Hitch Repair Resulting From Ten Years of Heavy Use; Part I

I've broke the story of our Hitch Repair into two sections. Since... The Hitch is kind of an important part... I thought I should give it proper consideration! So... Part I is what I believe led up to and caused the Hitch failure... and Part II will be the actual pinbox repair I had done... which turned into a patience twisting and frustrating ordeal.

The Hitch Repair we got cornered into doing was primarily caused by ten

years of hauling a nearly max loaded,(1000 lbs under max axle capacity) relatively light weight fifth wheel trailer frame... over roads that are not often described as good.

Let's face it... the crews building this country's roads are two general sorts. Those who lay down the roads; and those who build the bridges.

The problem is... the two crews seem to start at opposite ends and don't communicate 'till they meet at the bridge. You'd think that a country that can put a man on the moon and send a robot to mars could somehow learn how to create a smooth transition from road to bridge.

... so that wandering Gypsy Cowboys like me don't have to lose so much of their limited dinero to frame and hitch repair.

Nope... You come off the roadway and on to the bridge, and WHUMP! all that concussion goes up through your Trailer tires, the trailer suspension... and eventually, pounds up through the pin box. At the same time... it's flowing up through the trucks tires, suspension and pounding up through the hitch at the same time...

... and that says nothing about the potholes, heaving pavement, humps, bumps and manhole covers you pound across for thousands of miles of Highway, two lane and National Forest Byway...

Yep, that Pin box, and hitch frame take a beating. The result? Hitch Repair!

On top of bad roads... combine, as Compounding impacts, all the things we do to our rigs... and it can get cornfuzzling... So... On to the world of cornfuzzlement!

I know there's folks out there that are gonna say; "Your hitch repair had to be done 'cause you've got that Gooseneck adapter on there!".

NOPE. It swear it ain't so. The gooseneck adapter is the SAME LENGTH, between the pin box and the Truck Bed/Ball as a fifth wheel hitch would be. That means the LEVER it could create is the same length.

To increase the torque on the pin box requires a longer lever. And that torque is only going to happen if the adapter or fifth wheel hitch locks up. Since a Fifth Wheel hitch locks up Far, Far, Far sooner (with only 5-7 degrees of available movement) than a gooseneck (with enough movement that the trailer is going to fall over before the hitch locks) ever will... the Gooseneck adapter, in the end is likely to apply less torque. (especially in RV Boondocking situations)

The Big rigs only use fifth wheel because they're easy to hook up blind and they never leave the pavement... when they do... they lift trailer wheels off the ground and twist truck/trailer frames when the truck leans one way... and the semi-trailer goes the other.

So, the problem Was Not... the adapter.

There were how-some-ever... an issue or two that lead up to this Hitch Repair that I AM responsible for.

I see the issues that caused my Fifth Wheel Hitch Repair having come from a couple of sources. Some of these Sources combined to compound the stress on the rig and cause the eventual cracking that required the trailer repair:

  • High Mileage Hauling
  • Heavy Pin Weight
  • Light Frame Construction
  • Long/Extended Pin Box
  • Faulty Axle Flipping Job
  • ?????

High Mileage Hauling: Most rigs don't get hauled. It's a simple truth. They get parked. Ours has been Hauled! I'd guess our mileage on the trailer is 60,000+... maybe, in the last ten years, as high as 75,000. I don't know what the manufactures build for... but my guess is... one of their "Design Parameters" is fairly low mileage.

Heavy Pin Weight: In the front compartment, right behind the hitch are the guts of my solar power system. I'd guess that weight to be 600 lbs. or so. Six big batteries and 2000 watt inverter... along with what misc. cargo is stuffed in there.

The result is a pin weight of 1800 lbs or so... Heavy. So... combine that with lots of miles on roads that are NOT smooth,and you accelerate Metal Fatigue and likely create one of the primary reasons for this hitch repair.

Light Frame Construction: I believe that most fifth wheels are designed with the thought in the engineers minds that; "This rig is gonna be bought on Monday... Hauled the next four weekends until it's parked next to the garage for the next five years and then sold; "because we just don't use it"

As a result, they build for that lowest common denominator... Little use... to save construction cost. Now, take that light built frame, and pound it, like we have over nearly 75,000 miles of less than smooth, paved roads... and dirt back roads Boondocking... and you haul it to the point you discover the reality of Metal Fatigue.

