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Many people have heard the term “5th wheeler,” but few know what it means. Essentially, it’s a way for semi tractors to connect to the trailers they’re hauling. Some travel trailers and recreational vehicles are also called 5th wheel trailers. In the trucking industry, the “5th wheel” refers to the U-shaped coupling plate that’s mounted on the tractor that will pull a specialized trailer. The plate enables the trailer to rotate for an additional level of maneuverability in tight spaces.

Origins of 5th Wheel

The term 5th wheel is a play on words that originated during the use of horse-drawn carriages and wagons in days long past. In the event that a wheel was broken, a fifth wheel was traditionally attached to the back of the carriage or wagon.

In the early 1900s, the term fell out of general usage when passenger vehicles came equipped with a fifth wheel that became known as the spare tire. The full-size tires eventually gave way to “donut” spares in the 1980s, an attempt to save manufacturers money and increase fuel efficiency.

Trucking Industry

In the trucking industry, the 5th wheel coupling has been utilized for almost 100 years. The assembly provides an enhanced level of safety when transporting heavy loads and it’s especially effective for heavy haulers. A 5th wheel assembly offers enhanced stability and handling for both tractor and trailer in adverse weather conditions or damaged roads. The coupling method provides ease of use for connecting and disconnecting trailers from tractors.

A 5th wheel assembly provides a more stable and secure coupling between the tractor and trailer than a gooseneck hitch and it’s also quieter and smoother. The use of the 5th wheel coupling is an essential component for heavy haulers. User-friendly, technology-assisted 5th wheel connections and disconnects are becoming more common as new drivers enter the industry, many of whom have no previous connection to the trucking industry.

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