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What Is an RV Trailer Tug Test?

What Is an RV Trailer Tug Test?

It only takes seeing or hearing a massive fifth-wheel unhitching unexpectedly once to remind you of the importance of doing a trailer tug test before towing. The massive damage that can result is nothing compared to the risk of injury to you and others. Today, we’ll help you know what a trailer tug test is and why you should be doing them before each trip. Let’s get started!

What Is the Purpose of a Trailer Tug Test?

A trailer tug test is most critical for fifth wheels with traditional kingpin hitches. A tug test is critical because lets you know if you hitched your fifth wheel and tow vehicle correctly. This helps avoid damaging property or injuring someone should the trailer unhitch while in motion. By doing a trailer tug test, you can tow with confidence, knowing your fifth wheel won’t unhitch as you pull out of your campsite or navigate a hill or mountain pass.

crushed truck from fifthwheel
If you camp as much as we do you are bound to see trucks that have been crushed by fifth wheels in campgrounds. Luckily its easy to avoid with a simple tug test.

How Do You Do a Trailer Tug Test on an RV?

Doing a trailer tug test should be one of the final steps before towing your fifth wheel. It takes a minute or two, but it’s worth it for the reassurance it provides. If you’ve never done a tug test before, it’s likely easier than you think.

Start by hitching your vehicle and trailer and raising your front landing gear only a little. It should be an inch or two off the ground. Make sure the distance between the landing gear and the ground is less than the distance between the bed rails of your truck and your fifth wheel. If there’s a hitch failure, you want the landing gear to stop the fifth wheel from hitting your bed rails.

Once you’ve adjusted the landing gear appropriately, climb into the driver’s seat and activate your trailer brakes with the finger switch. Make sure the trailer moves as little as possible while performing the test. With the trailer brakes activated, put your vehicle in drive and gently press on the accelerator. This will allow the truck to tug from the hitch to the trailer’s kingpin. If you didn’t hitch the trailer correctly, it will slide off the fifth wheel hitch, and the landing gear will catch it. 

Pro Tip: If you’re towing a massive fifth wheel, you will want a quality 5th wheel hitch to improve your towing experience. Check out these 5 Best Fifth Wheel Hitches for Solid RV Towing.

Checking fifth wheel connection to truck while beginning to tow.
A trailer tug test ensures that your fifth wheel won’t unhitch while towing.

Why Are Trailer Tug Tests Important?

It’s essential to do a tug test before towing to ensure your truck and trailer are correctly and safely connected. You don’t want to pull out of your campsite or navigate an incline and find that your trailer disconnects from your vehicle. 

A fifth wheel unhitching from the vehicle will crush the bed rails of a vehicle, damage the front cap of the trailer, and potentially cause an unsafe situation for bystanders and others on the road. It’s an expensive mistake that you don’t want to make. So always do a tug test before towing your trailer.

Pro Tip: Before you can hit the road, you need to hitch up! New to RVing? We made a Beginners Guide on How to Tow an RV.

Mortons on the move truck towing fifth wheel on scenic road.
By spending a few moments doing a trailer tug test, you can save yourself a lot of money from potential damages.

What Do You Do If the Tug Test Fails?

If the tug test fails, you should take a moment to gather yourself. It can be pretty surprising and anxiety-inducing to have your trailer fail a tug test. There will likely be quite a bit of noise and motion, but if the landing gear does its job correctly, there should be no damage to the truck or trailer.

Next, adjust the trailer to the correct height. You should then disconnect the brake cables and the pin box to investigate everything. Make sure the breakaway cable is pushed in completely, and there’s no damage to the kingpin or any other components.

Mortons on the Move truck and fifth wheel pulled over on the side of the road.
If your tug test fails, take a moment to gather yourself before starting the hitching process again.

After confirming that all components are in working order, you can start the hitching process over again. Back up to the kingpin and ensure it latches completely. Confirm the fifth wheel hitch’s jaws wrap around the kingpin and that all safety mechanisms are in place. 

Your hitch may use a single-jaw or double-jaw system, but either way, the kingpin should be secured to your fifth wheel hitch. Typically, a pin locks the hitch in place and prohibits the hitch from opening while in motion.

Do another tug test and only pull out if it succeeds. If your breakaway cable activates, verify your trailer brakes aren’t locked up in order to avoid ruining your brakes and trailer tires.

Pro Tip: Before you hitch up and head out, learn more about Why Your RV Needs a Trailer Breakaway Cable & How to Use It.

Caitlin Morton posing in front Mortons on the Move truck and fifth wheel.
Keep yourself and others safe on the road by completing a trailer tug test before you start driving.

What Are the Dangers of Driving Without Doing a Trailer Tug Test?

Driving without doing a trailer tug test can be extremely dangerous. You’re exposing yourself and others to the possibility of your trailer unhitching while in motion. This can cause damage to your tow vehicle and property damage or an accident.

And that damage can be massive. You’re easily looking at thousands of dollars in parts and labor to fix the situation. While trucks and trailers are replaceable, lives aren’t if the worst were to happen. The few minutes that you’ll save by not doing a trailer tug test aren’t worth it. Accidents and mistakes are more likely to happen when you rush.

Tug Test For 5th Wheel RVs

Do You Need to Perform a Trailer Tug Test Every Time?

If you have a traditional fifth wheel hitch we can’t overstate how important it is to do a tug test every time you hitch up your trailer. Skipping it to save a few minutes could cost you thousands of dollars or cause an accident. You can do the whole test in the time it takes to sit at a stoplight. 

There are other options for towing fifth wheel trailes that do not use the kingpin system and cannot come unhithced. These systems use a ball to replace the kingpin and have been our preferred way to tow. Read more about how we tow on a ball using a gooseneck pinbox.

fifth wheel gooseneck pinbox adapter
We don’t perform tug tests with this hitch because it cannot come unhitched like a kinpin. We do however test our brakes every time we pull away.

While you may hear of or see RVers pulling out of their campsites without doing a tug test, it’s not safe if they are using a traditional kingpin hitch. Taking a few extra minutes to maximize safety while RVing is always worth it. Don’t be in a rush while hitching, and you’ll have fewer chances of making a costly mistake.

Do you do a tug test before towing each time? Drop a comment below!

Tom Talks About Trucks & Towing - Our Experience and Tips on Towing Heavy

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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