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Towing a Fifth Wheel with a Short Bed Truck: All you need to know


So, you want to keep your short bed truck and hitch a fifth wheel onto the back of it? Well, you’re not alone! Many 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.

But this doesn’t mean that you can’t still tow a fifth wheel with a vehicle like this!

There are a few things that will be different if you choose to tow like this though. Some short bed trucks are smaller than other models and can’t tow the same amount of weight. Because of this, there are certain sizes and shapes of a fifth wheel that you’ll need to look into getting.

Some fifth wheels are specially made to attach to short bed trucks, so you’re in luck on that front! The hitching and driving process will have different challenges though.

Further on, we’ll look at the different types of hitches and which one will work best for your needs. And finally, we’ll discuss how to properly turn your fifth wheel and avoid damaging your truck in the process.

There’s a lot to talk about here, so let’s get into it!

What Qualifies as a Short Bed Truck?

The first step of towing with a short bed truck is figuring out whether or not your truck actually is a short bed! There are different classifications for different types of trucks.

Depending on the length of your truck bed, you may have a standard short bed, extra short bed, or long bed. We’ll briefly look into the differences of each of these types before moving forward.

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). You need to look at the actual length of the truck bed before just taking the salesman’s word for it.

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.

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.

We’ll define and explain some important terms to know below.

Weight and Towing Limits

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.

The UVW of your chosen fifth wheel is important to know as well. They might seem like a safe weight to tow based on this measurement, but once they’re fully loaded with all the equipment and gear you need, they can weigh several thousand pounds more.

Knowing the base measurements is very important to know though. You need to know what you’re working with at a fundamental level so you know how much weight you can safely add and carry.

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, people, and any piles of road snacks you bring along, it can end up being quite heavy.

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 same is true for any fifth wheels that you haul. Make sure that their fully loaded weight doesn’t exceed the safety restrictions. They’ll be hard to pull and unsafe to maneuver in this state.

To make sure that you’ve measured the weight correctly, it’s best to weigh your truck and fifth wheel before committing to any long trips. We’re all human and we can make mistakes when we measure. It’s better to find out sooner than later in this case.

Tow Capacity

This measurement refers to the amount of weight that a truck can safely pull behind it. Trucks are hardy vehicles, so they can usually pull quite a bit of weight before showing signs of struggle.

To make sure that you’re not exceeding your truck’s tow capacity, you need to compare the tow capacity of a truck to the weight of the completely laden fifth wheel (aka, its GVWR). If your fifth wheel is heavier than your truck’s tow capacity can handle, then it’s not safe to haul.

You should also be careful with this measurement. Even if your fifth wheel is lighter than your truck’s maximum tow capacity, it still could be risky. You should usually leave a safety margin between these two measurements. Many people like to keep their trailers at least 15% lighter than the maximum tow capacity.

You don’t want to push the limits of these measurements. They’re set at their maximum capacity and it’s risky to get too close to these breaking points.

Payload

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.

Choosing the Right Fifth Wheel

When you choose to tow with a short bed truck, you’re limiting the option pool of fifth wheels you can use. Depending on your truck’s tow capacity and payload, you might have a smaller number of fifth wheels you can tow with your size and weight limits.

Luckily, there are fifth wheels that are specifically made for short bed trucks to tow! You always need to keep weight restrictions in mind, but there are some designs that are perfectly suited for short bed trucks.

For instance, many fifth wheels are designed with smaller overhangs and rounded “noses”. These are built this way to make turns safer and easier.

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.

The smaller overhang 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.

As mentioned above, you’ll also need to keep a close eye on the weights of any fifth wheels you choose. They may be light enough for a smaller truck to pull when you purchase them, but remember that you’ll be adding a lot of weight once you add water, gas, cargo, and a hitch into the mix.

Always, always, ALWAYS make sure that you’re under the GVWR of your fifth wheel and the tow capacity of your truck.

Your options are going to be limited a bit when you’re towing with fifth wheels. You’ll usually be looking at smaller, lighter varieties of trailer and most of them will have rounded fronts. But there are still lots of options for you! Your dream fifth wheel is still out there waiting for you.

