Fifth Wheel Towing Tips

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As part of our DitchingSuburbia lives we often talk with people new to RVing or new to pulling trailers in general. We wanted to provide some advice on towing a fifth wheel trailer for those who haven’t done it.

The advice below is from our own experience of pulling first a 30’ fifth wheel and then our current 34’ fifth wheel since 2010, in 40 states and parking them in hundreds of different campsites.

This post doesn’t cover hitching and unhitching procedures (we found some YouTube videos when we first bought our fifth wheel) but rather just what we learned while driving with the trailer attached, and then what we learned when backing it into a campsite.

Pulling the Trailer

The biggest thing I had to learn was that the trailer wheels do not follow the truck wheels through a turn. The trailer’s arc through a turn will be inside of the trucks.

Think “deep square corners” when pulling the trailer.

Approaching an intersection, drive as deep (straight) into the intersection as you think you can go with the truck before making the turn. This will give the trailer more room as it comes through the corner.

Same idea when turning into a parking lot from a road - go as far “past” the driveway as you can before swinging into it. There will be times where you can’t get enough room for the trailer and the trailer tires will have to “bump” over a curb. Just go slow in these cases and let the tires absorb the impact.

Many campgrounds have a combination of skinny roads and tight curves. In these cases you’ll often have the outside/front tire of the truck off the pavement and the inside/rear tires of the trailer off the pavement. This is OK - you aren’t the biggest rig that’s been here so there is room for you.

In Traffic

Give yourself a healthy open space in front of you, but expect other drivers to jump into it. They won’t realize that you need that space to stop if need be.

Other drivers will often ignore your turn signal - so if you need the lane, have had your turn signal on, and they aren’t giving you space just start slowly making your lane change. The other cars will get out of your way.

We’ve found that being slower than traffic is less stressful. We just set the cruise and let the world go by.

In multi-lane highways we try to be in the middle favoring the mid-left. The far left lanes are for fast traffic so we stay out of those, but the right lanes often “disappear” with exits and on-ramps (which means we have to keep making lane changes to stay left). We also don’t like to have to negotiate with traffic merging from on-ramps.

Backing the Trailer into a Campsite

Your starting position is key. There are two important aspects to your starting position - side of the road and distance from your target site.

Side of the Road:

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Pull past the site and align your truck and trailer to be on the same side of the road the campsite is on as you can. For example, if your campsite is on the passenger side (and they usually will be) pull along that side of the road.

You might think that starting with the truck and trailer on the opposite side of the road from the campsite would be easier by giving you a wider arc to push the trailer through. However the truck’s nose needs that room to swing around as it backs into the site.

By starting from the same side of the road as the campsite you’ll have more room for the truck’s nose to make the swing to get back parallel with the trailer.

You will have times where:

  • You’ll need to have cars moved
  • Your truck tires will roll through another site
  • You’ll have trees or bushes in that “nose-space”

We have gone back and requested different campsites because there were hard obstacles like power poles or dumpsters in the nose space our truck needed.

Distance from the Target Site

You’ll want to pull the truck and trailer entirely past your target site - probably further than you think. It will take several feet for the trailer to start responding to your direction from the truck so you have to allow for that space from your starting position.

Starting your back-in from too far past the site is better than not far enough.

Your spotters will be telling you to swing the trailer one way or the other and you’ll have already made those corrections but the trailer just isn’t responding yet. It’ll take some practice to get a feel for how much lag time there is between a steering correction and the trailer responding.

By starting further away from the site you’ll have a better chance of the trailer responding in time to make the swing in to the campsite. If the trailer responds too soon it’s easy enough correct that by turning your steering wheel the opposite way.

Which Way to Turn the Wheel?

Here’s how to turn the steering wheel to get the trailer going a certain direction:

Put your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel (6:00 position). Whichever way you turn the wheel the trailer will go that direction.

Usually I’ll crank the wheel all the way while backing up just to get the trailer going where I want it to. Then I will - while rolling back - slowly return the truck’s wheels to straight - what I call “following the trailer back”.

You can’t just keep your steering wheel in one spot while backing up as the trailer will jack-knife.

Unless you like that sort of attention in a campground…

Don’t Be Afraid To’s

Remember it’s your equipment, your trip, and your money being spent at the campground or RV park. You are in charge.

