The forums at RV.net reveal a common fifth wheel hitch mistake that often happens to new (or even experienced) fifth wheel owners. This mistake has to do with using a fifth wheel hitch improperly, but the good news is that it can be avoided fairly easily.
The All-Too-Common Fifth Wheel Hitch Mistake
Imagine you’ve driven several hundred miles to your destination. You’ve been in your truck for hours, and you finally arrive at your campground. You’ve positioned your fifth wheel on the campsite after a couple of attempts and some slight adjustments. Everything is perfect.
You add wheel chocks to hold your fifth wheel in place, lower your landing legs, disconnect from your fifth wheel trailer hitch, and extend your slides. You set up your camping chairs around the fire pit and start prepping dinner. That’s when you realize you’re out of cooking oil and need to make a store run. Or maybe you just need drinks or sides to go with dinner.
You double-check that the cables are disconnected between your truck and fifth wheel…all good there. So you hop in your truck, shift into drive, start to pull away, and then CRACK! What mistake did you make?
The answer: you forgot to lower the tailgate! As a result, your fifth wheel pin box dented your tailgate.
Take a second to compose yourself—this isn’t the first time this has happened to a fifth wheel owner, but our mission is to make sure we’re closer to it being the last. That’s why we’re raising tailgate awareness for the sake of fifth wheel hitches and owners everywhere.
A Simple Fifth Wheel Hitch Solution
First of all, you should set your wheel chocks, disconnect from your pin box, and pull your truck safely away BEFORE leveling and stabilizing your coach. So you shouldn’t get started with dinner or other camp chores before completing the disconnection process.
That said, all new fifth wheel owners can benefit from following a written, laminated checklist when hooking up and detaching their rig. Instead of just trying to remember all the little steps that go into this process, keep your list handy and check as you go.
Additionally, a simple solution is to remove your regular tailgate during camping season. But there are pros and cons to this approach. While you’ll avoid this hitch mistake, the downside of this approach is the inability to store any extra camping gear in your truck bed between destinations.
You can replace your tailgate with a fifth wheel vent tailgate as an even better solution. This tailgate style includes a V-shaped cutout at the center that provides extra clearance for your pin box.
Your Fifth Wheel Hitch Setup Checklist
Before you take your new 5th wheel on its maiden voyage, download or print and laminate this hitch checklist for reference:
- Check campsite for obstructions.
- Use a spotter when backing in.
- Position the fifth wheel on the campsite so that it’s as level as possible.
- Put tow vehicle in park and set the emergency brake.
- Place wheel chocks in front and back of tires.
- Set leveling pads under landing legs.
- LOWER TRUCK TAILGATE.
- Extend the landing legs until you can see a crack of daylight between the hitch and pin box.
- Disconnect and store trailer electrical cable.
- Double-check that wheel chocks are firmly in place.
- Remove lock or pin from the hitch.
- Open the security latch.
- Pull hitch latch bar to disengage kingpin from pin box.
- Disconnect the breakaway cable.
- Raise landing legs to remove tongue weight from the hitch.
- Drive truck slowly forward until rear bumper is clear of pin box.
- Raise truck tailgate.
- Push hitch latch bar into the closed position.
- Leave the security latch in the unlocked position.
- Proceed to level and stabilize.
- Install a kingpin stabilizing jack under the front.
- Securely stow all jack crank handles and other fifth wheel hitch attachments.
- Remove extended tow mirrors from tow vehicle (if applicable).
For a more in-depth walkthrough on how to hook up and disconnect your fifth wheel, watch the video below.
How To Adjust Fifth Wheel Hitch Height
To ensure that the kingpin on your fifth wheel lines up with the jaws of your 5th wheel hitch, you may need to adjust the height. From an operational perspective, it’s easier to use your fifth wheel’s landing gear to line up the pin and jaws when hitching up.
However, the height of your fifth wheel pin box can impact the angle of your fifth wheel for safe towing. If it’s too high, the rear bumper will be low, decreasing fuel economy and increasing the chances of dragging that bumper.
