Analysis regarding towing a fifth wheel with a short bed truck. Short bed trucks (1) are one of the most popular types of trucks (2) (4) that are currently in the market (3). They offer usually a crew cabin or extended cabin that accommodates at least two more passengers (4) (6) very safely (5). Nevertheless, the truck blueprint (7) subtracts the space occupied by the extended cabin to the footprint of the bed of the truck, which becomes shorter (8) (9) (10).
The kingpin is set over the axle of the truck (12) (13) to provide proper weight distribution (11) (17). This feature and the typical width of these trailers (14) admits in a short bed truck a smaller distance between the nose of the gooseneck of the fifth wheel RV and the cabin of the truck, thus impeding to perform shorter turns in order to avoid an impact (15) (16) (18).
Towing a fifth wheel with a short bed truck should be performed with a sliding hitch that in a shorter turn moves the fifth wheel farther from the truck while keeping the pivot point at the axle of the towing vehicle ensuring adequate weight distribution.
So a sliding hitch will keep the pivot point at the axle of the truck providing the safe towing advantages of fifth-wheel trailers and then when making short turns it automatically moves back as far and as fast as you turn regardless of whether you’re towing forward or in Reverse gear in your automatic transmission.
Therefore, the short bed truck may have difficulties towing a fifth wheel, not only because of the possible lack of sufficient towing capacity but also for the possibility of having an impact between the nose of the RV and the cab of the truck in rare, but technically possible circumstances.
Particularly appeals to this selection preference when they can choose extended cab models, they get more usable passenger space, duplicating it with the extended cab, and yet with short beds, they don’t have such long wheelbases that make them difficult to drive and maneuver.
The problem of course is that if you position the weight of the trailer, the kingpin over the axle to provide proper weight distribution and the safe towing characteristics that fifth-wheel trailers are known for, then the trailer is too close to the cab to allow turns in acute angles of more than fifty degrees, also called shorter turns, to be made.
You would have to turn right or left in shorter angles to avoid that the front edge of the fifth wheel impacts with the cab of the towing truck. While that is possible, you could require to do a maneuver while traveling on a highway or to accommodate the truck and the pulled rig in the parking spaces of an RV campsite, or in the entrance or exit of congested RV parks.
No one intends to put their truck trailer or passengers at risk, but the fact remains that when short bed trucks are used to tow fifth wheel trailers there has to be some means of moving the trailer away from the cab (the cabin of the truck or the second cabin in extended cab trucks) to allow shorter turns, turns with closed angles whether they are planned turns, or simply unexpected maneuvers made while parking or avoiding obstacles in congested areas.
The cost of an unintended contact between the cab and the fifth-wheel can be significant when you consider the damage to the truck cab, usually the rear window of the cab of the truck, the front of the fifth-wheel and the potential for injury to passengers that are seated in the cabin of the truck, not to mention the stress of always needing to be aware that the problem is always there.
I imagine just the embarrassment of having an accident in the RV campground or in a congested gas station or RV park and the vacation time interrupted by having to deal with insurance companies, glass replacement companies and body shops, apart from people laughing at me that I did not calculate a deeply acute turning angle.
As this is a real concern for most RVers who have a fifth-wheel, they are looking for solutions.
In fact, there are different approaches trying to solve the problem some that require constant monitoring and accepted responsibility of always remembering to do something before making a turn some that appear to be a solution but in reality fall far short of doing what’s needed.
Also there are some solutions to this problem that have significant drawbacks in terms of towing safety and stability a
let’s take a look at each of theseconcepts and see what they do and perhaps more importantly what they don’t do.
- Displaced pivot point products.
- Installing the hitch behind the axle.
- Extended king pin boxes.
- Electric slider hitches.
- Manual slider hitches.
Manual Slider Hitches
There are several companies offering manually adjusted slider type hitches such as the Reese 5th Wheel Trailer Hitch w/ Round Tube Slider and also products from Curt in the same direction.
