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Hitching up a fifthwheel

by Gary Brinck

This attempts to explain the procedure for hitching up a fifth wheel trailer and is intended as a tutorial for those new to the fifth wheel hitch set-up. However, I recommend finding an experienced friend, RV dealer or hitch dealer to show you the technique, even if you have to pay them for their time. It's easy enough, but is much easier shown than written. Also, the details of how to latch and unlatch the hitch vary by hitch brand and model, so it is helpful to have your particular hitch demonstrated to you.

1. PUT THE TRUCK'S TAILGATE DOWN! (Unless you have the type with a 'V' to allow the hitch kingpin to pass through it). Even then, I would put the tailgate down until I had experience with the clearances.

2. Make sure the tailgate is down. If you will take a look at the tailgates of others who haul fivers, you will understand why I emphasize this.

3. Leave chocks on the wheels. If you don't have wheel chocks, get some! Retract the stabilizer jacks on the rear of the trailer, if any.

4. Verify the kingpin (the hitch part of the trailer) is as high or slightly higher than the top plate of the hitch (called the "fifth wheel") on the truck. Raise the front of trailer if necessary. High is better than low. If not on a level surface, the truck will change height as it backs under the kingpin, so start high and adjust as you get closer.

5. Pull open the latch on the fifth wheel and latch open. Details on how to do this vary by make of hitch, but on most you pull out a large handle and turn it to hold it in the open position. The locking bar in the hitch must be open before proceding.

6. Slowly back the truck under the trailer, aligning the slot in the fifth wheel with the kingpin. The truck should be straight in line with the trailer, not at an angle. Stop as the kingpin nears the throat of the slot and adjust trailer height up/down as necessary. The flat plate above the kingpin should be barely above the matching plate on the fifth wheel. Since the fifth wheel plate pivots and is probably tilted somewhat, this requires a bit of judgement and experience. You want to have the kingpin slide into the throat of the fifth wheel without being forced upwards, yet it has to be low enough so the notch in the kingpin can engage the latch. NOTE: you should be able to back straight under the trailer with the tailgate down if the hitch was installed in the proper position just ahead of the truck's rear axle, but have someone watch carefully for you the first few times to be sure. With some truck & trailer combinations, the tailgate will come very close to the front of the trailers, so be very, very careful until you learn how much space yours has.

7. At this stage, have someone watch the hitch and the kingpin for you until you become experienced. When you believe you have it aligned properly, back the truck very slowly to push the kingpin all the way into the throat of the fifth wheel. On many hitches, this will cause the latch to snap closed with a clang. If not, release the latch handle manually so that it engages the kingpin and locks. It will engage cleanly if the alignment was correct, but check and double check to be sure. The latch will not engage properly if the trailer kingpin was too high. Make sure the latch handle has gone all the way home and that it is locked. Again, details of how to determine this will vary by hitch brand and model and a demonstration is best.

8.Double check to be sure the kingpin is securely latched into the fifth wheel. Repeat steps 6-7 as needed to get it right - do not be embarrassed to do it over if unsure.

9. When firmly latched onto the hitch, lower the front trailer jacks until all the weight rests on the fifth wheel. Check the hitch latch again. Really. When you are sure all is well, remove the wheel chocks.

10. Connect the trailer light/brake plug to the connector on the truck. Connect the trailer's breakaway cable to a solid part of the truck. Have a ring or eye bolt installed for the breakaway connector if needed. Make sure there is enough slack in both cables to allow for turns.

11.Double check everything on/around the trailer to be sure you are ready to move. Then inch the truck very, very slowly forward until you are sure the hitch is indeed latched in place. Have someone watch the hitch connection to make sure you aren't driving the truck out from under the trailer - it has happened to all of us at one time or another and is not pretty if you just jump in and start driving away! This whole process takes only 5 minutes once you gain some experience in judging the heights and positions. It's a lot simpler than the explanation!