How Much Clearance Between a Truck Cab and Fifth Wheel?

A fifth wheel travel trailer being towed by a pick up truck rv travel

A fifth wheel camper can provide you and your family with years of fun and adventure, and is one of the more affordable ways to get into the RVing lifestyle. However, because a fifth wheel camper is a towed vehicle, there are some very important safety considerations, and even driving behaviors, you need to be aware of before you ever hook one up and hit the road. For example, a common question is how much clearance between a truck cab and a fifth wheel?

From the bottom of the fifth wheel to the top of the truck’s bed rails, there should be at least six inches of clearance. This gives you adequate room to ensure that your bed rails and RV do not collide when you travel through rough terrain or hit those inevitable potholes on the highway.

It’s also crucial that the clearance between your truck’s bed rails and the fifth wheel isn’t too large. The distance between the lower half of the RV and the bed rails of your truck should be no more than nine or ten inches. Most RVs won’t sit level at this height while hooked, which is necessary for safe and effective hauling.

As you probably know, not all trucks are created equal, and some have longer beds than others. Owning a truck with a shorter bed does not always preclude being able to tow a fifth wheel camper, but in order to do so safely, you may need to invest in a special hitch to achieve the clearance you want.

In general, though, most experts feel that the bigger the truck, the safer the hauling experience. Very short truck beds mean that you risk the fifth wheel being too close to the rear window of your vehicle, which will impede your view and potentially break local traffic laws.

If you have a new truck and an older camper, you may run into problems when towing a fifth wheel as well. This is due to the fact that newer trucks often have a higher seating position than previous versions of similar models.

If you’re driving a newer truck, fifth wheels from a decade or two earlier have lower pinboxes, making it difficult to keep the trailer level. To overcome this, you may need to adjust the pinbox or use a different hitch, but unless you are very car savvy you should have a professional help you with this, as the risks a botched DIY job can pose are significant.

What are the Best Trucks to Tow a Fifth Wheel Camper?

There are a lot of trucks out there and your buying considerations will almost certainly include more than whether a truck can tow a camper – here are some of the general points to keep in mind when evaluating if a certain truck model is up to the job.

Towing Capacity

The capacity of full-size trucks is divided into three categories: half-ton, three-quarter-ton, and one-ton. This is the maximum weight that the truck’s suspension and frame can support in the bed. Along with engine size, this has an impact on towing capability. The more towing and bed capacity the vehicle has, the more you can safely haul and load in it.

Torque and Power

The specs of any truck engine will rate its torque and power. And this is important when towing anything, including a fifth wheel camper. While you don’t need to go for the most powerful combinations of all, a good balance of the two is a must. A low powered truck simply won’t be up to the job, especially when traveling in hilly terrain.

Fifth Wheel Hitch Compatibility

Some light half-ton trucks, in particular, are not built to have a fifth wheel hitch attached. There are various types of hitches, some of which are meant to be installed on specific vehicles.

Calculate the weight of the trailer you’re towing and the type of hitch you’ll need, then consult a local mechanic or a dealer’s service department to make sure the hitch you’ll need will fit the truck you want to buy. Don’t try and guess this one yourself, and don’t go by what it says in product listings online, ask the experts, as in the people who regularly deal with the specific truck model in question.

In general, a lighter weight truck will struggle to tow a fifth wheel camper, and not only will trying to do so put unnecessary strain on both your truck and on you as the driver, but it will also pose a big potential safety risk for you and everyone else on the road, so make sure that any fifth wheeler you are considering buying and/or using is safe for use with your vehicle.

Tow Truck Models for 2022

Here are specific models ranked by towing capacity.

  • Mid-size trucks best suited for towing smaller campers with towing capacities between 5,000 – 7,700 lbs: Honda Ridgeline, Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger, GMC Canyon, Jeep Gladiator.
  • Full-size or half-ton trucks is the most common type of pick-up truck with a towing capacity between 9,740 – 13,200 lbs: Nissan Titan, Toyota Tundra, GMC Sierra 1500, Chevrolet Silverado, RAM 1500, Ford F-150.
  • Heavy-duty or three-quarter trucks best suited for hauling large fifth wheeler or long travel trailers: Nissan Titan XD, RAM 2500, Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra 2500, Ford Super Duty F-250.
  • Ultra-duty trucks or super heavy-duty trucks have a towing a capacity of between 20,000 to 32,000 lbs: RAM 3500 (see image below), Chevrolet Silverado, Ford Super Duty F-350.

General Safety Tips When Hauling a Fifth Wheel Camper

Speaking of safety, even the most powerful truck and fifth wheel camper towing combination can become a real safety hazard if you don’t follow basic safety rules and best practices. Here is a look at some of the most important of those.

Pack Light

It’s usually wise to pack light while hauling a travel trailer. Emptying your water tank before you start the road trip is one of the simplest ways to travel light. Because water weighs almost eight pounds per gallon, it’s a good idea to fill your tank just before setting up camp. Having all that weight on the back of your truck only slows you down and consumes more fuel.

When packing your fifth wheel, keep in mind that less is more when it comes to clothing, foodstuff, and other accessories. This reduces the weight of your fifth wheel while also making it less chaotic and cluttered. Tripping over a mass of stuff once you are settled in at your campsite is no fun.

Distribute the Weight of Your Trailer’s Contents Properly

The majority of the overall load weight of your travel trailer — 60 percent or more – must be centered in the front end. This allows it to follow your tow vehicle in a straight line. “Tail heavy” refers to a trailer that has more than 40% of its weight in the back. Your trailer may swerve behind you and possibly pull your vehicle off the road as a result of this!

Heavy appliances and tanks are often located near the front of most travel trailers, which helps a lot. Proceeding to over pack the back end of the cabin will spoil all of this, so don’t do it!

Drive With Sway Control Top of Mind

What’s the most effective strategy to prevent your fifth wheel from swaying? Let up on the gas pedal. At higher speeds, fifth wheels are dangerous. Your trailer may slide, jackknife, or even flip over if you travel too fast. It will drag you and your towing truck with it if this happens. And there’s no telling how many other motorists you’ll sideswipe if the traffic is heavy.

That’s why many travel trailer owners believe that regulating your speed is the most effective fifth wheel stabilizer. Stay in the right lane – the slow lane – and let others pass you if they need to. And go easy on the brakes too, as slamming on those can lead to skids and jackknifing, even at slower speeds.

Plan Your Route Properly

If you are headed out on a trip along a route you have never traveled before, make sure you have planned it out carefully in advance. Some roads are simply not suited to vehicles towing large travel trailers and on some, especially around urban centers, they are simply not allowed. Making use of Google Maps, Waze or another GPS tool to check out the road ahead before you set out can save you a lot of time and trouble!

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