How To Tow A Fifth Wheel With An SUV

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One frequent question about towing is what kind of tow vehicle is best for the 5th wheel. Let’s address whether you can tow a fifth wheel with an SUV.

You can tow a fifth-wheel travel trailer with an SUV, but it is not the best option. Some large SUVs will handle heavier loads, but most cannot tow a full-sized fifth-wheel camper. The only way to tow one is to purchase a towing dolly or rent a truck with the correct gross vehicle weight rating.

While the RV lifestyle is a passion many Americans know, a recent study found that almost 60% of owners exceed their maximum weight limits while towing. This statistic should alarm everyone on the road since a tow vehicle over the weight rating is the fastest way to ruin a vacation, cause an accident, or seriously hurt someone. While manufacturers do their best to slather warning labels on every part of their campers, it is incumbent on every RV owner to ensure that they follow the safety guidelines as they connect their fifth wheel hitch to their truck bed. One issue that keeps coming up when discussing responsible towing is whether an SUV can tow a 5th-wheel camper.

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Can An SUV Tow A Fifth Wheel Trailer?

The answer is yes. An SUV can pull a 5th-wheel camper if the vehicle is rated to tow the weight. However, several modifications must be made. Since a fifth-wheel kingpin is not made to fit on a standard ball mount, the options are limited. The only way to safely tow a fifth-wheel camper is by adding a separate towing dolly (automated safety hitch system). The towing dolly adds an additional axle underneath the kingpin, supporting the trailer weight more evenly.

What about a gooseneck? Since a gooseneck ball fits into the middle of the truck bed, this is not a viable option for an SUV.  (You cannot attach a fifth-wheel trailer directly to the ball hitch of your SUV, not even for moving short distances).

Many states have regulations prohibiting the type of vehicle allowed to transport fifth-wheel trailers. (It is always a good practice to review any laws that govern how and what size of RV can be pulled in your area).

Should I Tow A Fifth Wheel With An SUV?

Even if your SUV is rated to pull the trailer’s weight, towing with an SUV may not be the best answer. Most SUV’s are not made to withstand the load of a 5th wheel because they are manufactured on car chassis, (their frames are not strong enough). Even when some large SUVs are built on truck designs, they may still not be powerful enough to be the tow vehicle to a much heavier load.

The average weight of a fifth-wheel camper is 12k - 16k (depending on the manufacturer and the length of the unit). Since even the best SUV with the highest weight ratings top out at under 10,000 lbs, you can see there is no way an SUV is built for this kind of heavy work. (Remember that these figures are before your whole family, cargo, or equipment). Most reports indicate that additional cargo can add around 5k lbs). Even an SUV rated for a gross vehicle weight rating of 10k lbs is not enough to handle a camper pushing 16k - 20k lbs.

There are other reasons to reconsider pulling a 5th wheel with an SUV. Every time you tow, the additional weight creates issues for the tow vehicle. The engine has to work harder, the rear axles and rear end are taxed, and the suspension and transmission are affected. (It’s like when your body does a workout. The more weight you lift in the gym, the more stress is placed on your body. While the barbells might be good for a moment, imagine dragging around the extra weight all day).

The primary reason not to tow fifth-wheel RVs with an SUV is that it is unsafe. The excess weight can easily create issues for steering control, braking complications, and a larger mass is more susceptible to trailer sway. Reports from the NHTSA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, indicate that over 76,000 RV accidents occur yearly, many involving 5th wheels. Even though most RV accidents are caused by driver error (fatigue), overweight load limits can also be a significant cause. If you won’t think about your safety, think about the lives of your family or others on the road with you because 26 people die every year from RV accidents. Even though that is not close to the number that dies in passenger car accidents, it is still one too many.

What Is An Automated Safety System?

An automated safety hitch is a trailer dolly that provides a third axle under the 5th wheel pin box. This separate tow dolly allows a fifth wheel to be connected via a gooseneck adapter to the dolly, which is attached to a standard ball and coupler. Even with the addition of an automated safety hitch system, you want to ensure that your towing vehicle can handle the weight. A medium to heavy-duty pickup truck is still the best option.

A travel dolly is expensive, usually costing about $11,000 for the kind that can be used for long distances. While the expense may be prohibitive for most RV owners, the trailer makes hooking up easy (just connect the safety chains, flip a switch, and the trailer maneuvers into direct contact with the kingpin-gooseneck hitch). The automated safety hitch sets the camper away from the back of the truck, handling the heavy tongue weight of a fifth wheel’s pin box. The addition of a third axle also makes steering and braking easier.

What Are Other Solutions Than An SUV or Trailer Dolly?

The only other solution to tow a fifth-wheel RV is to find a truck with the towing capacity to handle the extra weight you intend to pull. You can borrow a buddy’s truck or possibly rent one.

Renting a FifthWheel Compatible Truck

Not every rental company has trucks equipped with 5th-wheel hitches available for rent. (There is just not enough demand). However, some companies do rent them. The best thing is to contact your RV dealer to see if they have a rental program or know of a truck rental company. You should plan on $150 a day for the rental and ensure you read and understand all the fine print in the contract (you don’t want to be shocked by extra fees when vacation is over).

In addition, you want to be careful that your current insurance covers recreational activities (hopefully, you have RV insurance). Some RV insurance policies do not cover accidents involving rented tow vehicles, so you might not be covered for any liability. Most leasing companies offer an insurance plan for additional fees, while some will insist that you have valid RV insurance from a local carrier before renting.

Ensure that the truck you rent has adequate braking systems (a brake controller) and a 5th-wheel hitch rated for the weight you plan to pull. Inform the rental company up front that you plan to pull a truck camper.

What Size Truck Do I Need To Tow A 5th Wheel?

It will depend on the size and weight of the RV camper you intend to tow. While most RV campers weigh about 16k - 20k lbs, a ¾ ton to 1-ton pickup is probably adequate. Some manufacturers claim that a half-ton pickup can tow heavy loads (with a gooseneck installation), but this is risky. Most hitch manufacturers prefer you to use a heavy-duty truck with a longer bed.

Several gooseneck hitches will work to allow a fifth wheel to be towed. Some of the best are found in B & W, Curt Mfg, and Andersen Hitches. The expense of converting a truck to a gooseneck mount and purchasing an adapter is considerably less than $11,000 you would spend on a trailer dolly.

What Are the SUVs With The Highest Towing Capacities?

If you intend to pull a fifth-wheel travel trailer with an SUV, you must ensure the load limit does not exceed the vehicle’s GCWR. While an SUV can carry a large family, remember that for every person you transport and every pound of cargo means less weight the trailer must be. (Most tow experts recommend staying at or below 80% of towing capacity for maximum control and safety while towing).

Vehicle Maximum Towing Capacity
Nissan Armada 8,500 lbs
Ford Expedition 9,300 lbs
Dodge Durango 8,700 lbs
Cadillac Escalade 8,200 lbs
Lincoln Navigator 8,700 lbs
Chevrolet Tahoe 8,400 lbs
GMC Yukon 8,400 lbs
Land Rover Discovery 8,200 lbs
Infiniti QX80 8,500 lbs