Filed under: Preparation & Readiness, RV Modifications, RV Repair, Safety on the Road, The RVs We Drive
DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU!
Kevin and Debbie Clark own a 2011 Chevy 2500 pick-up with a full-length bed. The truck is used to tow their 2009 Cardinal fifth wheel trailer.
Kevin is extremely proud of his metallic silver truck and is meticulous about how he connects to his trailer. The fifth wheel hitch is a Reese 22K set on bed rails bolted to the bed and frame of the truck. The set-up is strong and easily handles the trailer in both braking and hard pulling maneuvers.
Kevin’s checklist includes:
● opening the tailgate
● chocking the trailer wheels
● setting the trailer kingpin to the height of the hitch jaws
● releasing the handle to close the hitch jaws
● carefully backing into the trailer kingpin while watching for the actuation of the jaw handle to move out and then back in indicating that the jaws have latched tightly around the kingpin.
● Push the jaw locking lever down on the release handle
● Raise the front landing jacks about an inch off the ground and give the chocked trailer a “pull test” to be sure everything is properly connected and securely locked.
Once the pull test is completed he:
● finishes raising the front landing jacks
● secures the electrical connector and brake safety cable
● closes the tailgate
● checks to be sure all running, signal and brake lights are functioning
● removes the wheel chocks and he is ready to head down the highway.
Kevin has performed this routine dozens of times with no issues – until last Thursday.
Something happened to distract Kevin as he was hitching up. The first distraction was a phone call from his brother just after he backed into the kingpin. The call had upset Kevin – his brother had been hurt while trying to put up a swing set for his children. Somehow, he had managed to get a piece of metal that broke off of one of the spokes used to secure the swing set in his eye. It was a freak accident and, unfortunately, he was not wearing eye protection. The injury was bad enough to require a trip to the emergency room.
Then, seconds later, Debbie dropped a bag of groceries containing milk, orange juice, and eggs that she was bringing to the camper. She was now standing in the driveway with broken eggs and glass all over the ground and tears welling up in her eyes.
Being a good husband, Kevin abandoned his routine to help his wife clean up the mess, rescue what was possible and provide as many comforting statements as he could think up to help subdue her combination of anger and duress.
Once all of the confusion and rescue work was over, Kevin returned to his trailer, finished raising the front landing jacks and removed the wheel chocks. Moments later, he and Debbie were ready to pull out of the driveway and head for the lakeside campground where they had a reservation for the next few days.
As Kevin applied force to the accelerator pedal, he heard and felt a loud thump and strong jolt to the truck. He jumped out to discover that the kingpin had come out of the fifth wheel hitch, allowing the entire 3,000 pounds of the front of the trailer to come crashing down on the sides of his truck bed. The damage was extensive. Kevin would later learn that the cost of repairing the damage to the truck would exceed $3,000.
OK, lots of mistakes and happenstance occurred. But could any of it have been prevented?
Yes, everything was preventable. Kevin’s brother should have worn safety glasses and Debbie should not have tried to carry all of the refrigerator items in a single lightweight plastic bag.
Now, Kevin might have gotten everything right without the distractions – but you never really know when something will force you off course.
But here is the deal – we are human and humans make mistakes, no matter how careful they are. Knowing this Kevin could have avoided the damage to his truck with an accessory item that easily bolts to his fifth wheel hitch. The one I am familiar with is made by Blue Ox and is called a Bed Saver. They offer a model to fit every popular fifth wheel hitch on the market. The bed saver will catch the kingpin if it should come lose from the hitch jaws for any reason. It prevents the crashing of the front of a fifth wheel trailer onto the sides of a pick-up bed, destroying them in the process. The bed saver can also catch a kingpin while a vehicle is in motion should it come lose from the hitch. With proper braking, it is entirely possible to bring the rig to a safe stop without damage rather leaving it front down sitting in the road behind you while also destroying your tailgate in the process.
I had a bed saver installed by my RV dealership at the same time as my hitch four years ago. The added cost was small and it seemed like it might be a good idea. Being new to fifth wheel towing I was not familiar with the possibility of unconnected kingpin incidents. When I learned how a Bed Saver could reduce the chances of severe damage to my truck installing one was a no-brainer Since then I have seen several trucks that were severely damaged that did not have a bed saver device.
Since I have owned our fifth wheel, camper I have dropped the front of the trailer three times – in each instance the bed saver caught the kingpin and no damage occurred. I honestly hate to think of the time, cost, and hassle of getting the truck bed fixed let alone the interruption of our trip. I can honestly tell you that it is the best $250 I spent for both insurance and safety when getting the dually set up to tow.
It is an inexpensive item can be self-installed with two 3/4″ wrenches. Kevin ordered one from his local Camping World and put it on his truck himself just as soon as it was returned from the body shop,
If you are pulling a fifth wheel trailer without the attachment you are playing with a bomb that even the best of us can accidentally light the fuse. With a Bed Saver you can forget any damaging hook up issues or accident. Think about the consequences of not having this protection – then order or pick up one at a Camping World store. If you prefer not to get your hands dirty, they will be glad to install the Bed Saver for you. It took less than 20 minutes to install mine.
Of course, you don’t have to buy the Blue Ox model or order from Camping World. Your RV dealer may have one in stock and ready to install or will gladly order one for you. Since they are heavy, ordering on-line can cost you a hefty shipping charge, so shop around for the best total price.
Oh….. one more thing. Kevin’s check list for fifth wheel hook up is a good thing to print out and follow..
HAPPY CAMPING TRAILS TO ALL!