How To Mount & Hook Up A 5th Wheel Hitch On Your Truck

5th-wheel-trailer-and-pickup-truck-public-domain.gif What could be easier?… Back up until you hear the handle snap back, and you’re good to go!

Boy, if that’s how you hook up your fifth wheel trailer, you’re going to have some problems (…sooner rather than later).


First, Why 5th Wheel Trailers Are Great

Fifth wheel RVs are the best handling, most secure recreational trailers on the road.  They handle so much better than a standard travel trailer, there just is no comparison.  With a properly set up fifth wheel, you can pull a 15,000-pound trailer all day long in comfort.  You’ll rapidly get to the point where you will almost forget that your monster 3-axle, multi-slideout  luxury condo is riding along behind you.

This easy towing might give one the opportunity for complacency in getting ready to hit the road.

But the last thing you want to see is your $75,000 trailer skittering down the highway on its own after the hitch popped open, turning it loose from your truck.  Don’t laugh, it does happen, and if it happens to you, it will be expensive!

Here are some things you need to know about mounting and hooking up a fifth wheel hitch…

Mounting A 5th Wheel Hitch

When mounting a fifth wheel hitch in the bed of your pickup truck yourself, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations closely.

The location of the hitch should be such that the pin of the trailer is located just an inch or so ahead of the center point of the rear axle of your truck.

If you are mounting a secondhand hitch, be sure you have all of the mounting pieces.  This includes the brackets that bolt under the box of your truck and tie the hitch directly to the frame of the truck.  A pickup box is not designed to handle the load and stress of pulling a trailer.

Once you have everything mounted, the wiring hooked up, and you’re ready to hitch up the trailer, then you need to address how the trailer should be adjusted to match the truck height.

Most fifth wheel hitches are adjustable for height.  Most fifth wheel trailer pins are also adjustable for height.  It will require moving bolts to different locations to adjust the pin box up or down.  Your goal should be to have the trailer nice and level when it’s hitched to the truck.

In some situations when a high ground clearance 4×4 truck is used, the axles of the trailer are removed and reinstalled on the underside of the springs.  In my opinion, that’s not the wisest idea.  Yes, it will level out the trailer, but it’s not how the axles were designed to be used. And, access into the trailer will be awkward as well.  I would prefer selling the high truck and buying something better suited to towing your RV trailer.

Be concerned about how much clearance you have between the box of your truck and the underside of the upper portion of your trailer.  If you have too little clearance, when you’re maneuvering over uneven terrain, the trailer may hit the sides of the truck.

These videos show how to mount a 5th wheel hitch.

 

How To Hook Up A 5th Wheel Hitch

Okay, now we’re ready to hitch up and hit the road.

A wise investment would be to replace the standard tailgate on your truck with one that is cut down so you can hitch up with the tailgate closed.  Or you could even use a mesh cloth gate.  Otherwise, the first time you forget to open your standard tailgate… after you pull ahead a foot, you will have ruined it by striking the 5th wheel pin of the trailer.

Before you back into the hitch, pull the release handle out to cock the hitch in the open position.  As you back in and lightly tap it home, or all the way in, the handle will snap closed automatically.

The most important step is next:  Get out of the truck, walk under the front of the trailer and visually confirm the jaws or bar (depending on which brand of hitch you have) snapped all the way shut.

The very next step is to lock down the safety lock on the hitch.  This is critical, as the hitch — even when properly closed — can and will open unless the safety lock is in place.

My own experience with this came when I was moving my trailer just around the block to store it.  As I pulled up the driveway and cleared the crest of the hill, the hitch popped open and the trailer dropped out of the hitch.

I was very lucky as my truck was a flat bed.  I put a nice dent in the surface of the bed where the pin hit, but damaged nothing else.  Many pickup boxes have been ruined when a fifth wheel trailer drops, as it will crush the sides of the box.

As far as the likelihood of your hitch breaking loose on the highway… your breakaway brakes are supposed to stop it.  Unless you forgot to hook up the little cable.  If that’s the case, when the hitch opens up, you’ve got a runaway rig!

Always think safety first.  Don’t be afraid to check things over twice before you pull away. Take it from me. Been there, done that.

