Any activity always looks easy. Doing it is another thing. Watching others do it does not make you an expert but it will give you an idea of what to do. Then practice, practice, & practice before hitting the road.
When you are towing a 5th wheel or any trailer for the first time, the key is not to rush. You are not racing other vehicles so you do not need to press the gas pedal down hard. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is rushing everything including backing up.
To learn more tips, and mistakes, just continue to read our article. It has the information you want to know about so you can be ready when it is your turn to tow one. It is not hard to tow a 5th wheel, it just takes a lot of practice and timing.
A book could probably be written about what you need to know about towing a 5th wheel trailer. Most of the information is common sense. For example, like travel trailers, do not overload the 5th wheel. Remain under its weight capacities at all times.
That is just one strong tip another is to have help when backing up. Make sure the person outside stands behind the trailer on the driver’s side and in full view of the mirror.
Then create hand signals you both understand so you know what to do when they signal you. Also, you will need to learn to make wide turns in both directions and as you back up. 5th wheels are not like turning a tow vehicle by itself.
Then before you hit the road, find a big box store that has closed for the night and practice driving, turning, and backing up. You will need the space to maneuver and hone your towing skills.
When you do get on the road, watch your tires. There are specially made tires for 5th wheels and they all have weight and speed ratings as well as maximum psi. Stick to those ratings.
Also, know how high your trailer is. That way you can plan your routes to avoid low clearance bridges and overpasses. On top of all this, and this is just the tip of the iceberg, read all of our 5th wheel articles. There is a lot more to know than we can put in this little space.
The only difficulty you will have will be turning and backing up. When you are on the road, the 5th wheel trailer is probably the easiest of all trailers to tow. What you have to watch out for is one, the clearance between the trailer front and the rear of your tow vehicle’s cab.
You need at least 6 inches of space between the two. You might get away with 4 inches but don’t get any closer than that. Two, when making wide turns watch out for the other drivers.
There are enough impatient drivers who will use the space you created to pass you on the left or the right, depending on which way you are turning. It isn’t your fault if you hit them. The fault lies with the other driver as they were not giving you room to make the turn.
This is one of the hardest things that come with towing a 5th wheel. The next toughest will be backing up. It is not always easy to back a 5th wheel up, especially if the campsite is narrow.
You will need help doing this. Plus, watch your speed. You do not want to go too fast or too slow. Other than that most experienced people have no trouble towing a 5th wheel. Unless it is a windy day.
It is okay to be nervous just do not let those nerves dictate your driving or you will have problems. The above should get you started and as you practice more, those nerves will give way to confidence. Just do not let that confidence develop into over-confidence or you will have the same problems.
The biggest hazard you will face on the road will be the wind. Not just the wind from passing tractor-trailers, those are minor issues compared to 30 mph winds that often come across the highway.
Most people say that if the wind speed is above 30 mph, find a rest area or place to park and wait for the wind to die down. You lose mpg as well as risk accidents if you try to fight heavy winds. Your tow vehicle will be overworked as well and that can cause engine and other problems.
When you are a first-timer, do not speed. You need to learn to control your vehicle before you go too fast. But this does not mean that you go too slow either. You have to be considerate of the other drivers on the road.
Find a speed that is right for you and stick to it. Hopefully, you will not cause a long line up behind you. Take your time and get used to towing before you try to match the driving skills of more experienced drivers.
There is a speed limit and some states may require tow vehicles with trailers to follow the truck speed limit which is usually 10 mph below the car speed limit. You would have to check with the states you are driving through to find their maximum speed limit for trailers. You can go the speed limit but you should drive a little slower than that.
All tires have a speed rating and there are more than enough tire shops with those speed rating charts to look at. Don’t exceed the speed rating for your model and brand of tire on your 5th wheel.
Some RVers who tow 5th wheels say they stay between 62 and 65 mph not only for safety sake but also for mpg efficiency. Here are 4 good questions to ask yourself before you leave your driveway:
- What are your tires rated for?
