What To Know Before You Begin
Several factors will influence the decision as to what kind of hitch is right for your situation and it is best to have this information before beginning any installation project. You want to purchase the right mounting hardware for your truck bed.
Gross Towing Weight, Towing, and Payload Capacity
You want to know how heavy the fifth-wheel trailer you intend to pull is and whether your little short-bed pickup can handle the load. Most short-bed trucks are not as bulky under the rear axle and are not able to pull many 5th-wheel trailers. Ensure that you know your trailer’s weight.
Most fifth-wheel assemblies are also quite heavy, and their installation may bring the truck close to or over its payload capacity. Be careful not to overload your truck’s payload or towing capacities. If you try to haul more than your truck can tow, you could endanger yourself and your family and ruin your truck’s rear axle.
Know Your Bed Size
Your truck’s bed size may limit the kind of hitch you can install. Generally, fifth-wheel trailers do not function appropriately in beds less than 5 ½ feet because there is insufficient clearance to be towed safely. Be mindful that there are still plenty of 5.5-foot beds out there. You might consider trading for a pickup with a longer bed.
Check Your Truck and Trailer Manufacturer Warranty
Some fifth-wheel manufacturers will only honor the warranty if you attempt to pull their trailer with the kind of tow vehicle they recommend. You must ensure that your trailer maker will come through for you should some repairs be needed.
In addition, if your truck manufacturer says that your half-ton is not equipped to handle a fifth-wheel trailer, your warranty may not cover the repair cost.
Another consideration is whether your insurance company will cover any damage if it finds out you installed a hitch on a truck that the manufacturer said should not be installed. Since the potential for an accident is greater with the pulling of a fifth-wheel, be sure that you can afford to pay the increased premiums. (Many insurance companies will want to verify that you are towing safely.
Is A Special Hitch Needed?
There is debate about whether a sliding fifth-wheel hitch is needed. Some manufacturers like Curt Mfg make slider hitches for shorter-bed trucks and believe that a slider hitch is the only type of fifth-wheel trailer hitch that should be installed in a short-bed truck for a fifth-wheel tow. Other trailer hitch manufacturers like e-trailer disagree, indicating that most modern fifth-wheel trailers have angled corners to prevent contact. All agree that RV owners should be aware of the turning radius so they don’t end up with busted rear windows in their truck cab.
A slider hitch sits on the rails installed in the truck bed but slides to allow more distance between the front of the trailer and the rear window of the truck cab. When towing, the sliders move forward so that the camper’s weight is more centered over the axles of the truck, but in tight maneuvers (turns), it slides back to help create distance.
Installing A Fifth Wheel Hitch
The following instructions will outline the procedure for installing the correct hitch into your pickup truck’s bed. The task of installation is easier if you have a hydraulic lift.
Unlock - Take Down The Undercover Shield and The Spare
You will need room to fasten the bolts to the base bed rails, which means the spare must be removed. (Some trucks have undercovers or heat shields ahead of the rear axle that also must be removed). After unlatching the tire, check the instructions for your 5th wheel hitch, and identify the area of the frame where the hitch brackets will attach.
Measure The Distance to the Front Base Rail
Climbing into the truck bed, you will need to measure the distance from the front payload wall to the location of the front support rail. Use a permanent pen to mark the location. Since hitches differ depending on the situation, consult the instructions or contact your hitch manufacturer for the correct measurements for your truck.
Lay the Front Rail Into Position/Mark Drill Locations
With the rail laid flat, mark the exact spot for drilling. Set aside the mounting bracket aside and use the drill to make a tiny hole in the exact location, using the marks previously made.
Double-Check The Position Of The Underside Bracket
Carefully line the frame bracket up with the small hole you have drilled. If not, then you need to remeasure.
Drill Out The Holes
You will need to open the remaining bolt holes by drilling through the bed lining so that they can accommodate the rear rail and frame bracket bolts.
Bolt The Underside Brackets To the Frame
Take the underside brackets and bolt them onto the truck’s frame. Follow the instruction manual for specific locations as to where on the wheel well you should place the brackets. Fasten them to the truck frame with the bolts and nuts provided.
Use the bolts provided and secure the front rail into place. Use spacers if required, and tighten the nuts from underneath.
Find Out The Height Of The Connection
Installing your trailer hitch means that you need to know the correct height to position the lock plate. There must be a height difference of no more than 6" from your truck bed and the trailer’s kingpin. (You can discover the height by subtracting the distance of your truck bed from the pavement and the measurement to your kingpin. The difference is where your hitch plate needs to be set). The goal is for it to be at the same height as your fifth wheel’s kingpin,
Assemble the Hitch Plate To The Right Height
Adjust your hitch legs to the correct height using adjustable settings. Secure the legs to the main body with bolts and nuts. Most hitches have adjustable leg bolt holes. The hitch should be level on both sides.
Attach the front legs to the mounted base rail and position it in place. The unattached legs will allow you to see exactly where to position the rear rail. Place the rail, and mark the bolt holes with a permanent marker. Remove the hitch and the rail, use a center punch, and then drill out the bolt holes.
Secure the Other Base Rail
Insert the rail bolts and tighten them into place. You may want to torque all the connections to insure they are adequate. If you have no torque wrench, the excellent idea is to take your truck to a local service station and have them tighten the bolts securely just to be sure.
Attach Sliding Rails
Some fifth-wheel hitches have brackets or sliding rails to accommodate the movement of the fifth-wheel hitch. Reinstall the Fifth Wheel Hitch per your installation instructions to ensure everything moves as it should.
Hook Up And Do A Pull Test
Assuming that you have properly installed your fifth-wheel hitch and that the unit slide correctly, hitch up the kingpin and perform an initial pull test. See this instructive how-to video for information about how to perform an effective tug test).