Exploring the Mechanics of Fifth Wheel Hitches

Exploring the Mechanics of Fifth Wheel Hitches

A fifth-wheel trailer is a large recreational vehicle that requires a special hitch mounted within the bed of a medium or heavy-duty truck. This specialized towing setup is recommended by expert RVers for its increased stability and weight distribution.

The Hitch Base

The base of a fifth wheel hitch is the section that connects to your truck bed. It has a jaw that funnels your trailer’s kingpin to create a secure connection between the two. It ensures your trailer can be hauled safely without compromising the stability of your towing vehicle or the safety of the people riding in it.

Many of these hitches have a mechanism that locks the jaws of the hitch around the kingpin, reducing chucking during towing and making it easier to attach a gooseneck ball to your trailer. Others are designed with a broader stance to reduce side-to-side movement and improve stability.

This model is specially designed for short-bed trucks, and it features a slider that travels up to 10″ during turns and reverse maneuvers. It also repositions the kingpin further away from your truck’s cab to reduce contact and damage. It also features dual jaws for a robust and stable connection and polyurethane bushings to limit rattle and vibration.

The Hitch Head

The head of the hitch attaches to your trailer’s pin box and connects to your truck. It pivots and articulates with your trailer’s movement, ensuring a strong and stable connection to prevent sway and provide a smoother ride.

Unlike gooseneck hitches with a plate to clamp onto the kingpin, fifth wheel hitches have a funnel design receiver head with jaws that encompass the kingpin entirely as it’s lowered into place. This feature prevents “high pinning,” where the kingpin is too high above the jaws and damages the locking mechanism.

Sliding 5th-wheel hitches are used in short-bed trucks to help make tight turns without hitting the front of the cab. 

The Hitch Ball

The hitch head is what you see at the front of your trailer, with a metal arm and box reaching out to the kingpin or gooseneck coupler. A fifth-wheel hitch can use either the kingpin or the gooseneck, depending on your trailer type and what you need to haul.

The hitch base and head have jaws that wrap around the kingpin to secure the trailer coupler. They are in continuous contact with each other, so lubrication is essential. Some owners use a special fifth-wheel lube, while others use a less messy polyethylene disc.

Many RVers also use a weight-distribution hitch for their trailers. It helps reduce the stress on your truck and trailer by lifting and leveraging the back end of the trailer. It redistributes the weight onto all axles for better driving performance and a smoother ride. It should be noted that the weight distribution hitch does not increase your towing capacity, and you should always abide by your vehicle and trailer-rated capacities.

The Hitch Mount

Spacers are included with some fifth-wheel hitches to avoid metal-to-metal contact between the kingpin on your trailer and the base rail of your hitch. These must be positioned between the base rail and the truck bed, providing a minimum 5-1/2″ height difference.

The head on the trailer attaches to this raised platform that rests in the pickup truck bed. It can pivot from front to back, and some have side-to-side movement. These movements help absorb the impact from bumpy roads and give you a broader vantage point while driving and maneuvering.

Many people prefer a slider hitch installation for short-bed pickup trucks. These allow more room between the trailer and truck for turning the vehicle and entering campsites. They also offer more clearance when traveling through narrow roads. However, only some people need this type of setup. If you don’t, a puck system works fine for your truck.


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