Wednesday, August 10, 2022

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Around the Campfire: What’s a fifth wheel tug test and should we be doing it?

There was quite a buzz this week around the cooler. (It was just too hot for a campfire!) What was the buzz about? As a fellow camper pulled his fifth wheel RV out to leave the campground, his trailer dropped. Right on top of his truck bed. We’d never seen this happen and the results were not pretty. The guy’s brand-new truck bed was crushed on both side panels near the tailgate. The tailgate was sprung. The fifth wheel had visible damage on the exterior, and we can only guess what might be compromised inside his rig.

“He should have done the tug test,” one RVer commented. What? What’s a tug test? And should we be doing it with our own fifth wheel RV?

A little tug test research

The unsettling incident prompted me to do a little research. Here’s what I discovered:

“Dropping the trailer” is more common than I thought. Just a simple search online brought up several pictures and videos of this RV mishap. The good news? There are precautions RVers can take to prevent this from happening to you.

Here’s a helpful video explaining the tug test and how to set up and perform it.

Visual inspection

Fifth wheel RV hitches usually feature one of two types of “jaws”: a single, wrap-around jaw that surrounds the hitch pin; and dual-locking (two) jaws that grab together to completely surround the hitch pin.

A good first step to prevent the dreaded trailer drop is to perform a visual inspection. After hooking up, check to see that the hitch’s “jaws” are completely closed around the hitch pin. (Hint: Many hitches have coupling indicators to let you know the status of the locking jaws. Check that, too.)

The tug test (also called a pull test)

The next step, and the most important one according to folks around the cooler, is to do a tug test. Here’s how:

  1. Hook up your fifth wheel as usual and visually check the hitch to see that the jaws are correctly positioned.
  2. Manually position the two front RV jacks until they are just one or two inches off the ground. (The reason? If your trailer disconnects, the jacks will prevent the fifth wheel from falling onto your truck bed.)
  3. Put your foot on the truck brake pedal, take off the emergency brake, and put your truck in drive.
  4. Manually activate the trailer brake controller and slowly let off the brake pedal. This will allow the truck to gently tug on the trailer. If you feel resistance, the hitch is securely connected.
  5. Fully retract the fifth wheel landing jacks and continue your pre-trip procedures.

One more thing?

No one wants to add one more thing to their “Hook-up Checklist”—it’s already so long, right? But after witnessing the trailer drop this week, I’m sure the “tug test” will be added to our list! How about you?

Do you faithfully perform a “tug test”? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Ready for another fifth wheel disaster? Check out this video of a fifth wheel going through a drive-through… it’s not pretty!

##RVT1063

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Al Weber
5 days ago

I do a pull test every time. The few minutes it takes is worth it. My wife always remembers to do it just in case i miss it. We work as a team when getting ready to depart a camp site.

Karl
10 days ago

There has been for a long time people who think it funny to unlock 5th wheel locking systems especially on semi trucks in truck stops. All it takes is some idiot to pull and turn the locking rod on the 5th wheel of the tractor, trucker is leaving the truck stop to get back on the road and the trailer drops. Damage to a pickup is bad but can you guess the cost to get a 40,000 pound trailer lifted up, then repairs to the trailer landing gear, wiring and air system! I never do a tug test but always look very closely to make sure my 5th wheel lock is in the right position before I start pulling!

David
10 days ago

I have a Bed Saver attached to my hitch. Made by Blue Ox. I recommend it.

Stuart
10 days ago

This is something I will do, about to change from pull behind to fifth wheel. Saw the results of trailer drop also. Next door neighbor. Always a brand new truck too, it seems… sadly!

Gene Paolini
10 days ago

I do the tug test, but was unaware of utilizing the trailer brakes as you noted. I’m going to add that instead of just giving it a quick jerk and brake.

Bob Grape
10 days ago

We have an Andersen hitch. No tugging required!!!!

Travis
10 days ago

I want more info on the Nissan frontier pulling a fifth wheel in this image

Dick Butler
11 days ago

Having learned the TUG test at the early age of 10 from my father and his drivers. Dad owned a trucking company and my brothers and I learned by moving trailers around the yard for loading&unloading. So this is second nature to me. To all it’s not an added check it is a MANDATORY visual &mechanical Check. When you’ve had to manually crank a dropped 40ft van with a load in it you never forget. Not that I did it. Ah maybe it did happen but no pictures were available in 57.

Wayne C
11 days ago

An improperly hitched trailer can pass a pull test and come unhitched during a turn. It’s called high pinning. I always visually inspect the connection to be sure the fifthwheel pin is seated fully (depth and height) and the jaws are fully closed. Then I use a padlock on the locking device to make sure it can’t come undone.

Ozzie
11 days ago

I witnessed a dropped trailer right in front of our site. The owner pulled out and negotiated two internal ‘streets’ before it dropped. The tailgate suffered the most being bowed outward from the kingpin pulling on it.

Ray
11 days ago

Good advice. You can also tug slightly against chalk blocks. Its the perfect reminder that your chalk blocks are still in place.

Greg
11 days ago

If you do the “tug test” you’ll avoid the “dents of shame”!

Sweden'Texas
11 days ago

The Hitch has a locking hole for a Quick Pin or Lock so the release handle can’t be pulled to disengage the trailer Pin accidently, I always lock mine, plus check to see
where hitch pin is at in regards to the hitch.

Scott
11 days ago

I’ve done it for 40 years

Marco
11 days ago

Is the picture a Nissan Frontier pull a 5th wheel?!?

Bob
11 days ago

I always do the tug test before completely raising my front jacks.

John Goodell
11 days ago

My hookup testing has always included major redundancies. They only take a few seconds each, so I do them all.

  1. I can hear and see the hitch close completely from the drivers seat.
  2. Pull Test: I simply shift to “D” and take my foot off the brake. It should produce an obvious rocking of the trailer.
  3. My hitch has an indicator showing that the hitch is fully engaged.
  4. I look to see the trailer hitch resting on the hitch plate and the jaws are fully closed.
  5. The safety pin hole won’t line up unless the hitch is fully locked.

Only then do I retract the levelers. And am still paranoid about not getting properly hitched.

Glen
10 days ago
Reply to  John Goodell

Me too

Bob p
11 days ago

When I drove semi’s we always do the tug test, when I had a 5th wheel the tug test was always standard procedure, now with a TT a tug test is always done to test the ball connection and brakes. It’s only common sense!

Bob M
11 days ago

Camping at Niagara falls this week I saw a 5th wheel owner do the pull test before pulling out. When I worked for the Army, our tractor trailer drivers always did the pull test. I always manually check my travel trailer brakes as I start pulling out.

Ralph
11 days ago

I always do the tug test, and one time it saved us. The fingers on the plastic lube plate bent down enough to interfere. The king pin slide right out even though it appeared to be latched in.

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