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Modifying a 2002 Pontiac Grand Am for Towing behind a Motorhome.

 

Simply put, not all vehicles can be "dinghy" towed (4 wheels down) behind a RV. Many manual and 4x4 (but not all) transmission cars can be towed, but only a few automatics can be towed. To get a basic understanding of vehicle towing, and how to determine what vehicles can be towed, refer to this webpage: Towed Vehicles (Toads)

Fortunately, a 2002 Pontiac Grand Am became available from a family member (they bought a new car), and we had the opportunity to buy the car from them. This is one of the few automatic transmission cars that can be towed, as it has the GM 4T45E transmission - which is the same as most Saturn cars.

Oddly enough, most Pontiacs cannot be towed as they do not have this tranmission. For most years, for automatic-transmission equipped Pontiacs, only the Grand Am and Sunfire can be towed.

 


2002 Pontiac Grand Am Owner's Manual.

Still, I wanted to verify the Grand Am could be towed. So one peek into the owner's manual for the vehicle revealed this page. Seems simple enough... and no "voodoo prep" is required (view the instructions for the Honda CR-V to see what I mean).

 

Modification

There are several things that must be modified or added to outfit the vehicle for towing:

  • Installation of a baseplate on the towed vehicle.
  • Installation of a Trailer-tow lighting kit on the towed vehicle.
  • Installation of a motorhome powered battery charger on the towed vehicle.
  • Installation of a braking system on the towed vehicle, including a break-away switch.
  • Adding a towbar, drop receiver, safety chains, and other accessories.
  • Modification of the motorhome's trailer-tow circuits - if required.
  • Adding a rock guard to the motorhome (so as not to damage the front of the toad vehicle).
  • Installation of tow/drive switches (for the fuses that must be removed). This is optional.

As a general rule, the baseplate and towbar need to be from the same manufacturer. There are adapter knuckles available to adapt a baseplate to another manufacturer's towbars, and some manufacturers make towbars to fit competitor's baseplates. However, using the same brand towbar and baseplate ensures they are engineered to work together.

As my towed vehicle is older, only a couple of baseplates are available - one from Roadmaster and one from BlueOx. I am installing the baseplate myself, so I want one that is easy to do. As well, some baseplates are more "invisible" than others. Simply stated, I don't want something really ugly on the front of my vehicle - even though it is a few years old.

The Roadmaster baseplate was intriguing, however, it required the removal of two engine bolts, and I didn't feel I was up to that. So I went with the BlueOx baseplate.

 


Completed Project.

 

 

 


 

Part 1: Baseplate Installation

The estimate for installing the baseplate was 3 hours... yeh. More like 3 days. OK, one day was taken up in just repeat visits to the hardware store, but I also found that the baseplate I chose (Blue Ox BX1648) fits several GM cars; the Chevy Malibu (98-03), Oldsmobile Alero (99-03), Pontiac Grand Am (99-02), and a couple of others.

Baseplate installation requires removal of the front grill, and since this baseplate is designed for multiple vehicles, the luck of the draw was that the instructions showed disassembly of the Chevy Malibu. After step 1, the disassembly instructions did not match the Pontiac.

Figuring out how to take the grill apart was a time-consuming aspect of the installation, and a few rusted bolts didn't help either.

As well, I took my time with the installation, and did a little corrosion control (rustoleum) along the way. And the little things, such as having to relocate the horn mounting bolt took time. The baseplate covered up the original horn mounting hole, so I drilled and tapped a new mounting hole for the bracket, whereas an installation shop (to remain within the 3 hour estimate), would have probably just cable-tied it onto something without taking the time to drill and tap a hole.

Rather than providing all of the installation details, I have a three part video showing the installation:

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed in the outcome. The safety chain tabs as well as the trailer-light connector tabs were not in the correct position - so obviously this baseplate is a generic plate for several similar GM models. Still, my baseplate options are few, so I will find a way to make it work. It's not that the asthetics are bad (especially compared to baseplates on other vehicles), but it could have been perfect had Blue Ox done a bit more design work.

 

  The photo above shows the poor alignment for both the connector tabs (round shafts) and the safety chain tabs. Both sets of tabs should be about 1" higher and protrude out of the front of the grill.

 

Tools

Generally, there are no specialized tools you need, other than a torque wrench and a heavy duty drill. Even the most powerful cordless drills are no match for the 13/32 dia holes that must be drilled into the frame. Do yourself a favor and buy a heavy duty drill such as one of the famous Milwaukee "Hole-Shooters".

 

 


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Some of the items I used for the installation of the baseplate.

 

 


Last reviewed and/or updated June 15, 2017