Getting Started: Towing a Fifth Wheel RV
August 4, 2021
Fifth wheel RVs have a lot to offer. They have spacious, tall, multilevel interior spaces and often boast luxury amenities, more slideouts and bountiful basement storage. Relative to other trailer types, they are quite comfortable to tow as well. Unlike a conventional travel trailer where the hitch is at the very back end of the tow vehicle, the hitch-point on a fifth wheel trailer is positioned directly above the tow truck’s rear axle.
A pin-box on the front of the fifth wheel locks onto the fifth wheel coupling on the truck. This allows for a longer trailer with a shorter total vehicle-plus-trailer length, which can make for a more stable platform that reduces sway and the effects of crosswinds and buffeting.
The most important thing for safe and comfortable towing is making sure your tow vehicle is capable of handling the trailer. Unlike travel trailers where the tow rating alone is the most important factor to match up, there are other weights you’ll need to understand when towing a fifth wheel. Proper weight and load distribution are essential to safe fifth wheel towing.
GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating)
This is the maximum loaded weight of your vehicle as determined by the manufacturer. It’s important to know this for both the tow vehicle and trailer since 20-25 percent of the weight of the loaded trailer will be transferred down onto the truck when hitched. Look at the door sticker of your tow vehicle for the vehicle’s official GVWR.
Cargo or payload capacity
This is the GVWR of the tow vehicle minus the weight of the truck empty. The weight that the trailer adds must be within this range.
GCWR (gross combined weight rating)
The maximum total weight of a loaded tow vehicle and trailer as determined by the tow vehicle manufacturer.
These are just the basics. Ultimately, you’re responsible for the math, which can include other factors like gear ratios and torque. If you’re buying a new tow vehicle, be sure to do your own research about the measures and capabilities of the vehicle. If you have any questions, be sure to connect with your local dealer.
The right hitch and pin box combination can allow for both full 90-degree motion and space for the trailer to sit at least six inches above the top of the bed or any toolboxes. Smaller, six-foot beds may require a slider hitch, which slides towards the rear as you turn for more space between the tow vehicle’s cab and the trailer. And while not a must, experienced fifth wheel owners say a dual rear wheel tow vehicle provides much more stability.
With the essentials out of the way, here are some tips for getting started with a fifth wheel on the road.
• Figure out a hitching and unhitching routine. You may want to make a checklist until you have your sequence down; it gets easier to remember each time. For example, you’ll want to make sure your tailgate is down when hitching and put back up when towing or you’ll damage trailer. Avoid distractions during this process.
• Watch your tires like a hawk. Not a bad thing to add to your hitching routing, it also doesn’t hurt to check and feel them at all stops. If you’re considering adding tires with a higher tow range, verify first that your rims can accommodate the heavier duty rubber.
• Practice, practice, practice. Find a large, empty parking lot and practice braking (get a feel for the weight behind you) turning, backing in right, left and straight into spots. Get a feel for when to cut turns, where to look etc.
• Work as a team. It’s not unusual to see walkie talkies come out when a fifth wheel is being parked at camp. Whoever you travel with, set up a communication system, whether it’s hand signals (either way, it’s best to have eyes on your partner at all times) or talking directly.
• When reversing, it can be helpful to watch the tires instead of the back of the trailer. Since there is a joint in the tow rig, it’s a better guide for where the full unit is headed. Don’t forget about the front as you’re backing in either.
• Remember G.O.A.L. It’s a saying professional truckers use that applies directly to fifth wheel parking too: Get out and look. If you’re parking your rig and unsure about your surroundings, don’t hesitate to stop, get out and look around. Thinking about starting the process over? Again, don’t hesitate if the angles don’t feel right or something’s too close for comfort.
• Listen at the beginning of each trip. Leave the radio off. In addition to your “feel”, this is one of the best ways to identify any changes in your rig or performance and prevent damage or danger. • Look far ahead. With a stopping distance that’s much longer than you’re used to and the potential of sway caused by jerky movements, you’ll want more time to react. Keep an eye beyond the vehicle right in front of you so you can anticipate any potential issues.
• Plan carefully. With such a large trailer, it’s crucial to know where you’re going and what to expect. If possible, reserve a pull-through site to avoid tricky parking or maneuvering altogether. On the road, there are several apps that make it easy to find trailer-friendly gas stations or rest stops, safe height clearance and grades. You’ll also want to check the weather. Experienced RVers say 20 mph wind is pretty uncomfortable with a fifth wheel and that it can be worth rescheduling your tow day.
Looking for a fifth wheel that fits your hopes and dreams? From luxury to lightweight, the Highland Ridge Fifth Wheel lineup has you covered.