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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.
I’ve been involved in RVing for over 50 years — including camping, building, repairing, and even selling RVs and motorhomes. 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, 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. To date, I've shared my RV knowledge in over 300 articles here at The Fun Times Guide!