Your fuel economy will also suffer if it’s too low, and your fifth wheel may be more likely to bounce or sway at high speeds. We’re looking for that Goldilocks zone where your fifth wheel is as close to level with your tow vehicle as possible.
To adjust the height of your fifth wheel hitch, consult your owner’s manual. The model’s recommended hitch height and height adjustment procedure should be labeled in that manual.
Generally, you should have a minimum of six inches of clearance between your truck bed rails and the underside of your fifth wheel hangover. But you should also look at the measurement of hitch height from the ground.
There’s a larger tolerance range for these measurements across the industry. Some recommend as low as 38 inches and as high as 52 inches. But we recommend shooting for a fifth wheel hitch height between 45 and 49 inches when your rig is leveled.
Where Can I Get a Fifth Wheel Hitch Installed?
Fifth wheel hitches should be installed so that the location of the hitch allows the pin of the fifth wheel to be located about one inch in front of the center point of your tow vehicle’s rear axle.
Follow your hitch manufacturer’s step-by-step instructions closely to ensure proper installation. Because this is such a vital component to safe fifth wheel towing, bring your heavy-duty hitch to your local Camping World Service Center for assistance in installing it correctly.
The big takeaway for eliminating headaches when hitching up a fifth wheel is to take your time. Know the acceptable weight capacity for your specific hitch and follow your checklist to avoid skipping steps. If you do, you’ll avoid this hitch and towing mistake and enjoy your camping experience without headaches! If you feel a smaller RV would be better suited for your lifestyle instead, check out the new Happier Camper.
Do you have any harrowing stories about early trials and tribulations with your fifth wheel? Share them with your fellow readers in the comments below!
If you’re still learning the ins and outs of RV maintenance, check out our downloadable RV ownership and maintenance booklet!
How much is the height an issue? I had a motorhome (Class A) that was about 12′ to the antenna / AC units, etc. Even with that, I would scrape tree limbs (even when going down the yellow line). i’m concerned about the 13’+ height on a 5th wheel beast. Love them for the layout and space, but I’m concerned about the height. Bear in mind, most campgrounds / RV parks are not directly off the interstate. There are backroads and all sorts of tree limbs over hanging (even if trimmed by those who have gone before you).
P.S. Close all roof vents and secure all propane tanks. I knew I forgot somethings RV’s have a lot more to look after than a camper so always double check EVERYTHING! Good luck and happy travels.
Here’s my checklist for those interested;
1.Pull all valves open to drain tanks that you don’t want loaded.
2. Unhook all cables and hoses.
3. Thoroughly rinse the sewer hoses and drain all hoses very well before storing them. (A box with lid is a good idea to store hoses in)
4. If you have a raised antenna always lower it.
5. Secure all items that may fall during travel, Tv’s, pictures, dishes, food, bottles in refrigerator, etc.
6. If you have a lock for doors, make sure all locks are in place, Refrige, slide doors, etc.
7. Check in front of all slide outs inside the RV, make sure no items are in the closing path.
8. Check under the slides outs on the outside of the RV to make sure there are no items in the path of the slides.
9. Check under RV to make sure all stored items underneath are put away properly.
10. Make sure all unwanted appliances are turned off for the trip. Lights, coffee makers. etc.
11. If you do NOT have a converter, take all items from the refrigerator & freezer. (unless its a short trip)
12. Lift all steps and secure properly. If you have lift steps always lock the door after lifting into place, lock all storage doors as well.
13. Check air pressure in all tires.
14. Check all lug nuts on all tires for tightness.
15. KNOW YOUR TOTAL HEIGHT OF YOUR RV, DO NOT CHANCE LOW LIMBS OR BRIDGES. CANOPY’S ETC.
16. Lower tail gate of truck.
17. Release the locking mechanism of the hitch for landing RV into place.
18. ALWAYS HAVE CLEAR SIGHT OF PIN AND HITCH, OR GET HELP!
19.Make sure pin is aligned left and right and up and down with the hitch before making contact with truck hitch.
