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The 7 Biggest Mistakes You’re Making Hooking Up Your RV

One of the most dangerous tasks in RVing is hooking up an RV. If you skip a step or get distracted during the process, you can cause serious damage to your rig, your tow vehicle, or even cause a physical injury to you or a fellow camper. We’ve seen RVs dropped on trucks and almost rolled away from their owners. The smallest of mistakes while hooking up an RV can be extremely costly.

Today, we’re sharing seven of the biggest mistakes we see people make when hooking up their RV. Let’s get to it so you can stay safe this camping season!

RV Hooked to Truck

Is Hooking Up an RV Difficult?

The process of hooking up an RV isn’t overly complicated. However, it does require that you follow certain steps in a specific order. Many RVers find it much easier to create and follow a checklist for their specific setup to minimize the risks of making a mistake or skipping a step.

This process can be very stressful when you’re new to RVing. However, you’ll likely find that it becomes easier the more you can camp and practice. If you need an excuse to go camping, you can always say you need to practice hooking up and disconnecting your RV.

How Long Does It Take to Hook Up an RV?

Hooking up an RV can take fifteen to thirty minutes when you’re new to RVing. You’re overly cautious and want to avoid making a mistake. Figuring out how to use your hitching system correctly or efficiently can add a significant amount of time.

The more you can use your RV, the more efficient you will be when it comes to hooking up your RV. You’ll get better at lining up our tow vehicle with your trailer, and you’ll find techniques that save you time. An experienced RVer can have their fifth wheel or travel trailer hitched up in five to ten minutes in most cases.

Man hitching truck and fifth wheel RV together.
Hooking up your RV takes practices, but with time it can take just a few minutes to properly do.

The 7 Biggest Mistakes You’re Making Hooking Up Your RV

If you’ve ever seen or heard an RV not hitched correctly, it can be a sad and scary situation. We don’t want you to be one of those RVers who damages their rig or other property due to a mistake. Let’s look at the seven biggest mistakes we see and how you can avoid them.

1. Using the Wrong Hitch

While you may be able to hook up your travel trailer RV straight to the ball on your truck, this doesn’t provide the best towing experience. Using a hitch with sway bars or weight distribution can be beneficial. These hitches often have a weight rating, so you must make sure your hitch has a weight rating that matches your trailer.

A weight distribution hitch does exactly what its name implies. It ensures that the trailer’s weight gets evenly distributed between the truck’s rear and front tires. This can reduce sag and provide better steering and less sway by keeping weight on the steer axle. These hitches get set up according to your specific tow vehicle and RV. Making adjustments to the height of your vehicle or trailer will require you to also make adjustments to your hitch.

If you’re preparing to purchase a hitch, it’s better to buy one with a higher weight rating to give you room to upgrade in the future. Using the same hitch with a future trailer can save you hundreds of dollars. When you’re already spending a significant amount of money on a new RV, saving a few hundred dollars by not having to buy a new hitch is always great.

Pro Tip: Learn more about Why Your Travel Trailer Needs a Weight Distribution Hitch before you hit the road!

Close up on an RV ball hitch.
Make sure you have the right hitch in place for the type of RV you are towing.

For fifth-wheel trailers, the hitch needs to be rated for the weight of the fifth wheel and attached to the truck correctly. It’s also good to get a hitch that has a positive locking mechanism to ensure the kin pin is latched and will not slip out.

2. Not Adding Lubrication

If you’ve ever heard the squeak of a hitch as a fellow camper tows their rig through the campground, you likely know the importance of lubrication. This is typically the result of dry metal-to-metal contact, which is never good. To get the most out of your hitch, you need to follow the recommended maintenance from the manufacturer.

How often you need to lubricate your hitch will vary depending on a few factors. You’ll want to consider the type of hitch you’re using, how often you’re using it, and where you’re using it. Seasonal weekend users typically can get by lubricating theirs at the beginning of each camping season. However, full-time travelers will likely need to lubricate their hitch every few weeks or 1,000 miles of towing. If you notice squeaking or grinding in yours, it’s a sign that you need to lubricate it soon.

3. Not Securing the Linchpin

RV hitches use a linchpin to secure the locking mechanisms closed. We’ve seen several RVers fail to secure their linchpin when attempting to hook up their RV. Failing to do so can open the coupler or the handle on a hitch, which would disconnect the trailer from the tow vehicle. It only takes seeing or hearing a large trailer unhitch from the vehicle once to make sure you never make this mistake.

If a fifth-wheel trailer unhitches, it will slide down the hitch, smash the tow vehicle’s bed rails and likely destroy the tailgate. We have seen this happen three times in our travles and is more common than you may think.

While travel trailers do not have the same linchpin as a fifth wheel they have locking mechanisms to keep it on the ball and usually a lock. Not properly locked it can bounce off during travel. Travel trailers utilize safety chains to catch the trailer and prevent it from rolling away from the vehicle. However, dropping your travel trailer can damage the A-frame section of your trailer.

