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Fifth-wheel trailers connect to trucks with a device called a goose-neck hitch, which is mounted inside the truck bed. A short bed truck (less than 8 feet long) can tow a fifth wheel provided that a sliding hitch is installed. This type of hitch prevents the trailer from hitting the back of the truck cab when maneuvering. To compensate for the reduced turning clearance of a short bed truck, an extended pin box is also recommended. Without this equipment, the trailer will sit too close to the truck cab, striking it on sharp turns.
Select the sliding hitch that meets your budget, and understand how it works. There are two hitch designs that allow a short bed truck to tow a fifth wheel: manual or automatic sliding hitches. A manual sliding hitch locks the trailer in place between the cab and the rear axle for highway towing. However, before navigating sharp turns or backing into a campsite, the driver must manually stop the vehicle. Then the driver must get out, unlock the hitch, and pull the vehicle forward so that the kingpin is closer to the tailgate and further away from the cab. The last step is to lock the hitch in place and continue driving. An automatic sliding hitch does not require these steps, because it's engineered with channels that automatically force the kingpin to slide backward during sharp turns.
Research your route ahead of time to avoid areas are too difficult to navigate, and pay attention to your environment while towing your fifth wheel. While navigating tight turns or backing up, compensate for the minimal turning radius of a short bed truck and fifth-wheel trailer by giving yourself ample turnaround space. Know when your trailer is getting too close to the cab of your truck, especially if you have a manual sliding hitch. If you observe that your trailer is too close to your truck, it probably is.
Acquaint yourself with how your truck, hitch and trailer operate. Learn to back up your fifth-wheel trailer before you travel, by taking your truck and fifth wheel to a large empty parking lot. When backing up, remember that a trailer will veer in the opposite direction the steering wheel is turning. Test this concept by placing either hand on the bottom of the wheel, and point your thumb out. As you turn, the trailer will head in the direction of your thumb.
Simulate real-world conditions in the parking lot by setting up traffic cones and other obstacles to navigate around. Remember to take wider turns at curves and corners, and practice slowing down by avoiding sudden stops, which can cause the truck and trailer to jackknife.
- Avoid excess wear and tear on your vehicle and prevent accidents, by knowing your vehicle's gross combined weight rating (GCWR). This is the maximum weight your tow vehicle can pull plus fuel, cargo, passengers and its own weight. Check it whenever you reload your fifth wheel trailer.
- Never allow anyone to ride in the fifth wheel while it is moving.
- lake mead national recreation area 14 image by Jim Parkin from Fotolia.com