When towing a travel trailer behind a car or pickup with a bumper hitch you always know it's there. One of the great things about a 5th wheel RV trailer is that it tows so easily it is easy to forget you have that huge object behind you. But there is a feel, especially through the steering wheel (even with power steering) that you need to learn to recognize.
Learn to judge specific distances
You need to learn to judge specific distances. How far must you be from the curb to make that turn without creaming the side of the 5th wheel on that telephone pole. You need to know if the vehicle beside you is too close so your rear end will take out its front fender. You need to learn how ‘wide’ a turn your towing vehicle must make to assure the trailer stays on the road throughout the turn. How high is your 5th wheel - including your roof-top air conditioner. Trying to squeeze through a low overpass can cost many thousands of dollars besides ruining the trip
Know the limitations of your side mirrors
You need to learn how to use your side mirrors and to always be aware of what is reflected in them. You need to realize that, when the towing vehicle is not in line with the towed vehicle, the side mirrors are almost useless. Hence you must take notice of all possible obstructions before going into a turn - especially if backing up.
When you put it in reverse
Backing up a 5th wheel is very different from backing up your car. Not only do you turn your steering wheel oppositely, you have to know WHEN to turn it and by how much. It took you years to learn to drive your car safely; it is going to take a while to learn to tow your 5th wheel safely.
Anticipate, anticipate, anticipate
You need to learn to anticipate movement and, especially, changes in movement of other vehicles. As you will be driving a pickup (or a medium size truck) you will be sitting higher than in a car. This will allow you to see over the roof of many vehicles. In any case, you need to be aware of the motions of the vehicle in front of the vehicle directly in front of you.
Avoiding rear enders
We had a flasher circuit installed in our 5th wheel brake lights’ wiring. This makes the trailer's brake lights flash like a strobe for the first 8 to 10 seconds of applying the brakes. If you're going to slow down, press lightly on the brakes to trigger the brake lights to give the vehicle behind you plenty of notice. It doesn't matter that the other guy is 100% at fault in an accident, it is going to cost you, too. Collision repairs are primarily cosmetic; your vehicle will never be the same again. By the same token, you can't stop on a dime with all that weight. You need to anticipate when your leader is going to stop in time to avoid your being guilty of rear ending him.
Safe driving can boost fuel mileage
You can improve fuel mileage by 2 to 4 miles per gallon by maintaining an even speed. With all that weight, it takes a lot of fuel to accelerate even slightly Deceleration is just setting you up to waste more fuel. Try to avoid heavy traffic - especially rush hours. Pull into a rest area, take a nap or enjoy a bite to eat and some relaxing time. When you are in traffic, leave plenty of space in front of you. Yes, there are always those inconsiderate drivers who will try to squeeze into 18 feet of space with a 19 foot car. Let them. You will get there; they may not.
Check your weight
The first time you have your 5th wheel loaded up have it weighed, axle by axle. Most larger truck stops have scales and will do this for you for a small fee. It is urgently important that your truck-trailer combination be properly balanced and the not exceeding the listed limits for each vehicle. So many accidents are caused by overloading or out-of-balance loading. Every one of those accidents was avoidable and many caused the loss of life.
Finding an expert instructor
Some dealers have someone who is capable of instructing 5th wheel driving techniques, - especially the art of backing up. If your dealer doesn't - or you bought your 5th wheel from a private individual - there are many good 18 wheel semi-truck drivers around who would be happy to teach you for a little extra cash. $50 for this education is probably the most worthwhile investment you'll make when you buy that 5th wheel. I have seen many 5th wheelers circle the RV parks looking for a spot they can back into because there are no available pull-throughs. Don't be one of them.
Bob Masters started RVing in a converted 1958 Flxible bus in the 1960s. He has traveled extensively throughout the 48 states and has written many ‘travel logs’ describing some of his journeys. Having traveled extensively with children, and, later, grandchildren, he has become very familiar with the best places to stop and enjoy what a local community has to offer. Recently he started the RV Guide project to make available to RVers a graphic directory of the locations of RV parks and campgrounds near the Interstate highways ( e. g. , http://www.RV-Park-Guide.org ) including locations of RV sales and service centers.