6 Types of Fifth Wheel Hitches, When to Use Them and Which Ones to Buy

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If you’ve been in the market for a new RV, you might have your sights set on a sleek fifth wheel trailer. Fifth wheels are some of the most luxurious trailer options on the market and are a popular choice for those looking to make their RV as homelike as possible. You’ve likely noticed that fifth wheels don’t attach to your truck like most trailers, and that you’re going to need some additional hardware – specifically a fifth wheel hitch.

It’s a common question of first time 5th wheel owners to wonder what type of fifth wheel hitch they need. It can certainly be a daunting concern, as you want to make sure you’re outfitting your vehicle with the proper hardware for the job.

Overall, deciding which hitch to use is an easy process. Let’s look at what types of fifth wheel hitches are available and in what circumstances you should be using them.

Why Buy a Fifth Wheel Hitch?

If you’ve recently purchased a fifth wheel trailer or are looking to, having a fifth wheel hitch is an absolute necessity. 5th wheels don’t connect to a traditional ball hitch on the bumper of a truck. Instead, they connect to a hitch point in the bed of the pickup truck, located right above the rear axle. 

What’s the advantage of this? First off, by using the bed as a tow point rather than the rear bumper, you are drastically increasing your towing capacity. By utilizing your truck’s payload capacity to offset the trailer’s tongue weight, the overall weight of your trailer can be much higher. 

Using a fifth wheel hitch is also inherently more stable, resulting in a safe, smooth ride. Trailers that are towed in this regard suffer far less sway when driving down the road because of the way the weight is more evenly distributed throughout the hitch and truck.

How Much is a Fifth Wheel Hitch?

In general, the hitch itself will cost anywhere from $500 – $1000. This range in price accounts for differences in weight limits, overall production quality, and whether or not hardware is included.

Hitches that are available on the lower end of this price range often do not include the rails or mounting accessories you need for a complete install. Always double check your purchase to ensure you’re getting everything you need.

How Much to Install a Fifth Wheel Hitch?

Bringing your truck to a certified installation professional is the best way to make sure your hitch is properly mounted. While an expensive option, you have the peace of mind knowing that the job is done right.

The price of a professional install can vary greatly depending on location, but expect to pay anywhere from $1000 to $1800. Keep in mind that this price includes the cost of the hitch itself. 

Can I Install a Fifth Wheel Hitch Myself?

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If you have the proper DIY skills, ample determination, and the requisite tools – absolutely! Installing your hitch yourself will involve drilling holes into your truck bed either directly into the frame itself, or into a mount bracket already drilled or welded to the frame.

Installation is very vehicle specific. Different trucks come with different frame structures and you always need to make sure you’re not interfering with any brake lines or suspension hardware that may be underneath the bed. If you’re not 100% confident with doing this project yourself, it’s always recommended to bring it to a professional.

Tips for Selecting the Best 5th Wheel Hitch for You

Fifth wheel hitches come in a couple varieties, with each being intended for specific uses. The type of hitch you buy is extremely dependent on the size dimensions of your truck, the weight of the trailer being towed, and the type of connection that is found on the fifth wheel itself. 

Identifying the specifics of your set up, and making a determination based on them, is crucial.

Length of Your Truck Bed

Your truck bed length has a big impact on the type of hitch you buy. Since the head of a fifth wheel is so large, it’s important to make sure that it doesn’t come into contact with the back of your truck cab when making sharp turns. Failing to accommodate this can result in broken cab glass and a damaged trailer body. 

A short bed truck is particularly prone to this. You’ll need to invest in sliding hitches that allow for your hitch to move towards the back of the truck bed so that you can complete tight maneuvering without any hiccups.

Weight of the Camper

Knowing the weight of your trailer is equally as important. You need to select a fifth wheel hitch that can support your camper’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). Different hitches have different weight classes, so always ensure that your trailer’s weight is staying below the hitch’s rating.

Types of 5th Wheel Hitches

When it comes to the types of fifth wheel hitches that are available, luckily the selection options are pretty simple. Neither option is dependent on a large, exhausting list of factors; they are only differentiated by their application. This makes your purchasing decision quite easy, so long as you know your truck and rig’s specifications.

Hitch variations can be broken down by three main categories:

  • Trailer Connector: Is there a pin or ball on the trailer’s connection hardware?
  • Sliding or Fixed: Can you move the hitch’s location in the truck bed?
  • Locking Jaws: Does one or two sliders hold the trailer kingpin in place?

Kingpin Versus Gooseneck Hitch

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Fifth wheel connectors come in two main varieties: either a kingpin or a gooseneck. Kingpins are typically found on tractor trailers and recreational vehicles like campers. Underneath the trailer header there will be a male pin connector. This attaches to the truck by being slid into the female section of the hitch and secured via a locking jaw.

Gooseneck hitches function in the opposite way of a kingpin hitch. In this type of setup, the female connection is located on the trailer. An arm resembling a goose’s neck extends from the trailer with an open receptacle at the end. This arm slides over the male gooseneck ball that is mounted in the bed of the tow vehicle. This mounting system is most often found with large, flatbed trailers.