Fifth wheel hitched onto red truck
Always ensure your linchpin is secured before you drive!

4. Lack of a Spotter or Backup Camera

Don’t be too proud to use a spotter or a backup camera when backing your RV into a campsite. Many RVers make costly mistakes when backing up their rig. They could have easily avoided these mistakes using a spotter or backup camera.

Many RVers use their spouse as their spotter. This provides consistency, and the spotter will know how your rig handles various situations. One with no experience may not realize your rig can or can’t make a certain angle, which could cause damage to your RV or tow vehicle.

A spotter or backup camera can help you avoid hitting any obstacles at your campsite. It’s easy to forget about picnic tables, fire rings, and even a poorly placed tree branch hanging over your campsite. 

Pro Tip: We found the 8 Best RV Backup Cameras to Make RV Driving Easier.

5. Not Doing A “Tug Test”

Doing a “tug test” is a good idea for any towable RV. This is a simple test to make sure your trailer is properly connected and the brakes work before pulling onto the road.

For a fifth wheel You raise the landing gear no more than an inch above the ground and squeeze your trailer brake control to do a tug test. This locks the brakes on the trailer, and you pull forward slightly. If your fifth wheel is not latched properly it will not crash to the truck but only on the landing gear that is mostly down.

We recommend doing this on travel trailers too because it gives you a chance to confirm you have hitched your trailer correctly and tested the trailer brakes. You should feel resistance of the brakes as you try to pull forward.

Use our guide on how to do a trailer tug test to make the process easy.

SUV hitched to travel trailer.
Whether you have a fifth wheel or a travel trailer, hitching up correctly is necessary for a successful adventure.

6. Proper Use of Chocks

When hooking up your RV or unhitching your trailer, you should always use wheel chocks. Wheel chocks prevent your wheels from moving and reduce the chances of your rig rolling away from you. As you raise or lower the rig, the movement can cause extra pressure or movement on the tires that may make them roll.

We recommend avoiding the cheap plastic wheel chocks, especially if you have a larger rig. They’re likely not going to put up much of a fight against a massive trailer. You can purchase beefier rubber wheel chocks for slightly more from Harbor Freight or Amazon

Pro Tip: These 7 Best RV Wheel Chocks will keep your camper from rocking when you’re not rolling.

7. Not Using the Parking Brake

Anytime you are getting out of your vehicle, you should set the parking brake. You want to limit the amount of strain you’re putting on the transmission, especially with the extra weight of an RV. Setting the parking brake can help keep your rig in place and avoid minimal movements. This can be especially important when trying to hitch up your RV. You may have your vehicle lined up perfectly, but it will move slightly when you put it in park. Setting the parking brake before switching from reverse or drive into park will hold your vehicle in place much more accurately.

Vehicle backup camera
Before you backup, have a spotter or backup camera in place to help guide you!

How Do You Hitch a Camper By Yourself?

If you’re new to hitching and unhitching, you might think the idea of hitching a camper by yourself sounds insane or impossible. However, with enough practice, you’ll get comfortable and be able to do it on your own.

A backup camera on your vehicle will be your second set of eyes. You can use it to line up and position your vehicle in the correct place with your trailer. You can then make any adjustments to raise or lower your trailer to the correct height for hitching. Take your time to line up everything and don’t be afraid to G.O.A.L. (Get Out And Look). Double-check your connections and ensure that you have correctly secured the trailer and vehicle.

Pro Tip: A rocking camper can sure be annoying! Keep your camper from rocking with these 7 Ways to Stabilize Your Camper Trailer.

Moving Our Home On Wheels (Without yelling at each other)

Avoid Costly & Dangerous Mistakes When Hooking Up Your RV Camper

By avoiding these costly and dangerous mistakes when hooking up your RV, you can help ensure your RV spends more time in campsites and less time in the repair shop. It only takes a second or two to make some of these costly mistakes. Having the appropriate equipment and gear for towing your trailer can also help you avoid any issues.

Hooking up an RV doesn’t have to be complicated or a stressful situation. Take your time, and don’t allow yourself to feel rushed or in a hurry. You’re more likely to make a mistake when trying to complete a task quickly.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made when hooking up an RV? Tell us in the comments!

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About Tom and Caitlin Morton

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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Monday 2nd of May 2022

Good article ! You forgot one thing that I did on my 5th wheeler. I accidently leaned something against my ladder on my 5th, and didn't notice I did, so when the trailer was lowered onto the hitch I bent the ladder quite a bit. Also I see some people store totes underneath the trailer and the same thing happens. Now I always check to make sure nothing is underneath the trailer or leaning against it.

Lawrence Leahy

Monday 2nd of May 2022

Forgetting to raise the RV support legs


Monday 2nd of May 2022

Why did you forget the safety chains?