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New RVers: Fifth wheel hitching is easy

By Russ and Tiña De Maris

cletch on flickr.com

If you’ve never hitched up a fifth wheel trailer, the whole thing may seem a bit mysterious. And if you’ve spotted a pickup truck where the owner “goofed” and dropped his fifth wheel onto the truck, the resulting damage may steer you away from even considering having a fiver.

No worries! By following a systematic approach to hitching or unhitching, you can leave those problems behind and get the advantages that a fifth wheel trailer provides.

Hitching Up

  • Adjust fifth wheel kingpin to proper hitch height
  • Drop truck tailgate (Special fiver tailgates negate the need to drop your gate)
  • Open the hitch locking bar
  • Back under the trailer until hitch engages the kingpin
  • Secure hitch locking bar on the fifth wheel hitch
  • Put truck in forward gear, but stay off the accelerator, simply “bump” the hitch to make sure it’s locked
  • Connect umbilical cord and breakaway switch cable
  • Check trailer lights and brakes
  • Raise truck tailgate as needed
  • Raise the landing gear
  • Remove wheel chocks from trailer wheels

Unhitching

  • Pull into the site, situating the trailer where you want it.
  • Chock the wheels tightly so the trailer will not move
  • Drop the landing gear. This is IMPORTANT so it should be done first then you won’t forget!
  • Disconnect the umbilical cord and breakaway switch cable
  • Drop the truck tailgate if you don’t have a special tailgate
  • Gently put your truck into reverse, again stay off the accelerator. This effectively moves the kingpin off the locking bar which will allow you to easily disengage it.
  • Step on the brake and apply parking brake
  • Disengage the locking bar and unhitch
  • Drive away
  • Raise truck tailgate as necessary
  • Adjust fifth wheel height to proper front to back level

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John
10 months ago

When hitching up – after securing the locking bar, we remove the wheel chocks then raise the landing gear about 2 inches, then with foot gently on the brake pedal and applying the trailer brakes try to pull forward. This checks both the hitch and the trailer brakes.
When in hitching up you didn’t say to put the truck in park or neutral before opening the locking bar.
Otherwise great instructions.

Beth
10 months ago

We always connect the “umbilical cord” before backing onto the hitch, and after unhitching. This does require getting close enough for the cord to reach, but allows us to apply the trailer brakes while actually engaging / disengaging the hitch pin.

Booneyrat
2 years ago

Or…you can buy an Andersen hitch and worry not about any “kingpin”.

Michelle
2 years ago

5th wheel connecting and unhitching is not as simple as described in your article

Leonard Rempel
10 months ago
Reply to  Michelle

Actually it really is.

Ed Ware
10 months ago
Reply to  Michelle

Mine is pretty much exactly as described. I have a straight line center mark on 5er, I open hitch latch, and back in. The hitch only locks if correct, and with a loud CLICK! I liked the comment on connecting the pigtail, for the brakes! Thanks for the useful information I find in these articles.

Wayne
10 months ago
Reply to  Ed Ware

I also have a centerline mark (strip of white reflective tape) not only on the fiver but also on the truck hitch. I have a rack in the pickup bed (low enough for the king pin to clear) that also has a center line on it. I can drive to the pin first time, every time. It’s nearly as functional as a camera. It doesn’t help with the hitch height.

Jeff
2 years ago

Upon hitching up, you should raise landing gear slightly and do what I call a PULL TEST, to insure the KING PIN is securely locked into the hitch. It is a practice used by Truck Drivers (like myself).

If for some reason the King Pin isn’t securely locked in and slides out, your landing gear will prevent the trailer from dropping on your tailgate. That is why you see trucks with the Tailgate smashed or crunched.

Sometimes you may not have a good connection or get into a situation called HI-PINNING. Where the King Pin doesn’t completely lock into the hitch and slides out when you drive off, even though the jaws appear to be locked.

Hooking up a 5th wheel correctly and securely are critical to safe travels.

Wise Jack
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeff

Jeff’s answer is almost perfect. I connect the electrical umbilical before performing the pull test, then do the test while using the hand lever to engage the trailer brakes. Even with the landing gear raised a bit for this test they could be bent by pulling forward on unlevel ground.

Applying the trailer brakes prevents the trailer from rolling forward.

Ralph Pinney
10 months ago
Reply to  Wise Jack

I leave the chocks in until after the test.

Wayne
10 months ago
Reply to  Jeff

I painted the kingpin and locking jaws white so I can see if the hitch is locked and not “high pinned”. Then I “Get Out And Look” (GOAL) before the pull test. Some truck mirrors have GOAL written on them as a reminder. GOAL is something that should be done anytime there is doubt which can be resolved by looking.

Tom Gutzke
2 years ago

The step after pulling onto a site should be to level the trailer side-to-side. Otherwise the directions are perfect. If you happen to have an automatic leveling system you can use it to level the 5th wheel. If you have stabilizing jacks they won’t support the weight of the trailer.

tom
10 months ago
Reply to  Tom Gutzke

Even with an auto-leveler, you still need to level the trailer from side-to-side prior to unhooking. The “levelers” are really only for front-to-back. If you don’t level from side-to-side first, your “levelers” can raise the tires off the ground on one side, which is not a good thing to have happen.