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What is a Fifth Wheel? | Part One

What is a Fifth Wheel? | Part One

We all know that a standard car has four wheels and this is fairly enough for its common use! So, why do we mention the fifth wheel? Well, this term partly refers to a literally additional fifth wheel on a vehicle, as well as a device used in the conduction of towing processes. Therefore, it is nicknamed the “fiver,” the practical supporter for the heavy duties. 

The fifth wheel is frequently preferred among, who deal with heavy towing processes in places where the landscape conditions are not suitable for a stabilized operation. Many heavy vehicles either consume too much fuel or cannot be used in a wide range of land types. Besides, the standard RV’s usually cannot provide sufficient space to accommodate everything you need in addition to the travelers. 

To solve this problem, an external carriage -light but practical- can be the best opportunity to conduct your operation properly or give you some extra space. And this can be attached to your relatively light vehicle such as a camper, RV, SUV, or a semi-truck via a fifth wheel receiver, a bumper hitch, or a trailer hitch. But this is not the only advantage of the multi-faceted fifth wheel. If you prefer extended trips or travel full time in your RV, it becomes necessary to have a comfortable space that provides a living standard. 

This means that such an external vehicle should have the features of an extremely economical house: 

  • a mini kitchen to prepare practical courses
  • sufficient and comfortable sleeping cases or foldable beds
  • a bathroom and a toilet
  • a simple space for a comfort zone, either a table centered around a few stoles

While these features are usually the fixtures of any type of camper, the fifth wheel is much more than simply a full-blown house model on wheels. Instead, it can be described as a specific type of RV, which gives you the benefits of a larger model. The right towing vehicle is crucial in making your travel comfortable and satisfying. Therefore, if you are heading on a long journey, let us get on our RV and know much about our new best fellow traveller! 

You may tend to imagine this device as an additional wheel to your standard four wheels. But it may turn out in a different form. Although a fifth wheel itself involves a wheel, it is basically a hitch that is attached to your conductor vehicle. Thus, it connects the cargo to your RV, truck, or tractor from its rear with a fortified special receiver. The device looks like a “U” shaped apparatus on the back of the towing vehicle.

Why is it called the fifth wheel? 

The fifth wheel was originally invented for horse-drawn carriages, which were commonly used in the mid-1850. As this time was far back from the mass industrial production era, the manufacturers built a piece of equipment specialized for towing, by hand. This was a horizontal wheel located on the cargo frame. And it functioned the front axle of the vehicle to operate on its own. At those times, of course, such an invention was incredibly practical for providing stable and maneuverable travel. 

Later, however, the quality and the means of production improved. As the horse-drawn carriages get substituted for motor vehicles, the manufacturers copied the design, placing an actual wheel on the back of a truck. The wheel was attached to a trailer, which allowed it turn on a horizontal plane. When we came to the early 1990s, the device was connected to standard motor vehicles and was remodified for them. The name fifth wheel, thus, literally carried the transportation industry forward.  

Although a fifth wheel hitch today has some obvious improvements, the concept of how it works still remains much the same as that of the past. 


Why are the fifth wheels so popular? 

Nowadays, it is very likely that you see an RV, or even a smaller vehicle, towing a large and luxurious cargo. Much as the 1800s were the ages of horse carriages, the twenty-first-century will be perhaps mentioned by the fifth wheel trend. A lot of people like fifth wheels because they tend to give you more space and storage than travel trailers. But even more importantly, they are much improved and equipped with the most recent technologies to become economic and ecological at the same time. 

The latter cargo type, namely the travel trailer, is similar to a camping trailer in many ways. However, they are associated with RV’s as mobile homes. While this feature may resemble the fifth wheel, the travel trailers are usually not durable and efficient as them. Instead, they are promoted for their convenience, yet at the same time require a robust power system. It is specially designed with a well-equipped kitchen and a living area to provide the best domestic space to the campers. But this focus makes the cargo susceptible to harsh environments or rough roads.

The fifth wheel is popular also because the pivot point is on or in front of the rear axle. Thanks to this feature, it tows much easier and more stable than the other hitch types. In this way, the truck and the fifth wheel move on the road and appear as one unit, almost completely eliminating the syaw. Fifth wheels also have nicer amenities as standards such as auto level leverages that maintain the level stability of the cargo with your RV. Their kitchens are sufficient to accommodate a  residential refrigerator, especially for extended travels or large families. The upgraded ventilation systems, keep the cargo’s interior temperature at the most appropriate level.

These are the several favored features yet there is a lot more to add! 

Important Information to Know about Your Turck and Fifth Wheel

Well, considering all these qualities and opportunities, the fifth wheel sounds like a great preference. But there are so many options, and where should we start? One of the first things you will need to decide is if you are going to buy a new one, or just use your own truck to tow. Keep in mind that you need a pickup truck to tow a fifth wheel. Unfortunately, an SUV will most probably not work. So, the fifth wheel is depended on the type of your vehicle. 

