A Brief Overview of Fifth Wheel Trailer Hitches


rusty trailer hitch

If you're new to the world of fifth wheel trailers, then you might be as confused as I was about the different types of fifth wheel trailer hitches that you can get. So in this blog post I lay out the most common one's used like the gooseneck hitch and the fifth wheel hitches, as well as a little bit on the fifth wheel slider hitches that you can use with your short bed truck. Click here for this newbies overview. #fifthwheelhitchesI’ve been crushing hard on some fifth wheel trailers lately, as we’ve been holed up in our tiny 14ft caravan, in the sweltering Australian heat, with a little portable air conditioner that can’t keep up once we’re out of the shade of the nearby tree… I’ve been coveting (jealously and overtly) the few fifth wheelers that have come through this park.

Fifth wheel RVs are not so common here in Australia. Sure, there are some but at a guess, I would say they make up only a very small percentage of the total RV market in Australia. Maybe 1-2% of all the RVs (motorhomes, caravans/travel trailers, campervans, camper trailers etc). And I think 2% is probably too generous.

But the camp at which we’re currently staying is a show grounds, so there’s no defined sites and we’re spread out all over the place. This makes it the perfect place for fifth wheelers to camp. Many of the caravan parks here are just too small to accommodate a fifth wheel, especially not ones the size of which I see for sale in the USA. I mean… 40ft! That‘s humungous!!

Even though ours are more in the 7-8m range (21-28ft) it’s still a type of RV that I’m really keen on.

Obviously, the biggest difference with a fifth wheel, is the hitch. And so in this post I’m going to explore the different types of hitches that you can get and the pros and cons of each.

Scratch that, I’ve just been doing my research and sheesh, that’s far too technical for me!

I’m going to give you an overview of the different types of fifth wheel hitches so that you at least have a vague idea of what they’re talking about.

Gooseneck Hitch

In a nutshell, this is where the hitch on the fifth wheel fits over a ball that sits in the bed of your truck.

This pic shows you quite well.

Diagram of gooseneck hitch

Although this next pic is low quality, it helped me to understand what these look like.

Trailer showing gooseneck coupler.

Fifth Wheel Hitch

A fifth wheel hitch has the pin on the trailer (it’s called the king pin) and it latches into the fifth wheel hitch that sits in the bed of the truck.

RV showing the king pin on a fifth wheel coupling

The arm that goes from the trailer to the king pin is called the king pin box and is used to extend or shorten the distance from the trailer to the king pin.

The king pin slides into the fifth wheel hitch, which is the part that sits in the bed of the truck. It has a sort of horseshoe shape that I’m sure you’re familiar with. Here’s a pic of one, just in case:

fifth wheel hitch shown in the bed of a truck

BTW – this is the type of hitch that heavy duty truck and trailers use, hauling goods all over the countryside.

As you can imagine, these fifth wheel hitches come in a MULTITUDE of different formats with different things that they can do.

They say, that a fifth wheel hitch is only really appropriate for long bed trucks, where the bed of the truck is 8ft or longer. This is because the king pin (and therefore the hitch) needs to sit between the cab and the rear axle. If you have a short bed truck, the hitch will be too close to the cab and the front of the trailer is gonna collide with your cab when you turn tight corners. Picture below as a bit of explanation:

Diagram of a fifth wheel on a short bed truck, where a sharp turn causes the front of the trailer to collide with the cab of the truck.

Now, if you already have a short bed truck you can still use a fifth wheel hitch, but you will need to use a slider hitch.

Slider hitch

This is a hitch that slides further back (towards the tailgate) in the bed of the truck only when you’re doing tight turns at low speed. Such as pulling into or out of your camp site. This allows you to do tighter turns because the trailer is moved further away from the cab and it won’t hit.

Hopefully explained with this pic:

Diagram showing how a fifth wheel slider hitch allows the hitch to slide further to the back of the bed of the truck, allowing for tighter corners where the front of the trailer will not impact the truck cab.

You’ll see that the king pin ends up past the rear axle, but it’s fine because it’s only for a little while as you are completing the turn.

They come in either manual (where you have to get out of the truck and unlock the hitch before making your turn) or auto.

Adapters

You are able to get adapters that turn a gooseneck to a fifth wheel, but that’s getting a bit more specialized, and every situation is unique. An adapter can change where the stressors are applied to the rig so it’s much more than just a simple ‘plug and play’ scenario. If you’re going to do something like that I think you’ll need to talk to a towing / truck / RV / fifth wheel specialist. i.e. not me.

The adapters can go either on the trailer part:

Or on the truck bed part: (Although, to me, ‘adapter’ doesn’t seem like the right word for this part. I mean, that’s almost the whole dang setup!)

And here endeth the brief overview of fifth wheel trailer hitches. I hope it’s given you a little bit of clarity about what they are and how they work.

Next, I’ll be looking at some different fifth wheelers that have taken my fancy. That’s the fun bit!

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Fifth wheel with text overlay saying Fifth Wheel HitchesFifth wheel hooked up to truck

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2 Comments

  1. Susan Swan
    April 16, 2019
    Reply

    Although the traditional 5th wheel hitch is much more stable than the travel trailer’s ball hitch, Hensley has come up with an air bag system for a 5th wheel hitch that is out of this world spectacular. It has changed out towing habits and we no longer have sprained necks coming into camp after a long day of hauling. They also do make a hitch for the travel trailers that is something to consider.

    • April 16, 2019
      Reply

      Oh wow, thanks for that Susan. I’ll have to look it up!

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