But the drawback is really that if you ever forget to perform this manual adjustment, well then you have an accident: the damage to the cab of the trailer truck and the potential for injuries to passengers that were seated in the cab.
With a manual slider hitch you’re accepting the responsibility of never forgetting, no matter the situation, that you’ll have to stop before making your turn, get out of the truck, go back to the bed to unlock the hitch, leaving it free to slide forward and back in the bed of your truck after the turn, then getback in the truck, set your trailer brakes and pull forward attempting to drag the hitch back in the bed as it was before.
So with these manual sliding hitches, you have to get out of the truck and perform manually the adjustment on the hitch on the bed of the truck before doing the compromised turn left or right with the truck.
Some of these manual sliding hitches even recommend lowering your trailer landing gear to take the weight off the hitch, so the trailer can drag the hitch back easier.
Of course, if you can get the hitch locked into the back position and it creates enough clearance to make the turn then the hitch is too far behind the truck axle to tow safely at highway speeds.
Therefore, all those steps that we have just described have to be repeated in the gear Reverse of the automatic transmission in order to embed the hitch back, the vertex of the angle, into the safe towing position where the weight of the trailer and its pivot point is back up over the axle of the truck.
Manual Adjustments Required
Let´s study with more detail the process of having to adjust manually the sliding hitch when you discover that you have to do a turn where the gooseneck of the fifth wheel can impact the truck
When you need to make a tight turn, begin by aligning your truck and fifth wheel trailer in a straight and even line. This might not always be realistic, but do your best to straighten everything out as much as possible.
If you’re doing this alone, the next thing you’ll need to do is park your truck and engage the emergency brake.
This will keep the tow vehicle stable and prevent any rolling or jostling. Now go back to the sliding hitch in your truck bed and move the handle from the towing position to the unlocked position.
Get back in your truck and engage the brakes on your fifth wheel manually. Then pull your truck forward slowly, checking to make sure that your fifth wheel isn’t moving in tandem. The brakes will prevent it from moving with your truck, which will make the hitch slide back on its rails. This will create some distance between your fifth wheel and truck.
Once it has moved back far enough, a spring-loaded latch will lock into place. This secures the hitch into the maneuvering or turn position. Get out of the truck again to double check that it’s in place. Make sure that the hitch handle has moved to the maneuvering position.
To make sure that the hitch is firmly locked in place, you can perform a simple slider push test. Do this by engaging your fifth wheel brakes and gently driving the truck forward and backward. If the hitch is firmly set to the maneuvering position, it shouldn’t move when you back up.
Once you’re sure that the hitch is in the correct position, you can then use your truck to perform tight turns without the danger of damaging your car or fifth wheel in the process. When it’s time for you to park, try to keep your truck and fifth wheel in the straightest line possible. If everything is aligned, it’s much easier to back up and readjust the hitch when you want to leave.
When you’re ready to put the hitch back into towing position, make sure that you’ve already completed any tight turns that you need to make. Then you just move the hitch into the unlocked position and back your truck up slowly. This will slide the hitch forward and center it in place above the main axle.
Manual Slide Hitches Available In The Market
If you do not care and you want to go with the manual option anyway, it is fine, not my preferred option but let´s see what you can do.
For example, the Reese 5th Wheel Trailer Hitch w/ Round Tube Slider – Single Jaw – 20,000 lbs is a good example of a manual sliding hitch.
You will need to get out of your truck to release the lever, then slowly pull forward for the hitch to engage in the rear position.
You repeat that in the opposite way to bring it back into the towing position. This gives you an additional 11 inches of turning clearance when maneuvering around gas pumps or backing into your campsite or driveway.
The hitch adjusts from 15-1/4″ – 18″ tall measuring from the bed to the top of the plate where your trailer connects.
If this adjustment isn’t enough for your trailer to tow level, your trailer may have adjust-ability at the pin box.
