What is a Fifth Wheel Hitch?
A 5th-wheel hitch is a hitch that is installed in the bed of a truck and attached to the kingpin of a 5th-wheel trailer. The unit is generally held in place by metal jaws or locking bars. A pivoting head plate allows for the necessary movement to tow the trailer. Fifth-wheel hitches are designed for heavy towing of campers, RV trailers, and excessive loads.
What’s the Difference Between a Fifth Wheel Hitch and a Gooseneck?
Gooseneck and 5th wheel hitches have advantages for the towing task they are attempting to perform. Likewise, fifth-wheel hitches are designed for specific towing needs.
A gooseneck is a trailer hitch that connects to a gooseneck trailer by coupling with a hitch ball, similar to the tow ball used on the back of smaller pickups. Gooseneck hitches are designed to tow loads up to 30,000 lbs but are primarily used for horse trailers, livestock trailers, or flatbed car haulers.
These hitches take up less room in the bed (although they drill a hole in the bed), are more lightweight, and are generally easier to connect and disconnect from the towing truck. While the gooseneck may not be able to haul the weight of a fifth-wheel hitch, many ranchers use them for their versatility.
A fifth-wheel hitch is often used for large loads. The hitch is extremely heavy, weighing about 130 -250 lbs. The hitch is more oversized and takes up more room in the bed because it consists of more components than the standard gooseneck. The increased hitch size makes it quieter and more stable when towing.
How Does a Fifth Wheel Hitch Work?
Unlike a gooseneck coupler lowered onto a ball, a fifth-wheel hitch looks like the type of hitch used on semi-trucks. The trailer's kingpin must be the same height as the fifth-wheel hitch. The truck is then moved back into place, so the kingpin connects with the hitch. As the kingpin connects, the jaws of the fifth wheel hitch clamp onto the kingpin, securing the trailer to the truck.
Safety chains are added to help ensure that the trailer stays connected to the truck in case the kingpin dislodges from the hitch.
How To Remove a Fifth-Wheel Hitch
Fifth-wheel hitches come in all sizes and shapes, and every manufacturer has their specific removal process. You should follow all manufacturer guidelines when removing the hitch from your truck.
Secure the Right Equipment for the Removal
Due to the size and weight of the fifth-wheel hitch, you will need some assistance getting it up and out of the truck. We recommend installing a fifth-wheel lifter in your garage or barn (a hoist attached to the roof of your garage and lifts the hitch assembly electronically) or securing an automotive engine hoist with enough clearance for your use.
If you use a regular engine hoist, it is always a good idea to hang a counterweight on the back of the hoist, where the vertical pole is. This counterweight prevents the hoist from toppling forward when the weight of the hitch is dangling from the hanging rod.
Don’t attempt to lift the hitch yourself because the hitch doesn’t care when someone pulls their back out. And you don’t want to be paying for a hospital bill.
Invest in a 5th Wheel Lifting Bracket
While you don’t have to invest in a lifting bracket like that of Demco, it makes lifting much easier. The lifting bracket is shaped like a kingpin with a large eyelet at the top. Simply run the hoist's chain through the eyelet and let the jaws of the fifth wheel clamp onto the lifting bracket. You might want to fasten several safety chains as an added security measure.
See Amazon for an example of what a lifting bracket looks like and how much it costs. Most lifting brackets will cost less than $50 bucks, and this expense is nothing compared to repainting scratches on your truck.
Assess the Configuration of Your Fifth Wheel Hitch
Most fifth-wheel hitches rest on base rails that run from side to side across the truck's bed. Most of the time, a pin or a bolt holds the legs of the hitch to the base rails. Because the base rails are bolted through the bed to the frame, the hitch is anchored securely. Removing the hitch assembly while keeping the base brackets in place is acceptable. You need to figure out what bolts or pins run through the base rail (determine how the bracket/legs of the hitch assembly are held in place to the base rail).
Loosen the Bolts or Pins Holding the Hitch to the Mounting Rails or Bed of Truck
You may need to have someone hold the nut underneath the truck bed while you turn the bolt to loosen the hitch, or if a clip and pin hold your hitch assembly, pull them out to free the unit.
Fasten the Chains to the Fifth Wheel Lifter or Frame
If you don’t have a lifting bracket, secure the chains to the sides and top of the hitch assembly. Because the chains will be doing the heavy lifting, it is essential to secure them effectively. If the hoist has a top bar with a large eye hook in the middle, you can use this to keep the hitch level. The side chains should be bolted and secured under the hitch (usually, there are holes in the frame that you can bolt to). The important thing is for the chain not to slip while lifting the fifth wheel assembly out of place. Do everything you can to keep the chains secured to the hitch. You do not want the hitch to fall and scar up your truck's paint, damage the hitch or even slam down on someone’s foot.
Use the Hoist to Lift the Hitch Assembly Carefully
This is crucial. Lift the hitch assembly off the truck's bed using the hoist. Patience is a virtue. The last thing you want is to scratch up the sides of the bed.
Lower the Hitch onto a Pad
Hopefully, you know where to store the hitch when it is not in use. I have a friend who lowers the hitch on a mechanic’s creeper so he can wheel it over to a corner in his garage. Be sure to store the hitch in a dry place so that the jaws and locking mechanism will not be exposed to the elements.
How Much Does a Hoist System Cost?
Many RV owners find that an integrated hoist bolted to the ceiling joists in their garage and operated by a steel cable pulley system is the easiest way to remove the hitch assembly from the truck. There are many different styles of hoist systems, but they all involve a pulley system that can electronically center over the hitch and quickly pull it up and out of the way once connected to the hitch. Most can be purchased for around $500 to $1000. Trust me. You want to invest in one of these systems. There are even units you can control via your smartphone.
See the manufacturer's website for more information on these hoist systems.
For information on regular free rolling engine hoists, see Amazon.