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7 UNWRITTEN RULES of Pulling a 5th Wheel or Travel Trailer

| Updated May 1, 2023

Surely you know traffic laws, but what about the unwritten rules of pulling a 5th wheel or travel trailer? Here is what experienced RVers do…

Pulling a trailer or a fifth wheel requires a different set of skills than driving a regular vehicle. As a result, there are several unwritten rules that you should keep in mind to ensure a safe trip. 

The following are the most widely accepted unwritten rules that RVers adhere to. We have also included resources and links to additional information to boost your confidence in towing.

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#1 Learn & Practice Before Your First Road Trip

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Before hitting the road with your fifth wheel or travel trailer, it’s essential to learn and practice the basics of towing. You should understand how to:

  • Connect and disconnect your trailer correctly
  • Adjust the weight distribution hitch
  • Maneuver your vehicle and trailer in different situations
  • React in dangerous situations like trailer swaying and sliding

When we bought our 5th wheel, Jenn went to driving school to learn all of the above! We didn't want to make the Biggest Pitfall of Splitting RV Duties Down the Middle with only me knowing how to tow.

You can also learn by watching instructional videos online or asking an experienced tower for tutoring.

It's a good idea to practice towing in an empty parking lot or a quiet road to get a feel for how your vehicle and trailer handle. Backing up can be tricky! This “Backing Up an RV” Learner’s Kit can help.

#2 Check Signal Lights Before Every Road Trip

Another essential safety aspect of towing a fifth wheel or travel trailer is to ensure that your tail and brake lights are working correctly. These lights help other drivers on the road see your vehicle and trailer and anticipate your movements.

Before every road trip, check all the lights on your vehicle and trailer, including the headlights, taillights, turn signals, and brake lights. Have a helper stand outside the vehicle and trailer to confirm that all the lights are working correctly.

If you don't have a helper, back up your trailer against a garage door or wall and use your mirrors. Look for the light's reflection on the wall or door whenever you turn on the signal or press the brakes.

#3 Check Tire Pressure Every Travel Day

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Tire pressure is crucial when it comes to towing a fifth wheel or travel trailer. Your vehicle’s tires must be inflated to the correct pressure to handle the extra weight of the trailer. If your tires are underinflated, they can overheat and fail, which can lead to a dangerous situation on the road.

Before every travel day, check the tire pressure of your vehicle and trailer tires with a tire gauge. Inflate them to the recommended pressure listed in your owner’s manual or on the tire sidewall.

We have entire articles dedicated to The Danger of Underinflated RV Tires and Why You Should Check RV Tire Pressure EVERY Travel Day if you wish to learn more.


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7 UNWRITTEN RULES of Pulling a 5th Wheel or Travel Trailer 1
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#4 Stay in the Right or Middle Lane

When towing a fifth wheel or travel trailer, it’s best to stay in the right or middle lane of the road. These lanes allow you to drive at a safe speed without holding up traffic.

There is some controversy over when you should drive in the middle lane. But the general consensus is you should drive in the middle lane in populated areas with frequent on and off ramps. That way, you don't have to keep switching lanes or adjusting your speed as other vehicles merge on and off the freeway.

If there are not frequent on ramps, it's generally agreed you should stay in the right lane and only use the middle lane to pass.

Avoid driving in the left lane, which is typically reserved for passing. Other drivers tend to become frustrated and aggressive if you’re traveling at a slower speed in the fast lane. That frustration (justified or not) puts you in added danger.

To learn more, read Are RVs Allowed in HOV Lanes and Left Lanes?

#5 Use Cruise Control Thoughtfully

The question of whether it's safe to use cruise control while towing an RV comes up often. The answer comes down to personal preference and practicing certain safety measures.

Cruise control can be a useful tool when towing a fifth wheel or travel trailer when used thoughtfully. It’s best to use cruise control on flat, straight roads with little traffic, and no adverse weather conditions.

Avoid using cruise control on hilly or winding roads, in heavy traffic, or when driving in severe winds. Additionally, always be prepared to turn off cruise control if you need to adjust your speed or slow down for any reason.

#6 Don’t Overcorrect When Steering

**WARNING: THIS VIDEO'S CONTENT MAY BE DISTURBING TO SOME VIEWERS**

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When towing a fifth wheel or travel trailer, it’s essential to avoid overcorrecting when steering. Overcorrecting can cause your vehicle and trailer to fishtail, leading to a loss of control and a potentially dangerous situation.

If you feel your trailer swaying, don’t slam on the brakes or jerk the steering wheel. Instead, gently apply the brakes and steer in the direction of the sway to bring your trailer back under control.

If you have to react in a traffic situation, avoid jerking the wheel if at all possible. If you must slam on the brakes, keep your vehicle pointed forward if at all possible. Otherwise, you risk the trailer fishtailing and/or swinging around and flipping.

As one clip in the video also teaches, you must NEVER FORGET TO ACCOUNT FOR THE HEIGHT OF YOUR TRAILER when driving under carports or bridges.

You may also wish to read How Can I Make My Fifth Wheel Ride Smoother? (5 Tips).

#7 Don’t Tow in Severe Weather or High Winds

Driving an RV in Strong Winds

As the above video also forewarns, you should not drive your 5th wheel or travel trailer in severe weather or high winds.

In very wet or icy conditions, your trailer may hydroplane or slide, and it can be very difficult to regain control once it does.

High winds can cause your trailer to sway, making it challenging to maintain control of your vehicle. Additionally, strong gusts of wind can push your vehicle and trailer off the road, increasing the risk of an accident.

Read these 10 Best Tips for Driving an RV in Strong Winds.

Before hitting the road, check the weather forecast for your route and plan accordingly. If severe weather is predicted, consider delaying your trip until conditions improve or adjusting your route to avoid areas with high wind gusts.

Related Articles:

7 UNWRITTEN RULES of Pulling a 5th Wheel or Travel Trailer 2

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Mike Wendland

Published on 2023-05-01

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

2 Responses to “7 UNWRITTEN RULES of Pulling a 5th Wheel or Travel Trailer”

May 28, 2023at8:49 pm, Lydia Coble said:

I am loving 🥰 the extra information to pull an RV! I can’t remember everything, but this brought a lot of it back to the beginning! I’m glad I read it!!
Thank you so much!!

Reply

May 30, 2023at9:20 am, Team RV Lifestyle said:

Thanks for the feedback, Lydia! Team RV Lifestyle

Reply

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