For those who haven’t yet had the pleasure, moving day is a life milestone that tests your patience, your wallet and your sanity. Chucking all of your stuff in a truck and transporting it across town is hard enough, but when you don’t have a truck and are staring down the barrel of a 1,000 mile journey, your only choice is to get creative.
Before I start on how I managed to create something that managed to enrage both Mercedes-Benz purists and the close-knit trailer community, I’ll mention that my 2000 S-Class was purchased about two years ago for the miserly sum of $3000, in horrible condition. I have since then fixed its more egregious faults and left the reasonable ones to work themselves out. They didn’t.
This car has been my daily driver for the majority of that time, and, knock on the faux wood veneer on the dash, it has never had a major mechanical failure. It’s been reliable, and no matter what the internet outrage machine says, it’s one of the best, if not the best luxury car value on the used car market. But you knew that already.
What you may not have known that I, as a long-time New Jersey resident, have been planning a move to central Florida, where the only thing more plentiful than sunshine is bath salts. I’ve also taken it upon myself to move my belongings, consisting of mostly rusty car parts, Craigslist-sourced tools, and two pairs of pants, from New Jersey to Florida, a journey that spans 1,050 miles, all by myself, which leaves me with a few options.
I could have my stuff shipped there, which means that I’d have what amounts to an unlocked dumpster full of my valuable shit in front of my house in a New Jersey neighborhood not exactly known for its residents’ respect of property. This would also be quite costly, as the price for shipping my heavy car parts down the east coast would be roughly $1000, and there’s no guarantee that those parts would reach the destination safely.
I could rent a U-Haul truck and car carrier, transporting my Mercedes-Benz S500 behind it. Unfortunately for me, late August is when every wide-eyed and soon-to-be debt-laden student moves their vape collection and DJ equipment to their freshly-Febrezed dorm rooms and every will-they-or-won’t-they couple finally decide that the thing that will jump start their loveless relationship is matching sets of apartment keys, so no U-Haul truck and trailer combos were available in the region. Even if I could procure something, it would cost north of $2000, not including insurance and fuel. Yeah, no.
My last option, and the one that I decided to take, was to employ the use of a 5x8' enclosed trailer I bought on Craigslist for $1400 and use an aftermarket tow hitch that allowed my Mercedes-Benz S-Class into something that could do things that most people would think required the use of cars that had American flags as dealer-installed options.
The W220 Mercedes-Benz S-Class has a tow-rating of about 1,650 pounds with no trailer brakes, about 4,000 pounds with trailer brakes. However, the car was built to haul around sweaty German businessmen; it wasn’t built with towing in mind, and thus, doesn’t have any reasonable options for towing anywhere close to the maximum capacity, trailer brakes or not, especially not in the United States.
The only hitch I could find in abundance, was a Curt Class I hitch that required some light modification to the car’s structure and wiring. A Class I hitch means that I was able to tow 2,000 pounds with this hitch without it ripping the hell off in epic protest.
It also meant that I could have 200 pounds of tongue weight on the towing ball, meaning the amount of weight that actually rested on the hitch from the trailer.
The Curt hitch did up those amounts to 2,500 lbs. max towing capacity and 250 lbs. tongue weight, but my trailer, fully loaded was rated at 2,790 pounds, not to mention that Mercedes themselves advised against towing something more than 1,650 pounds without trailer brakes.
This was, for all intents and purposes, uncharted territory, but if I shied away from a challenge just because a manufacturer advised against it, I’d be writing nothing but stories about how I’m abusing my CarMax warranty. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.
The instructions on the Curt hitch were pretty informative, and required a cognitive skill level at least equivalent to a third grader, or whenever the hell kids learn fractions these days. I had to drill twelve holes, ranging from 3/8" to 5/8", in the rear portion of my yet-undisturbed S-Class trunk area.
To find the exact placement of said holes, I offered up the hitch, using an old BMW jack to keep it elevated and used black spray paint to paint over the holes, leaving behind perfect templates of the future bolt locations.
I drilled them out with a 5/16" drill bit, then reamed the hole with a step drill bit and cleaned the edges with a file. I then painted the hole with the same black paint to prevent rust in the future.
The lower bolt holes are in the actual subframe, which required the use of a U-bolt that I snaked through. I could then get the entire hitch into place using a combination of bench pressing and the world’s worst scissor jack and hand-tightened down the washers and nuts necessary for the rear U-bolts.
I then slotted in bolts through the top, using the 1/4" thick steel plates provided in the kit, snugged them down from the bottom of the car, and used the plate as a template to drill the final four, 3/8" holes at the rear of the trunk.
After tightening down those bolts, I made sure every hole was silicone sealed and painted over, then I torqued the larger bolts to 75 ft-lbs, and the smaller ones to 45 ft-lbs, as per the instructions. At this point, I could shake the car with the tow hitch, which is exactly what you want when towing a ton behind you with the only method of stopping being your overtaxed braking system.
To do the wiring, I used the optional Curt wiring kit, which instead of using the factory circuitry that could lead to overloading of fuses and warning lights, made its own circuit by acting as relay between the battery and the lights. It used the stock brake, turn, and clearance lights as signals and supplied its own power through a new connection from the positive post on the battery, something that was thankfully in the trunk of the car already.
One of the most concerning things while towing anything is weight distribution. If you have too much weight on the ball, that means that you’re exceeding the tongue weight of the hitch, and that could lead to component failure, but have too little weight on the ball, and you’ll have stability issues. A rule of thumb is that you want to have everything level, with your heaviest things mounted low and ahead of the trailer’s forward-most axle.
To take care of the load, I made sure my heavy tool collection was in large plastic bins at the front of the trailer, strapped down to make sure that there would be no impromptu weight transfer in case of a hard braking scenario.
To tackle the leveling of the trailer, I put the car’s suspension at its highest setting, got an adapter from the hitch’s 1 1/4" receiver to a more robust 2" receiver, got a ball mount with a 4" rise, and a 2" ball, that would put the mounting directly in line with the mount for my new-to-me trailer.
The finished product was extremely functional, but a near $100k-when-new German luxobarge towing an American-made secondhand trailer did give off the notion that perhaps this combination should not exist.
For good measure, I also installed a Hayden transmission fluid cooler in line with the stock radiator cooler, to make sure my stout gearbox wouldn’t belch its hydraulic guts all over I-95 in the middle of the epic journey.
I then checked lights, tire pressures, and connections both physical and electrical, and drove the newly created tow rig around the block, which produced no faults, although the car was noticeably more sluggish and slower to brake.
Yeah. Definitely good enough for a 1,000 mile trip, I reckon.
In the next installment of this multi-part cavalcade of automotive buffoonery, I’ll outline how exactly it feels to drive this with a 2,000 pound trailer for 1,000 miles and whether I had a life-threatening moment or not. Spoiler Alert: I did.