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Hitches for Fifth (5th) Wheeler Trailers

What is the best tow vehicle for a 5th wheeler?
What are the best hitches for Fifth (5th) Wheelers and what is available?
What are the components of a 5th wheel hitch?

 

 


 

What are the best vehicles for towing a fifth wheel trailer and what should I look for?

5th wheel caravan trailers are designed to be towed by some form of tray back vehicle such as utes, ‘well backed’ vehicles or flatbed trucks or pick-up trucks.  The towing connection is mounted on the tray of the tow vehicle and it is placed so the kingpin (attached to the 5th wheeler trailer) connects about 50 mm in front of the centre of the rear wheels (axle) of the tow vehicle. This is so some of the weight of the 5th wheeler transfers to the front wheels of the tow vehicle.

 

The suspension on the 5th wheel trailer carries most of its gross weight with the balance of weight distributed forward of the rear suspension over the differential rather than the extreme rear of the tow vehicle. 

Care should be taken in selecting the tow vehicle to tow your 5th wheeler, especially if you want a dual cab or space cab (eg:Freestyle/ Extra cabs), to ensure there is enough clearance between the hitch and the vehicle cab to allow for turning the RV.  Tray back vehicles are more compatible for towing 5th wheelers as the stylesides of any ‘well back’ type of vehicle may not fit under the gooseneck section of the 5th wheeler. Also check the vehicle’s towing and weight bearing specifications so you do not exceed the payload capacity of the vehicle.

Hitching and unhitching a 5th wheeler is easier compared to say a caravan, travel trailer or camper trailer as the coupling or hitch is clearly in view from the driver’s seat through the rear window of your vehicle.  When hitching a 5th wheeler the height of the RV should be adjusted to enable you to reverse your tow vehicle under the pin.

With caravans and travel trailers the term ‘ball weight’ is used but with 5th wheeler caravan trailers it is referred to as ‘pin weight’.  The ‘pin weight’  is approximately 20% of the 5th wheeler’s weight.

Similar to caravans and travel trailers, passengers are not permitted in the 5th wheeler trailer whilst it is being towed.


 
 

What are the components of a 5th wheel hitch ?

Fifth wheel plate – this is the unit, mounted to the bed of your tow vehicle,  containing the hitch plate, the plate jaws and a handle.

Handle – a handle to lock and release the plate jaws.

Hitch Plate – this is the ‘wheel’ on which the trailer rotates.

Pin – this is a pin (king pin) attached to the 5th wheeler trailer.  It is designed to fit into the plate jaws mounted in the bed of the tow vehicle.

Pin Box – a box like structure attached to the bottom front section of the trailer frame (and the pin is attached to the bottom),

Plate Jaws – these jaws hold the pin in place.

Side Rails – these are support rails that are bolted to the bed of the tow vehicle.  The side rails support the 5th wheel hitch.

 

 

What types of hitches are available for 5th Wheeler trailers ?

The turntable hitch is similar to that on semi-trailers hence the terminology ‘fifth wheeler’ although there is are now other type of hitches available for fifth wheel trailers.  Some hitch brand names are Drawtite, Reese and Hijacker. 

5th wheeler hitches are rated for the gross trailer weight and the pin weight the hitch can handle.  Some of the popular hitch ratings are: 15K (or 15,000 lbs) 16K, 18K, 20K, 21K and 22K.

5th wheel hitch assemblies slide into rails bolted onto the chassis of the tow vehicle and can be removed to give you the use of your tow vehicle tray when unhitched. For example, the ‘Reese Signature Series Slider’ is designed for short bed trucks to give additional clearance and to prevent damage to the tow vehicle or trailer in tight locations.

5th wheel hitches have been designed for shortbed trucks or tow vehicles to provide turning clearance in tight spaces.

‘Hijacker’ also have a fifth wheel hitch designed to be installed under the bed of the truck which then leaves the rear of the tow vehicle clear of bedrails or siderails.
 
If you don’t like having to grease the 5th wheel turntable there are lube plates available that protect against friction and elimate the need for grease lubrication.

D’Angelo Engineering, Laverton, Victoria have produced a ‘Double Oscillator’  hitch built to ISO and Australian Standards to suit their MiniMax fifthwheel for 5th wheeler caravans.  Their website states – ‘Typically fifth wheels are only able to tilt around the footpin on the front to back (Y-axis) but the new D’Angelo Double Oscillator changes this by allowing the fifth wheel to also tilt on the left to right axis (X-axis)’. This reduces the stresses on the vehicle and trailer chassis by reducing twisting, or torsional forces on the chassis rails which may cause cracking through fatigue.

Another Australian 5th wheeler RV manufacturer, Travelhome Pty Ltd, Boolaroo, New South Wales decided that the imported US made fifth wheeler turntable type hitch was unsuitable for use on their fifth wheel caravans. Their decision was based on the restricted lateral movement on some versions of the turntable type hitch and their unsuitability for Australian road conditions.  Travelhome have three different types of hitches available to suit the design of tow vehicle.  Travelhome design their own ball and socket coupling which they state complies with Australian Design Rules (ADR 62/01 & 62/02).

Take your time to select the best hitch for your 5th wheeler as you will find various features are available for height adjustments, ‘double pivot’ feature for easy coupling and uncoupling, jaw bolt adjustments and lockable handles.

For further information on towing your trailer safely contact your Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of Transport or Road Authority.

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