It is very important before you decide to make your purchase of a vehicle or RV trailer that you take a minute to understand the proper towing related terms and equipment necessary for you to tow safely down the road. It's always best to consult the owners's manual of your vehicle when determining what the tow capacity limits of your vehicle are for towing. The proper tow equipment can make your experience fun, not something you'll fear the moment you explore the open road. It’s important to consult one of our knowledgeable RV sales staff members so they can explain the weights, specifications and limitations of the tow vehicle and your new RV to the best of their ability. Let us take a look at the two most common types of RVs being towed today; the fifth wheel trailer and travel trailer. Both of these types of recreational vehicles tow very differently and use different types of connections or hitches, to attach to your vehicle. Here at Lerch RV we sell and service most makes of trailers and towing equipment. Below is a list of some common terms associated to towing both types of RVs.
Fifth wheel - A fifth wheel is a recreational vehicle with a hitch king pin that requires a fifth wheel hitch or coupler to be installed in the bed of a truck. The king pin on the RV offers a radius pin that the fifth wheel hitch couples to with the use a single locking radius jaw or dual semi-radius jaws. The single locking mechanism is considered to be a safer means of coupling to an fifth wheel trailer. The pivot point for a fifth wheel is improved due to the location of the connection typically close to the center of the vehicle’s rear axle. A fifth wheel trailer is usually larger than most travel trailers. The majority of consumers buy a fifth wheel for its 'homey' feel and furnishings. Also for the ease of towing and maneuvering.
Travel Trailer - A travel trailer, also commonly called a 'tag along' of 'tow behind', is designed to be towed behind a vehicle. The tow vehicle will have a hitch attached to the frame. The travel trailer will have a coupler attached to the front of the trailer that couples over the top of a ball which is on the tow vehicle. It’s important to remember that there are different size hitch balls and it should be checked before you attempt to tow anything. Towing a travel trailer also requires 'special' hitches that help to make towing easier and safer. The two most common terms you hear when talking about towing a travel trailer are weight distribution & sway control.
Weight Distribution System - This refers to a hitch head assembly that mounts between the hitch on the back of a tow vehicle and the coupler and frame of a travel trailer. Look at the pictures below and you will see two steel bars that attach to either side of the frame to clamps mounted on the frame. Think of the two bars as arms of a wheel barrow. As the arms are lifted, the tongue weight is shifted forward for better control to reduce sway and make the travel trailer ride level.
Friction Sway Control -
A sway control is recommended any time you are pulling a trailer. The sway control works in conjunction with a weight distribution system to control the side to side movement associated with windy conditions or improper weight distribution to make the RV ride level. Below is an example of a friction sway control. This particular sway control works by a steel slide plate that moves between two friction pads very much like the brakes on an automobile. There is a side tensioning arm that allows you to regulate the pressure just like the brake pedal of an automobile. Sway control technology has improved because of greater concerns for safety, and there are a variety of new styles available including standard friction sway and dual cam sway control. Consult your sales staff member for more information on what control system would be correct for you.
Friction Sway Control
Weight Distribution System
16K Fifth Wheel 'Slider' Hitch
Common terms associated with understanding the weight as it relates to your tow vehicle and recreational vehicle.
Hitch, Pin or Tongue Weight
This weight is determined by the downward force of the hitch, pin or tongue weight of the recreational vehicle. This can be affected by the axle placement and by how level the recreational vehicle is over the axle. Think of hitch, pin or tongue weight like a teeter totter. When the weight or height is adjusted to a level position, the proper hitch, pin or tongue weight can be safely managed. A weight scale can be used to determine this weight once in a level position.
Dry Weight vs GVWR:
There always seems to be some misunderstanding about the dry and gross weights of an RV. The dry weight of the RV is the weight with no fluids or cargo. Dry weight often does not include optional equipment or accessories. The applied shipping weight of the RV on the other hand usually includes options and accessories.
The gross vehicle weight rating or the GVWR is the maximum permissible weight recommended on the axles and wheels of the RV itself. This is a safety rating assigned by the manufacturers. The added cargo and fluids should not exceed this weight for safe towing. This however is not the weight that should be compared to your tow vehicle’s maximum capacity.
Dry Weight = The weight of the recreational vehicle with no fluids or cargo.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating/GVWR = The maximum permissible weight recommended on the axles and wheels.
*This is not the weight that should be compared to your tow vehicle’s maximum capacity.
The electric brakes on the RV are controlled by a device called a brake control. This braking device is installed in the vehicle to regulate when and how much of your RV brakes are applied when you apply the brake pedal. The majority of new manufactured pick up trucks have an integrated brake control built in or are pre-wired for installation of an aftermarket break control. In addition to the brake control, there is an "electric brake-away cable" attached to your hitch assembly for your safety. This is installed on the Recreational Vehicle’s frame in case the RV becomes accidentally disconnected from the towing vehicle. If the "cable" is pulled away from the RV, the auxiliary battery activates the brake away switch and signals the brakes to be applied. It stops the RV wheels from rotating.
The information in this guide is meant to guide you not to direct you. It is opinion based on experience and research. The author/dealership/sitehosting/designer assume no responsibilities for inconveniences or damages resulting from the use or misuse of information from this guide. All users are encouraged to use this as a guide and consult the manufacturer of your tow vehicle and dealer to assist you in making your RV towing experience safe.