Driving a 5th Wheel - helpful hints please?

topic posted Wed, June 21, 2006 - 12:44 PM by  margo
My fiance and I are getting married on August 19th, we leave for the Playa (and our honeymoon) on August 27th. We our planning to take my parents 26foot Nomad Skyline 5th Wheel, and pull it with their Ford F150. We live in L.A. but my parents store the trailer at our ranch in Bakersfield so that's where we'll be departing from on our way to the Playa.

I'm in the process of getting the tires on the trailer checked (two definitely replaced) and having the bearings re-packed. But now my mom is starting to freak out and she's saying that she doesnt think it's a really good idea for us to take it because it's dangerous to drive and it's a long way. It had never even occurred to me that it might be dangerous. My fiance is going to be doing the driving, (and he's driven the truck before but never with the trailer attached) so I asked him what he thought and he did admit that he's a little intimidated but he said he wants to drive it around to see how he feels about it. The thing is, because of the fact that it's in Bakersfield (and we're 7 weeks away from our wedding), we dont really have much time to go out there and practice driving it around. At most, he'll get to drive it around a couple of times before we leave.

Now I'm starting to freak out because neither my mom or my fiance ever brought up that they were nervous about the prospect of using the 5th wheel and we're 8 weeks away and we have no other RV or Camper options. And I really dont relish the idea of tenting it on our honeymoon :-(

So my questions, I guess, are... .what do we need to know about driving a 5th wheel that will make it a little easier to navigate, control, handle. Is there a manual or guide that AAA or KOA puts out that could give us some info? Are there certain rules on the road we should know? Does my fiance have to have a special license to drive a 5th wheel? (the overhead cab fits into the bed of the truck, there's no trailer hitch on the back of the truck)
I want to try to assure him (and my mom) that we can handle this, but I also dont want to force him to drive it all that way if he really feels uncomfortable with it.

thanks for your help!

posted by:
  • Unsu...
    Hi Margo,
    We drive a 5th wheel and love it.
    The most important thing about using a truck and trailer of any type and combo is to make sure the towing vehicle has the power to do the job safely. The truck must be rated to pull the load you are asking it to haul.
    there are many important things to do when pulling a trailer.
    The check list is big:
    The electrical system needs to be working properly: to operate brakes, lights, running lights, etc.
    You need good mirrors on the truck to see down the sides of your rig.
    You need to know how to hitch and unhitch the trailer safely when you are camping and using your truck to go off sightseeing. (For camping in general...not at BM)
    If you have slide outs you need to inspect your camp site and make sure there are no objects that will be struck by the sliders in camp such as trees or hookups. Always check especially when you pull into camps in the dark.
    The same goes for the over head of the 5th wheel....many are rather tall same as the big RV's and you need to watch out for low hanging branches in places. Luckily you won't have that problem out on the playa but you still need to be aware while you are enroute.
    Watch out for lower canopies at gas stations....most of the chain stations have canopies over the pumps that are roomy but the older mom and pop stations may not.
    One of the best bits of advise I can give you is take your time....don't be pressured to go faster by cars and people around you....There is nothing wrong with stopping and looking around.....making sure that you have room to say turn around or pass under an over head obstacle.
    I recommend practising if possible....Congrats on your wedding by the way....what a great honeymoon spot you have chosen!
    Also if you have never pulled a trailer before....remember to make sure you give yourself lots of room: to manuver, to pass other cars and to merge.
    I hope some of the other great people on this tribe chime in with tips and ideas for you. There are some very talented and wise ones on this tribe who really helped me with great advice about my truck and trailer last year when we were BM Virgins.
    Good luck and I am sure I will think of some other things.....
    • G.G.
      thanks for the tips and info! I will definitely be using this checklist for our preparations.

      Glad to hear you've had such a great experience with your 5th wheel, it makes me feel better to know that others have done it without lots of headaches. It's beginning to sound very do-able.

      thanks again!
      • Unsu...
        Margo----forgot to mention that no special license is needed to drive a truck and trailer. is OK to feel anxious about driving a truck and trailer...normal for sure since it is different than driving a car.
        There are some cool people on this tribe who have done some solo driving of RV's or trailers for their very first times to Burning Man!
        As we get closer to the festival some of us will try to pinpoint where we will be camping so we can help eachother out on the Playa....
        It is worth it to make sure your rig is working well and it sounds like you are addressing things like tires and is gonna be a memorable adventure for you! :)
  • Unsu...
    "now my mom is starting to freak out and she's saying that she doesnt think it's a really good idea for us to take it because it's dangerous to drive and it's a long way"

    As my 80 year old dad likes to say about my mom and his wife of 50 years who is a big time worrier:

    "There is always a first time for everything, but never a last time for a worrier"

    Ask yourself this. Has she ever driven the 5th wheel and why would she think it's dangerous. Maybe she's projecting her own fear of the 5th wheel, burningman, your independance . . .

    Every 5th wheel comes with a manual and your dad must know how to work just about everything. Chances are good that you would never need to unhook or back-up and a few hours into your trip it will be no problem and become second nature.


