E36 M3 Trailer Hitch Receiver with Reinforced Spare Tire Well
Several years ago I had a Da'Lan hitch installed on my 1995 M3. Although I may one day use the hitch to tow a small trailer, I use the hitch for a bike rack. Bike racks, unlike trailers exert a large vertical force on the hitch and can damage the car if the spare tire well is not reinforced. I was advised by Sports Rack (where I bought my bike rack) and several M3 owners to have the reinforcement added.
I had a local shop perform the installation and I believe the reinforcement added about $70 to the installation, but I had this done three years ago so I could very easily be wrong.
Several people have asked about the reinforcement so I thought I'd take a few pictures of what was done to my car. As far as I know, the hitch itself was not modified or installed in any special manner so I have not documented the hitch itself.
As you can see, the reinforcement is simply a long piece of steel, which had been bent to fit the spare tire well and is both bolted and welded to the car and to the hitch.
Close-up of the left side of the reinforcement. This side is bolted to the car as you can see. As it turned out, two of the bolts damaged one of the rubber exhaust hangers as I have described below.
As I mentioned above, the hitch/reinforcement installation was performed about three years ago. About nine months ago I purchased an AA cat-back exhaust and during the installation I noticed the bolts which are located at the end of the left side of the reinforcement (the two bolts in the picture above) had chewed up the rubber exhaust hanger which supports the back end of the exhaust. This hanger is located next to the outside of the trunk well and the two bolts above were long enough that they protruded through the hanger and as the exhaust moved around during normal (and maybe not so normal!) operation the exposed bolt threads had chewed up the rubber hanger, destroying half of it.
My advice is to make sure the shop (or you) use shorter bolts that don't protrude through the rubber hanger. I have since replaced the damaged rubber hanger and replaced the long bolts with shorter ones.
A close-up view of the right side of the reinforcement. As you can see, this side has been welded in place instead of bolted.
The hitch as seen from the rear of the car. It's easy to get to, but is also visible. I no longer see it except when I'm installing the bike rack so it is not an issue at all. I've noticed several people who wish to hide the hitch receiver. In my opinion it is a waste of time and will only make the hitch harder to use when you attach things to it.
A close-up of the bike rack installed in the hitch receiver. The large chrome tubular shaped piece you see is the lock which fits over the bolt you screw down to secure the hitch to the receiver. The nice two features of this setup are that the bolt tightly secures the rack to the receiver and prevents it from rattling or banging around so you never hear any noise from the rack. Also, the chrome lock covers the bolt head and prevents anyone from stealing your bike rack and bike. It installs quickly and works great!
The Bauer bike rack installed on the car. It takes just a few minutes to install or remove the bike rack from the car. Personally, I greatly prefer hitch-mounted bike racks to roof-mounted bike racks. They are much easier to install and remove, wind noise isn't an issue (especially with regards to an open sunroof), you car won't get tossed around on a windy freeway and you don't have to worry about scratching the roof of your car if you (or a buddy) get a bit too clumsy when you put the bikes in the rack. My previous car had a roof-mounted bike rack and those were my dislikes with it.
Also note the horizontal bar near the bottom of the bike rack. I didn't purchase this accessory when I purchased the bike rack. I spent over a year without it and that was dumb. The bike(s) are much easier and quicker to secure if you have that lower horizontal bar installed. Get one!
Another small accessory you might need is if you have an unconventional bike that doesn't have a straight top tube. My bike is one of those strange looking Trek Y-Bikes and it doesn't have a top tube at all. The bike rack grabs onto the bike's top tube to hold it in place. For unconventional bikes you can buy a telescopic adapter which attaches between the bike's head set and seat tube thus creating an artificial top tube which the bike rack can clamp onto. It sounds a bit weird but it works great.
This is the adapter I mentioned above. Again, it works great. I've used it for three years now with no problems.
One last feature of this bike rack I recommend- it will fold down out of the way. This allows you to get into the trunk if the bikes are in the way. Normally I don't have to do this but the few times I have (when you are having to dig something out of the back of the trunk when the trunk is full) used this feature is was very helpful.
That's about it! All in all, not an inexpensive setup I admit. But it does the job very nicely and makes my life easier. I took one trip in the car before I had the bike rack installed and had to put the bike in the trunk with the seats down. I have a big dual-suspension mountain bike and while it does fit in the trunk it takes forever to get it in and out of the trunk, plus you have to remove both wheels and the seat post. A pain!