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With the plentitude of tow hitch types out there, it is quite easy to get confused. You may want to get yourself an RV, so why even bother with what kind of hitch it uses?
In some cases, you would be right not to care about it. But sometimes, what type of hitch you are using can make a big difference.
Today, we are going to focus on gooseneck and fifth-wheel hitches in particular. We chose these two types for our material because they cause a lot of confusion among people. There are plenty of common things between them, which is why the gooseneck vs 5th wheel debate is quite frequent.
These two hitch types are indeed very similar. However, they are different enough for you to really think which one to go for. And to help you with that, we are going to examine each hitch type in-depth.
What is a fifth-wheel hitch?
The fifth-wheel hitch consists of a large flat plate that has the shape of a horseshoe. RVs connect to a fifth-wheel hitch via a downward-facing pin that is called king pin. This king pin is hooked to the horseshoe-shaped socket and locked in position for a secure connection.
The hitch with the horseshoe socket is attached to the truck bed via metal rails. These rails are directly connected to the frame of the pickup truck for additional strength. This is one of the reasons why fifth-wheel hitches can carry much more load than regular bumper hitches.
In their turn, fifth-wheel RVs have their own hitch plates that carry the kingpin. The construction of the hitch plates on RVs is similar to pickup truck hitches.
The flat plates of the trailer and the truck hitch are in constant contact with each other. When the trailer is in motion, the plates slide one against another. Due to this, both components need to be properly lubricated.
While locked in the hitch, the king pin has some pivot capability to accommodate turns. In addition, fifth-wheel hitches are designed to deliver a smoother ride. This makes towing a recreational vehicle much easier.
What is a gooseneck hitch?
In the basics, a gooseneck hitch has a construction that is very similar to that of a fifth-wheel hitch. Namely, gooseneck hitches are likewise anchored to the bed of the towing vehicle for increased strength. However, the way a gooseneck hitch couples is completely different.
Gooseneck hitches use a hitch ball for coupling. This makes gooseneck hitches look like regular ball mounts, with the difference being that a gooseneck hitch is mounted onto the towing vehicle’s bed rather than the rear bumper.
The hitch ball is connected to the coupler on the RV. Thanks to the ball shape, gooseneck hitches have more freedom of movement.
Needless to say, you would need to have the proper RV to be able to tow it to a gooseneck hitch. For example, you won’t be able to use a fifth-wheel trailer with a gooseneck hitch, unless you use a fifth-wheel-gooseneck adapter.
What’s similar between these hitches?
While the design features make fifth-wheel and gooseneck hitches pretty different, there are some similarities between them that should be noted.
The very first thing that unites gooseneck and fifth-wheel hitches is their higher towing capacity.
There is a certain limit to how much weight can be towed from the back of a pickup truck with traditional ball hitches. No matter how powerful the towing vehicle is – it is the strength of the frame below the rear bumper that significantly limits the towing capacity of rear hitches.
Fifth-wheel and gooseneck hitches are both designed to address this problem.
First of all, as we already mentioned, both these hitches are mounted to the much stronger truck bed. In addition, fifth-wheel and gooseneck hitches are designed heavy-duty to carry heavy loads. This combo of the stronger attachment point and the durable hitch is the thing that allows these hitches to support up to 30 thousand pounds of weight.
When properly mounted, gooseneck and fifth-wheel hitches both as if press down onto the truck from above. This redistribution of weight is another thing that allows these hitches to carry much higher loads.
What is also common between gooseneck and fifth-wheel hitches is that they increase the stability of the towing vehicle-RV system, as well as noticeably increase its maneuverability.
This is because both these hitches bring the RV forward and closer to the vehicle. With these hitches, the front end of the RV is hanging over the rear axle of the towing vehicle.
Driving a pickup truck with an RV behind certainly requires skill. But it is rather easier to do with either of these hitches, though they somewhat different in terms of comfort and maneuverability, which we’ll examine in a bit.
Both occupy the bed truck area
This is the last feature shared between gooseneck and fifth-wheel hitches. But unlike the other two, this common feature isn’t very good for RV owners.
