How To Safely Couple And Uncouple Your Trailer – Part I

As a professional truck driver, being able to properly couple and uncouple your trailer is an essential aspect of your job. The fact is, incorrect coupling or uncoupling can result in a trailer being dropped or air or electrical lines being torn. You can even suffer cab  or freight damage or even other, more serious consequences.

You need to know the step-by-step procedures involved in coupling and un-coupling a tractor-trailer unit. Fortunately, we can help. Let’s go through the step-by-step process in coupling and un-coupling your trailer.

Step 1: Inspecting your Fifth Wheel and Kingpin

To ensure a safe connection, your tractor’s fifth wheel and kingpin need to be inspected before you attempt to couple your tractor and trailer.

As you go about inspecting your fifth wheel and kingpin, make sure to:

  • Properly check for any damaged, missing or loose parts.
  • Double check the mounting on the fifth wheel. You want to make sure it is secure and that there are no cracks in the frame or weld points.
  • Always grease the fifth wheel plate, if that is required.
  • Make sure the coupling positioning is proper. Always tilt the fifth wheel down towards the rear of the trailer, with its jaws open, and release the handle into the unlocked position.
  • If you are utilizing a sliding fifth wheel, ensure it is in the locked position and that all the pins are seated correctly.
  • Ensure the fifth wheel is positioned in such a way that the landing gear doesn’t strike the trailer or the back of the trailer cab.
  • Double check the trailer kingpin.

Although the details surrounding how to handle coupling are important, you must also be cognizant of the area you are working in. Checking your area and securing your trailer are just as important as knowing individual steps.

Checking and Securing

The coupling procedure must always be done in a location where there is enough space for the trailer and the truck to maneuver safely. Ensure your trailer is secured against any movement before you back up.

Then make sure you:

  • Check around the area to make sure the vehicle and trailer are clear.
  • Double check the cargo (if any) to ensure it doesn’t shift during the coupling or un-coupling procedure.
  • Check the trailer wheels. If the trailer has spring brakes, ensure they have been applied correctly before any movement occurs.

Ensuring proper spacial awareness and maneuverability are important, but if you aren’t positioning your truck properly, there’s little hope in getting in a good connection.

Positioning the Truck

First, get into your truck and position it squarely and directly in front of the trailer, and not at an angle. Also, double check to ensure your kingpin is aligned with the throat of the fifth wheel.

Always keep in mind that if you back under the trailer at an angle, it might push the trailer sideways and damage the landing gear. Without the landing gear, the trailer could tip and fall into something, which is never a good scenario.

If you are forced to back in at an angle, make sure you are constantly getting out of the cab to frequently check whether or not the alignment of the fifth wheel to the kingpin is still on target.

As you position your vehicle, use your side mirrors to look along both sides of the trailer and drive axle tires. You must always be frequently checking your mirrors on both sides so that you can get a true picture of the alignment between both units.

Next, back slowly into position. Always make sure you are backing your truck into the trailer very slowly. As soon as the fifth wheel touches the trailer, stop.

Here’s where we invite you to join us next week in Part II of our series, when we look into securing the trailer, checking its height, connecting the airlines and supplying air to the trailer. We hope you’ve enjoyed this primer, we’ll see you next week!