No matter your experience, connecting a 5th wheel to a tow vehicle can be a nerve-wracking event. However, we’re here to tell you it doesn’t have to be.
Skipping a step or getting distracted can result in a massive failure. Your huge camper could come crashing down onto the back of your truck.
Keep reading if you want to avoid this nightmare of a scenario.
Let’s get started!
What Are 5th Wheel RVs?
A 5th wheel is a camper that connects to a special hitch mounted in the bed of a tow vehicle. It’s the same type of system used on semi-trucks. The kingpin on the trailer gets locked into place by jaws on the hitch. This type of setup places the added weight from the RV over the truck’s rear axle.
When towing an RV, it’s hard to beat a fifth wheel. It’s a much smoother and more stable experience than travel trailers and pop-up campers. Many drivers that make the switch wish they would have done it sooner.
Because fifth wheels tend to be larger, they often provide plenty of storage and living space. Manufacturers get creative with floor plans and how they use the available space. Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a full-time traveler, these rigs are worth considering.
Or maybe you should get a 5th wheel: Why Choose a 5th Wheel RV?
#1 Prepare Your 5th Wheel and Tow Vehicle
The first step to connecting your 5th wheel to your truck is to prepare. Have your wheels chocked, tailgate down, the jaws open, and the lube plate installed on your kingpin. You can start the process once you confirm these are in place.
Remember to look around before jumping into the driver’s seat. You want to check for any objects that may be in the way or make maneuvering difficult. This is the time to move them out of the way. You should also check for ditches and objects you can’t change, such as posts, large rocks, or trees.
#2 Back Your Tow Vehicle to Your 5th Wheel
Now, back your tow vehicle to your fifth wheel. An extra set of eyes can be beneficial here. Establish hand signals or use cell phones or walkie-talkies to help avoid communication errors. If your vehicle has backup cameras, use technology to your advantage to make getting lined up easier.
Raise the camper to align the hitch head with the kingpin on the trailer. The proper height will have the lube plate sliding across the head as the truck backs up to it. Having the camper too high can result in an unsecured connection. Additionally, having the kingpin too low can cause damage to your equipment.
#3 Engage the Coupler
With everything in place, it’s time to do one more check to verify there are no alignment issues. Slowly back up so the kingpin slides into the U-shaped opening. Some hitches will automatically engage the coupler once it feels pressure from the kingpin. However, other models may require that you manually close the jaw.
Most hitches use a safety pin to lock the jaws so they don’t come undone as you travel down the highway. Check any indicators to ensure they’ve closed. Forgetting to secure the pin is a common mistake that can cause significant damage to your property.
#4 Test Your 5th Wheel Connection to Your Tow Vehicle
One step you should never skip is to do a “tug test” for the connection. It only takes a minute or two but can help you avoid a disaster. Do this every time after connecting your fifth wheel and tow vehicle. Unfortunately, when we’ve seen an RV drop, it was because the owner didn’t do a tug test.
To perform one, raise your front leveling jacks to be an inch off the ground. The next step is to squeeze your trailer brake controller. Between your brakes and wheel chocks, the camper should stay put. Continue to squeeze the brake controller while you gently press on the accelerator.
When everything goes as planned, you’ll feel the tug between your truck and the camper. If things don’t go as planned, the RV will unhitch and slide down onto the landing gear. Since it’ll slowly lower onto the landing gear, it won’t cause any damage to the bed rails or your precious RV.
#5 Ensure Your 5th Wheel and Tow Vehicle Are Ready To Go
If you pass the tug test, you’re ready to do your final checks before hitting the road. This is your chance to check your wiring and safety device connections and retract your landing gear. Close your tailgate, remove wheel chocks, and test your lights before pulling out.
While it can be tempting, you want to take your time with this step. It’s your last chance to catch potential issues and secure your belongings. Many RVers create checklists of this process to help ensure they stay on track and focused. It can help ensure you leave your campsite with everything and have a smooth and safe trip.
Compare some of the better hitches on the market: 7 Best 5th Wheel Hitches.
Practice Promotes Confidence
Knowing how to hook up a fifth wheel is critical. If the process scares you, follow our shared steps to create your own more detailed checklist. This can help you remember important actions. While it may seem intimidating initially, you’ll gain confidence the more you do it.
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