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!