Join Date: Jan 2016
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All the aftermarket hitches just attach to the frame (box frame made of sheet metal in the unibody vehicles). They have heavy round or square tubes extending from the mounting plates to the central receiver and are all designed to extend well below the rear bumper cover for clearance.
Toyota's factory hitch replaces the extruded aluminum crash bar inside the plastic bumper cover and has heavy multi-plate steel U-shaped plates which extend underneath the sheet metal of the body's rear lip and connect to stiffener plates which wrap around the box frame sections, strengthening them considerably.
In my opinion, there's no fair comparison between aftermarket and factory receiver hitches. The factory hitch hardly impacts the departure angle of the vehicle over obstacles while all the aftermarket ones all hang down below the bodywork and definitely reduce ground clearance at the rear.
The aftermarket hitches also do nothing to strengthen the box frame which can lead to excessive bending forces on bumpy roads and can more easily cause damage to the frame in a rear end fender-bender. This just happened to me in my last car (2012 Prius V) with an aftermarket hitch. The rear end collision caused over $7000 in damage which could be directly attributed to the hitch bending the box frame sections. If the hitch hadn't been installed (according to the body shop) the frame probably would not have been bent but other body damage may have resulted. It's a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation.
I feel that if you're going to pull anything more than a light utility or single motorcycle trailer with your Rav4, you should pay the extra for the factory hitch. Most aftermarket hitches are about $100 to $150 while the Toyota PZQ64-42096 hitch can be had for around $450 from discount dealers online. I think it'll be worth the extra $300-$350 myself for peace of mind. I'll be towing a teardrop trailer which, even dry, weighs over 1500 pounds. No cheap aftermarket hitches for me...
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Bob in Massachusetts
2016 Rav4 XLE Hybrid