There is a wide variety of fifth wheel hitches and setups to choose from and trying to pick the right one is not an easy task. The best fifth wheel hitch installation for you will depend on your tow vehicle, your trailer and what features you find important. This article will discuss fifth wheel hitches in general and then the specifics to consider to help you make a decision.
This article will cover:
- Towing a Fifth Wheel
- Rails and Rail Kits
- Types of Rails
- Bed Liner Considerations
- Wiring Harnesses
- Rail Mounting Systems
- Hitch Head Pivoting
- Towing Gooseneck Trailers as well
- Locking Jaw Types
- Sliding Fifth Wheel Hitches
Towing a Fifth Wheel
A fifth wheel hitch serves as that critical connection between two of your most valuable possessions, your truck and your trailer. A fifth wheel hitch is a significant investment as well, so you want to go with a quality hitch. A good hitch will give you the peace of mind that you will arrive safely with both of your possessions damage free.
Fifth wheel hitches for pickup trucks mount to the truck’s bed and are similar in design to those found on semi-trucks. These hitches are specifically designed for just one purpose, safe heavy-duty towing.
Fifth Wheels put the tongue weight of the trailer directly over the top of the rear axle instead of behind the vehicle’s bumper. That makes them less likely to jack-knife the vehicle in emergency braking situations and allow for a tighter turning radius than rear mounted hitches. So navigating tight turns and backing the trailer with a fifth wheel is actually easier.
Also, fifth wheel hitches offer towing ratings that can far exceed rated capacities of ball and gooseneck hitches. Fifth wheel hitches can be found with manufacturer rated tow capacities ranging anywhere from 15000 lbs to 30,000 lbs.
For those reasons, fifth wheel hitches are the preferred hitch for larger RV travel trailers, car haulers, and industrial utility trailers.
Fixed Position and Slider Hitches
The size of your truck will likely determine which hitch type is best. A fixed position hitch does not move fore or aft. For small bed pickups, a sliding hitch or slider hitch may be needed to keep the trailer from hitting the cab of the truck on tight turns.
With full-size trucks, a sliding hitch which typically cost more is not usually required. So based on cost, a fixed position fifth wheel hitch is best fifth wheel hitch for full-size trucks.
Best Fifth Wheel Hitches – Fixed Position
Pricing Key: Prices fluctuate. Each $ = approximately $300.00.
|Image||Model||Towing Cap.||Rails Included||Jaw Type||Price|
|Reese Pro-Series 30056||15K||Yes||Slide Bar||$|
|Reese Pro-Series 30128||15K||No||Slide Bar||$|
|Curt 16115||16k||No||Slide Bar||$|
|Reese Pro-Series 30120||20k||Yes||Dual Jaw||$$|
|Curt 16130||20k||No||Dual Jaw||$$|
|Reese Pro-Series 30133||20K||Yes||Dual Jaw||$$$|
|Reese Towpower 30033||22K||No||Dual Jaw||$$$|
|Curt 16245||24k||No||Dual Jaw||$$|
|Reese Elite-Series 30143||25K||No||Single Jaw||$$$$$|
|Reese Elite-Series 30871||26.5k||No||Single Jaw||$$$$$|
Understanding Fifth Wheel Jaw Types.
When it comes to high-end fifth wheel hitches, popular opinion says the best of the best use a single jaw design.
Using a one-piece locking jaw, the mechanism acts like as a wedge. Being shaped as a wedge, when it closes it takes any slack out of the connection. That means the single jaw design provides the best jaw to kingpin contact possible.
When accelerating, stopping and driving over rough roads, having nearly no play between the trailer and the truck results in smoother and quieter experience. It also happens to be the safest of all hitches. The less moving parts the better. With that said, the best choice for high-end fifth wheel hitches is the single jaw design.
Single jaw hitches are mostly found only on tow hitches rated at 25,000 lbs or more.
A double jaw hitch still offers a quality connection. A double jaw functions by surrounding the kingpin as it enters the fifth wheel.
As you can imagine by looking at the picture, as the kingpin of the trailer slides in and hits the rear of the jaw, the jaws snap closed and locks securely.
These are found mostly on hitches in the 20,000 – 24,000 lbs range.
Sliding bar or locking bar hitches are usually found on lower tow capacity fifth wheel hitches. Once the trailer is on the hitch, the bar the handle is attached to slides inward to create a physical barrier keeping the kingpin from sliding back out. This is more of an imprisonment of the kingpin.
Sliding bar hitches will have more play between the king pin and hitch than other jaw types. With these type of hitches, often you can get knocking noises when accelerating and braking.
These are mostly found on the lowest rated capacity hitches, typically under 20,000 lbs.
4-Way Pivot Head
All fifth wheel hitches pivot 2-way, forward and aft. This allows the truck to start a climb or go down a steep descent before the trailer reaches that change in grading without causing binding or stressing of king pin and hitch.
The better fifth wheel hitches also pivot side to side (left and right) to allow for uneven terrain. These are often referred to as floating hitches. This is especially helpful when hitching the trailer on uneven ground. The degree of the possible pivot can range from hitch to hitch, but the most important aspect is that the trailer can be leaning and hitched all at the same time with a 4-way pivot head hitch. Cheaper hitches usually lack 4-way pivot. All of the featured hitches on this article are a 4-way pivot.
Buying a Fifth Wheel Hitch – Rails and Rail Kits
Most likely you are getting a hitch because you are getting ready to tow a trailer. Nothing is worse than when you think you have everything you need and then you realize something has been overlooked.
