Thursday, October 21, 2021

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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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Scooter
5 months ago

Yeah. I am a member of the “thunk” club. Was used to our TT, was paying more attention to kids riding their bikes around us and…… thunk. “Taco” shaped our tailgate. With that said, our 5er is much more solid on its jacks than on the truck.

Glenda Alexander
5 months ago

What about a personal emergency such as injury or severe illness when you’d need to go to the ER? If there was no one who could/would take you, you’d lose a lot of precious time getting unhitched. Just a thought. Stay safe and healthy!

Jerome Friedman
5 months ago

I was concerned about the weight on the dually tires if I stayed hitched. But, I always unhitch so I can go get gas in the truck and be ready for the next day. It’s much more convenient than getting gas while hitched. And, we never go farther in a day than 1 tank of gas can take us.

Roger Marble
5 months ago

When I was racing in the 80’s & 90’s I had both a 5th wheel and a pull-along car hauler. There would be many weeks when the trailer was not “un-hitched” from my 3500 duallys. Never had any problems or issues.

Royce
5 months ago

I was always told, that lp refrigerators needed to be level to run properly without damage for extended periods.

Bob Palin
5 months ago
Reply to  Royce

They do, the manual for mine says 3 degrees side to side and 6 degrees front to back of the fridge.

Dave
5 months ago

I’d like to hear a technician’s opinion of having 1,600 to 3,000 pounds sitting on the truck’s suspension for long periods. One or two days wouldn’t concern me.

Bob P
11 months ago

My SIL and I witnessed an unusual situation last year in the resort we were in, a pickup and 5th wheel backed into the site behind us and he got out and got 2 wooden ramps from the bed of the truck and placed them behind his truck tires then back up on them. Then went through the normal unhitching procedure including pulling the truck away from the trailer, leveling the trailer etc. We never did understand the logic for that. We didn’t ask him why, just figured he must know a secret we didn’t. Anybody got any ideas?

Douglas Powell
11 months ago

I personally only let my tow vehicle remain connected ONLY IF I am in transit and am on a flat surface and this is why (and just re-iterates the comments below).

  1. Being level for both the trailer and tow vehicle so there is no possibility of a run-away. Even if chocked
  2. The refrigerator I want to pull the freezer back down at night for the next days transit
  3. SAFETY. If you need to evacuate for any reson perticularly FIRE you need to scoot in a hurry and bad enough you loose your trailer not having a vehicle would only compound the problem. If there is an event that is coming towards you will have enough time to re-connect and move out trust me. If you don’t then time is of the essence!
  4. EMERGENCY Short of an ambulance there are times when you need to go somewhere with reasonable quickness. Having to unhook in an emergency is NOT a good thing. I have seen many a trailer fall on a vehicle or on the ground ETC ETC ETC. Setting up and breaking down needs to be a smooth planned event!!
Patrick
11 months ago

RV refrigerators need to be level to work properly. Not sure how sensitive they are to being out of level, or for how long.

Bonnie
1 year 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.

Angus
1 year 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
1 year 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
1 year 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
1 year ago

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

Paul Alton
1 year ago
Reply to  Bill P

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

Bill
1 year 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
1 year ago
Reply to  Bill

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

Bob P
5 months ago
Reply to  Bill

I always level side to side with my leveling blocks, then uncouple and level fore and aft with the landing gear. I had one time where the site was so out of level I had to borrow a leveling block for the truck to uncouple, that showed me the advantage to a 5th wheel hitch that also tilts side to side.

Kurt
1 year 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.