Thursday, November 30, 2023


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!


Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh is an avid RVer and occasional work camper. Retired from 30+ years in the field of education as an author and educator, she now enjoys sharing tips and tricks that make RVing easier and more enjoyable.



4.8 8 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe to comments
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Rusty (@guest_261505)
14 days ago

Everytime, seen three tailgates reshaped, one was mine.

Neal Davis (@guest_256927)
1 month ago

Thank you, Gail! No, no tug test for us. At least not as described here. We drive a DP and tow our Jeep. After attaching the tow bar arms, safety chains, umbilical cord, and break-away cable, I drive for a few feet, just long enough for DW to observe the arms of the tow bar lock into place. Once this happens, she stops me, gets into the navigator seat, and we head down (or up) the road to our next set of adventures. 🙂

NonGrumpyVet (@guest_256525)
1 month ago

Yep, I do this test every single time I hook up the Montana.

Terrence Griffin (@guest_256505)
1 month ago

For about $200 u can get a Blue Ox king pin catcher because that’s what it does.

Mikal H (@guest_256499)
1 month ago

Do the inspection and test, but as mention in the posts to this article last year, a Bedsaver is a good investment. Should the pin somehow come out of the jaws, it just slides back a little into the Bedsaver hitch cup. Way better than smashed siderails and the “5ver Tailgate!” 🙂

Bisonwings (@guest_256497)
1 month ago

I’ve always done tug tests but only after hooking up. 2 years ago we stayed in an RV park that required a 93 degree maneuver. No problem I had an automatic sliding fifth wheel hitch. I had plenty of clearance to the truck cab. Made the turn and backed into the space. We were only overnighting so there was no need to unhook. The next morning we got ready to leave and pull out of the campground. That’s when the fifth wheel unhooked and dropped into the bed and bent the tailgate. No one had told me that I couldn’t make a turn in excess of 90 degrees with an automatic slide type of hitch. Was able to disassemble it and straighten it up so it would lock in place.

Jim (@guest_256486)
1 month ago

Having been a Long-haul Truck driver trainer for a number of years, I am very familiar with the Tug and Visual tests and swear by both!

Jeff Roller (@guest_256471)
1 month ago

Always do a test.

Al W (@guest_256465)
1 month ago

I always do the tug test. My wife always reminds me to do it. Have been full timing for 5 years. Have seen too many video’s of people not doing the tug test.

Tom H. (@guest_256462)
1 month ago

Always check the jaws on the kingpin ensuring I can see they are completely closed and I double check that the handle is closed and locked. My wife also performs the same checks every time. We don’t always do the tug test. Will probably be adding it to the “always do” list.

Al Weber (@guest_196650)
1 year 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 (@guest_196027)
1 year 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 {bleeped} 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 (@guest_195942)
1 year ago

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

Stuart (@guest_195837)
1 year 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 (@guest_195829)
1 year 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 (@guest_195824)
1 year ago

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

Travis (@guest_195816)
1 year ago

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

Gil (@guest_256466)
1 month ago
Reply to  Travis

Curious myself or was that for show?

Tommy Molnar (@guest_256490)
1 month ago
Reply to  Gil

Me too.

Dick Butler (@guest_195754)
1 year 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 (@guest_195738)
1 year 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 (@guest_195719)
1 year 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.

Sign up for the

RVtravel Newsletter

Sign up and receive 3 FREE RV Checklists: Set-Up, Take-Down and Packing List.