There are two significant things to consider then, firstly the towing capacity. As the name suggests, this means how much your truck can tow. This is crucial because if your tuck is not able to receive the torque and force of the fifth wheel, swayings and even detachments are likely risks. 

Secondly, you shall find your truck’s payload, which means how much weight your truck can haul or carry. Everything you put into or connect to your truck, including cargo, passengers, stuff, baggage, and the pin weight of the fifth wheel are all taken into account. If you do not have this information available, you can easily calculate it on your own.  

  • Take the truck’s gross vehicle weight rating, known as GVWR
  • Subtract this from the curb weight of the truck

This is how you get your truck’s payload capacity. This information basically covers what you will need to know about the truck. Yet still, you also need two pieces of information on the fifth wheel. First of all, the fifth wheel’s unloaded weight, UVW in short, is important. This is the weight of the device before propane, batteries, and everything else that is added. The other thing you will need to know again is the GVWR, but of the fifth wheel this time. So, not confuse this second calculation with the GVWR of the truck. 

One last step to set off…

Both the UVW and the GVWR of the fifth wheel should be located somewhere on your RV. The GVWR is generally found on a sticker on the outside of the door side of your fifth wheel. The UVW is usually indicated around the entry door.  

Once you have all the necessary information you will then take the UVW of the fifth wheel and add four other amounts of weight:

  • Battery: This will be approximately 50 lbs per each
  • Full 30 lb Propane Tank: These tanks weight 54lbs
  • Water: add 8lbs per gal
  • Stuff: all the things you pack in the RV, 700-1500 lbs in average

While the weight of the stuff can change according to your purpose and needs, we recommend you have the loaded fifth wheel weighted before a long trip. This is important to ensure your safety lest any unexpected thing, such as sways or detachments happen.   

Lastly, take your loaded weight of your fifth wheel and compare that to the tow capacity of your truck. Be cognizant that after you load the fifth wheel including all the headings listed above, including your package, that it is under the GVWR of the fifth wheel. Do not exceed the payload of your truck also, which is much more important in half-ton trucks. Because the tow capacities of these trucks can receive big, large fifth wheels whereas their payload cannot. 

Is a fifth wheel hitch the same as a gooseneck?

Obviously, different hitches are specially designed for different purposes. Some may be more versatile than others, while some may compensate for this with their force-reception capacity. Therefore it is important to choose the best hitch appropriate for your purpose. The most common and popular hitches are the gooseneck hitch and the fifth wheel hitches. 

Gooseneck and fifth wheel hitches are both used to relocate the hitch from below the bumper to the truck bed over the rear axle. Placing the hitch over the axle determines the point where the trailer’s tongue weight falls on your truck. Rather than hanging off the rear end, thus, you can carry heavier duties directly on your truck’s rear axle. 

However, there are basic differences between these two devices that separate the fifth wheel trailers and gooseneck trailers from each other. 

The gooseneck hitch is simply a ball hitch installed within the bed of your truck. This ball connects a unique type of vertical coupler on a gooseneck trailer. This mechanism looks like a simple one, but it can pull more than 30 thousand pounds. The ball hitch of the gooseneck occupies very little space in the bed, therefore, it allows you to load many more things on your truck. Goosenecks are commonly used in pulling industrial and horse trailers for their ability to operate on rough lands and harsh conditions. They do not prioritize stability or smooth use, but can be used in heavy-duty towing. Plus, they can also connect a wider variety of loads and attachments than the fifth wheel.

The fifth wheel, on the other hand, is larger with hitches that hinge plates located in the bed of your tow truck. Although goosenecks are compatible with fifth wheels, they cannot be used for other trailers. And as their structure suggests, they are not the appropriate devices for cargo carriages. Secondly, the fifth wheel’s hitches are quieter and enable smooth operation. Hence you can have more control over tall trailers, which are susceptible to swaggers on rough roads. Besides, the sliding mount of the fifth wheel hitch allows you to adjust the position of the device in the truck bed. 

While deciding between a gooseneck and a fifth wheel, the initial question you have to answer is what type of trailer will you tow most. But the quality of your hitch and installation process should also be taken into consideration. As the fifth wheel hitches are common for daily use, they can be installed on your truck easily and manually. If you are a handy one, or interested in such installation, you may visit our blog about How to Install a Fifth Wheel Hitch here. 

The best quality fifth wheel hitches for RV’s, Truck Pickups, and toy car haulers are usually made of formed steel, which TULGA provides you with T10 Fifth Wheel Hitch. The mounting bases are explained in detail to make the installation an enjoyable activity accompanying your comfortable and long travels. 

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