Towing A Tiny House That Has A Fifth Wheel

There is so much confusion amongst new trailer owners, especially those towing with a fifth wheel. A fifth wheel? What is that? How can a trailer have an odd number of wheels? I understand 2 wheels. I get the 4 wheel thing. Heck. I’ve even seen 6 wheels on a trailer. But 5? Nah. I’m not buying it. 
The term fifth wheel comes from a similar coupling used on four-wheel horse-drawn carriages and wagons. The device allowed the front axle assembly to pivot in the horizontal plane, to facilitate turning.
Rocking Fifth Wheel

HITCH IT UP

Fifth wheel towing setups are older than most people think. More modern versions (post-1990) can tilt to the sides and are easier to hook up because the coupler in the bed is “funneled” to capture the kingpin on the trailer, which helps guide it into place. Because fifth-wheel hitches are anywhere from 14 to 18 inches above the bed, they can be susceptible to “chucking” (read: make a noise and jerk), where the coupler jaws grab the kingpin. It’s important to know the fifth wheel towing hitch must also be able to handle the loaded weight of your trailer.

Fifth Wheel setup

HOW DO YOU TOW WITH ONE

To begin with, the fifth wheel configuration requires a coupling to be installed in the bed of a truck or on the flat part of a flatbed truck. The coupling consists of a kingpin, a 2-or-3 1.2″ diameter steel pin on the front of the fifth wheel trailer, and a horseshoe-shaped coupling device called a fifth wheel on the rear of the towing vehicle. The surface of the trailer (with the kingpin at the center) rotates against the surface of the fixed fifth wheel, which does not rotate. Applying grease to the surface of the fifth wheel reduces friction, and overall, the fifth wheel arrangement improves towing stability.

Tiny House 5th Wheel House

 

An important issue when you select a fifth wheel hitch is the cab-to-axle ratio, or the distance from the back of the cab to the center point of the coupler, usually located above or slightly forward of the rear axle. If you drive a full-size bed you should have no less than 48″ behind the cab. For a short-bed pickup to pull a fifth-wheel, the measurement can be as little as 38″ if you also use a pin-box extension and slide rails for the coupler. That pin-box extension is attached to the trailer. Its function is to extend the pivot point, or kingpin, farther forward. The load of the trailer is still above the axle but the trailer’s front cap is farther to the rear to prevent interference with the truck’s cab when turning.

THE CAVEAT

It’s important to know you will probably have to remove the factory tailgate for fifth wheel towing, or buy a special tailgate with clearance for the trailer’s king pin.

Tailgate

THE POINTS

  • Ensure wheel chocks are in place
  • Ensure that rear stabilizers are UP on the fifth wheel (if you have them, checking that kind of cross-stabilizers are loosened when doing so)
  • If you have them, ensure that any kind of cross-stabilizers on the front landing gear is loosened
  • Lower tailgate on the pickup truck
  • Back the pickup truck until the kingpin on the camper is close to the hitch
  • Using the front-landing gear, raise or lower the kingpin so that it is slightly lower than the fifth wheel plate
  • Open the arm/jaws on the fifth wheel hitch
  • Gently back the truck up so that the kingpin rides up the fifth wheel hitch and into the awaiting jaws
  • You will see the handle close on its own if you are lined up right and back far enough
  • Put the emergency brake on
  • Close the arm/jaws on the fifth wheel hitch and pin into place
  • VISUALLY check that the jaws of the hitch are around the kingpin
  • Plug-in the power umbilical cord
  • Plug-in the emergency breakaway cable
TIPS COURTESY OF http://learntorv.com/hitching-and-un-hitching-my-fifth-wheel/

Do you tow a fifth wheel? Have you ever? Do you find the act of fifth wheel towing to be intimidating? Share your stories with us in the comments below or on our Facebook page. To see our towing adventures follow us on Instagram.

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