How Fifth Wheel Hitches Work

By: Scott C. Benjamin  | 

Installing Fifth Wheel Hitches

Installing a fifth wheel hitch isn't really all that difficult — and just look at the size of the trailer you can pull with one, too.
Jill Fromer/iStockphoto

Prior to installing a fifth wheel hitch on your truck, regardless of whether you decide to do it yourself or have it installed by a professional, you must ensure your vehicle is rated to hold the extra weight of the trailer that you're planning to attach. It sounds rather elementary, yet this point is often overlooked. The owner's manual is a good place to start, and if you can't find the information there, make sure to contact the vehicle's manufacturer for a clear answer.

When the hitch is properly installed in the bed of the pickup, it will be positioned so that the weight of the trailer is between the cab of the truck and the rear axle. The installation instructions will give you the exact placement for what the manufacturer considers to be the ­optimum towing position.


However, you can't simply bolt a fifth wheel hitch to the bed of your truck, attach a trailer and hit the road — the hitch has to be properly anchored to the frame of the truck first. After all, you're going to be supporting and pulling a lot of weight with a fifth wheel, so it had better be secure. You'll need to install a rail kit, too. The rail kit acts like a foundation for the hitch. The rails attach to brackets that attach to the frame of the truck.

If possible, you should attempt to purchase a complete fifth wheel hitch installation kit that was designed specifically for your vehicle. This will save you a lot of time and frustration, as these custom-fit kits require no drilling or welding. The kits contain all of the hardware you'll need for a basic installation, and the holes in the brackets line up with pre-existing holes in the vehicle's frame. If you buy a universal installation kit, you may find that you'll be required to either drill holes in the vehicle's frame or weld the brackets in place to properly mount the hitch.

Another point to consider during your installation is that the rails that support the fifth wheel hitch should never be installed over a plastic bed liner. Even though the rails will initially secure tightly, the plastic will ultimately disintegrate, leaving you with a loose hitch. If you have a pickup truck with a spray-in bed liner, you're in luck — fifth wheel hitches can be installed in a bed that has a spray-in bed liner [source:].

If you're able to purchase a custom-fit installation kit, the installation of a fifth wheel hitch requires little more than a good deal of measuring, followed by bolting the brackets and rails to the frame of your truck. With that said, many people opt to tackle this rather uncomplicated installation in their own garage or driveway. Of course, if you are unable to purchase an installation kit that was designed for your specific vehicle, or if you have any reservations about being able to complete this project on your own, you can hire a professional to do the job for you. As long as there are no complications, it won't take a certified mechanic very long to complete the installation of your latest piece of towing equipment. After all, if they're accustomed to installing towing hitches on other tow vehicles, installing a fifth wheel hitch in the bed of a pickup truck shouldn't be all that difficult.

To read more about towing, hitches and other related topics, follow the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • "Fifth Wheel Hitch Information and Installation Tips." (Oct. 7, 2008)
  • Gray, Scott. "Fifth Wheel Trailer Hitches - For Those Big Loads." (Oct. 7, 2008)
  • Gray, Scott. "Fifth Wheel Trailer Hitches - The Strongest Around." (Oct. 7, 2008)
  • The Hitch Corner. "5th wheel Hitches." (Oct. 7, 2008)