When you think of a fifth wheel hitch, usually the first thing that comes to mind is the horseshoe-shaped plate, handle, legs and other parts of the fifth wheel head. Well, that hitch needs to be securely bolted through your truck bed and into the frame of the truck.
Fifth wheel hitches attach with a set of rails that mount to the bed of the truck. This serves as a secure raised foundation for the hitch to attach to. When shopping for a fifth wheel hitch, it is important to know if that particular hitch includes the rails or if you need to purchase them separately.
It’s nice to know that there is an industry standard. Nearly all fifth wheel hitches will work with nearly all rail kits. Just make sure you are purchasing a rail kit and not just rails.
The rail kit includes rails and the proper bolts, brackets and other hardware needed for installation.
There are two main categories of rails, custom and universal fit.
Custom rails are made to take advantage of pre-existing factory drilled holes in the frame on specific vehicles. This makes for a quicker, easier and frustration free installation.
Not every vehicle is going to have rails designed specifically for it. That is where universal rails come into play. Universal rails have the advantage of working on a wide range of trucks but their disadvantage is having to drill through the truck’s frame. That can make for a more difficult and time-consuming installation.
Quick Install Brackets
Nearly all new hitches sold with rails come with universal rails. Do yourself a favor and look into quick install brackets. There is a wide variety of brackets custom designed for specific trucks. They attach to the sides of the frame under the truck bed using existing hardware/holes on the frame. No need to drill the frame. Then you simply drill through the bed of the truck to line up with the holes on the top of the bracket. Now you will have a solid connection to bolt the rails too. Quick install brackets can cut rail installation down to about an hour.
Under Bed Crossmember Rail Mounting Systems
There may be times when you want to remove the hitch to regain regular use of your truck bed. Although most traditional fifth wheel hitches can be removed from the mounting rails, it does leave behind the raised mounting rails.
If you want full and unrestricted use of your pickup truck bed when you’re not hauling a trailer and don’t want the raised rails getting in the way, you want to consider a frame mounted under bed mounting bracket system. This means no raised rails to interfere when loading or hauling your cargo as they sit flush. Under-bed systems give your truck bed the clean and finished look it came with as if you never had a fifth wheel hitch installed.
If you are looking to buy a new vehicle for towing, it can often be factory installed option at the time of purchase as a towing prep package from the dealer. Of course, if you already have your tow vehicle, it can be installed after the fact as well.
Another solution is to go with a Reese hitch. Reese’s puck system allows everything to be removed except for the pucks themselves.
Truck Bed Liners
If your truck has a spray in bed liner, that’s not an issue. Plastic bed liners are another story. You can not install rails directly on top of a plastic bed liner as it will disintegrate. You have two options. One is to cut a large square out of the center of the liner where the fifth wheel hitch installs or go with a Reese Elite Series and install Reese plastic bed liner adapter pucks. Think of them as spacer washers. With the metal pucks, you can cut four small holes in the liner for the pucks instead of a large hole in the center. The raised pucks give the rails a solid foundation to mount to while going over the top of the plastic bed liner and give a cleaner look.
If you are towing your fifth wheel trailer, you are going to need operational lights.
Most pickups put the trailer light electrical 7-way RV blade socket by the rear bumper. On most fifth wheel trailers, the trailer’s electrical socket is going to be on the front of the trailer overhanging the bed, up by the hitch. A wiring harness moves the bumper socket closer. It acts like a semi-permanent extension cord. It plugs in by the bumper and creates a socket in the bed, more local to where you need it.
If your truck does not have a wiring harness installed, make sure to purchase one.
Installation is fairly simple. The most difficult part would be drilling a hole in the side of the pickup’s bed to install the socket.
Best Fifth Wheel to Gooseneck Hitch
If you plan on also towing a gooseneck trailer in addition to your fifth wheel, such as a horse trailer or industrial trailer, it would be ideal to have a hitch that was designed for both. If you have an existing gooseneck hitch, you can go with a fifth wheel hitch like this one that connects to the frame of the truck using the existing setup and takes only about 10 minutes to install it or remove it. When it is removed, it leaves nothing behind.
The B&W Companion hitch attaches to the existing gooseneck mount and requires no drilling, cutting or welding
There are a lot of unique and neat features to choose from when it comes to comparing fifth wheel hitches, Before you can pick the best hitch to haul your fifth wheel trailer, you need to take one really important detail into consideration. First and foremost is safety. You wouldn’t want to risk damage to your tow vehicle or trailer, or even worse, injury or death.
So before you purchase your hitch, you need to know some vital, and maybe not so exciting, information.
Vehicle’s Rated Towing Capacity – This should be considered first. If your truck can’t tow it, don’t waste your time and money buying a hitch. If your vehicle’s rating is not sufficient, there is not much you can do about it other than purchasing another truck. You would want to consult your Owner’s Manual for the official specifications.
Gross Trailer Weight (GTW) – This is going to be the weight of the trailer FULLY LOADED with all of your gear and goodies ready to go, This is the true weight that you are actually towing down the road.
Hitch Rated Towing Capacity – Only when you know your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity and the trailer’s total weight can you consider shopping for a hitch. Obviously, the hitch needs to meet or exceed the weight of your fully loaded trailer but should not exceed tow vehicles rating.
Ideally, you would choose the highest rating your vehicle can handle so that you don’t cut yourself short in the future but avoid hitches that are rated higher than the vehicle’s rating. It’s not a good idea for a couple of reasons. First, it means you may have unnecessarily spent more money than needed, but even worse, the expectation that the vehicle can tow more that it safely could if a judgment was made based off of the hitch rating in the future.