What Is the Difference Between a Fifth Wheel Hitch & a Gooseneck Hitch?

by Rob Wagner

Fifth wheel trailer hitches use a kingpin and pin receiver mounted in the bed of a heavy-duty pickup truck. These hitches are similar to diesel tractor-trailer rig combinations. A gooseneck hitch is similar to the fifth wheel, but features a conventional ball and coupler mounted under, behind or on the floor of the cargo box. Goosenecks hitches are not to be confused with the HitchHiker Gooseneck trailer brand, which usually employ a fifth wheel hitch.

Fifth Wheel Trailers

The use of a fifth wheel hitch varies, depending on the vehicle and type of trailer attached. Fifth wheel trailers have the front end protruding beyond the body, extending over the rear bumper of the truck. It looks much like a cabover camper mounted in the cargo box of a pickup. The pin of a fifth wheel trailer is mounted under the protrusion. It drops down into the receiver of the fifth wheel hitch mounted on the floor of the cargo box. A typical 8-foot-wide fifth wheel trailer usually places the hitch about 52 inches from the rear of the cab of a long-wheelbase pickup with an 8-foot bed.

Conventional Fifth Wheels

Fifth wheels are best for hauling heavy and exceptionally long trailers. They allow the truck to easily maneuver because the hitch is situated inside the cargo box, making it easier to turn tight corners. The hitch consists of a large plate shaped like a horseshoe -- the "fifth wheel." The fifth wheel hitch is mounted to the bed floor and braced to the truck’s frame underneath. By virtue of attaching to the trailer via a king pin instead of a conventional socket and ball, it has greater towing capacity than conventional hitches. The fifth wheel also provides better stability. However, drawbacks include close to no space to add cargo to the cargo box and the removal of the tailgate. Hitchhiker trailers manufactured by NuWa Industries generally use fifth wheel hitch setups, but they can be converted to goosenecks.

Slider Fifth Wheels

Short-wheelbase pickup trucks with 6.5-foot-long cargo boxes generally use a "slider" fifth wheel hitch, which in the rearmost position, allows the truck to make parking manuvers without the truck making contact with the trailer. In the forward position, it is in front of the truck's rear axle, necessary for weight distribution on the road. A trailer's 13-inch extended pin box attached to a slider fifth wheel on the floor of the cargo box provides additional space between the pickup’s cab and the front of the trailer for short-wheelbase trucks.


The gooseneck hitch also features a large, flat plate, but instead of receiving a kingpin, it has a traditional hitch ball. Goosenecks are more common on short cargo boxes because the ball allows closer placement of the trailer to the rear of the cab. There are three different versions of the gooseneck hitch: under-bed, fold-down and above-bed. Under-beds are attached to rails under the cargo box to support the gooseneck head. Owners can remove or lower the ball when not used. Fold-down goosnecks also attach to the rails, but the ball hitch mounts to a steel plate on the cargo box floor. Above-beds attach to the rails like a fifth wheel and can be removed at any time.

Weight Distribution

Fifth wheels and goosenecks provide better weight distribution. They are better than bumper hitches for heavy or large trailers because they offer a more level ride, enhance braking control and minimize sway. The tongue weight is between the pickup's axles instead of on the rear axle and springs only. This spreads the weight between the two axles and eliminates the lever effect, which lifts weight off the front wheels when there is a heavy bumper hitch load.

About the Author

Rob Wagner is a journalist with over 35 years experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines. His experience ranges from legal affairs reporting to covering the Middle East. He served stints as a newspaper and magazine editor in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Wagner attended California State University, Los Angeles, and has a degree in journalism.

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