Home / Auto News / News article: What to Know Before You Tow a Fifth-Wheel Trailer - AutoGuide.com News
 |  Jul 28 2014, 12:32 PM

Fifth-Wheel-Towing-Main

There’s a good chance that the computer you’re reading this article on and the food you had for breakfast this morning came off the back of a truck and that’s why the fifth-wheel hitch is so important. It is the primary link between tractor and trailer.

But you don’t have to be a big rig driver to use a fifth wheel. The most common personal use fifth-wheel trailers are for recreation, including horse carriers and travel trailers, meaning plenty of people are hitching up fifth wheels every day.

Why go Fifth-Wheel?

A fifth-wheel hitch is all about optimal weight distribution.

Truck-king-RAM-HDAs you add weight to a trailer hitched to the rear end of a vehicle, the front wheels will begin to lift because the rear axle acts as a pivot point. On top of that, the majority of the weight will rest on the rear suspension, increasing the risk that something will break or wear out.

Ultimately, the dynamics of your tow vehicle will be increasingly compromised as the load on your rear-mounted hitch gets heavier. With a fifth wheel, the weight placed on the truck is between the rear axle and the cab, eliminating the pivot point and helping to spread the load,  although the rear end still bears the brunt of it. This makes sure that the dynamics of your tow vehicle are affected less as compared to a trailer hooked up to the rear.

Another advantage to towing with a fifth wheel is the increased turning radius. The front end of the trailer sits above the truck bed helping to reduce overall length. This setup also allows you to turn the trailer up to ninety degrees and even a little more in some cases, making it easier to back up.

And once your rig is backed into its spot – whether it be a motor home or a trailer – a fifth-wheel hitch allows you to unhitch your trailer quickly and easily so you can use your tow vehicle independently.

What kind of truck do you need?

So the advantages are clear, but where do you start when looking for the appropriate tow vehicle and fifth-wheel hitch?

2011 Ford F-Series Super Duty

First, you need a truck. While a half-ton, like a Ford F-150, Ram 1500 or Chevy Silverado 1500, is enough to pull a fifth wheel, most people who spring for a trailer big enough to warrant a bed-mounted hitch will likely need at least a three-quarter-ton truck like a Ram 2500, Ford F-250 or Silverado HD.

You want the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of the truck to exceed the weight of the truck and trailer tongue weight combined, by at least 10 percent, which is a much easier rule to follow with a larger truck. The payload of your pickup also needs to be suitable to handle the tongue weight placed in the bed. Curb weight is also important, as the heavier your tow vehicle is, the better it will handle the weight. And when it comes to hauling a big fifth-wheel, the last thing you want is to feel your trailer overpowering your truck.

The configuration of the truck is also important, mainly for the bed length. An eight-foot bed, the longest you can get on any pickup, is always your best bet when pulling a fifth-wheel mounted trailer, because you need space in front of the hitch itself for the trailer overhang to clear the back window of the truck cab.

A short-bed truck is useable, but you need to take extra precautions to be sure the trailer is secure. One answer is the use of a slider hitch. This allows you to move the actual connection point of the trailer and hitch forwards and backwards. It is placed forward while the vehicle is in motion to make sure the weight is centered on the truck, and it is pushed back when you need to maneuver through a tight space to allow the front of the trailer more space to swing.

Truck-King-HD-Fifth-WheelYou can also install an extended pin box on your trailer that moves the kingpin connection forward, creating more clearance for the front end of the trailer. Keep in mind, an extended pin box will place more stress on the frame of your trailer.

Time to Install

Once you have your truck and trailer matched, it’s time to install your fifth wheel. You can do it yourself, but if you buy a one-size-fits-all kit, odds are you will be doing some drilling or welding that isn’t necessary. Getting your hitch straight from the manufacturer will save you time and stress because the frame rails come with preexisting holes that are ready to accept a fifth-wheel.

Strong anchor points are the key to a solid fifth wheel. A set of brackets hook up to the frame of your pickup and act as an anchor for two hitch rails that are located in the bed. Those rails then anchor the actual fifth-wheel hitch receiver, which is fitted with a set of jaws. When hooked up, the jaws close around the kingpin on the trailer and lock it in.

Drop-in bedliners are one thing to avoid if you plan to install a fifth wheel. To fit the hitch rails in the bed, you must cut out sections of the liner. If you install them on the liner, the plastic caught between the hitch and the bed will eventually wear away, leaving you with a loose hitch connection. And even if you take the proper steps and cut the liner away, the hitch rail connecting points will be much harder to access because of the encroaching bedliner, which is sometimes left with sharp edges. If you’re going fifth-wheel, choose a bare bed or a spray-in liner and save yourself the pain later on.

