Your fifth-wheel: Leave it hitched or not?


By Russ and Tiña De Maris

We got an anguished question from a reader: “My husband insists there is nothing wrong with leaving the truck hooked up to our fifth-wheel for extended periods of time. And when I say extended, I mean two weeks. … If there are reasons why you should not, what are they? … Perhaps if I knew any reasons why this should not be done, I could convince him it’s not such a good idea. He has a hard head, but I think he will listen to your reasons, if applicable.”

Hard-headed husbands are our specialty – after all, one of the two of us fits that description. But that’s a story for another day.

So, is it “not a good idea” to leave your fiver hitched up to your tow rig for extended periods of time? We went to the horse’s mouth for a technical chat on the matter, taking up the question with the folks who make PullRite hitches.

Admittedly, the question must have been a bit unusual, as there were a few moments of silence at the other end of the line when we posed it. PullRite’s tech guy couldn’t find anything “bad” happening if a fifth-wheel hitch is left holding onto the fiver’s kingpin. He recommended that routine maintenance on the hitch system be performed, as standard procedure. But from a technical standpoint, you won’t harm your hitch, your kingpin, truck or trailer, if you decide you don’t want to uncouple – even for long periods of time.

From a convenience perspective, staying hitched up could go either way. If you pull into a site and plan on staying a night or two, unhitching can be downright time-consuming. Assuming you park in such a way that your fifth-wheel’s nose isn’t “down in front,” you should be able to do a fore-and-aft level without much difficulty, simply by raising the rig up as needed using the rig’s landing gear. That will take a minute, but if you unhitch, you’ll still need to do that leveling after the rest of the work of getting off the truck is accomplished.

To the plus side, staying hitched up can also give you a more stable experience, as the truck will act as a solid influence under the kingpin. We seasonally camped with a couple for a number of years. Whenever they unhitched, he had to immediately set a tripod stand under the kingpin, because she could only imagine the whole rig would pitch nose downward the minute someone climbed up in the front. Of course, this was imagination, and she knew that, but something about having an unsupported front end just gave her the heebie-jeebies.

But don’t neglect the drawbacks: If you intend to stay put for very long, if you need the truck for running errands or sightseeing, our experience is that dragging any sort of fifth-wheel around town is a definite … well … drag. Parallel parking a fifth-wheel and tow vehicle just isn’t our idea of a lot of fun.

But a side-note to the “new” or “contemplating” fifth-wheeler: If you decide to drop off the fiver and use the truck for tooling around, don’t make the common rookie mistake! Don’t jump in the cab after unhitching, step on the gas, then feel the awful, gut-wrenching THUNK that comes when the kingpin hits your tailgate because you forgot to open it first. Same goes for the TWANG of electrical connecting wire that severs itself because of that mental infarct that caused you to leave it plugged into the truck receptacle.

Keeping all the other details in mind, it’s perfectly OK to leave that combination tied together – overnight or for weeks on end.

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9 months ago

Aside from the few minutes it takes to unhook, the safety of having a getaway vehicle is paramount. We once had a dog who was stung by bees and had to be rushed to the vet. The extra minutes could have cost him his life as he was having breathing difficulty already. And the same with weather disasters, falling trees, and crazy people in the campgrounds. Sometimes the best option is to get in the truck and leave right away.

11 months ago

Many manufacturers insist that your 5th wheel be leveled before operating your slides. This is true of my Jayco. Unless you are lucky with your site, your hitch configuration and truck suspension, that usually can’t happen without unhitching.

Bill P
11 months ago

I generally unhitch even for overnight stops (unless the rig is PERFECTLY level and we have no plans for going anywhere before morning.) IMHO, a 5th wheel unhitches faster than any other RV I’ve owned so I don’t quite understand the “time consuming” comment. Maybe some of the older ones, but I’m ‘off the hook’ and leveling in a minute or two once I’m happy with placement in my site.

Now, I cheated and added the Bigfoot hydraulic leveling system and leveling goes a lot faster too but that’s all in the interest of getting from parking to happy hour and meeting the neighbors sooner..

Bob and Charlotte Champlin
11 months ago

What is “routine” maintenance on a fifth wheel hitch system? I’ve googled this before and never really found any maintenance information.

Bill P
11 months ago

as far as I know, it’s nothing more than greasing and inspecting wear surfaces

Paul Alton
11 months ago
Reply to  Bill P

On some there are boots that are recommended to be torqued periodically.

11 months ago

If you are not on a dead level site, how do you get level? I don’t think you want the hitch pulling up the back of the truck.

Tommy Molnar
11 months ago
Reply to  Bill

How about backing (or pulling up) on a block, thus raising the nose of the trailer?

11 months ago

As long as you lift the weight off the back of the truck while not going anywhere I don’t see any problem. Since my tow vehicle is my only vehicle when I’m at a campground I normally unhitched so we can do sightseeing or shopping without having to drag our home with us.
I don’t find it that difficult to unhitch and hitch back up.