Some trailers have a couple of height adjustments and others do not.
If you have the ability to adjust the pin box lower on your trailer then the distance between your truck bed rails and the bottom of your 5th wheel overhang will increase slightly.
You want to make sure there are not less than 6 inches of clearance between the top of your bed rails and the bottom of your 5th wheel overhang to ensure you have clearance for uneven ground and inclines when towing at it changes the angles
All these aforementioned steps are a hassle and it sometimes works, and I see many manual sliding hitches in RV parks. if you always remember to do it fine, but what happens if you ever forget it? Likewise, how often do you want to go through all those steps and how many times do you think you will forget to do it.
Extension To The King Pin Box
Another solution proposed and there are products for sale about it, is the idea that adding an extension to the kingpin box of the trailer will give us added clearance which is true and really does that. This would be a cheap solution, and it also gains clearing space while towing a fifth wheel with a short bed truck in a straight line down the road, like a highway, a road that RVers very frequently will utilize.
However, when you start turning at a closed angle, you can see the width of the trailer has not been displaced at all, the center of the fifth-wheel body is still over the axle and half the width of the trailer is ahead of the asset. If you’re trying to make a 90-degree turn, it is still going to hit the back of the cab.
Therefore, this proposed solution is not solving the actual issue of towing a fifth wheel with a short bed truck in the case of a very acute angle or a 90-degree straight angle turn.
It does not solve the issue because when you move the hitch back in the bed behind the truck axle you are also moving the towing pivot point which creates a condition known as trailer sway.
Not really a solution to the short bed problem at all. the distance from the back of the truck cab to the axle on short bed trucks is only 38 to 42 inches depending on the make and model of the truck and the width of the fifth wheel is usually 96´´ up to 102 inches on a wide-body fifth-wheel. 102 inches is a possible width for a fifth-wheel RV and is the maximum authorized by the Federal Highway Administration.
Installing the hitch behind the axle
Whereas the other proposed solutions are ineffective or are cumbersome, this one can be even harmful and we do not recommended at all.
There are even some stories of people wanting to have their hitches installed in the back of their truck bed behind the truck axle, which causes two negatives: one if you move the weight of the trailer behind the truck axle you are in effect unloading the front axle and overloading the back axle meaning the truck won’t be sitting level and creating a weight distribution problem.
Travel trailers stowed behind the truck axle on a ball have trailer sway and are not as safe towing or as stable in crosswinds as fifth-wheel trailers.
In fact, one of the reasons people choose fifth-wheel trailers is because they are so much more stable safe, and are easier to handle than travel trailers it would be unlikely that any installer or knowledgeable RVer would accept the idea of mounting a hitch behind the truck axle. It is simply not a good idea.
There are now a couple of products appearing in the market that are essentially doing just that. Actually moving the towing pivot point back from the truck axle which means that you lose the sway free towing characteristics of a fifth-wheel trailer.
You’d have a trailer that tows more like a bumper pull travel trailer would pull, but without having the option of using sway control or weight distribution when the trailer’s pivot point is behind the truck axle.
The effects of swaying from vehicles passing by on the road and other unexpected forces affect the handling of the truck due to oversteer or torque.
The disadvantages of this option are significant. No one would consider simply installing a fifth wheel hitch behind the axle of the truck it simply wouldn’t have the safe towing characteristics of a fifth-wheel trailer.
Another drawback to this option is that it places significant additional stress and leverage on the kingpin box and trailer frame which may not have been designed to withstand this structural stress at all.
Automatic Sliding Hitches
The only real proven solution for safe towing with short beds is the SuperGlide hitch from PullRite. it keeps the pivot point at the axle of the truck providing the safe towing advantages of fifth-wheel trailers and then when making short turns it automatically moves back as far and as fast as you turn regardless of whether you’re towing forward or in Reverse
Clearance Between Truck And Fifth Wheel
For the required clearance between truck and fifth wheel, have at least 6 inches from the top of the bed rails to the underside of the fifth-wheel gooseneck or overhang.
