Towing will become second nature once you understand the key pieces of equipment involved. Below you’ll find some of the basic components that are involved in RV towing, like hitches, anti-sway bars, safety cables, mirrors, and more. The exact gear you’ll need will depend on your RV and tow vehicle.
1. Bed-Mounted Hitch
If you’re a fifth wheel owner, you’ll use a bed-mounted hitch (fifth wheel hitch or gooseneck) to connect your RV to the bed of your pickup truck. Like other hitches and mounts, these are specific to your towing truck and the weight of your RV (remember to weigh it fully loaded). Depending on the size of your truck bed, you may need a slider hitch to allow for proper clearance when turning.
There are several advantages to the bed-mounted fifth wheel system. First, it moves the trailer’s weight up, so there isn’t as much stress on the rear of your truck. Having the weight distributed more in the truck bed also makes the towed RV more stable and easier to maneuver. Bed-mounted hitches are also relatively easy to engage and disengage, so once your RV is parked, you can set your truck free for other uses.
2. Rear Hitch Setup
If you’re not hauling a fifth wheel, you’ll need a rear-towing setup. The hitch includes the following components (as shown in the above diagram):
- Receiver or coupler: This attaches to the underside of your vehicle and is particular to the make and model of your towing vehicle.
- Ball mount: The ball mount goes into the hitch receiver opening and holds the hitch ball. Ball mounts are available in different sizes depending on the type and weight of the RV you’re towing.
- Pin and clip: These hold the ball mount inside the receiver. Consider adding a lock because, unfortunately, people steal hitching components.
- Hitch ball: This is sized to match the coupler on your RV.
3. Weight Distribution Hitches and Sway Control
Since weight distribution hitches and sway control bars are often coupled, many people think they are a single item. However, these are actually two separate pieces of equipment. A weight-distribution hitch helps spread the trailer’s weight between the RV and the tow vehicle. These pieces of equipment also properly level the rig and vehicle.
If your hitch system doesn’t have sway control, you can add anti-sway bars that use friction and tension to distribute weight and keep the towed vehicle in alignment. Make sure any device you use is compatible with your braking system. Also, if you’re shopping for a tow vehicle, many vehicles now incorporate electronic stability control for trailers with anti-sway technologies.
4. Wiring Package
Some rear-towing packages come with wiring, but you may need to purchase a separate kit. Some are plug-and-play, while others require splicing. The wiring package powers the tail lights, brake lights, and turn signals on the RV you’re towing. Working lights are required by law on any vehicle being towed. Instead of choosing an installer based on price alone, you should focus on the mechanic’s installation expertise.
5. Auxiliary Braking System
Various braking system options allow you to control your RV’s brakes from inside your tow vehicle. Newer models have wireless receivers and are convenient to use, offering smooth braking that’s easier on your vehicle. Some of these systems also include a breakaway feature that slows your RV should it become detached from your vehicle.
6. Safety Cables
Wrap safety cables (or chains) over and around your hitch any time you’re towing, and make sure they’re rated to the weight you are towing. Safety cables keep your towed vehicle attached in case the hitch comes undone. You can buy these at auto part retailers, camping supply stores, or online.
Mirrors are one of the most overlooked—but critical—parts of a good towing package. Consider getting mirror extenders so you can see down the length of your RV and out to the sides for safe travel. Your dealership may be able to replace your mirrors with towing mirrors from your manufacturer, or you can add aftermarket gear.
Wireless observation cameras are also useful. They let you see traffic behind you while in motion and give you more perspective when backing up your rig. There are many aftermarket options—some RVs come prewired, making for easy installation.
Know Before You Tow
Learning about towing gear is second to understanding your RV and tow vehicle specs. Know the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of your tow vehicle to ensure it can accommodate the weight that you intend to tow. Also, check the specs and follow manufacturers’ recommendations for hitches and accessories based on your vehicle’s make and model.
After you’ve selected key pieces of equipment that work with your vehicles, you’ll get the swing of it—with minimized sway.
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