The hitch plate obviously needs some free area in the truck bed for the installation. And the bigger the hitch, the more area it is going to take up. And besides, the front end of the RV hangs above the towing vehicle cargo bay, which limits the headroom you have in your pickup truck.
In smaller trucks, gooseneck and fifth-wheel hitches can occupy most, if not all of the area of the cargo bay.
Gooseneck vs 5th wheel – what’s the difference?
Now that we know what similarities there are between gooseneck and fifth-wheel hitches, it is time to examine their differences.
To make these differences clearer, we will examine both hitches one by one, pinpointing their advantages and disadvantages in comparison with the other type.
Let’s begin with fifth-wheel hitches.
Come in one piece
The very first advantage of fifth-wheel hitches over gooseneck hitches is that they come in one piece. There are little to no additional parts that you would need to get to install a fifth-wheel hitch.
This can make the installation a bit easier. And besides, you won’t have to go and buy some additional items to get your fifth-wheel hitch working.
The connection location of fifth-wheel hitches over the rear axle isn’t fixed, which allows you to adjust their position.
This adjustability would allow you to fit your fifth-wheel hitch to your current needs. In addition, pretty much any wheelbase configuration can take fifth-wheel hitches. As long as the vehicle is strong enough for the tasks you’d do with the hitch, of course.
Fifth-wheel hitches are much more passenger-oriented than gooseneck hitches. The earliest fifth-wheel hitches were pretty inflexible, but modern units have multi-axis tilting. This allows pretty good maneuverability, as well as comfort for the passengers of the trailer.
In addition, fifth-wheel hitches are more stable and smooth on-road, which is yet another thing that increases their comfort. If you upgrade to an air-ride pin box, you will be able to further isolate your vehicle from road shock.
Speaking of passengers, there is one thing that should be mentioned. Whether or not you can transport passengers in a towed trailer will depend on your local laws. While this generally is allowed with fifth-wheel trailers, you should consult your local codes before making any decisions.
Occupy more room
Fifth-wheel hitches are noticeably heavier and bulkier than gooseneck hitches. Due to this, they occupy much more room in the truck bed.
This won’t be an issue for you if you have a roomy enough truck and if you won’t be needing its bed storage area. Otherwise, you will have to think about how to redistribute your cargo. Or, you may want to switch to a gooseneck hitch.
Fifth-wheel hitches tend to be more expensive than gooseneck hitches. They go from several hundred dollars to $2000-3000, which is plenty of money for most of the people.
The higher price is probably due to the more complex build of fifth-wheel hitches. That’s likely because they are more centered around a smooth and comfortable ride.
Occupy little room
Gooseneck hitches are much flatter and thus occupy a much less bed area. A gooseneck hitch comprises of a rather thin baseplate with a ball mount which is connected to the truck bed via brackets. This construction is much more compact than that of fifth-wheel hitches.
In vehicles with limited bed capacity, this advantage would certainly come in handy.
Higher towing capacity
Generally speaking, gooseneck hitches tend to have a higher towing capacity. Their trailer capacity commonly goes as high as 30 thousand pounds. There are a few fifth-wheel hitches out there that can support 30 thousand pounds, but they are more commonly situated around the 24 thousand mark.
Gooseneck hitches are commonly used in industrial applications, which is why they tend to have higher weight capacity. As for fifth-wheel hitches, they are usually used in recreational activities, and 30k-pound weight capacity would be overkill for them in most cases.
Can be easily removed or stored
Not only are gooseneck hitches more compact, but they are also easy to remove and store. That’s partly because gooseneck hitches use separate brackets for attachment to truck beds. These brackets make removing the whole gooseneck hitch pretty easy.
In addition, many gooseneck hitches allow you to fold the ball mount down.
In terms of convenience, this is certainly great. When you don’t need the gooseneck hitch, you could fully use the truck bed storage area without removing the hitch.
With a fifth-wheel hitch, you would need to remove the hitch to be able to use the bed area to its full capacity.
Greater movement range
As we said, the main difference in gooseneck hitches is that they use ball mounts to couple with trailers and other vehicles. Obviously, the ball shape of the mount allows for much wider freedom of movement.
