When you tow a travel trailer or RV fifth wheel on the road you experience challenges that you will not encounter in a car, SUV or pickup when not towing.
Towing a travel trailer or fifth wheel is a responsibility you should undertake with great care and safety should be your first concern. An accident while towing a travel trailer or fifth wheel can have much greater consequences than one with a small car.
Consider the following safety tips each time you tow your fifth wheel RV or travel trailer.
General RV Towing Tips for Travel Trailer and Fifth Wheel
- If you are new to RV towing, take time to practice towing your travel trailer or fifth wheel before driving on main roads. Most seasoned RVers recommend finding a large vacant lot and setting up some traffic cones to practice turning and backing.
- Never allow anyone to ride in or on the travel trailer.
- Before you leave on a trip, remember to check routes and restrictions on bridges and tunnels.
- Use the trailer hitch system the manufacturer recommends for towing.
- Drive at moderate speeds. This will place less strain on your tow vehicle and RV trailer. Trailer instability (sway) is more likely to occur as speed increases.
- Avoid sudden stops and starts that can cause skidding, sliding, or jackknifing.
- Avoid sudden steering maneuvers that might create sway or undue side force on the travel trailer. Fifth wheels are less susceptible to side force sway but you should still be aware of the possibility.
- Slow down when traveling over bumpy roads, railroad crossings, and ditches.
- Make wider turns at curves and corners. Because your trailers wheels are closer to the inside of a turn than the wheels of your tow vehicle, they are more likely to hit or ride up over curbs.
Parking a Fifth Wheel or Travel Trailer
- Try to avoid parking on grades. If possible, have someone outside to guide you as you park. Once stopped, but before shifting into Park, have someone place blocks on the downhill side of the trailer wheels. Apply the parking brake, shift into Park, and then remove your foot from the brake pedal. Following this parking sequence is important to make sure your vehicle does not become locked in Park because of extra load on the transmission. For manual transmissions, apply the parking brake and then turn the vehicle off in either first or reverse gear.
- When uncoupling a travel trailer or fifth wheel, place blocks at the front and rear of the trailer tires to ensure that the trailer does not roll away when the trailer hitch coupling is released.
- An unbalanced load may cause the tongue to suddenly rotate upward; therefore, before uncoupling, place jack stands under the rear of the trailer to prevent injury.
Backing Up Your Fifth Wheel or Travel Trailer
- Put your hand at the bottom of the steering wheel. To turn left, move your hand left. To turn right, move your hand right. Back up slowly. Because mirrors cannot provide all of the visibility you may need when backing up, have someone outside at the rear of the trailer to guide you, whenever possible.
- Use slight movements of the steering wheel to adjust direction. Exaggerated steering control will cause greater movement of the travel trailer. If you have difficulty, pull forward and realign the tow vehicle and trailer and start again.
- Apply the parking brake, shift into Park, and then remove your foot from the brake pedal. Following this parking sequence is important to make sure your vehicle does not become locked in Park because of extra load on the transmission. For manual transmissions, apply the parking brake and then turn the vehicle off in either first or reverse gear.
- When uncoupling a trailer, place blocks at the front and rear of the trailer tires to ensure that the trailer does not roll away when the coupling is released.
- In smaller trailers an unbalanced load may cause the tongue to suddenly rotate upward; therefore, before uncoupling, place jack stands under the rear of the trailer to prevent injury.
Braking While Towing a Fifth Wheel or Travel Trailer
- Allow considerably more distance for stopping.
- If you have an electric trailer brake controller and excessive sway occurs, activate the trailer brake controller by hand. Do not attempt to control trailer sway by applying the tow vehicle brakes; this will generally make the sway worse.
- Always anticipate the need to slow down. To reduce speed, shift to a lower gear and press the brakes lightly.
Acceleration and Passing While Towing Your Travel Trailer or Fifth Wheel
- When passing a slower vehicle or changing lanes, signal well in advance and make sure you allow extra distance to clear the vehicle before you pull back into the lane.
- Pass on level terrain with plenty of clearance. Avoid passing on steep upgrades or downgrades.
- If necessary, downshift for improved acceleration or speed maintenance.
- When passing on narrow roads, be careful not to go onto a soft shoulder. This could cause your trailer to jackknife or go out of control.
- To control swaying caused by air pressure changes and wind buffeting when larger vehicles pass from either direction, release the accelerator pedal to slow down and keep a firm grip on the steering wheel.
- When excessive sway occurs, activate the trailer brake controller by hand. Do not attempt to control trailer sway by applying the tow vehicle brakes; this will generally make the sway worse.
Towing Your Fifth Wheel or Travel Trailer on Downgrades and Upgrades
- Downshift to assist with braking on downgrades and to add power for climbing hills.
- On long downgrades, apply brakes at intervals to keep speed in check. Never leave brakes on for extended periods of time or they may overheat.
- Some tow vehicles have specifically calibrated transmission tow-modes. Be sure to use the tow-mode recommended by the manufacturer.
You may also want to read:
RV Tow Vehicle Basics… weight ratings, tow packages & hitches
RV Travel Trailer Hitch System Ratings
Why You Should Know Your RV Travel Trailer Weight
How to weigh your Travel Trailer or Fifth Wheel
Proper Downshifting and Braking Procedure for RVers