Life En Route

Fifth Wheel Hitch

We currently use a Reese Sidewinder pin box with a Curt A16 hitch. The Reese Sidewinder is designed to address the turning limitations you have with short bed trucks, and isn’t really designed for use in a long bed. It is compatible with a long bed truck and does slightly reduce the turning radius, but adds a lot of complexity and maintenance to the experience.

With a traditional pin box, you have a rigid connection from the trailer frame all the way to the connection point on the truck, and turning occurs at the connection point. With a short bed truck, this can result in the trailer hitting the cab in sharp turns because the trailer is too close to the truck. The Sidewinder uses a wedge to lock out this rotation – something that jams into the hitch head and has to resist the momentum to turn – and uses Teflon plates on a turret to rotate under the nose of the fifth wheel, where usually you would have a rigid connection. This moves the pivot point 22″ back, while keeping the connection point and weight over the rear axle. It’s a slick solution to a serious problem, when needed. In addition to a very heavy pin box, due to the turret and the reinforcement to handle the forces at play, you still need to have a heavy traditional hitch in the bed of the truck.

The Sidewinder works by turning independently of the trailer.

As mentioned, you can use one with a long bed, but since the hitch is already so much further from the cab the benefits are minimal. You end up with a slightly closer tracking trailer, which can be a great thing, but the majority of people tow day in and day out with traditional fifth wheel hitches.

I liked the idea of the tighter turning radius and moved ours over. It was also the cheapest up front thing to do – I had most of the components on hand. The more I thought about it, though, the less determined I was that I made the correct decision. The Sidewinder is a slick solution, but has some notable downsides:

  • Noisy – the design relies on friction, and it lets you know it
  • Feel – even with the AirBorne (air ride) option, you feel some of that friction, especially at low speeds
  • Handling – because the pivot point is 22″ behind the axle of the truck, during a quick turn you can feel the trailer inertia pushing sideways behind the hitch. Given that this is fairly distant from the axle, it does have a noticeable amount of leverage on the truck and can feel like the rear axle of the truck is going to break free and move sideways. I don’t think this has ever been dangerous for us, but I’ve adjusted my driving accordingly – occasionally at the expense of holding up traffic. It has been uncomfortable on a couple occasions.
  • Maintenance – before every trip you are supposed to check the torque on the turret bolts. I’ve rarely seen them loosen up, but carry a torque wrench in the truck and am constantly checking them. Additionally, you have to lubricate the teflon plates all the time if you want to keep the noise and friction down. And the biggest thing is that you have to drop the 175lb pinbox from the trailer, disassemble and lubricate it “seasonally”. I also had to add air to the air bag almost every time I moved it.
  • Weight – at 175lbs for the pin box, it weighs about 100lbs more than the Lippert 1621 most trailers come with, and you have to use a conventional hitch (100+lbs) fixed in the bed of your truck. This takes away payload – not really an issue with the DRW, but a major issue on an SRW, and one of the contributing reasons we went chasing good money after bad to make that truck work.
You still have to keep a large, heavy hitch in your truck bed.

These are all things I was willing to put up with on a short bed, now that I don’t need to, I decided that I won’t. The Reese Sidewinder, in-bed hitch, and adapter was not cheap. Most of the cost was in the pin box itself, but to go out and buy an identical setup would run around $2500. That should hold some value on the used market, say at least half of new. That gives us some money to play with and can be used to eventually offset the costs of a new setup.

We’ve used several hitches over the years, buying and selling and haggling with others, and have experienced quite a few designs. By far, our favorite hitch to date was the TrailerSaver BD3. The BD3 is an air-ride hitch, where the air bags are on the hitch itself rather than the pin box. It rides extremely smooth, the hitch head is highly articulative, has a great automatic latch system and huge, tight tolerance jaws. It was also insanely expensive and there is no way I’m investing in a new one. I looked around on Craigslist and nearly bought one, but decided again, to look at my options.

240lbs as pictured above.

Gooseneck adapters are typically frowned upon for fifth wheels because they exert a lot more force on the trailer than a fifth wheel hitch would. Reese provides a solution called the Goosebox, which is the only supported solution by our frame manufacturer, Lippert. They’ll even honor the warranty with it, though our trailer is now well out of factory warranty. It works a bit differently than in that it is a complete pin box and not an adapter, and distributes those forces over a larger connection area as well as utilizes shock absorbers and air to mitigate them. It still probably exerts more force on the trailer than a fixed pin box and hitch, but I doubt any more than the Sidewinder we are using now.

The Goosebox is not without some downsides:

  • Difficult to connect
  • Additional forces on the trailer frame, as described above
  • Safety chains are required by most state laws

On the flip side, they have some really nice benefits:

  • Clean truck bed when not attached to the truck
  • Smooth and quiet ride
  • Low maintenance (never requiring removal from trailer)

The major con for most people would be hooking up – you have to be directly under the ball. Since we have the cargo cam in our truck, we have a direct visual of the ball and should be able to hit it every time. I’ve also gotten pretty precise at backing over the years and don’t expect it to be an issue.

The Goosebox comes in a couple sizes. Our trailer has a gross weight of 15,500#, so we can get away with the 16,000# model in theory. All of our current gear is rated for 16,000# and 3,200# tongue weight. While I don’t have weights on hand, I suspect we’re under on the first number but at or over on the second.

Being that we’ve not had issues with the 16K/3.2K gear I started out looking at the same for the Goosebox. Ultimately, I decided to order the 20K version with 4,000# pin capacity to make sure we’re not overloading the pin. With a 300lb generator, 110lbs of propane, 100lbs of batteries, and 160lbs of washer/dryer right around the pin on our RV with a dry hitch weight of 2,485# we’re easily pushing north of 3,200# once we add in other gear.

With the Goosebox, the bulk of the hitching gear remains with the trailer. It looks like this (not my truck):

Virtually nothing is left in the bed once the trailer is unhooked. What is left can be removed in a matter of seconds.

All that remains in the truck once the trailer is removed is a 2-5/8″ hitch ball, which due to the factory tow prep on our Ram, can be removed in about 10 seconds and stored virtually anywhere. With no trailer in the truck, there is no hitch, and no fuss. The truck bed is freed up for storage and transport like it should be. The ride should be really nice from everything I’ve read as there is no slop in a ball connection and the assembly uses shock absorbers and air for dampening. Turning shouldn’t be an issue, since we’ll be using our long bed truck as designed.

I’m not sure when we’ll get this in, but I’m excited to try it out. It ran less than $1500 for the whole outfit, including the ball and safety chain setup, and I anticipate making most if not all of that money back by selling the Sidewinder pin box, Curt A16 hitch, and B&W Patriot hitch that will soon be gathering dust in the garage.

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