If you have at least 6 inches of clearance with the trailer level you should be alright in all but the most severe pitch and roll situations, like entering a steep drive or going through a deep dip.
If your fifth-wheel hitch does not have enough rise to accommodate 6 inches of clearance, then you might be interested in a hitch that can be adjusted to 18 inches above the truck bed. You may also be able to lower the pin box on the trailer. Most pin boxes can be adjusted up and down for additional clearance.
Here you have to go to your usual RV parts provider and also inform them of your VIN to see if there is a recommendation for towing your camper with your truck. Sometimes, older campers cannot be towed, or need to have the suspension raised for towing the trailer level and providing adequate clearance between the trailer loft and bedsides.
If you are intending to modify your truck by having its bed rails partially cut out you will have to determine how much needs to be cut out based on the height of your fifth-wheel when leveled.
If you will lower the trailer for reduced sway then you’ll need to determine the amount of height drop and take that into account for the modifications to be bed rails.
5th Wheel Fixed Vs Slider Hitch
Another thought on auto slide.
Do you need it to slide on every single turn? Auto slides do that.
There’s a lot less action with a manual.
Your autoslider goes back on every turn because it’s designed to do just that. Not because ever turn has the potential to cause truck to RV impact.
I put my trailer in my driveway while packing and unpacking. Considering the width of my street and driveway, I have to have a slider to make that turn. With an autoslide, I don’t have to get out of the truck. Just pull up, shift to reverse, and back it in. We dry camp in the national forests a lot. I like being able to turn around in a clearing on rough ground without worrying about damage.
Sliding hitches are pretty similar to fifth wheel hitches, except for one major difference. While fifth wheel hitches are locked into place once they’re installed, sliding hitches can move back and forth on a set of parallel rails installed in the truck bed.
Sliding hitches have two main positions that they will lock into. The first one is the towing position, where the hitch locks into place above the main axle of the truck. This is the best way to distribute weight while you’re towing, and this is where your hitch will be for the majority of the time.
The second position is the slow speed maneuvering position (or the turning position). This is when the hitch slides backward, creating more distance between the truck cab and the overhang of the fifth wheel. Generally you only use this position when you need to make tight turns or back up your vehicle.
The sliding hitch comes in handy for those who want to tow fifth wheels with short bed trucks. You can loosen the hitch and pull forward a bit to create a bit of distance between your truck and fifth wheel. This extra space makes it much easier to pull off tight turns without scraping the edge of your fifth wheel against the back of your truck cab.
Standard Fifth Wheel Hitch
This is the standard hitch for most fifth wheels. They are large hitches that sit in the bed of your truck. The hitch doesn’t move at all and the fifth wheel must be attached by smoothly backing into the connecting pin of the fifth wheel.
The hitch is embedded in the truck bed and is immobile. The fifth wheel will pivot on a fixed point once it is attached. Fifth wheel hitches are popular because they’re perfectly designed to attach to fifth wheels and because they are so securely installed. There’s not much risk of anything shaking loose or breaking off with this setup!
These hitches are most commonly used by people who are towing with long bed trucks because they don’t need to worry about the fifth wheel overhang clipping the edge of their truck. With caution, fifth wheel hitches can be used by trucks with smaller beds as well.
Fifth Wheel Designs Suitable With Towing With A Short Bed Truck
It would be very simplistic to say that you just have to choose lightweight fifth wheels.
I don’t think there is hard fast rule and depends on if you pin is over the axle or a couple inches in front of the axle and how you the nose of the fifth wheel is shaped.
While that is not a bad idea to allow safely towing a fifth wheel with a short bed truck, the fifth-wheel design has a lot of influence in this because this may avoid the impact of the front of the fifth-wheel with the cab of the truck.