Don’t be afraid to:

  • Get out and do a walk through the site.
    Take note any obstacles and plan your move into it. Take your time. People can wait.
  • Start completely over.
    In the middle of a parking job not going well I’ve pulled out, gone around the loop, and reset from a better starting position.
  • Do a few “pull forwards” to get the trailer where you want it in the site.
    I’m still doing this. Getting it the first time happens once in a while but with sites being off level, trees/bushes/poles placements vs. slideouts, or sewer connections on the ground vs. your trailer there are a number of variables that affect final placement. We’ve often found that our sewer hose length determines where the trailer has to end up.
  • Turn down “help” from neighbors.
    I usually thank them for their desire but joke that we need to be able to figure this out when they aren’t there next time.
  • Be crooked in the site.
    I’m a bit OCD about things lining up (especially if there is a hard edge in the campsite like a concrete pad) but have learned to let that go. Mostly. No one will judge your parking job once you are all setup.
  • Task your family with being extra eyes as you back into the site.
    Sometimes having them stand at the ‘bounds’ can help you see where the site actually is - especially if you are trying to do this in the dark (have multiple flashlights on hand, and don’t forget your trailer exterior lights can be used here as well).
  • Request a different site.
    We’ve had times for whatever reason the site didn’t work for us and saw other sites that looked more favorable. Most of the time getting assigned a different site hasn’t been an issue.

Have Patience

Like all things you’ll get better at this with time. If you are totally new to pulling a large trailer and jumping into the RV life fulltime I’d give yourself at least 8-10 weeks practice of getting on the road, towing in traffic, and getting setup in a campsite before you’ll be doing it like a champ.

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Other Fifth Wheel Articles

Read our reasons for choosing a fifth wheel, the details about the truck we pull it with, or the list of what stuff it takes to live in one.

28 Comments Fifth Wheel Towing Tips

  1. Picture of Kevin KeiterKevin Keiter April 14, 2014

    Great stuff, Mike!
    When we started our year on the road, I had very little experience with trailers so a 40 foot 5er was intimidating at first but really not too bad an adjustment.  My few additions to your excellent list are:
    1. In the mountains, be patient going up.  Follow the truckers and move over, put your flashers on and take your time.
    2. Going down, start engine braking early and learn how to use the ‘pinch brake control’ of your trailer brakes if you truck has that.
    3. Don’t be afraid to pull over and walk ahead to check things out if you start to wonder what the road ahead looks like.  We learned this lesson the hard way when we ended up at the bottom of a hill at the end of a road with no where to turn around.  Should have listened to my 15 year old a mile earlier…
    4. When you have the option, try to position yourself to back into a campsite such that you can watch the site from the driver’s window.  Makes a huge difference if you can see clearly.
    5. We deployed walkie talkies at back in.  So nice not to have to yell from the back of the trailer to the inside of a diesel pickup and back.  Much less entertainment for your campground neighbors, too!

  2. Picture of BoyinkBoyink April 14, 2014

    Thanks Kevin!

  3. Picture of TroyTroy April 14, 2014

    Kevin’s right on with the walkie talkies. We have used them backing into almost every camp site.

  4. Picture of J. TowerJ. Tower April 15, 2014

    I appreciate this kind of helpful information as we get ready to leave. I’ve re-read this post and its comments several times already.

  5. Picture of BoyinkBoyink April 16, 2014

    One upside of a gasser tow rig - no walkie talkies necessary..;).

    Basically either MsBoyink or Harrison knows to be visible in my mirrors and yell/wave if I’m going to hit something or when the trailer is in far as I can go.

  6. Picture of JoeJoe September 17, 2014

    Thanks everyone.. I plan on being full time rv’er come retirement time, which should be in a year or so. I’ve looked at the A , B and C and I think I’m going with the 5er..  I’ve been searching the net and blogs and soaking up all this info !! I can use ALL the help i can get !! Hope I can find my way back here if I get any responses lol..

    Thanks again.
    Joe

  7. Picture of Bob SchianoBob Schiano November 07, 2014

    I’m going from a 37ft motorhome to a 38ft 5th wheel.
    Will not get rig until January. Any suggestions on the truck to pull it.
    My dry weight is 12,500
    It’s a Jayco 375 BHFS

    Thanks

  8. Picture of BoyinkBoyink November 07, 2014

    Hi Bob -

    It’s a relatively simple numbers game…find trucks that can tow that weight plus your bodies and gear. Pay attention to hitch weight. From there what can you afford and what so you like.

    I’m sure there are better resources online than our blog…:)

  9. Picture of Mario BrothersMario Brothers January 17, 2015

    Ive had a Lance camper for 15 years and picking up a 40 ft 5th, i was thinking what did I get myself into but feel much better after this blog thanks

  10. Picture of BoyinkBoyink January 18, 2015

    Glad to hear it helped!

  11. Picture of Bob SchianoBob Schiano February 05, 2015

    Me and My wife fly out to Ohio to purchase a Ford F350 6.7 Diesel. I don’t think well have any problems hauling the Jayco 375 BHFS.
    Now to practice backing up. Oh boy

  12. Picture of Scott LancasterScott Lancaster February 22, 2015

    Any feedback on the 3 way backup cameras for trailers? My wife is confined to a wheelchair and will not be able to help backing a 38ft toy hauler so I’m hoping that someone would have some good advice as far as a brand and model and positioning of the cameras.
    Any feedback helps thanks

  13. Picture of Guy GardenerGuy Gardener March 30, 2015

    I have always been curious, what is fifth wheel towing? That term doesn’t make sense to me, for there is still only four wheels on normal RV’s. At least, as far as I know, the wheel count be different.