    PS; I'll get you the info tonight for the value & weight
    • Wagon Train,
      you're very right about my mom, we have had this same fight since I was 5 years old. She worries about EVERYTHING before it's even happened. She exhausts me with her constant warnings and stories of women who were found dead on the side of the road, etc.

      That being said, I think her fears about the 5th Wheel are based on the fact that no one in my family has actually ever used it for traveling. My mom talked my dad into buying it in 2000, he didnt really want to, but he did and he pulled it to our back yard, where it sat unused for about 4 years. About 2 years ago my mom said it was cluttering the yard, so my brother hooked it up to the truck and pulled it to our place in Bakersfield, where it has sat ever since.

      My father passed away this past September and now my mother tells me that the reason they never took it out on the road was because once we bought it, my father was nervous to drive it because he thought it was too long and unweildly. On top of that, she has no idea where he kept all the paperwork for the trailer. (I'm in the process of getting it Road-Legal again with the DMV, which is why I need the value and the weight) So you see, my mom is afraid for us because she's going by what my father said and since no one has ever actually taken it out and used it, she's imagining my fiance and I losing control of it and falling off the side of the mountain in a fiery ball of flames.

      I can only promise her that we will be as prepared and cautious as we possibly can and hope that she doesnt spend the entire week fretting.

      BTW - regarding the value, I was kinda surprised that the lady at the DMV seemed to imply that we could just "give" them a value of what we thought it was worth, since the value dictates how much the registration costs. I mean, I expected them to tell me what the value was, but since they didnt, I am going by our purchase price ($2500 back in 2000) and some listings I found online for similar 5th wheel's ranging from $2000-$3000. I'm thinking of just saying $2250, since it's an old model and it's not in perfect shape, but I'm still interested to hear what you find as it's official value.

      thanks again!

      • Margo,
        Everyone gave Great advise to you, but i'll add one on to the list ( Maybe 2 or 3).
        Most trailer need to have most of the added weight placed in 60/40. So that 60% forward and 40% in the back.. This will help with not having a wagging tail as you drive. Sounds like your doing everything right. Last word of warning. Is driving down hills.. Small ones large ones. They both can get ugly fast.. Slow down as you top the hill and b-4 you start down. Shift the truck down in gear. This will help take the load off the brakes and keep them cool.Don't ride the brakes. Slow then coast then slow down and coast.In my motorhome on steep down grades I'll shift into 2nd gear an go about 45 down the hills. If your truck has an overdrive on the transmission( Little button on the shifter) turn it off when in the hills. Have fun. check both rigs whenever you stop.
        • Re: Driving a 5th Wheel - helpful hints please?

          Thu, June 22, 2006 - 10:23 AM
          It sounds like you are going to do just fine with your plans. I don't think you need to consider this, but if the concern over the RV gets in the way of enjoying the wedding, honeymoon, or Burn maybe it would be less stressful to find somebody else to drive the rig. Meet them in Reno to just drive the last leg. Driving the rig home would be less stressful and not seem as rushed.

  • Unsu...
    Hi Margo.
    Congrats on getting hitched... (no pun intended)
    One thing you need to know is that any high profile vehicle, or any vehicle pulling a trailer, must travel in the 2 lanes closest to the right. That means on a 3 lane freeway, you can’t drive in the fast lane. This rule applies even while passing. So if the 2 right lanes are moving slow, so are you.
    BTW, pulling a 5th wheel is actually easier than a regular trailer because the pivot point is closer to the pulling vehicle’s center of gravity. Also makes turning, and backing up, easier. I would strongly suggest you try to get some practice time in before hitting the road.
    Make certain that you have all the manuals for your trailer and that you get familiar with all the systems before you leave. If you have AAA, you should add the RV option. Its real cheap and is a great deal if you have a problem on the road.
    Good luck,
    Al aka Lazlo
  • Re: Driving a 5th Wheel - helpful hints please?

    Thu, June 22, 2006 - 11:14 AM
    You will be fine. They pull real well. One bit of advise I would like to add is that it is W I D E ... You will have to learn to adjust your thinking to this new wideness in the lane. Best thing you can do to help is to find a spot on your dash or hood as a reference point for being safely in the lane when driving and mark it with a sticker or something. Then all you have to do to be sure you are in the lane is to line it up on the road stripe (left side stripe). It does not hurt to do this in the right side too as it is not good to be on the shoulder a theat is where the tire-busters are.

    Also take it slow and easy and remember it take a lot more room to stop so back of the vehicle in front of you.

    • I have pulled a few trailers. All of the advice here has been good. I am repeating some of it here, though I hope I add something useful.

      Take it easy. Remember that there is no rush at all. The only times that I have had problems with towing is when I have been in a hurry, and pushed things too hard. An F150 can handle up to 8,000 pounds, but not at 70 mph up the high passes. Just slow down and use a lower gear. Then all should be fine.

      An electric brake controller costs less than $200 installed. Get one, if his truck does not already have one. It is well worth the cost in terms of safety and brake wear.

