When we’re traveling, whether to visit someone; for camping; or what-have-you, we like to allow a lot of room in the back of the Ford Edge for our two good-sized Boxers (the dog-kind) to move around in as well as allowing us to be able to take as many supplies and items that we need for the trip. Who doesn’t want to be prepared?
Years ago we
stuffed packed everything into the very back of the SUV (at the time we had the very versatile but eminently ridiculed Pontiac Aztek). Later we got a Highland Rainproof Cartop Storage Bag, which allowed us to pack some things in the back and the rest in the cartop carrier and still allowed us to bring more supplies but reserved room for the dogs to move around.
Packing everything and still having an open rear window as well as space for the dogs to walk around in was getting harder and more logistically complex for every trip, especially after getting a screened-in canopy and having to pack it also.
So we set out to look for perhaps a cargo trailer, a small camper, or something along those lines.
Eventually we decided to go for a hitch-mounted carrier. You see them everywhere more than likely, used for every purpose. And after reading some fairly good reviews for the Highland Hitch-Mounted Cargo Carrier/Tray we decided to go with that model.
The specs say that it is made from heavy-duty powder-coated steel. It fits any two-inch receiver hitch and has a capacity of up to five-hundred pounds. It’s also a good size, sixty inches wide by twenty inches deep, with a little ridge of about two and a half inches high around all four sides.
After researching various hitch cargo carriers it seemed as though they are all fairly similar in general with small variations, though there are some smaller ones. And you can certainly buy one of the more expensive ones – which might have a few more features (higher sides, raised hitch bars, light and turn signal kits, etc). But they all looked basically very interchangeable in general.
We we ordered this one.
As you can see in the pic the box the carrier came in had a graphic of the carrier and was good and well-packed. It is surprisingly fairly small and relatively light.
The instructions and warnings are a one-page sheet of double-sided paper but that’s all that is really needed. If you need instructions in a few different languages they are there too.
Assembly was quick and the instructions were just fine. Really, you barely need instructions as it’s a pretty common sense and straight-forward assembly. A minimal amount of tools is needed to put it all together, and it goes quickly. One person can put the whole thing together in practically no time.
The bolts for attaching each side of the tray to the central part have washers and nylon locking nuts and the bolts for attaching the whole thing to the hitch receiver tongue are larger diameter and have washers but no locking nuts. I think it goes without saying that you want to recheck the tightness of each bolt once in awhile anyway, both after an initial use as well as occasionally; all bolts including the locking nutted ones.
The materials the carrier are made up of seem fairly heavy-duty, the welds are good and the mesh on the bottom is of moderate thickness and plenty strong. Even if you want to hook your bungee cords through it or around the mesh in addition to the provided holes in the frame.
The steel of the frame itself seems good-sized and moderately thick, as well as painted well, as well as the piece of square steel that goes into the hitch receiver. There’s a few warning stickers on it and the corners have some nice reflective tape.
The carrier even came with a hitch pin and cotter pin. Some of the reviews seemed to show that some people didn’t receive the hitch pin but we did.
The whole thing isn’t very heavy. Which makes fitting it into the hitch receiver on the vehicle pretty easy.
But there was a bit of play and extra space around the sides between the hitch receiver and the hitch bar when it is attached. This seems to be fairly normal with some hitch receivers – no matter what you put into them; cargo trays, bike carriers, even some trailers and campers, etc. I have had two bike carriers that are the same way. From what I have read manufacturers seem to have a bit of leeway when it comes to two-inch hitch receiver sizes perhaps.
Once I put weight in this cargo tray it was much stabler and didn’t seem to have the movement that I had noticed when it was empty. Despite that I did also use a few pieces of thin tin slid in between the hitch receiver and hitch bar piece on the top and sides and zip-tied it all so the tin wouldn’t work its way out. Very important as you don’t want something flying off and hitting someone else’s vehicle.
I don’t know if this was strictly necessary; as I said it didn’t seem to make as much difference once weight was on it.
They do make a multitude of solutions if you don’t like this play and slight extra space/movement around the hitch part, everything from something like what I did to brackets and clamps and hitch pin tighteners.
Once on the vehicle it was easy to start putting things on the carrier and tying them down. The tray has multiple tie-down holes along the front, back, and sides, big ones and some smaller ones. And the wire mesh bottom seems to be heavy-duty enough to hook cargo straps to if needed.
I found the whole thing plenty wide enough and deep enough for anything we needed to carry, and in fact it was deeper than our cooler as well as the large Tupperware container we were planning on strapping on it to store more things.
Also, a bungee hooked around from the front of the carrier, over the cooler and Tupperware thing, and down the front and hooked to the mesh instead of one of the rear tie-down points helped to make sure both stayed in place and didn’t slide back, though I don’t think it would have anyway, or mattered if it had. A combination of ratcheting tie-downs, rope, and bungee cords worked well to secure everything front-to-back as well as side-to-side.
I also used a few bike cables and locks to make sure nothing could get stolen while at rest stops or other places where the carrier and it’s contents might be left unattended.
You can hook the bike cables through your vehicle hitch’s safety chain attachment and around this cargo tray, taking up any slack by looping any extra cable around sections of the metal mesh floor or over things you are tieing on until it’s fairly tight. That way no one can unhook the whole carrier from the hitch receiver and pull it all out. It’s even an extra safety in case the hitch pin came out, which is very unlikely. You can also use this same method for bike carriers and probably other things that are hitch-mounted too.
You can also take another bike lock cable and lock and go around your cooler (and through any handles) and other things to secure them to the cargo tray, including snaking the cable through the one coming from the hitch safety chain and wrapping around the carrier. I guess the only thing you want to check on here is wear in the bike cable if it’s hanging a little loose in placed where it might wear against the steel of the carrier or other things.
Perhaps this is overkill, and I likely won’t bother doing this next time as we don’t leave the whole thing unattended for any amount of time. But it may be something others might consider if it’s going to be left somewhere questionable, or for a long period of time, or you have something valuable on it.
After taking this cargo tray with us while making the trip to a camping spot a distance away, driving down highways, secondary roads, and some lightly gravelled roads (like the sight-seeing access road along the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge) it performed well. Same with the trip back. On a Ford Edge we barely noticed anything while driving. Also, there were no issues with heat from the exhaust system affecting the cargo – though this is going to depend on your vehicle I would guess; so keep that in mind.
All bolts stayed tight, nothing felt like it was jiggling or loose (though of course I had the hitch shims in), and the multiple tie-down points made it easy to hook and unhook what we were carrying.
I don’t think I would want to put the full five hundred pound capacity on it, but a few hundred pounds, at least, is going to be just fine on it I believe.
A hitch converter for use on a one and a quarter inch receiver probably would work fine, though it would extend the hitch bar/tongue out a bit. If you had a low vehicle you might want to be extra aware of that while going into driveways and things of that sort. You could get a converter with a rise which would lift it up a bit if you had a very low vehicle, which might work better.
Unfortunately though using the hitch size converter on a smaller receiver is going to decrease your total cargo capacity weight, by possibly a few hundred pounds. So that is something to consider if you have a smaller hitch size. But unless you are carrying a moped or large mower this probably isn’t going to be a concern.
All-in-all, a very good purchase at a great price and of seemingly pretty good quality. The paint seems to be thick and coats every surface except the bolts, and I think you could even disassemble it all easily for storage if you really wanted to, though I am going to just store it assembled as it takes up very little space as-is, and isn’t heavy to move.