My Fifth-Wheel RV

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Attaching and Detaching your Fifth-Wheel

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There are two absolute rules I use when attaching and detaching our fifth-wheel to and from the truck:

  • No one is allowed to talk to me while I'm involved in these critical activities, and
  • Follow these lists religiously.

I highly, highly recommend that if you are a newbie fifth-wheelers, you should literally follow these lists step-by-step, at least until you have a few trips under your belt. As you gain experience, hooking and unhooking will become second nature so you won't have to physicallyh go down the list but it may help to review from time to time.

Another good idea is to have someone look over the list while you are working, in sort of a "co-pilot" way. They than tell you if you missed something or did something wrong.

Your may be interested to know that I have personally made some serious boo-boos while trying to listen to someone else when I was busy. Becoming distracted can cause you to crash your trailer down on the truck bed rails, or worse. Don't laugh - this almost happened to me!


Here are the things I do when hooking up our rig, and the order I generally do them in. Some step may not apply to you, such as putting dogs in the truck.

  1. Retract the rooftop antenna(s).
  2. Retract the awning.
  3. Secure inside contents like tables, chairs, drawers, doors, TVs, etc.
  4. Flush the toilet. Leave some water in case you have to use it while travelling.
  5. Empty the water holding tank.
  6. Disconnect and stow the water hose.
  7. Relieve water pressure by opening the faucets.
  8. Turn off all inside lights and appliances.
  9. Flush gray and black water tanks. Flush with a non-white, non-drinking water hose.
  10. Dust and stow rugs.
  11. Put dogs in truck.
  12. Close slideouts.
  13. Retract stairs.
  14. Close the stair handrail, and lock entry door, and lock basement doors.
  15. Retract rear jacks and remove the red ribbon [see below].
  16. Put down tailgate.
  17. Set the truck's emergency brake, if on uneven surface.
  18. Put teflon ring on the fifth-wheel kingpin.
  19. Tilt the truck's fifth-wheel plate downward toward the rear.
  20. Back truck up to within about 8” of the kingpin. See here for info about your fifth-wheel's "sweet spot".
  21. Raise front jacks until the kingpin is just below hitch the hitch.
  22. Pull hitch arm out, up, and toward the truck cab.
  23. Make sure hitch handle is up and the hitch bar is open.
  24. Back up truck to engage the king pin.
  25. The king pin should cause the spring-loaded bar to close behind the pin. Make sure it is. Use a flashlight to ensure this if it is dark.
  26. Lock emergency brake.
  27. Ensure good fit.
  28. Re-position arm down.
  29. Attach breakaway cord clip. Note that this clip also ensures that the fifth-wheel handle arm is shoved in and aligned correctly, and will thus not move while you are travelling.
  30. Visually inspect that the fifth-wheel closing lever is correctly positioned behind the king pin.
  31. Connect umbilical cord.
  32. Check all lights.
  33. Retract front jacks. Raise as high as possible to avoid problems with bumps, railroad tracks, etc.
  34. Remove wheel chocks.
  35. Put up tailgate.
  36. Unplug elec service line & stow.
  37. Remove outdoor temp sensor for atomic clock.
  38. Check brakes before going.
  39. Extend truck mirrors.


This list is essentiall the reverse of the above one, but not quite.

  1. If backing in, check for trees and other obstacles.
  2. Use tire levelers if on uneven ground.
  3. Level trailer with orange risers if necessary.
  4. Plug in elec service.
  5. Unhook umbilical cord.
  6. Tailgate down.

    This sounds obvious but it is critically important. Once, while distracted, after unhooking I pulled away from our rig with the tailgate still up. The kingpin caught on the gate and ripped it completely off the truck. Moral: NEVER get distracted while hooking or unhooking your rig!
  7. Undo breakaway pin.
  8. Put chocks under wheels.
  9. Front jacks down to raise trailer about 1”.
  10. Pull hitch handle to release hitch.
  11. Make sure hitch handle is up.
  12. Make sure hitch bar is open.
  13. Pull truck away.
  14. Tailgate up.
  15. Lower the front and rear jacks. Put blocks under them if desired. Put a red ribbon on them to so that you don't drive off with the jacks down.
  16. Open doors.
  17. Stow umbilical cord & breakaway line.
  18. Remove ring from kingpin.
  19. Put sliders out.
  20. Attach white water hose.
  21. Flush faucets and close.
  22. Hook up sewage line.
  23. Unlash inside stuff.
  24. Raise antenna.
  25. Vacuum.
  26. Awning out.
  27. Distend truck mirrors.

- - - - -

If you are ever going to make a serious mistake with your trailer, it's probably going to be while attaching it to the truck or taking it off. These processes demand your undivided attention.

So what could go wrong, you say? Consider something that has happened to me, more than once. I had just pulled into a slot at Grandfather Mountain Campground not far away from Boone NC. I had unclamped the breakaway line and released the safety arm on the fifth-wheel, in preparation for raising the unit and pulling the truck away. Sure enough, some friends we were there with came over and started talking to me about how I should reposition the trailer to gain more room on the door side. So I backed it up a bit to make everyone happy. Then - without thinking - I got in the truck and started to pull away as I had planned earlier. Guess what? Because of the distraction I had forgotten to jack the trailer up off the fifth-wheel. With the jacks in a lowered position, when I pulled away the trailer fell down! Luckily I pulled away slow enough that the unit fell onto the side rails of the truck, which messed them up a bit but didn't hurt the trailer. The moral of the story is DO NOT let anyone distract you while you are going through either your attachment or detachment checklist. It may be impolite, but just tell them to shut up until you are finished. Nothing is more frustrating than breaking your front jacks because your trailer has fallen. This is so important that I have made 25-point checklists for attaching and detaching [see ---]. Follow these to the letter - don't trust your memory!  If you have a dualie, be sure to push in the tow/haul button on the end of your gearshift arm.

Inspect your fifth-wheel occasionally, especially if you have a big rig. A trailer puts a lot of stress and strain on a fifth-wheel. Slowing down or stopping puts great pressure on the pin especially, so examine it for wear, cracks or fatigue. The pin is your lifeline and if it breaks you're going to be in a whole world of grief.

It is a good idea to place blocks under your front and rear jacks. On dirt or gravel surfaces the weight of the trailer can cause the jack feet to dig into the ground. And even on concrete they are a good idea since they help prevent pooling of rainwater which can cause the metal feet to rust.

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