B&W Trailer Hitches has been instrumental in bringing about significant changes to towing. Ever since it opened its doors in 1987, the company has grown to be one of the most well-known and trusted brands in the country. Its catalog of towing products has something for everybody, from gooseneck to bumper to fifth-wheel options.
That last segment is the focus of today, as we take a closer look at the Companion Fifth Wheel hitch (PN RVK3500) that we installed on our dedicated hauler, a 2016 Ford F-350. The truck will be carrying all of our video equipment and essentials for SpeedVideo, our livestreaming video service covering drag races all over the country.
The Companion fifth-wheel hitch is the key to making our 2016 Ford F-350 a purpose-built towing rig.
Installing the Companion was a very involved process, requiring several measurements and considerations along the way. However, we now reap the benefits of this robust system by being able to tow a rather heavy Cyclone RV around. With the Companion by our side, it should be a drive in the park, so to speak.
A Trailer Home Companion
We spoke with Candace McRae to get a better understanding of the product.
When asked why a customer would choose the fifth-wheel over a gooseneck or tag-style hitch, McRae said: “People choose a fifth-wheel because it’s over the axle, so the truck can support more weight than at the bumper. It’s worth noting that fifth-wheel trailers and RVs are built with a king pin, so they need this kind of hitch over a gooseneck.”
The Companion's coupler arm and handle (left) will open up the coupler jaws to allow the hitch (right) to do its job.
Closer examination of the B&W catalog showed that there is more than one version of the fifth-wheel hitch: in addition to the Companion, customers could also choose either Puck Mounted or Patriot (Rail-Mounted) versions.
“The Companion is designed to be removable and goes with our Turnoverball setup,” said McRae. “The Puck Mounted version uses the factory platform provided by Ford, Ram, and GM. Lastly, the Patriot is generally for the older style of trucks, as well as users who don’t need an unobstructed bed when not towing. If the truck is a dedicated towing rig, the bed space is reserved solely for the hitch. The Patriot is also generally less expensive than our other options.”
The Companion is designed to be removable and goes with our Turnoverball setup. – Candace McRae, B&W Trailer Hitches
The Companion, however, is the full package and can be deployed or packed away when the situation calls for it. When deployed, it stays in place thanks to secondary latches. Overall, it was designed with safety in mind to ensure the trailer and hitch do not accidentally disconnect.
“On our end, we’ve done many types of testing, including static, dynamic, and field testing,” said McRae. “Static and dynamic tests are done in our state-of-the-art testing facility, which is able to replicate forces generated in accidents.”
This is all well and good, but what should a customer consider before purchasing the Companion hitch? To this, McRae stated: “You need to take some measurements in order to make sure that you have enough room for turning and bed clearance. But more important than that is the ride and features that B&W has built into the Companion hitch, as these will give users peace of mind while towing.”
With our understanding of the Companion hitch now on a better level, we jumped into our installation. First was finding out how to situate the plastic foot pad. We went with Figure A3 (below) on the instructions, which gave us the narrow rib orientation.
The diagram showing the possible orientation for the foot pads. We used Figure A3 for the F-350.
The foot pad was fastened to the slot on the base leg of the Companion, but kept loose until we found the right location. The socket post was next to go on, and went into Position One as directed by the instructions. Just like the foot pad, we gave the hardware just enough tightening to hold it in place until final torquing was required.
The pivot arm adjustment table for the Companion hitch. We went with the second row, first column position.
The spacer under the locking bracket had to be aligned with the socket post, and then the draw down bolt was threaded in and hand-tightened. Next, we addressed the pivot arms. There are nine different ways these can be mounted, so we had to take a step back and consider some of the factors around installing it.
The socket post and foot pads are put onto the Companion base.
To install the pivot arms, we had to measure the distance from the coupler to the cab. Afterwards, we had to measure the distance from the trailer’s king pin to the farthest forward corner point of the trailer. What we were trying to determine was whether or not the first distance was larger than the second distance. If it was, we would be able to make a 90-degree turn without damaging the cab. Luckily for us, the measurements showed that we would be able to make it work. We were just barely able to make it – 52 inches to 50 inches.
Measurements had to be taken before we set up the pivot arms. We measured the distance between the cab and the middle of the gooseneck hole, and then the distance from the outermost edge of the trailer and the center of the king pin. We used a long wooden stick to continue the plane of the trailer's side down to where it would the crossing axis of the king pin.
There are nine ways to set up the pivot arms. We went with a medium-height position, which would offer vertical flexibility.
With that, we decided to go with the medium height position and with the king pin three inches behind the post (due to our Position One selection of the socket post). This was the best of the nine options, as it was better suited to vertical movement without hitting the bed or putting strain on the hitch and king pin.
Now we could put the Companion base into position. The base was secured by tightening the socket post’s eight half-inch cap screws to 80 ft-lbs. The draw down bolt was tightened to 60 ft-lbs. With that done, the locking bracket slid over the bolt’s head, and that wrapped up installing the base.
The Companion base is now bolted to the truck bed, and the leveling kit was hammered onto the base as well.
Next was the leveling kit. It was easily assembled and installed by hammer onto the driver’s side pivot arm using a hammer, leaving a half-inch of clearance between the pivot arm bushing and the top of the wire tension spring. The coupler handle came after, with a couple of 3/8-inch button head cap screws and locking flange nuts being used to put it together.
The Companion, fully assembled and installed onto the F-350.
The last step was to install the coupler. We carefully laid the coupler onto the pivot arms, making sure the saddle handles were parallel with the base in its latched position. The saddle lock pin was inserted through the saddle and secured with hairpins. The final result showed the coupler tilting away from the cab, which would make hitching the trailer easier.
Now it was time to hitch up the trailer RV to the truck. We made the RV’s height slightly lower than the top of the coupler, and then backed up the truck slowly until the king pin engaged with the jaws. Then we reinserted the cam handle safety pin, connected the lighting cables, and went for a test drive.
The Cyclone trailer RV is hooked up to our Companion, and is now ready to go do livestreaming at a racing event.
As we expected, the Companion bore true to its name, making our towing experience easy and pain-free. We took the F-350 over both flat and somewhat bumpy sections of road and found the Companion could easily deal with these conditions.
For whatever fifth-wheel tasks that we foresee using our F-350, our Companion will be there to help us. And when we need the truck bed empty for hauling, the Companion can be removed without much hassle: the draw down bolt is loosened, the Turnoverball handle is pulled out completely, and with a little bit of heavy lifting, we have a wide open bed to work with again. However, since the Companion weighs nearly 200 pounds, we recommend getting a friend to help you remove and install it.
To find out more about B&W Trailer Hitches and the Companion fifth-wheel hitch, head to the company’s website, and don’t forget to see its latest and greatest on Facebook as well.