Many RVers upgrade to a fifth wheel to enjoy more living space and luxury amenities. However, the uncertainty about how to hook up a fifth wheel hitch can keep some from making the change.
Luckily, the process for hitching up a fifth wheel isn’t complicated. Once you learn it, you’ll enjoy efficient towing and easy campground setup wherever your next adventure takes you.
If you’re interested in fifth wheels, check out these small fifth wheel campers we love.
Fifth Wheel Hitch Parts Explained
Let’s begin by identifying the parts and components of a fifth wheel slider hitch.
The kingpin is located on the fifth wheel itself. It’s mounted to your trailer’s frame and slides into the hitch head to secure your truck-to-trailer connection.
The body is the main part of the hitch and provides the structure and support for the head and kingpin connection.
The head provides the connection point for the kingpin. Once connected, it moves and articulates with the fifth wheel’s movement to provide a smooth ride.
This mechanism is what allows the hitch head to articulate with your trailer’s movement.
The jaws hold the kingpin in place in the hitch’s head. Some models use a locking bar instead of jaws.
The handle is used to open and close the jaws for coupling and uncoupling. It also locks in place to ensure a secure towing connection. Some 5th wheel hitches use a lever instead of a handle.
The pin is an essential safety feature used to lock the hitch handle in place to keep the jaws or locking bar from opening while towing.
The legs attach the hitch’s body to the rails to secure it in your truck bed. Some legs offer a fixed mounting position, while others offer an adaptable sliding option designed specifically for short-bed trucks.
How to Hook Up a Fifth Wheel Hitch
Here are the basic steps for hooking up a fifth wheel hitch. Download our fifth wheel hitch checklist for easy verification each time you hook up to tow.
Disclaimer: Some fifth wheel hitches have different/additional equipment. Use this checklist in conjunction with your hitch and fifth wheel owner’s manuals.
- Find a spotter and line up your tow vehicle with the fifth wheel on a level, steady surface.
- Check that wheel chocks are in place and leveling pads are under the landing legs.
- Ensure all awnings, slideouts, and steps are retracted. Learn how to manually retract slideouts if they get stuck in the extended position.
- Check the location and security of the hitch. The pin should be ~1” forward of the center point of your vehicle’s rear axle. Consult your hitch and fifth wheel manuals for installation instructions, or bring your truck to a Camping World Service Center for assistance.
- LOWER YOUR TRUCK TAILGATE and ensure your landing gear is extended so the kingpin will clear the height of your hitch.
- Back up your truck to align the kingpin on your trailer slightly behind the hitch jaws. Be aware of your truck’s bumper and tailgate to avoid bumping and damaging your kingpin or 5th wheel.
- Use your fifth wheel’s landing gear to adjust the height of the pin box until the bottom plate of the pin box is about 1” lower than the fifth wheel plate. Safety Note: Sliding the kingpin into place as described is essential. Attempting to connect the kingpin to the fifth wheel at an exactly level plane could result in “high pinning” – scratching the hitch from the kingpin being too high above the jaws. Coming in high and attempting to lower the kingpin into the hitch will damage the locking/latching mechanism.
- Use the handle to open the jaws of the fifth wheel hitch.
- Continue backing up your truck to allow the kingpin to ride up the fifth wheel hitch and into the jaws.
- Set your truck’s emergency brake before exiting the vehicle.
- Some hitches have self-locking jaws, but if yours doesn’t, use the handle to close and secure the jaws around the kingpin once it’s in place. Insert the safety pin to keep the lock in place.
- Connect the emergency breakaway cable from the pin box to a permanent anchor point on your truck. You must have an active, charged battery on your fifth wheel for your breakaway cable to function correctly.
- Connect the electrical plug to your truck and CLOSE THE TAILGATE before checking the trailer’s running lights, brake signals, and turn signals with your spotter.
- Conduct a pull test by raising the landing gear slightly to relieve the downward pressure. Leave the landing gear extended so that the 5th wheel won’t fall onto your truck if it were to come disconnected. This provides a fail-safe if the connection separates, as your 5th wheel should slide off the hitch and rest on the ground without damaging the truck or trailer. Failing to slightly raise your landing gear slightly can result in bent jacks.
Once the landing gear is raised slightly, here are your steps for a pull test:
- Manually activate the trailer brakes using the controller inside your truck.
- Take off the emergency brake.
- Press the gas gently to move the trailer forward a few inches.
- Readminister the emergency brake.
After a successful pull test, raise your landing gear and remove your wheel chocks.
Safety Note: If the connection separates for any reason, STOP IMMEDIATELY and reconnect the hitch to the kingpin.
Now that you know the steps for hooking up a fifth wheel hitch, read this tutorial to make sure you avoid the common hitch mistake made by new fifth wheel owners.
Fifth Wheel Hitch Maintenance Tips
Now that you know how to use your fifth wheel hitch, here are a few tips to keep it working and maximize its lifespan.
- Clean the hitch. Remove grease seasonally to inspect the hitch visually. Do this as part of your process of winterizing your RV.
- Inspect it for damage. Check all hitch parts seasonally. Look for visual damage and test for proper operation according to your owner’s manual.
- Check lube plate thickness. Inspect the plate thickness and replace it according to the manufacturer’s recommendation.
- Lubricate the hitch. Regularly use the manufacturer’s recommended lube to minimize resistance when connecting the system. Some manufacturers vary on what should be lubed and the recommended lube type.
- Test the latching mechanism. Whether you have jaws or a locking bar on your hitch, test it each time you’re preparing to tow to ensure the lock securely holds the kingpin.
Hitching your 5th wheel and towing it correctly is just one step in the process of your RV adventures. With practice, it’ll soon become second nature, but here are a few other articles that might be helpful:
- Essential Hitch & Tow Basics for Travel Trailers and Fifth Wheels
- Can a Half-Ton Pickup Truck Tow a Fifth Wheel RV?
- How to Pack a Toy Hauler with Flammables Safely
What questions do you have about hitching up a fifth wheel trailer? Tell us in the comments below.