Curtis Carper

I’ve been involved in RVing for over 40 yrs -- including camping, building, repairing, and even selling RVs. I’ve owned, used, and repaired almost every class and style of RV ever made. I do all of my own repair work. My other interests include cooking at home, living with an aging dog, and dealing with diabetic issues. If you can combine a grease monkey with a computer geek, throw in a touch of information nut and organization freak, combined with a little bit of storyteller, you've got a good idea of who I am.

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  • http://hitchmountrack.com/ hitch mount rack

    Now our hitch can hook up 5th wheel trailers. Happy time : )

  • dawn

    we have a 2009 ford f 150 and are looking to by a 35″6 regal prowler are we able to use the tailgate hitch on our truck

    • Curtis

      Dawn, By tailgate hitch I’m assuming you really mean bumper hitch. If so, the answer is no because you will need an equalizer hitch with weight distributing bars. That requires a receiver hitch mounted to the frame of the truck. The bigger question is can your F150 handle that much weight? I’m skeptical, that seems like an awfully long and heavy trailer for that size truck. I would recommend at least an F250 for that size trailer.

  • Ken Kraus

    We are getting ready to purchase a 36 ft. 13,000 lb. 5th wheel–what type of truck do I need and what features should it have? Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    I have a 1995 Chevrolet C3500, Dually, 2 wheel drive, extended cab, 8 foot bed, automatic transmission,
    4:10 rear end, 7.4 Liter / 454 engine ( non vortec ) with a 20,000 pound 5th wheel hitch in the bed, and the truck is in excellent condition. I am wanting to purchase a 2005 NuWa Hitch Hiker 5th wheel trailer that is 36′ 8″ long, with a hitch weight of 2600 pounds, and a dry weight of 13,740 pounds. Of course, adding my things to the inside of this trailer, I might add another 1500 to 2000 pounds. So, my question is, can my truck safely pull this 5th wheel trailer, without damaging, or destroying, my truck????
    I look forward to your answer.
    Thank you

    • Curtis

      Irver, I believe your truck is rated to handle the load just fine, at least I hauled a similar trailer with a 2001 truck with similar running gear.  As to damaging or destroying your truck my only concern is the condition of the truck.  a 1995 with average use would probably have 100,000 miles on it.  As the truck ages I tend to feel the ability to do heavy work reliably becomes questionable.  If you have problems it will likely be with the transmission, newer trucks have a much more durable transmission.  If you treat it with respect (take it easy) you might do just fine. With that many years being under its belt I sure won’t guarantee it, only you know what condition its in.

  • Steve

    I just recently installed my 5th wheel hitch. I hooked up the trailer a 26′ Keystone Springdale Clearwater series and found that the trailer does not sit level, meaning it tilts back. I understand I can adjust the hitch part. My question is should the trailer be level when in tow or is ok tilted back?
    Thank you for your time 

    • Curtis

      Steve, The trailer should be as level as you can make it but the important part is the clearance between the trailer and the top edge of your pickup box at the rear of the box.  If there is much tilt you could end up damaging your truck when cornering on uneven ground.  Both your hitch and the pin box on the trailer should be adjustable.  Also in some extreme situations the axles of the trailer can be remounted from the top side of the springs to the bottom side of the springs but I’d shy away from that.  If the truck and trailer can’t be matched up properly it’s better to go trade one or the other off and go for a better matched setup.

  • mark

    How much clearence should be between truck bed and 5th wheel

    • Curtis

      Mark, I would like to see about 6″ with the trailer sitting nice and level, not sloped because the truck suspension is too high. If the clearance is less you must always have it on your mind when driving because it won’t take much of a dip or rise in the road for the trailer to hit the bed. When you go off the paved road to get into some campsites you might have problems.

  • jack rector

    curtis i have a 04 prowler 25′ fifth wheel. the trailer bucks the truck so bad you cant ride in it. I have replaced the complete wheel drums and brakes put on new tires dropped my hitch all the way down. nothing seems to help. when the truck and trailer is on level ground the trailer axles set 1” offset = front shackle pin is 19” to ground and back shackle pin is 18” to the ground. i don’t know what to do. Thank you jack of fort worth tx 817-793-7625

    • Curtis

      Jack, Bucks the truck? Meaning the rear of the truck bounces up and down maybe? I would think an F250 would handle a 25′ fifth wheel trailer with ease. Drums, brakes, and tires would have little affect on the ride, my thought would be the shock absorbers on the truck. It’s only a guess since I can’t see what’s going on.