By Leslie Kay Drury
Because we insure RVers and Campers, we talk with eager ‘live the outdoors’ dreaming people every day that are new to RVing or new to pulling trailers in general. We wanted to provide some detailed advice on successfully towing and parking a fifth wheel trailer for those who haven’t done it, or who are nervously heading out this summer on their 1st adventure.
Some of the best advice I received when we purchased our 1st Fifth Wheel is outlined in this article… along with a few revelations through my own trial and error (ok, ok – maybe more heavily on the error part). I hope that my insights will help you become the Fifth Wheel Pro that you dream of becoming.
Never fear! We will cover hitching, unhitching, strapping down and loading up procedures at a later time.
TPH 101 (TPH = Towing, Pulling & Hauling)
The most common mistake and possibly the hardest thing to get use to is that when taking turns, the trailer wheels do not follow the truck wheels. Instead, the trailer’s path will be on the inside of the trucks path through a turn.
The best advice I have received from fellow RVers is to think of your turns as “deep square corners”, as opposed to curved immediate turns that you would make without hauling. When approaching an intersection, drive as straight (deep) into the intersection as you think you can go with the truck before making the turn. This will allow for ample space, giving the trailer more room as it comes through and around the corner.
You can apply the same concept when turning into a parking lot. Go as far past the driveway as you can before turning into it. Sometimes you might have to apply what I refer to as the “bump” method’; these are situations where you cannot get quite enough room for the trailer to turn freely into the area, so the trailer tires will have to “bump” up and over a curb. These cases can be alarming for new RVers; but if you go slowly in these cases and let the tires absorb the impact, you will clear the turn just fine.
Sometimes you might encounter that your parking/camping destination has a combination of skinny roads and tight curves. In these circumstances, you will 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 acceptable RV etiquette, so don’t worry!
Sharing the Roads
Sharing the road with fellow motorists can be an extremely stressful situation. There is no room for personal ego when hauling a 5th wheel, so leave that mentality packed up tight and stowed away. You may be bigger, but you are not faster and it takes you longer to stop. Give yourself a healthy amount of open space in front of you. You should do this because other drivers do not realize what it takes for you to come to a stop. If you drive defensively by allowing ample space for Uh-Oh situations, the other drivers jumping into your lane will not be a potentially hazardous situation.
Also consider that other motorists will often ignore your turn signal. There are many (expletive driven) comments on why this is the case, but the short of it is this: If you need the lane and you have had your turn signal on, and another driver is not giving you the space you need, you are within you RV rights to SLOWLY start to make your lane change. Trust me…the other cars will get out of your way.
When in doubt, be generous with you driving and you will have a safe journey to your vacation destination.
Set It & Forget It
There is this great thing around these days that way too many people are not taking full advantage of. I am going to tell you all about this nifty little secret – it’s called Cruise Control. Why stress the traffic when you can set it and forget it?! Chances are high that you are off on a vacation driven adventure (hence the huge rig behind you), so start the relaxing early. Stay alert, but let the speedy driving take a back seat and let your new best friend, who we call ‘CC’, take over.
In multi-lane highways, the middle lane is a nice, comfortable place to settle into. The far left lanes are for faster, passing traffic. Leave those lanes to the poor souls of the stressed out variety. If you go to the far right lane, you are going to constantly be dealing with exits and on-ramps, causing you to keep making lane changes to stay left. The best lane to cruise in is the middle lane.
Backing Up and Parking the (*@#!)Trailer
Ok, I’m not going to pretend that this is not an acquired art form. You only have to see a pro whip a large camper freely into an impossibly tight space with the poise and ease of a Giselle jumping over a fallen tree to understand that it is definitely an art form! And I will admit freely, that I have heard some intersecting language from fellow RVers that are having a particularly hard time parking into their camp site. But it can be mastered with the patience and practice! Also let me make it clear that there are NO gender rules applied to this. Anyone can park with ease when applying few key steps from our friends at KOA. (If all you heard was Charlie Brown’s #WhaWhaWha#, then follow this link to watch a video of the below steps http://blog.koa.com/rv-tip-video-travel-trailer-5th-wheel-backing-up-tips/)
Start Right – Your starting position is key. There are two important aspects to your starting position – 1. side of the road and 2. distance from your target site.
1. Side of the Road
Pull past the site and keep your truck and trailer as tight to 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” ~ Leslie Kay Drury, Proprietor of Leslie Kay’s
You will still have times where you’ll need to have cars moved, or your truck tires will roll through another site, or you’ll have trees or bushes in that “nose-space”. We have gone back and requested different campsites at times because there were obstacles like power poles or dumpsters placed such that we didn’t have that nose space.
2. 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.
I Turn Which Way?
Here is a quick tip for knowing 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.
Start by cranking the wheel all the way while backing up just to get the trailer going where you want it to. Then – while rolling back – slowly return the truck’s wheels to straight. I call this “following the trailer back”. You can’t just keep your steering wheel in one spot while backing up as the trailer will jackknife. Trust me when I say that’s not the sort of attention you want in a campground.
Own Your Site
It’s your equipment, your trip, and your money being spent at the campground or RV park. You are in charge. So act like it! I found this great checklist on TheRV and have used this handy little list myself – so of course, it’s worth sharing. 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. slide outs, 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.
Simmer Down & Practice Your Patience
As in most things in life, your wise grandparents were right: All things get better with practice. Likewise, practice is better served with a little shot of patience. If you are an RV ‘newbie’, give yourself at least 8-10 weeks practice of getting on the road, towing in traffic, and getting setup in a campsite. Before you know it, you will be an RV pro, too!