Towing requirements for a fifth wheel trailer

Updated April 17, 2017

Fifth-wheel hitches are installed in the bed of a pickup and are used for towing large loads. Livestock trailers and camper trailers often require a fifth-wheel hitch to pull them. The fifth-wheel hitch makes the trailer more stable and allows you to pull more weight more safely than bumper hitches. Fifth-wheel hitches take up a lot of space in the back of a pickup and are costly to have installed. The most important consideration, though, is what your vehicle can handle. There's no reason to have a fifth-wheel hitch installed in a vehicle that can't pull the size of load that would require a fifth-wheel hitch.

Basic Vehicle Requirements

Before you even look into having a fifth-wheel hitch installed in your vehicle, make sure your vehicle has the brakes and suspension to handle the trailer you intend to pull. The manufacturer can provide this information, but remember that the numbers they give are the maximum capacities for your vehicle--not what you can pull easily or even the most safely. Also make sure the box on your pickup is long enough to allow the trailer to turn. Have the fifth-wheel hitch installed by a professional.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating

Every vehicle has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), which tells the maximum amount of weight the vehicle can handle. This includes the vehicle itself, passengers, cargo and anything that is being towed. You should never exceed the GVWR. The GVWR is found on the label between the door and the door frame of the driver's door of most vehicles. When figuring the GVWR to include something being towed, do not figure the entire weight of the trailer. Figure only the hitch weight, the weight that is borne by the towing vehicle, into the GVWR. With a fifth-wheel hitch you can figure the hitch weight is between 15 and 25 per cent of the total weight of the trailer and its contents.

Brakes and Lights

A brake controller is a must-have for towing a fifth-wheel trailer. This ties the trailer brakes to the brakes on your vehicle, so when you step on the brake pedal it applies the brakes to both your vehicle and the trailer. You should be able to stop your vehicle and the trailer with just your vehicle brakes, but electric trailer brakes give you added stopping power. It is important to be familiar with the brake system and to make sure it is well-maintained, especially before you head into unfamiliar, hilly or high-traffic areas.

The brake system may be factory-installed on newer, heavy-duty vehicles, but if your vehicle does not have a trailer braking system, you will need to have one installed at a mechanic shop or where you buy your trailer.

Also make sure the lights on the trailer work properly and that the wiring connecting the lights on the trailer to the vehicle is in good working order and that the connector is not corroded or damaged.

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About the Author

A freelancer from South Dakota, Maria Tussing has been writing since 2000. She has been published in "Family Fish & Game," "Wondertime," "Today's Horse" and "Cattle Business Weekly," among other publications. Tussing holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from Chadron State College.