Thanks to this, gooseneck hitches are particularly good for off-road conditions. The mount’s freedom of movement would be able to compensate for the roughness of the terrain. This is one of the reasons why gooseneck hitches are commonly used in agricultural vehicles, for example.
Gooseneck hitches are much cheaper than fifth-wheel hitches. This is because gooseneck hitches are much simpler and straightforward: they are designed to deliver versatility and durability for industrial applications rather than for comfort.
May require additional components
As we’ve mentioned several times, gooseneck hitches are connected to the truck bed via brackets. This brackets make disconnecting the hitch easy, but there is one thing that isn’t as good about this design.
The thing is that some models of gooseneck hitches don’t come with those brackets required for installation. Setting up a gooseneck hitch won’t become insanely costly because of this, but the inconvenience of ordering several parts instead of just one is still there.
Gooseneck hitches aren’t designed to ensure a smooth ride. They are commonly used industrially and in off-road conditions, so they are not required to deliver as great level of driving comfort.
Sure, the ball mount makes gooseneck hitches more flexible, but it doesn’t have mechanisms that would make the ride smoother. As we said above, gooseneck hitches are much simpler, which is the main thing that makes them cheaper.
Can’t be used for passenger transport
If your travel trailer has a gooseneck mount, then you most likely will be unable to transport any passengers with it. That’s because this is forbidden by law in most US states. If there will be passengers in your trailer, then a gooseneck trailer most likely won’t be the right choice to go for.
What about adapters?
You might have heard a thing or two about hitch adapters. If you don’t know what they are for, let us explain.
Adapters allow you to install gooseneck and fifth-wheel hitches without making changes to your setup.
If you have a fifth-wheel hitch installed in your truck bed, a gooseneck adapter would allow you to install a gooseneck hitch using the fifth-wheel rails. On the other hand, a fifth-wheel adapter can be installed in the ball hole of a gooseneck hitch.
In other words, hitch adapters allow you to make use of either hitch type without reinstalling them each time. You could save plenty of time by using a hitch adapter.
There are a couple of things you need to keep in mind though.
First of all, the use of a hitch adapter may void the warranty on your hitch. Before using an adapter, check whether or not there are special conditions in your warranty. But if your warranty has expired, you won’t have to worry about this.
What should be also kept in mind is that hitch adapters have their own weight capacity. This means that you will need to look for the proper adapter very carefully. After all, the system will be as strong as its weakest element.
Which hitch to go for?
Now, we know what the differences, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of both hitch types, are. It is time to try and understand which one would be better for your applications.
It’s pretty straightforward, to be fair. The only question that you need to answer is the following – do you need a hitch for recreation or industrial/agricultural applications? If you know the answer to this question, you should be able to choose the right hitch type immediately.
For recreation, the right choice would be a fifth-wheel hitch. First of all, this is due to the increased comfort of driving, especially if there will be passengers in your travel trailer.
In addition, you most likely won’t find an RV with a gooseneck hitch. RVs are for recreation, as evidenced by their name, so there isn’t really a reason to use a gooseneck hitch on them.
For industrial or agricultural use, the right choice could be the gooseneck hitch. These hitches tend to have higher towing capacity, first off. In addition, they are good for off-road conditions, as mentioned above.
The budget doesn’t really play a role in hitch selection unless you are alright using either of them for your applications. If you need a certain type of hitch, its price shouldn’t worry you.
But in some cases, different hitches may be interchangeable for you. If either of them can work for you, the cheaper option would probably be more attractive for you.
What you will also need to take into account is what kind of hitches your trailer supports. If it has a gooseneck coupler, then you’d need to go for a gooseneck hitch, and vice versa.
In addition, make sure that your vehicle has enough oomph to it to be able to tow the loads. If your towing car isn’t sturdy enough, it won’t be able to tow your trailer, no matter how strong your hitch is. Remember, the system will be as strong as its weakest link.
Lastly, if you decide to opt for an adapter, make sure that you won’t be having any problems with its warranty. And make sure that it will be able to support the weight of the trailer.