Sliding Versus Fixed Hitches

Diving deeper, kingpin hitches come in two further varieties – sliding and fixed. Sliding hitches are moveable hitches that can be manually adjusted to complete tight turns. If you tow with short bed trucks, you’ll want to install this version of a hitch to prevent trailer damage, as previously discussed.

Fixed hitches are mounted to the bed of the truck in a fixed position. These are best used with long bed trucks that don’t need an adjustable hitch to help with sharper turns.

Dual Locking Jaws Versus Single Locking Jaws

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When using a kingpin hitch, the kingpin is secured to the fifth wheel hitch via metal jaws that clamp around the pin. These jaws come in two distinct styles – dual locking and single locking.

Dual lock jaws are two metal jaws that clamp together to form a secure connection. Compared to a simple sliding jaw, they are much more secure, and far less noisy. Additionally, your trailer will jump around much less. A downside of dual jaws is that it relies on both jaws to function. If one starts to fail, the secure connection is gone.

A single locking jaw is even stronger than dual locking because it completely surrounds the kingpin. Single locking jaws are most often used on heavy trailers that exceed 25,000 pounds. It provides extra security and less wiggle than a dual jaw system, making it the most secure method.

How Does a Sliding 5th Wheel Hitch Work?

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Sliding hitches function exactly as they sound. Rails are installed in the truck bed that allow for the hitch to move forward or backward in the truck bed. This is primarily used to increase the turning radius in a short bed truck. Using this feature is done with three simple steps:

  1. Park the vehicle.
  2. Get out and unlock the slider.
  3. Get back into the truck and gently drive it forward.
  4. Get back out and lock the hitch in its new location near the rear of the bed. 

After completing the tight turn, simply do this process again, but reverse the vehicle instead of driving it forward.

How Does a Fixed Hitch Work?

Contrary to a sliding hitch, a fixed hitch doesn’t move at all. After the installation process, they really don’t need to be adjusted whatsoever. As said before, they are only intended for trucks with longer beds because tight turns aren’t a concern. 

Connecting your trailers to fixed wheel hitches is easy:

  1. Lower your truck gate, and back the truck up to within 4 or 5 inches of the kingpin.
  2. Depending on your specific hitch model, open the handle that closes the jaws.
  3. Lower the kingpin just enough so that the trailer hitch sits flush around the surrounding metal of the kingpin. 
  4. Back the truck up slowly, sliding the kingpin into the hitch. You should feel a sizable click, and the jaw handle will close.
  5. If your hitch requires it, fasten the security pin to the jaw handle.
  6. Double check to make sure the kingpin is secured by the jaws and you’re ready to add the trailer weight to the truck.

Top Brands of Fifth Wheel Hitches

There is an enormous selection of towing products when it comes to trailer hitches. Generally, you get what you pay for and you’ll receive higher quality welding and components when you spend a little extra money. There are a couple main brands when it comes to a quality 5th wheel hitch, so let’s check a few out. 

PullRite 4100 16K Superglide 5th Wheel Hitch

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The PullRite 4100 Superglide is the go-to 5th wheel hitch for compact size shorter trucks. It’s a sliding hitch that goes beyond single handle operation, functioning completely automatically when making turns. When a turn is detected, the hitch automatically slides back allowing for a turn of up to 90 degrees. 

Additionally, it can handle up to 16,000 pounds of load, making it plenty sturdy for the vast majority of 5th wheel campers. These trailer hitches retail at $1,530 but do not come with the rail mounts included.

Curt 16245 5th Wheel Hitch

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www.etrailer.com

The Curt 16245 is an affordable and quality hitch that comes in at $974. This is not a sliding hitch; it is fixed and does not include the mounting accessories or rail kit. This hitch can handle an amazing 24,000 pounds of tow weight and features a spherical axial bearing that allows lateral movement adjustments.

This hitch also features a three position coupling indicator that communicates the 5th wheel’s current coupling status – coupled, uncoupled, or ready to tow. It also has the quietest connection possible for an optimum towing experience.

Conclusion

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Knowing which type of 5th wheel hitch you need to use for your setup is a critical component of any RV or trailer purchase. Fortunately, the variations in hitches are pretty straightforward once you identify which specific components you need. 

Whether you need sliding fifth wheel hitches for shorter vehicles, or a gooseneck ball hitch for a flatbed trailer, we hope this guide gave you everything you need to know about what type of hitch you need for a properly equipped truck.

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About Chris Coleman

Chris Coleman is an interesting travel blogger and outdoor photographer with a great sense of humor. He owns an RV Accessories shop in New York City so he has the knowledge necessary to provide thorough reviews and give advice on how to choose the right products for RV travel. He puts all that RV knowledge and experience to good use in his sharing posts. Besides product buying guides/reviews, Chris also writes informative articles, how-to articles and RV camping guides in his own interesting viewpoint. Chris’s blog is one of the most reliable information sources for RV campers no matter if you're an expert or a determined beginner.

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