20. Engage hitch lock, and emergency brake on truck once pin is hitched.
21. Plug in cord, safety brake cable, double check hitch lock and safety pin in place and or carter pin etc. and chains if you have them usually on smaller campers.
22. Make sure when retracting level jacks that you (DO NOT LIFT) the front end and damage the hitch. Pay attention here you can only retract jacks once hitched.
23. Remove all scotches, blocks, bricks, etc. that you use for jack bases (Store in secure place)
24. If you have a pigtail or rear rack; double check all items are secure and straps are tight, and lock pin in place. (Too many tie downs is always safer than not enough)
25. Make sure your rear rack is not loaded so much that it blocks your tag or rear lights.
26. Start truck engine; turn on running lights and check all lights on the RV and truck. Brakes, signal and running lights. (Check fuse if light bulbs are not working (or replace bulb, repair light socket or wiring if necessary)
27. Once you have checked off all of these items, go back and double check everything. You may have meant to do something and got distracted. neighbors, phone, had to use restroom and forgot where you were on the list. etc.
28. When you are ready to go, check you route, remember routes don’t account for tall trucks or RV’s
you have to know that low items will hit your roof on your RV and may cause a lot of damage.
29. A few safety tips for driving, Check all mirrors and adjust side mirrors a little wider than usual, to help see blind spots. When pulling onto a road make sure you have plenty of clear roadway as large loads do not accelerate fast. Give your self plenty of time before any traffic can catch up to you. When changing lanes; ease over very slowly as someone could be in your blind spot, do this very very slowly. Always double check your side mirrors and rear camera if possible. Never ever change lanes quickly. When anticipating a stop ahead let off the gas and come to a slow stop, always pay attention a mile ahead of you. When making right hand turns you MAY have to swing out to your left first to make a right turn, otherwise you will be off the road in a flash. This will help ensure you, your family and your vehicles a safer trip. I’m not perfect and I probably missed a few things, please reply and add things if you notice I missed something.
Hi just had this 5th wheel 9 weeks I want to put new carpets in what is the process Is there any dos or donts
Sorry Ken!! I’ve now done it three times! All in a hurry and in the rain!! Stupid, I know. Interestingly, we are on a long time pitch and need to move the ‘van to empty tanks and replenish water so I don’t connect the electrics (in the truck bed!) so don’t have that reminder. Maybe I should connect up each time!! 🙂
By the way, I’m in Spain but from the UK, pulling a 32ft 5th wheel with a 5.7 1500 Ram!
This is one of those things you only do once !
New RVers should NOT trust GPS directions to a RV park. Look up written directions in a campground directory. Many times it will advise to not use gps directions. I’ve replaced my front ac cover too many times to trust them.
Can anyone tell me if any mfg. co makes a v-type tailgate with a back up camera? I hate to give that up. I’m fairly new to 5th wheeling, in fact I backed into the king pin with the tailgate up with only a little scratch, got lucky. With a v-type I would have got away with it. I didn’t follow my check list.
Hi I am new this Rving and we will be purchasing our used RV this month and any of these tips that you guys mentioned will be noted and greatly appreciated. Check list indeed is needed as I already started one.
Hi I am new to this Rving and will be purchasing our use RV this month, we are very excited and any of these tips that you guys mentioned will be noted, a check is indeed needed so thanks for all the tips
Always makes sure your trailers wheels are have chokes before releasing the hitch. Trailer has no brakes once the power cord has been disconnected, being on a hill your trailer could start rolling from the site. Some trailers have ended ups in the lake because the tires were in choked.
Yes! Also block wheels if on slope before disconnecting truck…
This is why we bought a V tailgate shortly after we bought our first Fifth Wheel.
It is not always possible to find a level camping spot, as a result when disconnecting my fifth wheel it will often bind up, and I will have trouble disconnecting. This can be very frustrating and embarrassing. My solution is to move the truck forward or reverse until it releases. I don’t know if this is the best way or not, any help would be appreciated.