- How valuable are the lives and property you're hauling?
- What's your hurry?
- How stable is your tow vehicle when loaded?
Another question would be what state are you in? There are different rules in different states so be careful when you cross state lines. You will get those people who tell you they can do 75 or 80 mph without trouble or tickets. They are the ones NOT to listen to.
Yes and no. The yes is for those drivers who have mastered backing up and have been doing it for years. They can put a trailer inside a tin can in high winds with their skills.
When you are a first-timer, the answer will be no. It takes time to learn how your 5th wheel trailer responds and you have to learn how to coordinate the steering with the direction of the trailer.
There is a learning curve when you first tow a 5th wheel trailer. This is why you go to a big parking lot when no one is parked inside of it. You have to practice and learn how to operate your steering wheel. It is different than simply backing up your pick-up truck or car.
Once you get the hang of it, backing up will become easier. The only time it remains difficult is when you get to a campground or RV park with little room to maneuver.
The first thing you need to do is understand that size matters. You need to find the right length of the trailer and be comfortable towing that length. Most 5th wheels reach up to 13’ in height which is just under the 13’ 6” federal minimum clearance levels.
So if you stick to the interstates, you should be fine with bridges and tunnels. Make sure your propane tanks are shut off as in some tunnels there are restrictions due to the possibility of propane build-up.
Then maintain a steady pace and let the transmission handle the shifting. You do not want to press the gas pedal all the way to the floor as you will waste fuel. That is going uphill and going downhill is something different.
Do not ride the brakes as you will burn them out and you will be looking for a runaway lane very quickly. Your vehicle should have a tow haul feature so use it and an exhaust brake if you have one.
If you do not have an exhaust brake, install one. It will be needed in the mountains.
1. Not matching the tow vehicle with the 5th wheel you want to tow
You have to make sure your tow vehicle is capable of towing the 5th wheel weight. The information is usually in your owner’s manual or on the sticker on the inside of the driver’s door.
2. Owners do not add passenger weight
This is a big problem as they do not consider the fact that the maximum towing capacity includes the weight of the trailer, supplies, equipment, and passengers in the tow vehicle.
They tend to overload the tow vehicle putting it at risk of damage.
3. Not having proper tires
This is important as too many people have suffered a loss of their trailer, etc., when their 5th wheel tires blew. Make sure you have the right tires on your rig
4. Not performing pre-trip checks
Have a checklist to make sure lights are working, brakes are working, you haven’t forgotten anything, and so on.
1. Respect your weight limits- do not go beyond them
2. Learn how to hitch and unhitch the trailer- the process is different for different hitches truck models and 5th wheel models
3. Have enough mirrors- make them different types so you can see a wide area behind you as well as close up. Try to remove as many blind spots as possible
4. We can’t say this often enough-- practice and practice until you are confident you can pull the trailer
5. Be gentle- never slam on the brakes or stomp on the gas. Go slowly, nice, and easy to make sure you start up or slow down safely
6. Be wary of different situations- by this we mean to keep an eye out for bad weather and for when you are driving in high altitudes. Plan ahead so you know your route and have an alternative route ready just in case there is construction or other delays on your primary path.
There are advantages and disadvantages when it comes to towing a 5th wheel over a travel trailer (bumper pull). But those are different issues over towing. Most people we have read said that pulling a 5th wheel is smoother and easier than pulling a travel trailer.
There is less jerking when you are on the road and probably less sway as well. Some people do not like the 5th wheel but those reasons are not usually associated with towing.
It will be up to you to decide which option is best for you and your skills.
When you are a first-timer, take your time. It takes a few months or more to get your skills up to where they should be when towing a 5th wheel. Don’t rush it and go at your own pace.
You will get as good as the more experienced 5th wheel owners if you give yourself the time to practice and gain experience. They are not hard trailers to tow.