      I would repeat the advise that it is W I D E. That is not a big deal, except that you have to be alert to keep it in your lane. Don't tow a large rig while fatigued. The great thing is that if you need a rest, then you can pull over and take an hour nap in your nice comfortable bed.

      I had a breakdown just this weekend. The A/C compressor froze, which broke the serpentine belt, which took out my brakes. The good news was that I had already pulled off the freeway, and was able to just pull it over and spend the evening quite comfortably until I could get a tow truck in the morning. Oh yeah... this happened at the top of the grapevine. If I had been less alert to changes in engine noise, or had been in too much of a rush to get home, then I might have ignored the slightly changed engine noise. The brake failure would have occured at 60+ MPH going down the Grapevine with 25,000 pounds of vehicle to try to get under control.

      Plan Ahead. Look farther down the road and think about how you are going to get through service stations, etc..

      Beware Of The Overhead and Sides. You will find that trees and road signs protrude into the road and want to scrape your trailer on the roof and on the sides. Pay attention to that. You probably have some stuff on top of your roof. Tree branches love to poke at you when you are parking a trailer along the curb on many streets.

      OK... I can't shutup. Mirror extenders might be a good idea too. The standard mirrors on an F150 might not stick out far enough to see the sides of the trailer all the way back. They have extension mirrors that you can add on to your existing mirrors which can be purchased at many auto parts places and at places like Camping World. Extensions will give you a better view of what it behind you too.
      • Re: Driving a 5th Wheel - helpful hints please?

        Tue, June 27, 2006 - 11:25 AM
        One more thing about pickups and trailers.... You gas mileage will be much lower while towing, prossibly 7-9 mpg. Also, an F150 has a 25 gallon tank for short bed and 30 gallon for long bed. So, be sure to allow enough money for fuel.

        You might also consider staying on main highways and not taking back roads, if you don't want to be gouged by the small town gas stations. I know that in the King's Canyon National Park this past weekend, that unleaded regular was $4.10/gal. Last year returning from the Playa, I had to pay dearly for a stop in the mountains which was unavoidable for fuel. Gasoline usually spikes in price for Labor Day.
        • Bingo
          thank you SO Much for the detailed info. I am printing all of this and posting it in the 5th Wheel for when we finally get it on the road. One thing I found out, our truck is an F350 with a V8 engine, so evidently it's a bit stronger than the 150. That's good news I guess.
          BUT, it turns out all this great advice is going into the "keep for future reference" file because after discussing all the options, costs and unknown variables (the trucks' transmission might be going), my fiance and I have decided to just rent a small RV for ourselves and not attempt to take all this on in the next few weeks. We were both a little nervous and overwhelmed by the prospect of getting the truck and 5th wheel ready, and he was leery of driving it all that way for the first time, and when my mom said our mechanic mentioned that the transmission felt weird and that he wouldnt be surprised if it went out soon , we decided to just set the whole project aside for now.
          We're renting a 22 foot RV for ourselves here in LA, which is still bigger than what we drive now, so I will definitely be picking up more hints and advice from this tribe. But it's also small enough that we feel much more comfortable and can just enjoy the drive and have a good time on our honeymoon.

          Again, thanks for all the info. I think what we'll probably do is use this coming year to get our truck and 5th wheel in shape and then maybe use it for next year's Burn.

          much love,
          • The f 350 should have no problem at all with your 5th wheeler. Bear in mind that the brakes on your truck are rated for the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of the truck, and not for it Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR), which is the weight of the truck and the trailer. Your 5th wheel has its own brakes which need to be connected to your truck's brake controller. Even my 35 ft, 25,000 pound RV only has brakes rated to tow up to 1,500 pounds of trailer, though the chassis and motor are rated to tow 10,000 pounds.

            I think you are wise not to try to tow with a potential transmission problem. The most like place for it to become a problem is while climbing the mountain passes, which also happens to be the most inconvenient place to break down. You will probably find that you are fully loaded for the Playa.
  • Congratts on your wedding!!!

    Great advice from so many people. Sounds like you have the right truck too.

    In a nut shell:

    Make sure the hitch rating exceeds the weight of the trailer and has been installed correctly (really important with a 5th wheel).

    Make sure the tires and brakes are good (tires are considered trash after 5 years. Brakes need to be checked). Buy a good brake controller. Take the trailer for some runs before you leave. Learn how to hitch up. Learn to drive it and how to back up into a tight space. Turn wide. Learn how to use the brakes. A heavy trailer isn't a toy.

    Don't speed. Keep in mind you're hauling a pile of poor construction. Go slow.

    Check out the trailer long before you leave. The systems: refer, water system, holding tanks, furnace, A/C and genny, range, and battery all need to work. Buy a generator (quiet please) if you don't have one. Learn how to make it all work or hire someone to check it all out an show you ( bad time to save money on a "Deal" by the way). Remember to learn a bit about conservation were it comes to the battery and the water. If it's been sitting a while expect nothing to work (still better than sleeping on the ground).

    Install a CO and LPG alarm if not present.

    Tell your Mom, "Don't trip."

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