On The Ball: Convert-A-Ball Gooseneck AdapterPosted in How To: Body Chassis on October 1, 2010
On any given weekend, thousands of fullsize trucks with travel trailers in tow can be seen on our nation's highways. Nothing beats having all the modern conveniences of home as you explore scenic places. Perhaps the most popular of all travel trailers are those that employ fifth-wheel towing hardware. "Fivers," as they are often called, offer clear advantages over traditional bumper-pull arrangements in terms of floor space, towing stability, and maneuverability. Whether you are a full-time retiree chasing down sunsets or an adrenalin junkie hauling toys to the nearest sand dune, a fifth-wheel trailer is the way to go. Or is it? How often do you see a fifth wheel in full-camp mode outside of a well-developed RV park? Sure, there are exceptions, such as in areas where folks like to go to ride dirt bikes and ATVs.
However, when it comes to camping out in wilderness areas-the ones that are truly remote and require four-wheel drive to access-fifth-wheel trailers are basically nonexistent. One reason relates to the overall height of a fifth wheel. By utilizing the space above the pickup bed, fifth wheels simply will not fit where other more nimble van-chassis-based RVs can. Another reason boils down to the limited range of articulation afforded by most fifth-wheel hitch setups. In most cases, a fifth wheel hitch will allow up to 14 degrees (total) of side-to-side articulation before binding occurs. This is largely due to the inherent issue of limited bedrail clearance. Hitch manufacturers design fifth-wheel hitches with stock pickups in mind. When a stock pickup truck crosses a ditch pulling a fifth wheel, the top sides of the bedrails can come very close, if not coming into contact altogether, with the bottom side of the coach. This presents a big problem to those of us who have mild lift kits and oversized tires installed. The problem is compounded by the fact that a majority of enthusiasts with modified tow rigs typically enjoy camping away from the masses, where unmaintained roads are more common.
Not only does a fifth-wheel setup limit travel to smooth road surfaces, but also failing to do so can actually cause damage to the truck bed's sheetmetal, the hitch setup, and/or the pin box of the trailer. We experienced this firsthand during a recent trip to Pismo State beach. We watched our rearview mirror in disbelief as the underside of our coach came into contact with our tow rig's bedrails while crossing a shallow creek on the way into the camping area. Worried about the possibility of body damage, we stopped to check it out. We didn't notice any visible damage at the time, but the situation did not sit well with us. After speaking with some friends (and after a little poking around on the Internet), we found that we weren't alone.
Much to our surprise, however, was the scarcity of acceptable solutions to the problem. We found several products that add physical space between the bottom side of the coach and the bedrails by simply extending the length of the coupler. However, none of them seemed to address the issue of additional leverage placed on the trailer's pin box once in use. That is, until we came across the cushioned fifth wheel-to-gooseneck adapter offered by a company called Convert-A-Ball. The device is made entirely in the USA and transforms any standard fifth-wheel kingpin into a gooseneck-style coupler-offering up to 30 degrees of bind-free articulation. Additionally, the design includes a special polymer cushion device that isolates road vibrations from the coach. Without a cushion, the additional leverage of such a kingpin extension can result in cracking around the trailer's pin box-not a good thing. Follow along as we highlight the installation procedure and explain how the Convert-A-Ball adapter solved our problem and got us back on the ball-free of restrictions, and going places again.
How's It Work?
The gooseneck setup is much easier to hook up over a traditional fifth-wheel coupler because of the round shape of a gooseneck ball. Even with a slight misalignment, the coupler tends to slide into position with little or no fuss as you lower the tongue of the trailer. Once connected, the trailer has a slightly freer feel to it. With significantly more side-to-side range of motion available, the trailer has a tendency to rock more easily when traveling on the highway in high crosswinds. However, we got used to that quickly. We like the fact the adapter remains attached to the trailer when not in use. It provides us with peace of mind about the security of our coach when unattended, thanks to a built-in provision for a padlock, as shown at right. Also, due to the fact that the unit hangs down quite a bit lower than the trailer's original kingpin, youngsters tend to notice it much easier and therefore do not bump their heads on the kingpin while playing around the coach in the RV park. We regularly inspect our adapter before towing use to ensure the tightness of both the adapter collar and coupler extension bolts, but we have never found them to come loose. We also like the fact that our friends with gooseneck hitches can rescue us if we experience a breakdown with our tow rig while on the go. We towed up to the unit's rated 20,000 pounds on several occasions, and have still to find cracks or signs of fatigue on our trailers pin box. The bottom line: Convert-A-Ball has developed a win-win solution to a common problem for those of us who own fifth-wheel trailers.