When you first spot them on a dealership lot, the idea of towing a fifth wheel can be intimidating. Many of the most popular fifth wheels can run up to 40 feet long with an exterior height of 13 feet or more. This requires unique towing considerations compared to conventional travel trailers and pop-up campers.
This guide walks you through the basic steps for safely towing a fifth wheel. But let’s begin with one of the most commonly asked questions about pulling this type of RV… Are they easier to tow?
Are Fifth Wheels Easier to Tow?
Many experienced towable owners – those who have towed both travel trailers and fifth wheels – prefer fifth wheel towing. One of the reasons for this is the hitch location.
Fifth wheel hitches attach to rails or a PUC system that are connected to the frame with brackets under the bed. Travel Trailers are pulled by a hitch assembly inserted into a receiver connected to the frame, or for very light trailers, a bumper-mounted hitch.
Technician Tip: All hitch types are rated by their maximum towing capacity, and it is the driver’s responsibility to ensure their hitch is properly sized for the RV they plan to tow.
The fifth wheel hitch setup delivers more stable towing, dramatically reducing trailer sway and the effects of crosswinds when towing at high speeds. It also eliminates the need for a weight distribution hitch, a requirement for safe, efficient travel trailer towing. A fifth wheel’s hitch location puts the RV’s pin weight (equivalent to tongue weight in a travel trailer) directly over the rear axle rather than aft of the entire vehicle.
By moving the connection point between your tow vehicle and a fifth wheel to the middle of the truck bed, fifth wheel hitches also provide the ability to have a longer trailer with a shorter overall towing length because the fifth wheel’s bulkhead rests above your truck bed.
If you’re shopping for an RV and are now learning about the important towing differences between fifth wheels and travel trailers, here are a few more fifth-wheel-specific resources you might be interested in:
- Why Are Fifth Wheel Trailers Called That?
- The Common Fifth Wheel Hitch Mistake New Owners Make
- Can a Half-Ton Pickup Truck Tow a Fifth Wheel RV?
How To Tow a Fifth Wheel
Successful fifth wheel towing requires more than connecting it to your tow vehicle and heading down the road. Here are our top tips for how to tow a fifth wheel safely:
Choose Your Desired Tow Vehicle
The right vehicle means everything when it comes to pulling any towable RV. But with fifth wheels, you’ll need a larger truck with added towing capacity and the ability to mount a fifth wheel hitch in the bed. Most fifth wheel owners tow with full-size or heavy-duty trucks (e.g., Ford F-250, Chevy 2500, etc.).
Some fifth wheel manufacturers boast that their models are towable with half-ton trucks. But a base model half-ton pickup may not be able to tow all fifth wheels. It will depend on the year, make, model, and trim of your pickup and how much your fifth wheel weighs once it’s loaded with all of your camping gear.
Learn how to choose the best vehicle for towing a camper before deciding on a specific fifth wheel.
Technician Tip: Experience tells us that many customers get excited to find that their half-ton truck is JUST inside the GVWR for the camper they want. While this may technically be true, the long view informs us that such a truck will be working to its maximum potential at all times. This will increase the wear and tear, cause fuel economy to drop SIGNIFICANTLY, and ultimately shorten the useable service life of the vehicle. Moving up to the next category of vehicle capacity may be the most economical choice for many RVers.
Equip Your Tow Vehicle with a Fifth Wheel Hitch
Your tow vehicle requires a compatible fifth wheel hitch that’s rated for the pin weight of the fifth wheel you intend to tow. Most fifth wheel hitches are either bolted or welded to the frame of your truck in the truck bed. Your hitch choice should begin with whether you want a permanent or removable hitch.
Most permanent fifth wheel hitches are welded to the truck’s frame. Removable hitches are bolted to the frame using mounting hardware, allowing you to remove them when you want your truck bed for purposes beyond towing.
There are many fifth wheel hitches on the market, but finding the right one for your truck requires compatibility with your truck’s towing capacity, bed length, and your fifth wheel’s weight ratings. We recommend consulting a retail expert at your local Camping World to find the right hitch for your truck.
Learn more about the different hitch types and what to look for as a fifth wheel owner.
Technician Tip: Please note that, in most cases, the actual hitch assembly is sold separately from the installation kit(s). This makes them adaptable to a wide range of vehicles. The Retail Specialists at Camping World will assemble the customized package of components necessary to install the hitch for your vehicle properly. At times, we see well-intentioned people believe they have found a bargain, only to discover it only included a portion of the items they will require. All properly installed fifth wheel hitches will connect by some means through the bed to the vehicle frame itself, and the method depends on the application. Customers must be aware that UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES will a fifth wheel hitch ever be connected to the standard pickup truck bed alone.
Connect Your Fifth Wheel to Your Tow Vehicle
Once connected, your fifth wheel and tow vehicle become one unit, moving down the road together. However, several steps are required to make that connection secure, and there are some important pitfalls to avoid. (See the “Common Mistake” article above if you haven’t already).
Check Lights and Signals and Perform a Tug Test
Don’t pull away once you’ve connected your fifth wheel! Take the extra time to have a spotter help you check your brake lights, turn signals, and emergency flashers before you pull away. Your ability to signal your movements to other drivers is critical to safe fifth wheel towing.