Even though I run pretty slow by most peoples estimation... road impact at 65 mph still takes it's toll on metal trailer frames... and triggers, eventually... a Hitch Repair and/or Pinbox Repair. (the point where the energy passing through the truck suspension and trailer suspension COLLIDES)

Long/Extended Pinbox: The biggest flaw in the design of the Jayco Eagle we've been hauling, and I think the number one cause behind this Hitch Repair is that long nosed, extended pin box the manufacturer hung on there to give enough clearance to allow the rig to turn without trying to shove the cab off your truck.

While the Gooseneck adapter doesn't (in my opinion and the engineers that designed them!) change the leverage on the hitch and frame... extending that pinbox 12" or so sure does! The problem lies in the fact they hung that on a Hitch and Front end framing built of light weight tubing...Hidden up inside where no-one can see it. That Light Tubing Metal Fatigued far sooner (fewer miles) than members of proper weight would have.

The cost of building that frame properly during manufacture? Maybe two hundred dollars +- for the difference to get the heavier members... How much would that have impacted sales of what then was a $27,000 dollar trailer? Maybe improved it if they PUBLICIZED their construction. ;)

As a result... I will NEVER buy another trailer with an extended or long pinbox... unless they can demonstrate to me that they built the trailer frame, with members of sufficient weight, to take the torque that long nosed box beats the frame with. (at the least, I'd install an air ride hitch to moderate that road concussion... knowing that the construction was too light.

My current configuration, hauling my big Yamaha just behind the cab required me to move the ball location 12" behind the axle instead of the normal 6" in front. That gives me clearance for the nose to swing and not contact the bike. The truck is heavy enough that it causes no handling issues at all.

If it weren't for the bike I could improve my Hitch repair with a change out of the pinbox to a Trailair type air ride pinbox. That would combine not only the cushioning of the pinbox with their air ride system, but I could install their shorter nosed version and take away a lot of that leverage...

I'm still thinking hard about reworking the saddlebags on my Motorcycle, to allow a quick detach mounting system. Without saddlebags on the Bike, I would have enough clearance for that short Trailair hitch... there's always some sort of scheming goin' on 'round here! :)

Faulty Axle Flipping Job: This I believe is another Major contributor that's led up to this hitch repair and again, my fault since I caught it too late.

In the first year we owned the rig I had the axles "Flipped" to give me proper clearance between the truck and trailer. The trailer was contacting the truck bed just pulling out of gas station driveways.

The job was poorly done as it turned out. It took a few years for a shock to fail. In replacing that shock I discovered that all four shocks were nearly fully compressed to get squeezed in. The result being an almost solid suspension. Talk about transmitting SHOCK through to the trailer. I guess that gives new meaning to the term "Shocks!"

Once I reworked the shock mounts the noticeable difference in the LACK of "Shock" coming through to the truck was amazing. But, the damage from many miles with the suspension screwed up had already been done.

So...though I think "Flipping" the axles is still a necessary thing... unless you flatbed your truck... to deal with the Manufacturers building trailers with insufficient clearances... INSPECT THE WORK CAREFULLY to make sure they haven't screwed things up. Don't trust they're "Promises" of good work. Trust But Verify!

Bottom line lessons I've Learned from this Hitch Repair?

1. Though the frame under the batteries was able to carry them; I am sure their weight, being far forward, contributed to the hitch failure.

Done over, I'd find a way to locate the batteries under the rig somewhere, or maybe on that tail section where I'd carried a motorcycle for 10,000 miles or so. The idea being to put more of that weight onto the suspension and not the Hitch/truck.

2. The Long Nosed, Extended Pinboxes... are a problem that will eventually catch up with you if you (a) haul enough miles and(b) haul enough weight. (I'm not OVER loaded. I've never gotten closer than 1,000 lbs UNDER max axle weight)

3. Fact of Life. Most Fifth Wheel Trailers simply aren't built to haul a LOT of miles. The sad fact is, they're built to be parked.Hauling those Many Miles like we have... simply results in higher maintenance and repair issues. All you can do is grin and bear it... and if you can, learn from the OOPS! of folks like me and set up your rig early on, to avoid some of the Compounding Issues.

4. Closely Inspect EVERY job done on the trailer. Don't get lazy and Trust guys just because they haven't screwed up on yourrig before... It's another of those times where the old saying that "Wisdom comes from making more mistakes than the other guy"comes to mind. Everybody screws up now and then. Keep your eyes open to spot it.

These are the reasons I see led up to my Hitch Repair... Check out Part II for the repair I did...



Return from Hitch Repair to Goin' RV Boondocking

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