B&W’s manual sliding fifth-wheel hitch makes it possible to tow with a shortbed truck and installs on standard rails
Pulling a fifth-wheel trailer with a shortbed truck is fairly commonplace these days. Owners enjoy the versatility and maneuverability of shortbed trucks when used as a daily driver, as opposed to running around town in trucks with longer wheelbases and overall lengths. Properly rated, the shortbed truck will do a good job moving a fifth-wheel trailer — until it’s time to make sharp turns necessary to back into an RV site or even negotiate tight roads.
A number of hitching options are designed to provide proper clearance between the front of the fifth-wheel and back of the cab when maneuvering in tight areas. If money is no issue, you can spring for an automatic sliding hitch which, of course, adds weight and normally occupies a bigger chunk of the bed. Another option, if you find yourself less frequently in situations where there’s a need for extremely tight turning, is to use a manually operated sliding hitch.
B&W Trailer Hitches, a company that has long banked on its popular Turnoverball hitches, offers a slider that can be mounted on standard rails. Called the Patriot Slider, it’s rated at 18,000 pounds and exudes the same quality as all the other hitches in the company’s extensive lineup.
Operating a manual-sliding hitch requires more diligence on the part of the owner, meaning someone has to physically get out of the truck and move a lever to allow the hitch to slide back when it’s time to make sharp turns. Failure to do this could result in contact between the front of the trailer and the rear of the truck cab, but the process should become second nature after a short while.
B&W puts a lot of emphasis on strength, and it shows in the way the company builds the components. A fully articulating saddle is mounted on a slider carriage that is part of a base structure that pins into the standard rails mounted in the bed of the truck. If the rails are not already mounted, B&W offers kits that use beefy 2/3-inch steel and robust brackets.
The hitch components are made from 1/4-, 3/8- and 5/8-inch steel that has been meticulously finished to look good and be free of burrs and sharp edges. All the parts are treated with a gray powdercoat finish. The footprint is 313/4 inches wide by 331/2 inches deep, and the hitch weighs 161 pounds. Removing the coupler for easier handling reduces the overall weight by 52 pounds. For safety, any such hitch-handling job should be a two-person operation.
Not only will you find the required high-end hardware among the pallet of packaging, but also tucked in are clearly written and detailed installation instructions. You will need an assortment of tools for installing the rails in the bed, but if they are already in the bed, all that’s required are wrenches, a socket set and a hammer.
Mounting the rails will require drilling 7/8-inch holes in the bed, and unless you have this bit already in your toolbox, it might take a little doing to find one locally. The home-improvement stores typically don’t carry these bits, and if there’s no tool supply in town, plan on sourcing from companies on the Internet like McMaster-Carr.
An extra-long 1/8-inch drill bit along with the standard length 1/8-inch bit will be necessary to get all the way through the frame’s cross members. When buying bits for this job, don’t skimp on quality.
If you’re installing the rails, take your time with the measurements. The measuring process can make or break the whole deal. After the rails are located, begin marking the mounting holes with a center punch and drilling 1/8-inch pilot holes. Once the pilot holes are done, it’s time to go underneath, taking in hand both the driver’s- and passenger’s-side rear brackets, as well as the corresponding U-bolts with the spacers, washers and nuts necessary for the installation. By carefully studying the diagram and the text in the instructions, you’ll be able to see how and where the brackets will line up based on the pilot holes.
After confirming that the brackets are aligned properly, and following the instructions precisely, the rear mounting rail holes can be enlarged by stepping up using a 9/16-inch bit before drilling out the holes to the final 7/8-inch dimension. Follow this immediately by positioning the U-shaped spacers and carriage bolts, including the two underneath requiring the threaded fish wire, and locking straps for inside the frame rails. With all hardware and spacers permanently positioned, secure everything by hand for the time being.
At this point, the Patriot base is lifted into the bed for final alignment between the rear and front mounting rails. Setting the base onto the rear attachment point of the mounting rail first will allow the front end of it to be easily lifted to position the front mounting rail. This is also a good time to recheck the measurements and be sure all parts are lined up and centered. Now, essentially the same drilling and bolting process for the rear rail is mirrored, but this time to suit the front frame brackets’ differing shapes.
The next step is to take a moment to verify that all of the hardware is where it belongs by matching the brackets and fasteners to the images in the instructions. Set the torque wrench to 80 ft-lb and tighten all the nuts to make it final.
With the Patriot Slider base fully pinned into place, it’s necessary to measure the trailer hitch height so that the pivot arms can be set for the coupler. The pivot arms can be adjusted in six positions, including vertically from 17 to 19 inches to accommodate the bed and kingpin height.
After determining the best spot for the pivot arms, the coupler leveling kit (torsion pin) must also be affixed just prior to resting the coupler onto the pivots. This task can be done relatively quickly with a single bolt assembly and hammering a very tough clip into position. Once the saddle is in place, it’s towing time.
Operating the Patriot Slider is not very complicated, and the 3/4-inch wraparound jaws rely on a cam-action handle to release the grip around the kingpin. For our tastes, the coupler handle is a little on the short side, but we quickly learned to compensate. The mechanism works smoothly, even on undulating terrain.
The side-to-side pivot of the coupler is spring-cushioned, and the use of polyurethane bushings prevents metal-to-metal contact. The articulating coupler makes it easy to hitch up, and the jaws open and close smoothly, which makes fighting with the release handle a thing of the past. The tolerances around the kingpin are very tight, and thus we experienced no noise during towing.
When it comes time to release the slide before making a tight maneuver, the trailer brakes are activated or trailer wheels chocked, and the handle is pulled toward the rear of the truck to unlock the mechanism. The truck is then inched forward until the handle falls, which indicates a locked position; the slide will move 12 inches. To return the coupler to the center travel position, the trailer brakes are again engaged or the trailer wheels chocked, the handle is pulled toward the rear to unlock the system, and the truck is moved slowly in reverse until the handle falls and the mechanism locks. The process is very easy — you just have to remember to do it.
Considering all that’s involved to install a fifth-wheel hitch, the Patriot Slider was actually an enjoyable afternoon project, with credit given to the explicit instructions. While the Patriot Slider may not be equipped with fancy on-the-fly sliding action, it’s built to withstand the rigors of long-term fifth-wheel towing, and it feels secure. Maintenance is relegated to lubricating the coupler (or using a lube plate), the jaws (with automotive chassis grease) and the saddle (through the zerk fitting) every six months or as needed.
The Patriot Slider retails for $799, and the optional rail kit is $230. The hitch is made in the USA, and B&W backs it with a limited lifetime warranty. B&W is family-owned and -operated in Humboldt, Kansas, and like many great American companies, it all started in a garage with two people who had a vision.
B&W Trailer Hitches | 800-810-4918 | www.turnoverball.com