I agree never level without completly unhooking and moving your truck away from the trailer
I agree and I do Anyone who has a CDL licence (I recomend) knows about pre check before leaving on trip, at every stop fuel or lunch post check at campground or sleep stop. Like a pilot,,,, SAFETY FIRST…….
KT: Very good point! You should never get all comfy cozy without a checklist. Pull the Tow vehicle away from the RV and make sure you are clear.
Yep. I have a list. In the truck, in the trailer, on my phone. The same list at all 3 places. I ALWAYS do the same things religiously and in order so that I don’t do anything stupid that will ruin my trip. At least NOT on the first day. Now, hooking up to go home? That’s different. Ha, no not really.
I spent too much on my trailer to do any damage to it before I have a dozen trips on it. So you HAVE to make a list and follow it. DONT let the wife and kids jump in line and make you lose your place. They will eventually love you for it.
A checklist is very handy as long as you stick to it. Especially when you get older in age.
I have a notched tailgate and still have had it catch on the fifth wheel pin! The reason, while the site itself may be level, the truck has to go down an incline in front of it. This raises the backend of the truck and bang, you come to a stop. Point is, always look in the rear view mirror and pull ahead slowly, while looking at the pin.
you should not even have started the leveling process without completely removing your truck from under the hitch.. unhook and pull away. keep the same steps in the exact same sequence every time and reduce your mistakes.
I’m not sure exactly what you’re referring to here, but I would NOT recommend using your fifth wheel’s landing legs to raise the wheels off the ground. They are designed to stabilize, not to lift the entire unit. You’ll need to be hitched up and roll onto leveling blocks in order to raise the wheels if that’s what’s required to level your unit.
Hope that makes sense, but please let us know if you have any follow up questions!
That extended height is certainly an important consideration when it comes to avoiding low-hanging branches, but also when outlining your road trip to ensure you don’t get stuck backtracking because there’s a low bridge on your route. Fortunately, there are smartphone apps and GPS units these days that can help you with RV-friendly routes when you have a taller 5th wheel.
The layout and extra space is definitely a major advantage of a larger 5th wheel, so it might just require a little more planning and preparation to ensure safe road navigation so you can relax and enjoy those interior comforts once you get to camp!
This is a great point Karen! We mention it in our guide to extending and retracting RV slideouts: https://blogcw.local/rv-basics/how-to-extend-and-retract-rv-slide-outs/
My sister gave me a pointer from her personal experience. ALWAYS check the tops of slide outs before bringing them in. Dibre can jam the slide.
Jack it up after unhitching to install block under wheel.
There is a sequence you follow! The front legs are extended just enough to lift the fifth wheel off the truck hitch (don’t forget to release the hitch prior) move your truck and then hit level all!! Done!! We use laminated directions so WE DO NOT SCREW UP!
What’s the easiest way to level your 5th wheel when unhitched?
Errr !! Goes without saying this is on the hit list as prehaps THE most important task when unhitching every time …..as its usual to park alongside the Fifth Wheel NOT in front of it ??
KT and a few others hit the nail on the head. First, always have a checklist, and stick to it. After repetition it becomes habit, no matter how old you get. And second, NEVER level your landing gear until you’ve disconnect and pulled away. I would never really on a V-Gate. Another time, but perhaps too costly for some, have your power connection moved to inside your truck bed. It’ll force you to open the tailgate. It works for me…
Been there, done that!
I’m confused.. if you need to totally disengage from the tow vehicle before leveling, how to you level, if one side needs to have a block underneath one tire? Hook it all back up again?
I would like info also and a check list please! I’m a single mother who just moved into a 5th wheel and I know nothing about them
Would you be willing to share the steps in your checklist?
What helps on very uneven ground: if you have to put more than 3 inches of blocks under your trailer wheels try putting blocks under your truck rear wheel on the same side to help align the truck with the trailer. That little bit of alignment makes it easier to pull away from the trailer.