For example, some new fifth wheels have indentations on the front that allow a very good angle turn.
Furthermore, many fifth wheels are designed with smaller gooseneck or overhangs and rounded “noses”.
These are built this way to make turns safer and easier. This raised forward section hovers over the bed of the truck and houses the unit’s bedroom or living room area. and is called gooseneck, or alcove or overhang.
Round noses are positioned at the front of the fifth wheel, and these are useful because they eliminate sharp edges and extraneous bulk. Because they’re more streamlined, they have less chance of scraping against the edges of the truck cab.
For example, in my opinion, the Flagstaff Classic has a long nose, very prominent in the overhang.
The smaller gooseneck means that you’ll lose a bit of space within the fifth wheel, but this is usually minimal. If the bedroom is located in the front, this just means that the bed will be pushed a little further into the room. The implications on the floor plan don’t really make much difference from one format to another.
Short Bed Trucks
In regards to this topic, a truck is considered to be a “short bed” as long as its bed is less than 8 feet long. So both standard short beds and extra short beds will fall into this category. If there’s a long bed that falls on the small side, you can even add those in too!
Along with this range of bed sizes comes a wide variety of weights, horsepower, payloads, and towing capacities. The size of the truck bed doesn’t necessarily disqualify you from hauling as long as you fall within the weight and towing limits of each specific type.
Standard Short Bed
This is the most common variety of truck to be found on the market. Most trucks that you’ll find for sale will fall into this range. The length of these truck beds ranges between 5 feet and 6.5 feet. The shortest truck beds in this range (the ones closer to 5 feet) are sometimes referred to as compact trucks.
Standard Long Bed
This term refers to trucks that have beds that are longer than average. They’re usually a foot or two longer than standard short beds and these trucks are often used primarily for heavy labor, farming, or industrial work. 7 to 8 feet is the standard range of length for long bed trucks.
These are also the most commonly used trucks for hauling campers and trailers. The added length of their beds helps to spread out the weight of their additions, and it helps prevent scrapes from tight turns.
Extra Short Bed
Extra short beds can be the most confusing classification on this list. Some truck dealers refer to all four-door trucks as “extra short beds” when their beds actually fall into the normal range for standard short beds (5-6.5 feet).
short bed trucks have additional seating, which makes them great for traveling with larger groups. But trucks with extra seating space inevitably compromise by cutting into their large truck bed space.
Extra short bed trucks are trucks with beds that are less than 5 feet long. These will almost always be four-door models and are often used for recreation rather than heavy hauling.
Some short bed trucks are smaller than other models and can’t tow the same amount of weight.
Sliding Hitch Installation: Properly Installing Fifth Wheel On Short Bed Truck
Properly installing fifth wheel on short bed truck is the installation of a sliding hitch….
Let´s see the steps to do this so you can do it yourself. Some steps are very obvious and I know you are very well aware of them. Use this step by step indications as a checklist.
- Level and Stabilize The RV: First, make sure that your fifth wheel is stable by placing leveling blocks behind the wheels. This will prevent it from shifting or rolling if it’s jostled during the connection process. We indicate to you in this article that you can save about fifty dollars using homemade RV leveling blocks made of wooden planks or rubber pavers.
2. Adjust the height of the pin box of the fifth wheel: Ensure that the pin of your fifth wheel is set at the proper height to slide into the hitch. Measure the distance between the two and make any necessary adjustments to the pin of the fifth wheel. The hitch in the truck bed can’t really raise or lower, so all height adjustments need to be made through the pin box of the fifth wheel.
3. The pin should slide into the hitch: After that, all you need to do is make sure that the hitch in the bed is in the proper position to connect and slowly back your truck into place. It’s usually best if you have someone on the outside to guide you through this part. The fifth wheel pin should slide into the hitch comfortably and the jaws should close.