2015-GMC-Sierra-Denali-TrailerHooking Up and Hitting the Road

The hitching process is another reason to consider a fifth wheel, because in a lot of ways it is much easier than a rear-mounted hitch. First of all, you don’t necessarily need a spotter, though having a second set of eyes is always better for hooking up. By looking over your shoulder, you can clearly see the both the hitch jaws and trailer kingpin. Start by dropping your tailgate, and backing the hitch towards the pin to first determine if the two are at the right height. If they don’t match up, you may have to raise or lower your trailer using the front jacks.

Some fifth-wheel hitches can pivot front to back and side to side, which will allow you to hookup even if the angle of the truck and trailer don’t perfectly match. If yours isn’t this type of hitch, the angle of the kingpin must be lined up with the hitch receiver. The easiest way to do that is to adjust the trailer jacks individually until you find the right spot.

Before you finally make the connection, you have to make sure the jaws on the receiver are open and set to receive, which is something you can control with a long arm that comes out of the side of the hitch. If everything is correct, the last step is to back the truck up to the trailer so that the kingpin fits directly into the cradle on the hitch receiver. You should hear a loud clicking sound, indicating the jaws have grabbed the kingpin.

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 10.32.36 AMBefore you take off, there are a few more things to remember. You must lock the jaws shut and that’s usually done with a cotter pin to keep the control arm in place. Next, almost every fifth wheel is equipped with its own brakes, so you must connect the emergency breakaway line to the hitch. It can usually be attached to the control handle and will make sure that if the hitch jaws somehow let go of the trailer, the trailer brakes will lock up and stop the unsecured load.

Next, raise up your trailer jacks to the fully retracted position, so that the front of the trailer is fully supported by the truck. Don’t forget to connect and check the trailer lights and finally, make sure you close the tailgate before you pull out.

  • daninlc

    A discussion about 5th Wheel towing is fine, but on a Tundra site it would seem reasonable to include the capability of the Tundra to tow a 5th wheel unit!

  • Spotman

    What he said ^^^^

  • Ryan

    RTFM!!! Just kidding, but for real, that information is in your manual. The tundra is capable of towing around 10,000 pounds…But the problem is in the Payload Weight. The Tundras is around 1,400 pounds. Most fifth wheels have a heavery tongue weight than 1,400 pounds. Besides, if you find one with 1,000, you still need to include your other weights in your payload (Passengers, fuel, items, etc). I had a tundra and loved it but I would never tow a fifth wheel with one. That is the reason why I settled on a new F250 6.7 Turbo Diesel.

  • daninlc

    Agree and I am aware of Tundra’s limitations in this regard. I have a T and a 5th wheel and never have they married for the reasons quoted by the manual and yourself. Interesting that one day I spotted a T and a hitched-up 5th at a local fast food so I turned around and went in to talk to the people. His 5iver was the same as mine, but what he did was add an air hitch with air lifters on his T and he pulls fine. We talked about the hills and harder pulls and the T does perfect because of its tow capacity. The only thing I can think of is the leveling and some shifting of the weight by the air system to minimize the weight on the body of the T. He said he has never had an issue with this set-up. Obviously I am speculating but there has to be some reason for his success. Beyond this I was commenting (to which you replied) about a discussion that we as T owners are aware, but still unhappy about the T’s limitations in this regard. Discussing other vehicles and their capacity on T-talk doesn’t help us happy, but frustrated Tundra owners! Appreciate your reply.

  • Richard Blake

    I have a 2007 Tundra, 5.7 liter VB 4WD and I have been pulling a Jayco Jay Flight 5th wheel for 6 or the 7 years I’ve had my truck. Kingpin weight is 1575 pounds and GVWR (at least the first and last time I weighed in at a Flying J truck stop) was 13,500 pounds. I have had little or no trouble climbing the mountain passes where I live in Colorado, although I don’t zip over them like the diesel trucks, but it has served me well. This week I turned 148,000+ miles. By the way, my hitch is a Pullrite SuperGlide rated at 12,000 pounds.

  • David Lewis

    Seriously ?? You reply to an add about towing a fifth wheel and you have a Toyota ? Be American, Buy American… Trucks….

