Towing a 5th Wheel

30 08 2012
2012 Ford F-150

2012 Ford F-150

The considerations for our next RV (moving  from the Northstar truck camper) started in mid-2012 when we purchased a new 2012 Ford F-150.  With the Ecoboost engine, a turbocharged V-6, we felt we had enough power and torque to tow a small to mid-sized trailer.  However with the supercrew cab configuration, our payload capacity would be the limiting factor on most towing applications, especially 5th wheels.  Our truck had a maximum vehicle weight rating of 7200 lbs yielding about 1500 of payload.  Reduced by 2 passengers, this allows about 1100 maximum payload.  There is also a 7650 GVWR option on the F-150, but these trucks included the large towing mirrors that in 2012 were not power-fold.  With a narrow garage door, we opted for power-fold mirrors and gave up 450 lbs in extra payload capacity.  This payload capacity is everything you put into the truck – passengers, cargo in the bed of the truck and obviously the weight of the trailer hitch and any towing equipment.

Many other options were focused on towing:

  1. Off Road Package that included the 3.73 electronic lock rear axle
  2. Rear View Camera (included in the Lariat Plus Package)
  3. Trailer Towing Package which includes 7 and 4 pin connectors, hitch receiver, auxiliary transmission cooler and radiator upgrade.
  4. Trailer Brake Controller which provided trailer sway control

With the supercrew cab, our F-150 is configured with the “ultra” short bed, only 5’7” long.  This short bed provides an additional concern for any 5th wheel applications because of space required for turns.  Most trailers are 8’, or 96 inches wide.  The distance between the center of the pivot point on the hitch, or pin box, is half the trailer width or 48”.   A 5th wheel hitch mounts directly above the rear axle, or about 26” behind the cab on this truck.  When turning, the “half side” of the trailer (48”) doesn’t fit into the 26” of space between the hitch and the cab, resulting in cab and trailer contact.  Of course, this is all dependant on how hard you turn.  However after watching a considerable number of 5th wheel trailers maneuvering into camping spots and RV spaces, it became apparent that many times a near 90 degree angle is needed, thus the full 48”.

The traditional “fix” for towing a 5th wheel behind a short bed truck is a slider hitch.  These hitches either manually or automatically move the pivot point toward the back of the box during turning maneuvers.  These hitches are expensive, especially the automatic ones.  They also weight a lot, some approaching 500 lbs.  We couldn’t afford the additional payload weight nor did we want to spend $3500-$4000 for just a hitch.

PullRite Super Glide Hitch

PullRite Super Glide Hitch

Another less explored option, is a hitch extension. Instead of moving the pivot point, this hitch accessory simply moves the trailer back from the cab.  In theory, this option pushes the 5th wheel into more of a “bumper hitch” position, much further back from the optimal over-the-axle position.  It also seemed to move the trailer into a less desirable position for fuel economy and maneuverability.

With these payload capacities, costs and short box considerations we had almost decided a traditional  travel trailer was the only option for us.  This was until we met a fellow RV’r at the Peak One campground near Dillon, CO.  They were towing a short 5th wheel equipped with a Reese Revolution, the OEM version of the Reese Sidewinder.  This hitch provides additional clearance for 5th wheel trailers on short bed trucks by permanently moving the pivot point back 22”.  It does this by “locking-out” the pivot at the hitch pin, and instead providing a pivot plate directly below the pin box.

Reese Revolution

Reese Revolution Hitch

Knowing that a hitch option was available, the only consideration became the weight, more precisely “pin weight” of possible 5th wheel options.  As it turns out, there are very few 5th wheel configurations with a rear living room (a floor plan requirement for us) with around 1000 lbs of pin weight.  Our search only revealed 3:  the Springdale and Passport by Keystone and the Wildcat by Forest River.  After extensive research, both through RV dealerships and online forums we decided on the Wildcat 241RLX with a published dry pin weight of 930 lbs.

