If you’ve never hitched up an RV, the thought of attempting to try sounds a bit horrifying! Don’t worry about all the things that could go wrong and check out our guide on hitching and unhitching your RV, so you can look like a pro on your first camping trip! It’s not as hard as it seems, we promise!
Even if you have no idea what a ball hitch is, chances are you’ve seen them! These type of hitches sit off the back bumper of a vehicle, and look like a ball (go figure). Trailers that use this type of hitch have a long arm-like extension off the front of the unit, with an indent on the end that rests on top of the ball. Although it’s not exactly as easy as placing the trailer on the hitch, it’s not an intimidating of a task as it seems!
Hitching Up Your Travel Trailer
Raise the RV. In order to have the height to hitch up, you’ll have to raise the whole RV so that the unit sits above level. Use your tongue jack on the front of your RV. There are two kinds of tongue jacks:
- Manual tongue jack: a crank is used to raise and lower a pole-like structure with a foot on the bottom, must be cranked by hand.
- Power tongue jack: instead of a hand crank, a motor is powered by buttons to raise and lower the pole.
Back it up. After you’ve raised the RV above level, back up your tow vehicle slowly so that the ball hitch sits directly below the tongue, then raise the stabilizer jacks. Pro tip: have a friend help guide you to make sure you’re backing into the right position and to give you a heads up if something isn’t right.
Drop it low. Once you’re in position, use your tongue jack to lower the tongue down onto the ball. Lower the tongue so that it is just barely resting its weight on the ball. It shouldn’t be pushing down on the hitch/your tow vehicle’s bumper! Your tongue probably has some sort of hitch lock, which could vary from model to model, so check your RV manual to see what exact steps to take to lock the hitch.
Stabilizer bars. If you use stabilizer bars, now is the time to attach them. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific stabilizer bars, as this can vary from brand to brand.
Attach the cables and chains. Once you’ve got the hitch locked, you’ll need to attach the safety chains. These serve as a backup attachment in case your RV and tow vehicle become detached during travel. These are found on the underside of the trailer’s tongue. Cross the chains into an “X” pattern, and attach them to the hitch (again, if you are unsure of where, refer to your owner’s manual). You will also find a line, which attaches to the emergency brake, so attach that to the hitch at this time too.
Plug it in. When you’re ready to hit the road, plug the power cord into the back of your tow vehicle. If you have a wired backup camera, attach that at this time too. Don’t forget to remove your wheel chocks before driving away! Pro tip: test your turn signals, reverse lights, and brake lights on both your tow vehicle and RV once it’s plugged in to make sure everything is working properly.
Unhitching Your Travel Trailer
Level your RV. First, make sure that you can level it from side to side, then position wheel chocks both in front of and behind each wheel.
Remove your weight distribution bars, if you have them. If you use your tongue jack to raise your entire hitch setup so that it’s above level, it will release some tension and make it easier to remove the weight distribution bars. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper removal.
Unlock and unhitch. If you raised the tongue, lower it back down so that the RV’s weight is back on the hitch. Disengage the tongue lock, then raise the tongue off of the ball hitch so that it is above level. Disconnect the power cord, safety chains, breakaway cable, backup camera cable, and any other attachments.
Drive away. Do this slowly, and with someone watching, just in case you might have missed something. You don’t want to ruin anything by peeling out!
Unlike the ball hitches that travel trailers use, fifth wheels use a totally different setup. A fifth wheel hitch, also known as a king pin, is a box-like hitch that sits in the bed of pickup trucks. A pin box extends from the overhang front cap of the fifth wheel, and the hitch on it slides right into the king pin’s receiver. You can’t tow a fifth wheel with a SVU or van, sorry! These hitches can vary by RV manufacturer, as there are many brands out there, and can be fairly easy to use depending on how they’re designed.
Hitching Up Your Fifth Wheel
Chock the wheels. If you don't already have the wheels stabilized, set up wheel chocks behind and in front of each tire to keep your fifth wheel from moving or rocking around as you hitch up.
Raise or lower the rig. Use your judgment and use the leveling system to raise or lower the rig so that the king pin is can receive the hitch. This can be approximate at first, but begin to back your truck up (with a friend watching, of course) and stop to make adjustments from there. When getting into position, you’ll want the pin box to sit just below the king pin. There is a locking mechanism that must close around the hitch, so if you position the hitch too high, it could ruin something or not engage at all!
Make sure the king pin is unlocked. There will be a lever on the side of the king pin, so make sure that it is in the unlocked or open position, or else the hitch won’t be able to engage the king pin. If you don’t know which way is which, use your owner’s manual!
Back up and hitch up. Once everything is in the right position, back the truck up slowly. Make sure to have a buddy spotting to make sure everything goes smoothly. The fifth wheel hitch will probably touch the hitch just a bit, and you may feel a little resistance as it moves into place. This is normal and nothing to worry about! Also, to avoid damage, keep an eye on your truck’s tailgate — make sure it doesn’t hit anything!
Lock the hitch, and hook up. Move the lock down into the locked/closed position per the owner’s manual’s instructions. This is also the time to hook up the emergency brake cable and plug in the power cord to your tow vehicle. Don’t forget to un-chock your wheels and raise the stabilizer jacks before you drive off!
Test your lights. Test out the turn signals, brake lights, and reverse lights before you head out!
Unhitching Your Fifth Wheel
Chock it up. Get the fifth whee’s tires chocked up before you do anything else. Put chocks in front and behind all wheels.
Drop the front legs. Lower the stabilizer jacks in front, making sure they are lowered to the same height for a level unhitching.Then use the front switch to lower the RV onto the stabilizers, which will take the weight of the fifth wheel off your truck. You’ll know the RV is at the right height when the pin box sits slightly above the king pin instead of touching it.
Unlock the king pin and remove cables. Unlock the king pin using the lever lock, detach the emergency cable, and detach the power cable. Don’t forget to put down the tailgate!
Drive away. Go slowly, and with the help of a friend. Although some fifth wheels come with handy mirrors to help you see what’s happening during hitching and unhitching, it’s better to have someone give a shout if anything goes wrong.
Although it can seem like kind of a big, scary task, hitching and unhitching your RV doesn’t have to be difficult! Sure, it may take you a few times to perfect the process, but you’ll be a pro in no time! Come on down to National RV, where we have hundreds of RVs for sale near Detroit with all kinds of hitches! Our helpful RV specialists know all about hitches, and can help you find an RV that you can tow properly with your vehicle! Come on down today, or shop online, save $1000s and get out to live the RVing lifestyle!