We were so excited to get started with our RV adventures, and quickly realized that we had absolutely no idea how to do that – including the first step – how to hitch a 5th wheel!
I have towed basic bumper-pull style trailers before (think a u-haul or most boats), but never a fifth wheel. Here’s how I figured out how to safely hitch our 5th wheel RV.
WTF is a 5th Wheel?
Let’s go over some terms so we’re all on the same page:
- Hitch (noun) – the device that serves as an adapter from your trailer’s kingpin (5th wheel) or coupler (bumper style). These come in a wide variety of brands and sizes, most important is that you get one that can handle the weight of your trailer, both tongue weight and overall weight
- Hitch (verb) – to attach a trailer to your vehicle
- Unhitch – the opposite of hitch, meaning removing the trailer from your vehicle
- 5th wheel – a type of trailer, which attaches via kingpin to hitch, similar looking to how a semi attaches
- Kingpin – the device attached to your trailer that slides into your hitch
- Chocks – blocks or wedges used at trailer tires to prevent movement
- Landing gear – the forward most supports that hold up your RV
- GOAL – Get Out And Look
Before you do anything, make sure that you are properly setup. This means that your truck and trailer are appropriately sized for one another, that your equipment is properly maintained (ex. bolts are tightened to the design ft/lb torque), and that the equipment you’re using is compatible.
For reference, we tow a 36ft Rockwood Ultra Lite 2896MB 5th wheel RV with a 2018 Ram 2500 with the 6.4L HEMI gas V8. The kingpin is a stock Lippert Turning Point that we attach to a Curt A16 hitch head mounted to the Curt OEM Ram puck system legs.
Once you’ve confirmed your rig is appropriately safe, start by lining up your truck with the trailer. Make sure you stay several feet away at this point, you’re just getting aligned in general.
LINED UP, SIDE SHOWING SPACE
You’ll want both truck and trailer to be on as level ground as possible, with adequate space in front of the trailer for you to maneuver your truck in all directions and free of obstacles both on the ground and in the bed of your truck. Any time you’re towing, use the GOAL method – Get Out And Look.
Take your time, rushing through anything to do with towing is both dangerous and unnecessary.
After the back of your truck is generally close to the front of the trailer but still several feet apart, you’re ready to go through the next steps.
Hitchin’ it up!
Since your trailer isn’t attached to your truck yet, I’m assuming the wheels are adequately chocked – if not, make sure they are!
Your stabilizers should be all the way up and landing gear should be out enough that the kingpin will easily clear the bottom of the bed of your truck, ideally you’ll want it close to the height of the hitch (more to come on the exact height).
In case you forgot, the hitch is inside the bed of your truck, make sure you lower the tailgate. If you’re not used to doing this, it’s a good idea to have a spotter. Even if you are, a spotter always helps make the process easier and safer.
Next, slowly back your truck up to the trailer, leaving 2-3 ft between kingpin and hitch. GOAL again, checking that the kingpin is in line with the opening of your hitch. This is a good time to double check your hitch is in “couple” mode, meaning it is open and ready to receive the kingpin.
HITCH IN COUPLE MODE
To make sure my kingpin is headed straight for the hitch coupler, I put my back against the trailer so I’m looking lengthwise down the kingpin, using is like a gun sight towards the hitch.
VIEW FROM TRAILER TO TRUCK
Next, slowly back your truck up a little closer, leaving 12-18 in between kingpin and hitch. GOAL again, checking that the kingpin is slightly lower than the flat top of the hitch head. The idea here is that the kingpin will slide up and into the hitch. Double check everything again to make sure you are ready to hitch up.
FOOT AWAY FROM HITCH
To make sure my trailer is at the right height, I put the lipped flat first 1-2 in of kingpin onto the hitch first, GOAL, making sure that the trailer is touching the hitch head and will slide up and into the hitch jaws.
Next, slowly back your truck up inch by inch until the locking mechanism on your hitch engages – usually accompanied by the lock/unlock arm moving and an audible latching sound. GOAL again, making sure that you have adequately hitched up and that your hitch jaws are fully engaged – usually accompanied by a “hitched” symbol on the back of your hitch head and seeing the jaws visibly close around the kingpin from the trailer side of the hitch head.
Next, hookup the ancillary items – emergency brake release cord, wiring harness, and put the tailgate back up.
Research your rig – Do not rely on the dealership!
Our first experience here was awful – at the dealership, where we expected the staff to know what they were doing. The technician had me repeatedly backing up slamming the truck and trailer together, looking back I’m surprised we didn’t damage one or both the hitch and kingpin.
With the Turning Point kingpin, a wedge kit is required so the pivot point is moved from at the kingpin to at the trailer attachment (approx. 20 in additional space, ideal for short bed trucks). The technician was mounting the wedge to the kingpin, something I removed and redid myself later, and had the wedge in the wrong position so it blocked the jaws from closing.
Take your time, if you’re setup properly, you don’t need to force the hitch to engage, it will click in without any unnecessary force!
WEDGE, WEDGE AT HITCH
Confirming the connection
Even if you’re experienced, you should always perform a pull test! This step is critical, as if you are not properly hitched up, you’ll pull the truck forward but not the trailer – meaning your trailer will drop onto the bed of your truck! Or worse, your trailer will come unhitched while driving!
To perform a pull test, lift the landing gear slightly. You want it high enough that it leaves the ground by 2-3 inches putting the full towing weight onto your truck, but not all the way up (you want the trailer to catch itself if for some reason the pull test fails). Use the trailer brake controller in your truck to fully engage the brakes (this is usually a slider you can pinch together on your dashboard).
TRAILER BRAKE CONTROLLER
Once trailer brakes are at 100%, put your truck in gear and let off the truck brake. If your truck moves forward, stop immediately and check your hitch! You can gently press the accelerator to make sure, which should just result in your truck sinking down slightly and possibly the trailer sliding forward if you are on soft terrain like dirt. Remember – you’re not trying to move the trailer, just check that the hitch is fully and adequately engaged.
Our rig usually moves forward about an inch during a pull test, and I can feel the truck squat when gently pressing the accelerator.
Next, put your truck in neutral to release some tension, then in park (plus parking brake as needed). With your truck in park, you can release the trailer brake, releasing the remaining tension.
Our truck usually feels like it rocks back on the suspension at this point.
Next, GOAL the whole hitch area again to make sure all is well. Then, raise the landing gear all the way up, remove wheel chocks, and confirm that there are no obstacles near your truck or trailer (including sewer lines, hoses, power cords, chocks, blocks, etc.).
Plan your route out of the spot, GOAL as needed, and then head out to enjoy the ride!