Fifth Wheel Hitch vs Sliding Hitches

When you’re choosing a hitch for your fifth wheel, you’ve got a couple of options. Classic fifth wheel hitches (usually just called fifth wheel hitches) and sliding hitches have different pros and cons. People who are towing with short bed trucks will need to look into both of these choices to decide which one will work best for them.

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.

If you’re interested in buying a classic fifth wheel hitch, this model has been well received by customers and is available for purchase online.

Sliding Hitch

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.

This is a very useful feature for a short bed truck to have. It does require a few extra steps though, and you need to remember to lock the fifth wheel back into the towing position before driving off. You don’t want it to be sliding back and forth while you’re out on the road after all! That could make stopping a real pain in the neck (literally).

This hitch is a good option if you’re interested in using a sliding hitch. It’s received positive reviews and is designed to work with short bed trucks. If you want more options, there’s also a great article here that lists some of the best sliding hitches for fifth wheels.

There are a lot of people who can help you choose the right hitch for your needs. You should be able to find a good product without much trouble!

Hitching your Fifth Wheel to a Short Bed Truck

When it comes to the actual process of connecting a truck to a fifth wheel, there’s not much of a difference between long bed and short bed trucks. Once you’ve chosen the proper fifth wheel, measured the weights of everything correctly, and installed the proper hitch, you’re all set to begin!

(The process of connecting to the different hitch types will diverge further in, but the first steps are the same).

First, make sure that your fifth wheel is stable by placing chocks behind the wheels. This will prevent it from shifting or rolling if it’s jostled during the connection process.

Second, make sure 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.

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.

Park your truck and then you can move on to the final steps of connection. Depending on whether you’re using a standard fifth wheel hitch of a sliding hitch, this is where the steps will vary.

Final Steps for a Fifth Wheel Hitch

Before you do anything else, double check that the hitch is securely fastened around the fifth wheel pin. Then rotate the safety lever on the hitch and thread the safety pin through the latch openings to keep the hitch from coming loose.

Finals Steps for a Sliding Hitch

Make sure that the hitch is firmly connected to the pin and rotate the handle on the side. This will let the hitch slide backward 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.

Then 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.

For more guidance on how sliding hitches work, check out this video. It’s specifically created for people who want to tow with short bed trucks.

https://youtu.be/dtW1ChnMnIo

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.

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.

Finally, you just need to 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.

Check to make sure that your lights all work and that nothing is scraping along the road. You’re then clear to remove the wheel chocks and be on your way!

Turning a Short Bed Truck with a Fifth Wheel

This little animation shows what can happen when a fifth wheel turns go awry. Luckily, thanks to the power of computers, no vehicles were harmed in the making of this video!

However, accidents like this do happen all the time in real life. Hopefully, this video gives you an idea of how the overhang of a fifth wheel can be very damaging to the structure of a truck. When your hitch is too close to the cab of a truck, it’s all too easy for tight turns to cause damage.

To make sure that these unfortunate turns don’t happen to you, let’s review the right way to turn when you’re pulling a fifth wheel with a short bed truck.

Finding Your Truck and Fifth Wheel Clearance

To start off, you’ll want to find out what the clearance of your fifth wheel is. You can figure this measurement out with just a few simple steps.

First of all, make sure that your fifth wheel is unhitched from your truck and is still and stable on the ground. Make sure that all the jacks are locked firmly in place and that it’s completely level.

Next, take a measuring tape and measure from the exact center of your fifth wheel’s kingpin to the outer edge of the overhang. Usually, this measurement will be a couple of feet long (about 48 inches in general).

After this, you need to take some measurements from your truck and fifth wheel hitch. Take the measuring tape and position one end right in the center of the hitch opening. Angle the tape at a 45-degree angle and measure to the back edge of the truck cab.

Ideally, the measurement of your hitch to truck cab should be larger than your fifth wheel clearance measurement. So if your fifth wheel measures 48 inches on one side, the measurement from your hitch to the edge of your truck cab should be more than 48 inches.

If you’re using a short bed truck though, it’s likely that you won’t have the necessary clearance to make tight turns with a standard fifth wheel hitch. This is where sliding hitches come into play.

Turning With a Sliding Hitch

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’re 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.

Briefly park your truck and turn the handle on the hitch to lock it into the towing position. Then you just get back in your truck, disable the manual fifth wheel brakes, and drive off to your next destination!

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