Fitting a tow bar to a T5 is straightforward, but it must be done right
A tow bar can be a very useful addition to any Van – not only can you pull a trailer, or, god forbid, a caravan, it can also be used to attach accessories such as a bike rack. As factory-fitted tow bars were a hideously expensive option, few Vans left dealers with them, but fear not, for retro fitting one is an easy task, as our guide on how to fit a tow bar to a T5 will prove.
There are a wide variety of different types of tow bar available, with options such as a fixed or removable hitch, but we opted for a very basic bar and, because our Van is being built on a budget, sourced it second hand to boot.
The challenge used to be wiring it all up afterwards, but these days there are plenty of companies that supply vehicle-specific wiring kits for the T5, meaning connecting everything up is a cinch. It goes without saying that the most important stage of the process is ensuring the bar is attached securely, so make sure you tighten those nuts, as the last thing you want is your trailer parting company from your Van at speed.
It is important to note that there are rules governing who can tow what, and how heavy it can be. The following information is taken from the gov.uk website, and should be heeded.
Licences issued from 19 January 2013
From 19 January 2013, drivers passing a category B (car and small vehicle) test can tow:
• Small trailers weighing no more than 750kg
• Trailers weighing more than 750kg, where the combined weight of the towing vehicle and the trailer isn’t more than 3,500kg
If you want to tow a trailer weighing more than 750kg, when the combined weight of the towing vehicle and trailer is more than 3,500kg, you’ll have to pass a further test and have B+E entitlement on your licence. With that, you can tow trailers up to 3,500kg.
Licences held from 1 January 1997
If you passed your driving test after 1 January 1997 and have an ordinary category B (car) licence, you can drive either:
• A vehicle up to 3.5 tonnes or 3,500kg, Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) towing a trailer of up to 750kg MAM (with a combined weight of up to 4,250kg in total)
• A trailer over 750kg MAM as long as it is no more than the unladen weight of the towing vehicle (with a combined weight of up to 3,500kg in total)
Licences held before 1 January 1997
If you passed your driving test before January 1 1997 you are generally entitled to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8.25 tonnes MAM. This is the weight of a vehicle or trailer, including the maximum load that can be carried safely when it’s being used on the road. You are also allowed to drive a minibus with a trailer over 750kg MAM.
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Need to know
TOOLS USED: Basic hand tools, screwdrivers, sockets, spanners, Torx bits
SKILL LEVEL: 2/5 Not too difficult
TIME TAKEN: 2 hours
COST DIY: £100-200
COST PRO: £535 for a new tow bar kit fitted by an official VW Van Centre (parts and labour)
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 1
Our tow bar was sourced secondhand from eBay. If you do similar, make sure all the correct fixing bolts are included with the bar.
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 2
Fitting the bar necessitates removing the bumper, so the first job is to unscrew the rear lights. As you will be playing with the electrics, it is a good idea to disconnect the battery first.
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 3
With the lights out of the way, remove the corner covers. These are held in place by Allen head plastic fixings, which can be a pain to remove as the socket rounds off very easily. A good tip is to use a slightly oversized imperial Allen key.
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 4
Behind the cover is another plastic panel. This clips into the top of the bumper and must be removed as well. Go carefully, okay?
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 5
Move round to the inner arches and remove the lower two screws on the arch liner. They are a Torx head, so make sure you have the right set of driver bits.
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 6
These are the tricky two. If you pull the arch liner out of the way you will find a pair of screws hidden behind it.
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 7
Under the bumper are three fixing tabs, though only two have screws in. Remove these and drop the spare wheel while you are at it. Tip: this is a good time to check you can actually undo the spare wheel nuts! Ours were seized solid, which would not have done us any favours if we had suffered a puncture on a cold winter’s night.
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 8
With a bit of jiggling, the bumper cover will simply pull off. If it refuses to come, double check you have undone all the screws. Most Vans will have a plastic undertray, held in with a variety of 10mm and 13mm bolts, plus a couple of screws. Removing this will provide access to the chassis legs.
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 9
The bumper iron itself is held on by two 13mm bolts each side, remove these and lift it out of the way.
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 10
With the bumper removed, you can see inside the chassis legs. Note that there are three bolt holes on the inner wall, which is where the tow bar will attach.
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 11
The towbar has captive nuts, which the bolts screw through the chassis rail into. Not only is it important the fixings are the right size, but they must be the correct strength rating, too. If you are at all unsure, buy some new ones from a specialist fixings supplier.
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 12
A helping hand is useful at this point. Slide the bar into the chassis rails and secure the forward most bolts first. This will support the bar and makes it easier to align the front bolts. Insert all of the bolts and check the bar is level before tightening. There is no recommended torque, but suffice to say you want them good and tight.
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 13
Once the bar is in place, it is time for the electrics. Our kit came with a right and a left side loom, which simply clip into the existing lighting plugs. Comprehensive instructions were also included, which it pays to read.
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 14
Push the existing wiring grommet into the body. This allows access to feed the wiring down to the bumper area.
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 15
At the bottom corner of the body you will find a small rubber grommet Remove this.
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 16
Next, take a stiff piece of wire and feed it up through the lower hole until you can see it appear at the upper hole. This can be a very frustrating task, so be patient. When you’re through, tape the wiring loom to the stiff wire and pull it back down and out of the lower hole.
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 17
The Westfalia kit was comprehensive and included rubber grommets to replace the existing solid caps. With the wire fed through, route it to the centre of the tow bar and secure it with cable ties (also included in our kit, which was nice).
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 18
The loom has an earth wire that is supposed to attach to an earth point behind the rearmost interior panel. However, we could not access this without ripping out the carpet lining, so instead added an earth connection using a threaded insert behind the lighting panel.
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 19
Once you have completed this process on both sides of the vehicle, it is time to connect the plug. Feed the wires through the hole in the plug mounting plate and up towards the plug.
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 20
Our kit came with a clear wiring diagram for the plug. Each terminal is numbered, so it is simply a matter of matching the wire colour to the correct number. The plug also features a micro switch to disable parking sensors if they are fitted to your vehicle.
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 21
Not forgetting to fit the rubber sealing grommet before hooking the wires up, this is what you should end up with. If you have wires left over, check the instructions.
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 22
With everything connected, secure the plug to the plate and the plate to the bar itself. Voilà, you have fitted your tow bar.
How to fit a tow bar to a T5: Step 23
The final job is to check all the lights works. You should have a trailer indicator on the dashboard that activates when additional load is put on the wiring system. If your trailer has any lights out, this will not operate. Any problems – check the bulbs and the earth connection.