  • DrLanny

    I have a 2012 Tundra limited and put a B&W hitch in it this summer to pull our new 2014 Sandpiper 5th wheel. Hitch weight 2047lbs and dry weight 13,000lbs, so I added TImbren spacers and had two additional leaf springs built for it. I can pull the 5er just fine at 65 mph and can pull most hills at 55 mph. I know that this is way overloading the pickup, but I only pull it 5-10 times a year and from looking at any of the new GM, Ford, or Dodge pickups I just can’t find anything with much better towability than my Tundra. So far no issues and I am happy as can be with the performance of my Tundra.

  • Stephen Elmer

    As Ryan said, the big issue is with the payload capacity. Tundra is rated at 1,565 lbs of max payload (depending on configuration.) GVWR for that same truck, a 4×2 double cab with the 5.7 is pegged at 6900 pounds.

    That means your tongue weight has to stay below 1,500 pounds, which can be hard to achieve with a fifth wheel, especially once your water tanks are full and your truck is loaded down with gear. It can be done however, you just need to find the right trailer.

  • Felix James

    You know your shit. Great article!

  • daninlc

    Really! I know that the Tundra is built in San Antonio, TX. I doubt all the parts for Ford, GM, etc are made only in the USA. Costs and labor force many companies to go where it is cheaper. Purely American made is a myth today!

  • michael

    “You can also install an extender on your trailer that moves the kingpin connection forward, creating more clearance for the front end of the trailer. Keep in mind that this also moves the weight of the trailer back, deteriorating the advantage of having a fifth wheel”
    I find this part incorrect.
    The king pin “load/weight” still sits on the hitch.
    Not further back on the truck.

  • diesel dennis

    Poorly written article as there are a lot of mistakes with terminology.

  • patriot11111

    Your Tundra will not last as long as a full size Ford, Ram or Gm truck because it is not built to the same specs. I have 2 friends that own a construction companies and they got rid of their Tundra’s within the first 3 years and got a Ford F-350 diesel. The fuel savings was enough for them to justy the additional $10,000 they paid for the Ford. The piece of mind that the Big trucks are built already with heavy duty specs. and not need to ad a 5th wheel mounting on the brd or additional suspension like you makes it even easier. My 2012 F-350 tows my 13,000 lbs trailer up the incline by Baker, Ca. at 70 mph and it is not even breathing heavy because it can tow 30,000 lbs.

  • patriot1111

    Ford builds their trucks here in Kentucky and the axels are made in Mexico. the engine was designed in Austria but it is an American company unlike Chrysler which is Italian and GM who is 60 Chinese. Ford is the last American company.

  • http://www.autoguide.com Stephen Elmer

    Please elaborate. I did my best to write it in such a way that everyone, including those who have never pulled a trailer, would understand.

  • http://www.autoguide.com Stephen Elmer

    Even though the tongue weight is still on the kingpin, some of the trailer’s weight would be shifted backwards, albeit ever so slightly. An extended pin box also places more stress on the frame of the trailer.

  • D

    Tundra is Chinese…always has been, always will be!!!!

  • daninlc

    Need some geography lessons! Tundra is a Toyota product which is named after Mr Toyoda a Japanese person from (guess where) Japan! Now J is close to C, but really? They are two different countries with remarkably two different cultures and neither likes the other! Of course you probably already knew this and just decided to throw out a “gotcha”!

  • pcoan

    Good series of comments. A couple from me. The GVWR is determined by the manufacturer and is noted on the certification label on the vehicle. According to the manufacturers, that’s the maximum load the towing vehicle can carry safely and without undue wear and tear, and should never be exceeded. To determine the hitch load capacity (which will not exceed the GVWR), you need to weight the vehicle with all equipment and riders and subtract it from the GVWR. Adding an air lift does not increase the GVWR. It simple raises the back end to level the vehicle. If you have to do this, you are probably exceeding the maximum load capacity of the hitch. Another factor to consider is the rear axle weight rating (RAWR). It should not be exceeded. Good luck on towing with your Tundra. I’m sure it is a good vehicle, but the GVWR on any vehicle should not be exceeded.

  • http://batman-news.com heneryhawk

    Chevy/GMC turcks are built in Flint, Mi.

  • http://batman-news.com heneryhawk

    Nice hitch, maybe the best.
    I have that same one only the 16000 version on a D/A/.

  • http://batman-news.com heneryhawk

    I never tow with full water tanks.
    Its hard on the tanks and mileage suffers and load changes.
    Water is very heavy, so only load up if dry camping.

  • http://batman-news.com heneryhawk

    I agree it don’t make much sense, but think of that as being a lever.
    Some newer trailers are coming out with a concave on each side to keep the front cap from hitting the cab.
    However, you could spend the money, and get a Pull-Rite Hitch,
    and it will just slide back in a tight turn.
    You don’t even have to think about it.
    I tested mine in a 90 degree turn, and I still had room with my shortbed D/A.