  14. Picture of Guy GardenerGuy Gardener April 02, 2015

    Thanks Michael Boyink!

  15. Picture of Ray KaforeyRay Kaforey April 05, 2015

    Hi Scott L. - not sure I know what you mean by “3-way” backup camera but our Garmin LMT GPS came with their BC-20 backup camera.  It (and many others) mount to the back of the trailer, typically on the license plate frame, and connect to the electrical system by splicing into one of the lights using solderless splicing connectors.  The Garmin then allows you to adjust the guide lines in the display to the left/right sides of the trailer.  Our new toy hauler is 43’ so I’m buying a 50’ extension that will allow me to mount the wireless transmitter to the front of the trailer for a mostly unobstructed signal to the GPS in the truck.  Good luck.

  16. Picture of SkipSkip May 12, 2015

    Really well done page. We are in our 3rd year pulling a 34 foot 5r and practice everything you mentioned. Love your 6 o’clock when backing, that made a huge difference for me on my backing skills.  We used empty parking lots and practiced and practiced. We used walkie talkies but now I put my cell phone on speaker next to me so I do not have to key the mic. However we still keep the walkies in case there is no phone service.  Only things I would add is look for heights when pulling into service stations and going down roads with low trees. My rig is 12’8” and it is surprising how many stations are less than that.  I have the passenger get out if there is no markings and spot. Other advice is don’t let your tank get below 1/4 of a tank. Amazing how far the next gas station is when you are near empty.

  17. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink May 12, 2015

    Good advice on the heights!

    With our 26-gallon Chevy tank we start looking for gas at a 1/2 tank if we’re anywhere except the suburbs!

  18. Picture of Guy GardenerGuy Gardener May 13, 2015

    That trick with grabbing the bottom of the wheel is pretty good. I should teach my son that. I have been trying to teach my son how to tow, and have been having issues about the backing up part.

  19. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink May 13, 2015

    I wish I had learned that way.

    I started with small trailers where I could look over my shoulder while steering. I still have to get it started that way even though I can’t *see* anything with the fifth-wheel attached!

  20. Picture of BobBob May 23, 2015

    Usually not one to leave comments but thought I would this time. I very much enjoyed reading through three of your posts (Why a 5th Wheel, Truck & Fifth Wheel Towing) and found your writing style to be a refreshing combination of details to consider, overviews of both WHY and HOW you made your choices,  and (most importantly) lessons learned. I especially liked the insight you shared about the counterintuitiveness of the best side of the road being on the same side as the campsite (owing to the swing-space needed for the nose of the towing vehicle). My wife and I are trying as much as possible to research the topics relevant to this world of RVing before committing our limited funds (teachers usually count their money several times before spending it). As wannabe newbies sitting in our apartment in Shanghai and looking forward to our summer vacation back in the states, we found the information you offered to be both highly informative,  helpful and encouraging as we begin our journey down this path. Thanks & best regards -

  21. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink May 23, 2015

    Thanks for the comment Bob !  Good luck on the planning process. We’re not flush with cash either so took our time in shopping.

  22. Picture of markmark August 20, 2015

    thanks for the advice ill try the hands under the wheel we just bought a 31’ 5th wheel in two weeks were to a local campground. i will use your advice and ideas to practice. ill up date after i practice. we had a 24’ travel trailer that we traded for the 6th wheel. i also drove a 24’ box truck for a living this will help also.

  23. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink August 21, 2015

    The fifth wheel will feel a bit different than the bumper pull just due to the attachment point being further inboard, but sounds like you’ll do fine!

  24. Picture of René BlaisRené Blais October 17, 2015

    Great stuff on here. I’m a newbie with a new 5th wheel. I’m taking the conservative road on backing into a site and am going pull thru until I get use to how my unit reacts. Any tips would be appreciated.

  25. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink October 17, 2015

    HI Rene - all of our tips are in the article above.

  26. Picture of Rick & Sharon Rick & Sharon February 25, 2017

    We will be first time RV 5th wheel owners come Summer. Selling our home & everything to pay cash for RV & truck. We are retired Plumbing Contractors & excited for this new adventure. Our 5th wheel is 39’ & we plan on doing a lot of practicing in our churches huge parking lot! Kind of scary as we’ve never owned an RV but excited for the freedom of being on the road & not being in a hurry & enjoying life. Going to take short trips until we get the hang of it. Thank you for your tips, they were helpful!!

  27. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink February 25, 2017

    Rick & Sharon - practice is good! Get some way to mark out a “campsite” to back into - even just with some cardboard boxes. No big deal if you roll over them and it will be helpful to understand how long it takes between making a steering change and the trailer responding.

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