementsucks.com/tech/towhook.php
  • Truck Toys. "Trailering Ratchet Tie Downs and Tow Hooks." (10/3/2008)http://trucktoys4less.com/112x7rattied.html