  • Dayle1

    Author knows almost nothing about the topic. “Optimal weight distribution”? There is no weight distribution with a fiver, almost all of the pin weight is on the truck’s rear axle and having sufficient payload for that weight is the biggest factor for an acceptable tow vehicle. Conventional trailers have WD hitches available that truly allow for adjusting weight distribution.

    Extended pin boxes have no affect on the tow vehicle, the pin weight is still transferred via the hitch. Sure the trailer weight is moved back, but that is weight carried by the trailer axles only. But extended pin boxes put more stress on the fiver’s frame with plenty of examples of broken welds and twisted frames.

    It is true that you can jack-knife a fiver sharper than a conventional trailer, but because the pivot point is over the rear axle rather than behind it, it requires more maneuvering room to get a fiver turning in the right direction, so sometimes that sharper angle is critical to getting into a tight spot. Exactly what makes a fiver so stable when towing, the pivot point, also makes it respond slower to driver inputs when backing.

    “And once your rig is backed into its spot – whether it be a motor home or a trailer – a fifth-wheel hitch allows you to unhitch your trailer quickly and easily”. Guess the author doesn’t know that you can’t back a MH into a camp site with the toad attached, hence pull-thru sites. And the time to unhitch is about the same for all three types of RVs.

  • Fred

    The points stated are too vague and not inclusive enough. For instance not a word is written re the gear selections and tow and overdrive choices and when to use. In a similar vien nothing is mentioned about high performance kits and how they should be used in conjunction with towing. Article is far too amateurish.

  • http://www.autoguide.com Stephen Elmer

    The point I was trying to make about weight distribution: By moving the weight over the axle, you improve the weight distribution as compared to a rear mounted hitch, resulting in better driving dynamics. I didn’t quite say it that clearly, and you are right that the rear suspension still bears more of the load.

    The extended pin box bit has also been updated. My understanding of it was incorrect.

    I should have mentioned payload of the trucks, and the article has been updated to reflect that.

    As for backing up, that slow to react tendency, in my opinion, makes these trailers easier to backup, as compared to any rear-mounted trailer which will react much quicker.

    I have backed many fifth-wheels into campsites when pull throughs weren’t available. Finally, unhitching a Fifth-wheel has always been easier because these trailers are designed to stand on their front legs, plus you have no dirty hook ups or chains to deal with. I’ve unhooked tons of trailers in my life, and this is just based on personal experience.

    Thanks for the comment.

  • Green Donald

    Daaaa. Toyota is made in the USA. Toyota is the only company that is all USA in some of their models but they still wont last towing. They do have a duelly in the makings. And by the way my duramax is not a GM it is chinese made.

  • CL&LTR Co.

    Okay, here’s to all the people that either are or think they can tow with a wimpy Toyata* (*Yes I know it’s misspelled, that’s what I call them…) Adding any type of helper springs, whether it be hollow bellows, leaf or air ride suspension.

    That does NOT mean you can tow a 5th wheel let alone a gooseneck with a Toyata… As with any vehicle you do NOT want to exceed the GVWR, but most people don’t even think about the GAWR (Gross Axle Weight Rating). On the door post label you will have three different weight ratings, GVWR, FAWR (Front Axle Weight Rating) and RAWR (Rear Axle Weight Rating).

    All those helper springs do is level the vehicle, that way the rear isn’t almost bottoming out and jacking your headlights up in the air. (Just to name a few side affects…) The key here when towing a gooseneck or 5th wheel trailer, is not really the GVWR, but the GAWR… If you exceed the rear axle’s GAWR, you will break your axle, and it would end very badly for you, and your vehicle…

    Do yourself a favor and buy a Ford F-250, then you can tow till your heart’s content… Me, I would rather have an F-350, but that’s because I’m an F-350 and up kind of guy… That’s why I own two 1990 and ’91 F-350′s with the 7.3L IDI. The “91 has an ATS turbo…

  • Stretch

    Duramax engine is made in Moraine, Ohio, always has been.

  • MDC & CO

    -1 for GM.

  • MDC & CO

    I’ve pulled Ferd axles around in a big box….

    My truck was built with out Taxpayer’s money.

  • MDC & CO

    Know where they’re painted? Assembled?

  • MDC & CO

    What kind of brake controller do you have?

  • MDC & CO

    Clean OBS.

  • MDC & CO

    I can only vote once but +10 for sarcasm.

