5 Points to Consider when Choosing a 5th Wheel

As we start looking at trailers, some of us will make that decision to get into a fifth wheel because they’re bigger, can carry more cargo, and a bit easier to tow when done properly. Today, we’ll discuss some popular topics and beginner’s tips for getting into a 5th wheel for those considering one.

The most important thing about considering a 5th wheel is your tow vehicle, you will need a truck. A bumper / hitch ball towed trailer can be done with a car, SUV, van, or anything that has sufficient towing capacity. With a 5th wheel, you will need a truck so there is somewhere for the 5th wheel hitch to go. Not only do you need a truck, but you realistically need a long bed ¾ or 1 ton truck. There are ½ ton trucks out there that have the towing capacity to tow a 5th wheel trailer, but typically not rated sufficiently for the weight of the trailer sitting in the bed on the 5th wheel hitch. Once you decide you’re ready for that truck, then it’s time to pick the right truck. 

There are 5 main items to consider when picking your truck:

  1. Cab configuration – how many people do you need to fit in the truck? How much space do you want inside the truck? This will impact your next choice of a bed length since not all configurations are available.   
  2. Bed length – the longer, the better it is to tow but the more difficult it is to drive as a daily driver because of the length of the truck. The shorter it is, the less traction and turning radius you will have.
  3. Engine – diesel or gasoline? Gasoline is less expensive but is not as efficient when towing heavy loads. Diesel is more expensive to buy but does a much better job with heavy loads, not only for fuel efficiency but also to get it moving since they typically create more torque. Fuel costs will vary depending on where you live and travel. Maintenance intervals are longer on diesel vehicles, but more expensive than gasoline so this might be a wash depending on where you live and how you use it. Diesel is typically a better choice if you will be doing a lot of traveling.
  4. Dually or Single Rear Wheel – A dually will cost you more but afford you more stability and load capability. If you are towing a heavy fifth wheel like a toy hauler, you will want a dually for that additional capacity. If you are towing great distances, the dually will also likely be worth your money.
  5. Rear Wheel Drive or 4 Wheel Drive – 4 wheel drive will afford you more traction so you and your trailer get moving down the road and don’t get stuck if on some compromising terrain. But of course, the trade off is more fuel consumption, maintenance and cost. Most people do just fine with just rear wheel drive, so don’t feel like you NEED to have 4 wheel drive.

Now that you’ve got your truck all figured out, and you are ready to head out on your trip with your 5th wheel, let’s take some time to prepare. Preparation gets you half way there to win the battle, just a few extra minutes can save hours, days, and many dollars during your adventures.

  • Plan your route – do not think that you can trust your smartphone navigation app to get you where you need to go. That navigation solution is made for passenger cars that are not as heavy, tall, or long as your truck and trailer. Consider using one of the many routing planning solutions that are offered by your RV club, on-line or from a dedicated navigation app or device. This will help you not get stuck or damaging your rig. Sticking to major interstates for trucks is usually a sound decision.
  • Check your tires – your trip literally is riding on your tires. Make sure you check each one carefully for damage and proper inflation. You want to inflate your tires when they are cold, before your trip to get the correct pressure. If you see signs of cracking, abnormal shapes, damage, or insufficient tread, replacing it at home is usually much easier than it is on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Don’t forget to check the spare tire on your truck and trailer! There are TPMS (tire pressure monitoring systems) you can get to help you keep an eye on your tires while you’re going down the road as well. These are worth the investment and give you peace of mind.
  • Hitching up – if you take the extra time to make sure the hitch plate and trailer are setup for success, it will be much smoother. This process is much easier if you have help, so grab your favorite travel companion for this to be safe! Lower or remove your tailgate to make sure there is sufficient clearance for the kingpin to join with the hitch. Open and level your hitch plate so that the hitch process will be smooth. Adjust the trailer height up or down so that the pin box on the trailer can slide into the hitch on the truck smoothly. You can eye ball the height and make any additional adjustments as you get the truck closer to hitching. Using the help that you enlisted, have them guide you with hand signals while reversing the truck to the trailer. Slowly reverse your truck until the hitch jaws securely lock onto the kingpin. Make sure you lock the kingpin and now you’re ready to raise the jacks. Make your electrical connections and check all of the lights for proper operation. Ensure all your connections have been disconnected, slides are securely closed, blocks and chocks are put away, the breakaway cable is connected. Close your tailgate if you opened it earlier checking it before pulling away.
  • Driving – a 5th wheel is heavy and typically long. Slow down and allow room for braking and turns. Braking distances will be significantly longer in your truck in comparison to when you are not towing. Make sure that you have adjusted your brake controller settings before hitting the main roads. When you make turns, use your turn signals and mirrors to watch and monitor the pinch points to avoid a collision. During lane changes, your mirrors are your friends, if you don’t have towing mirrors, you will. The image you see in your mirror is often not a true image, so be prepared to find visual markers or take some time to get used to where the end of your trailer is. A CUB blind spot radar system will definitely help you make those lane changes easier and keep you safe going down the road.
  • Parking – a pull through spot is the best, they are easy to get in and out of. But in the event that you don’t have one available, it is best to have a ground guide. Have a travel companion or help backing up your trailer, don’t do it blind. A collision is not only costly and embarrassing, but it could be quite dangerous with pedestrian traffic. Slow and easy is best, if you have a short bed truck, don’t forget about your slidebox if you have one!