Once a trailer was located, I began investigating the Reese product line in more detail.  With the Sidewinder you are replacing the coupler (the “tongue” and the pin), but retaining the manufacturers pin box which is attached to the frame. You need to order the Sidewinder specific to your pin box.  Nearly all Forest River 5th wheel trailers use the Lippert 1621 extended pin box. Wanting to also use a Reese hitch for support reasons, I opted for their new R16 hitch.  Both the Sidewinder and R16 hitch was $1500 with free-freight from  Bed rails are used to mount the hitch to the truck bed.  For the Ford F-150, Reese provides rails with no-drill attachment plates.  However, these plates aren’t usable with airbags, which are still installed on the truck from the truck camper days.  With standard plates came the requirement of drilling holes in the bed and the frame. For this I opted to use Extreme Hitch, a local hitch shop, which provided the rails and installation services for under $500.  In all we spent about $2000 on Sidewinder, R16 hitch, rails and rail installation services.

Reese R16 Hich and Rails

Reese R16 Hich and Rails

Sidewinder Coupler

Sidewinder Coupler

The Sidewinder is easy to self-install for any one handy with tools.  You’ll remove 4 or 6 bolts from the original pin box and remove the factory installed coupler.  Along with this you’ll probably also need to remove the brake lockout switch and possibly the electrical connections from the light/brake cable.  The toughest part is physically lifting and positioning the heavy Sidewinder in the pin box.  You’ll need an assistant or two, or some type of lift.  Insert the provided bolts through the pin box to attach the Sidewinder, torque to spec, reconnect the electrical and brake switch and you’re nearly finished.  Next you’ll hitch up the trailer, position the lock-out wedge and torque to specifications.  It took us about 2 hours to complete the coupler swap and be ready to tow.  You’ll need a small amount of Lithium grease during the assembly of the Sidewinder along with a small amount on the lock-out wedge.  You may also need some wire nuts or electrical tape if you need to move electrical connections.  You’ll find several installation videos on Youtube.

Original Coupler

Original Coupler

The key test of the Sidewinder and hitch was turning and maneuvering the trailer.  In a tight turn, where the trailer is nearest the truck cab, we have about 4 inches of clearance.  I consider this much too tight for unobserved practice.  The passenger is always outside the truck to observe where the trailer is going and how close it is to the cab as well as the top of the truck bed.

Tight Turn

Tight Turn

Another test is ease of hitching and unhitching.  Both are relatively easy on level ground.  During hitching, the R16 handle is positioned to the unlocked, closed position.  The tailgate is lowered and the truck is slowly backed under the trailer.  Once the pin has passed the back of the bed, the tailgate is closed.  As the pin gets close to the hitch, we adjust the level of the trailer so that the Sidewinder coupler just slides onto the hitch plate.  When the pin is fully locked in place, the green lock indicator is visible and the R16 handle is moved to the locked position.  During unhitching, the R16 handle is used to unlock and open the jaws, the light/brake and breakaway cable disconnected, the tailgate lowered and the truck pulled out from under the trailer.  These maneuvers are simple, certainly much easier then loading the truck camper, and they appear easier then the hook-up procedures for a ball-type hitch with equalizing/torsion bars.

With any type of cargo onboard, we’re still probably pushing 20% or so over the trucks payload.  But, this is much better than the fully loaded Northstar camper that was 50% or more over our maximum payload capacity.  For the truck camper we filled the airbags to nearly their maximum rating of 100 lbs.  With the 5th wheel, we use between 30 and 40 lbs just as insurance in the event of a very bumpy road.  The total trailer (dry) weight is under 7000, which is considerably under the truck’s maximum towing capacity of 9800 lbs.  We’re confident and comfortable with the safety and durability of this configuration.




One response

31 12 2012
A Wildcat in the Family « Small Home – Big Yard

[…] and set to work replacing the Lippert pin box with the new Sidewinder hitch. I’ll post complete details of the new rails, hitch and sidewinder in a later blog. Today we’ll spend the entire day and 1 more night in Deer Park before heading […]

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