Next, raise the landing gear an inch, hold the manual trailer brake button on your brake controller, and perform a test tug. This causes the trailer to be held in place by its own brakes while the driver pulls against it with the truck’s driveline. If your hitch isn’t properly engaged and locked, the trailer only has an inch to fall onto its own landing gear instead of falling onto the truck’s bed when you begin to drive away.
Tow at a Safe, Reasonable Speed
Larger vehicles require more distance to stop when traffic slows in front of them. Evasive techniques aren’t easy to execute at the last minute when towing an RV. So, you’ll need to increase your following distance and travel at a safe, reasonable speed. What does that mean?
Most fifth wheel owners average 55-65 mph when towing on longer trips. Even if your tow vehicle can tow at higher speeds, you’ll get the best fuel economy by sticking to that specified range. You’ll also decrease the risk of losing control by towing too fast, potentially creating significant risks to the health of your fifth wheel and the passengers in your tow vehicle.
Use Your Side Mirrors Properly
Sure, you know how to check your side mirrors for vehicles in neighboring lanes, but the visibility behind you is dramatically reduced when towing a fifth wheel. You’ll rely on your side mirrors more because your rear-view mirror won’t return any more information than how many bugs you’ve collected on your fifth wheel’s front cap.
You may need to purchase mirror extensions to increase your visibility. They’ll make it easier to see vehicles coming up behind you when you need to make a lane change. They’ll help you identify how many cars are behind you if you need to pull over and allow faster traffic to pass on a one-lane road. They’ll also make it possible to safely back up your RV when parking.
Without mirror extensions, you’ll need to learn the subtlety of safely moving from side to side within your lane to check for potential obstacles approaching in a neighboring lane. Some heavy-duty trucks have extended mirrors that you won’t need to upgrade, but you’ll need to evaluate your situation to create the most comfortable situation for towing your fifth wheel.
Additional Tips for Safe Fifth Wheel Towing
Here are a few more tips that will help you tow your fifth wheel safely:
Consider Installing Cameras for Increased Visibility
Some fifth wheels are prepped for the installation of side-view or rear-view cameras. If yours is, we highly recommend researching cameras you can install, along with a display monitor placed in the cab of your tow vehicle. These cameras can dramatically improve your ability to check before making lane changes, view traffic behind you, identify obstacles when backing into a campsite, and much more.
Load Your Fifth Wheel Properly
Every new RVer has a tendency to overpack their RV full of their favorite camping gear. Before you go overboard, check your fifth wheel’s cargo carrying capacity and make a plan to avoid exceeding it. Overloading your fifth wheel is a quick way to create unsafe towing conditions and a dangerous situation.
This guide to safely loading a travel trailer has a few tips that can apply to fifth wheels too:
Navigate Mountain Grades Cautiously
The mountains are home to many alluring campgrounds. Just because they require considerable altitude changes doesn’t mean they aren’t accessible to you and your fifth wheel RV. However, you’ll need to navigate mountain grades cautiously when towing.
This means downshifting early when moving downhill to avoid excessive braking. Also, climb slower to avoid overheating your tow vehicle’s engine. And pay attention to weather alerts and other traffic signals that affect RV owners differently.
Check and Maintain Hitch Components and Tires Regularly
Your hitch components ensure a safe connection between your tow vehicle and fifth wheel. Your fifth wheel’s tires are the foundation on which everything built on an RV chassis relies. Neither are “set and forget” facets – they require regular maintenance and upkeep.
Your tires should be regularly checked for tread depth and sidewall condition. The lug nuts on your tires must be checked regularly and torqued as the manufacturer requires. The bolts and hardware on your hitch equipment should be checked every 100 miles and serviced according to the manufacturer’s specifications.
Beyond tires, you should consult any documentation provided with your fifth wheel hitch to ensure you follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for inspecting and maintaining the hitch and its components.
Can You Tow a Trailer Behind a Fifth Wheel?
Triple towing – the act of towing two vehicles behind your tow vehicle – is legal in some states. Check your local regulations to understand restrictions on vehicle length, weight, and other measurements based on the route you intend to take and the stipulations of the individual roadways along that route.
Once you’ve ensured you can legally tow a trailer behind a fifth wheel in your region, you must determine if your tow vehicle can handle the added weight. You can use our towing guide to check your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity.
Then, you must also ensure the towing capacity of the hitch, receiver, and all other hitch components used to connect the second trailer to your fifth wheel. You should only seek to tow a trailer that doesn’t exceed the capacity of the lowest-rated component in your setup.
Finally, you must consider your route and the roadways you intend to travel. Are there tight curves that would create difficulty towing with a secondary trailer or present a risk to other drivers because you’d need to cut a corner? For example, it’s extremely difficult – if not impossible – to back up while triple towing. Ensure your route will always allow for forward-only driving.
In short, it’s feasible to tow a trailer behind a fifth wheel if it’s legal in your region/where you intend to travel, your tow vehicle can handle the added weight, the hitch components on your fifth wheel can handle the weight of your trailer, and your intended route doesn’t have obstacles that would make handling such a lengthy load impossible.
What questions do you have about towing a fifth wheel RV? Let us know in the comments below.