  • http://batman-news.com henry

    Flint is where they are painted & assembled.
    Mine and my friends are all from there.
    And I have 30 years with the company before retiring.

  • http://batman-news.com henry

    All the big three have used Gov. bailout money at one time or another, look it up.

  • http://batman-news.com henry

    You are right, except for the part about cost of labor force.
    Its corporate greed that sends these companies packing.
    Look at all the American companies that moved to that strip along the mexican border.
    They still coming across aren’t they?
    Thats because they don’t pay much at all there. And the appliance company that recently left Ft. Smith, they went to Mexico, raised the price of the product and are now shipping them back here tax free.
    Look it up to verify it.

  • Casey W

    Except every time I take a part off my 2012 Silverado it has a nice sticker saying “Made In Mexico.” on the back. There are NO American made vehicles anymore… Most of the parts on GM vehicles come from the good ol’ US of Mexico, then shipped to Flint for assembly and marketed as American made. At lease they aren’t Rams, their entire HD lineup is made in Mexico. Don’t get me started on Ford and their Bullsheet 10 second warranty.

  • http://batman-news.com heneryhawk

    Yes Flint like most others here are assembly plants.
    And they are located in tax free zones.
    The airport even has an tax free zone where certain planes park.
    Large corp. don’t pay any taxes really.
    None at all and get money back from feds.
    IBM & GM are a couple of the biggies.
    The strip along the border that was said to be for stopping thee flow of wetback certainly isn’t working.
    It cost to much for the workers to live there so they live well out of the town?.
    They are even fed so the are sure to have energy for the long days work.
    So if it isn’t working like all the others ( CAFTA ) eliminate them. Bring jobs back here where we can get a job, and the greedy profit driven corp. can afford to have a cut in prifits for the next few years.

  • wdunlap

    Had an F-350….got rid of it for a 2500silverado duramax-alison. Could throw rocks at the F-350. Best move I eve made.

  • http://batman-news.com henry

    If you own one you should know.

    Richard Blake is telling you he has been getting away with.

  • http://batman-news.com henry

    Arizona and some other states ( its spreading ) have weight police.

    If you are involved in an accident and someone is injured badly and you are over loaded because you put on extra springs and air lifts to make things level and that makes all things good.
    You might be in for a surprise when the cops find out what you are really towing is an accident waiting to happen.
    You could lose everything you own.
    Not sure your insurance would be good knowing you are doing these dangerous practices.

    They are now coming out I believe its this year 2014 , where there is a standard, for how much manufacturers can brag about weight capacity. Right now the truth is all over the place.
    Like that T, raising that train engine on the pulley ad on tv.

    Think about it, even if it had the power, where is the traction?
    The shuttle going across the bridge? I seen a guy on Americas Got Talent who pulled a truck with his teeth.
    You only have to make ot roll, you are not lifting a thing.

  • bob

    I have a 2011 F 250 6.7 and purchased a 34 foot fifth wheel with a pin weight of 2250 and the truck goes down 2 1/2 inches with the trailer what is the best way to level the truck out with the load add a spring or air bags?

  • Tim Adams

    Yup!! Ford does not stand behind its 6.0 Diesel!! I will “NEVER ” Buy a Ford again!!

  • yellowdogdemocrat

    Tell us why, I love to hear those stories!

    BTW all you guys bragging about your Ford and GM diesels when you are in the shop the Cummins will still be on the road working and playing. There is no better working light to medium duty engine than the Cummins.

    There is a reason why there are at least three dedicated Powerstroke/Duramax to Cummins swap shops. Has anyone ever seen a Cummins owner swap for a PS or Dmax? No never happens they just have it repaired or replaced with another Cummins.

    And BTW Dodge trucks are every bit as good as Ford and GM now. Take a drive and find out.

    Oh one other thing; you Tundra guys towing 5th wheels are idiots. One of these days you’ll have to go through the truck scales and they’ll park you until you get a truck with the proper specs to tow your trailer.

  • yellowdogdemocrat

    Ride will suffer greatly with another spring. Yes the bags are expensive but well worth the money. Be sure to get the in-cab switch for the air pump. And test drive the truck before you pay to see if the ride is too firm; you may have to have a leaf spring taken out. I bagged my 2006 Dodge dually and had to have a leaf removed because it rode too rough.

  • Habanero Pepper

    Michael, the quote is correct. The remaining tongue weight is still better distributed onto the truck, but the extender puts more weight on the trailer axles, less on the truck. Less weight on the truck hurts towing control, so you do lose a significant part of your 5th-wheel advantage.