4. Ensure that the hitch is firmly connected to the pin and rotate the handle on the side: This will let the hitch slide back so that you can create more space while you back up and turn. Pull your truck forward slightly to slide the hitch all the way back and position yourself to drive away.
5. Go back to the hitch, rotate the handle again, and let the hitch slide back into its towing position. Lock the handle into place and secure any safety pins that your model may have.
6. Set up the breakaway cable: After your hitches are securely locked into place, you need to make sure that your emergency breakaway system is hooked up as well. This system will stop your trailer from moving if it becomes detached from your truck during travel.
7. Make sure that its battery is fully charged, and connect the pin and cable to the battery switch. Secure the other end of the cable to an immobile part on the back of your truck.
8. Hook up your brake lights and turn signal cables to the fifth wheel, raise the tailgate, and retract the legs of your fifth wheel, placing its full weight onto the truck.
9. Remove the leveling blocks and wheel chocks that you have installed in the first step.
Specifications To Be Considered For Towing A Fifth Wheel With A Short Bed Truck
There are some specifications to consider in our analysis apart from the characteristics of the hitch. We have to analyze weight ratings, payload and towing capacity of the short bed truck.
Even if we utilize the right hitch, we could be exceeding the towing capacity of the short bed truck and when the vehicle to pull is a fifth-wheel RV this limit can be easier to surpass.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR)
The GVWR refers to the maximum amount of weight that any vehicle can safely carry while it’s operating. Once a vehicle is weighed down by gear, extra equipment, and passengers.
You always need to make sure that your vehicles are operating beneath their maximum GVWR measurement. Going over it will put a huge amount of strain on the wheels, engine, and overall structure of your truck, making it unsafe to drive and difficult to maintain.
The tow capacity of a truck can sometimes be confused with its payload. While the tow capacity refers to the amount of weight that a truck can pull behind it, the payload refers to the amount of weight that a truck can carry in its cab and bed. So a truck might be able to tow 3,000 pounds of weight behind it, but only 1,500 pounds of weight in the cab and bed.
The payload limits are important to keep in mind when you need to install fifth wheel hitches. These are often quite heavy and can sometimes get dangerously close to the maximum payload measurements.
This measurement refers to the amount of weight that a truck can safely pull behind it.
To make sure that you’re not exceeding your truck’s tow capacity, you need to compare the towing capacity of a truck to the weight of the completely laden fifth wheel (GVWR). If your fifth wheel is heavier than your truck’s towing capacity can handle, then it’s not safe to haul.
Unladen Vehicle Weight (UVW)
This measurement is important to know both for your truck and any fifth wheels that you want to tow. The UVW is basically the curb weight of a vehicle when it is completely empty of passengers, fuel, and any extra cargo. If your truck is quite compact, it’s UVW will be much lower than an unladen long bed truck.
Can you tow a fifth wheel with a 6.5 foot bed? (5th wheel 6.5 foot bed)
Yes, to tow a fifth wheel with a 6.5-foot bed you should utilize a sliding hitch to allow the fifth wheel RV to perform turns in angles close to 90 degrees, provided that also the towing capacity specifications of the pulling vehicle allows it.
This slider hitch can be manual or automatic. I recommend the automatic slider hitch as it is safer and requires less involvement and responsibility from the RV owner.
Some new fifth wheels have indentations on the front that allow a very good angle turn.
That being said you have two options. If you really want to use a stationary hitch like the part # RP30033 you can replace the pin box on your trailer with a Sidewinder and that will allow the clearance.
Sidewinders are pin box specific so you will first need to know what pin box you have now in order to pick out the correct one.
There should be a sticker or a stamping on the OEM pin box of the trailer that will list the pin box number that is on the trailer.
Once you figure out which pin box you have you can check the FAQ I attached that has a chart that shows the correct Sidewinder to get based on which pin box you have.
Sources And References
- “Payload – Define Payload at Dictionary.com”. Dictionary.com. Archived from the original on 2013-12-12.
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