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What Is a 5th Wheel Dolly?

What Is a 5th Wheel Dolly?

Fifth wheel trailers are unique in the way they hook up to the tow vehicle. They require a special hitch that gets installed in the bed of a truck, but did you know there are other ways to move a fifth wheel? Enter the 5th Wheel Dolly.

There are many types of 5th wheel dollies on the market. Each has a specific use, so we’re here to sort it out for you.

What Is a 5th Wheel Dolly?

A 5th wheel dolly attaches to the unique hitch of your 5th wheel trailer, and there are a couple of different types.

Some dollies are made for towing. It’s a single or dual-axle piece of equipment that goes between your tow vehicle and your 5th wheel trailer to connect them.

fifth wheel being towed on dolly
Towing Dolly
Source: safetytowingsystems.com

Other dollies move the 5th wheel around in close quarters, such as a tight parking space, dealership, or storage lot. These are typically low-speed, powered devices that are only made for moving short distances. They operate independently from a tow vehicle.

How to Move a 5th Wheel Trailer Without a Truck

For short distances, you can use a low-speed 5th wheel moving dolly to navigate your trailer. These typically have an electric or gas-powered motor. But there are a couple of critical things to keep in mind.

One: Have the correct trailer hitch and drawback hardware on the dolly so that it can connect to your specific trailer.

Two: Whenever you’re going to attach or detach your trailer from the moving dolly, park on level ground. Being unlevel makes it much harder to attach or detach the trailer and could cause damage or injury.

Parkit360 - Transformer 5th Wheel Trailer - Landing Leg Stabilizer Bar Connection Tutorial

Remember, this dolly is simply for shifting your 5th wheel around for better alignment in a parking space or moving it a very short distance. You don’t want to drag your 5th wheel down Main Street with one of these.

Can You Tow a 5th Wheel with an SUV?

Technically, the answer is yes; you can tow a 5th wheel with an SUV. But that begs the follow-up question: SHOULD you tow a 5th wheel with an SUV?

Most cars, SUVs, and light-duty trucks simply weren’t made with the appropriate towing capacity in mind for towing a camper. They most definitely weren’t made for 5th wheel campers, which tend to be heavier by nature. This necessitates the increased towing capacity of a heavy-duty truck (think a one-ton truck, dually, etc.). Trying to pull your 5th wheel with a lesser vehicle can damage the car. It’s also unsafe for yourself and other drivers on the road.

Remember, the most significant factor when considering a tow vehicle. It isn’t whether you can physically pull something but if you can safely stop when towing at highway speeds.

Besides, most cars and SUVs don’t have the layout to install the standard bed-mount hitch necessary for hooking up your 5th wheel.

SUV pulling fifth 5th wheel
SUV towing a fifth wheel with an automated safety hitch.
Source: safetytowingsystems.com

There’s an option now called the automated safety hitch, which makes it possible for a broader range of vehicles to tow a fifth wheel safely. That includes some SUVs and lighter-duty trucks. You’re still probably looking at a 3/4-ton or better vehicle to be on the safer side. We’ll tell you more about the automated safety hitch in a minute.

Towing a 5th Wheel with a Truck

If you’re towing with a traditional bed-mounted 5th wheel hitch in the bed of a truck and not the automated safety hitch, there are a few things you’ll want to know

The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of your truck should be 10-percent greater than your combined truck weight and trailer tongue. The greater the GVWR (i.e., the bigger the pickup), the better.

Also, the tongue weight can’t exceed the maximum payload for the truck bed. Other truck elements to consider are the bed length (longer is better) and dual rear tires, a significant plus.

To sum up, the beefier the tow vehicle, the easier it is to tow your trailer.

one-ton truck

Can You Use a 5th Wheel Dolly for Long Distances?

We’re not talking about the low-speed 5th wheel dollies we mentioned earlier, here. Those simply move your 5th wheel around in tight spaces and help get it aligned.

There are a couple of options for using a 5th wheel dolly for long distances. These are 5th wheel tow dollies, an entirely different dolly category from the low-speed moving dollies we identified above.

5th Wheel Tow Dollies

This category consists of two main dolly types. There’s one that’s primarily for semi-trucks, and the other is an automated safety hitch for heavy-duty trucks, some lighter-duty trucks, and the occasional larger SUV. Both of these hitches enable towing a fifth-wheel on a separate axle, complete with tires, brakes, and sometimes even steering.

Automated Safety Hitch

The automated safety hitch system from Safety Towing Systems, Inc. is a unique 5th wheel tow dolly. It does much more than simply connecting your 5th wheel camper and your tow vehicle. It’s a system that improves safety and drivability. It has an independent steering axle and hydraulic brakes to achieve these goals.

Automated Safety Hitch Towing fifth wheel
Source: safetytowingsystems.com

This dolly connects your tow vehicle and the 5th wheel camper. The automated safety hitch improves steering so that you no longer have to swing wide into an adjacent lane when turning. It also enhances drivability when backing up.

A key feature is improved braking. The dolly takes the 5th wheel tongue weight instead of the truck bed, allowing for better braking on your tow vehicle. It also has its brakes aligned with those of the tow vehicle and trailer. The tow vehicle brake pedal controls all three braking systems as a unit, effectively increasing the ability to come to a safe and controlled stop.

In addition to improving steering and braking safety, the automated hitch opens possibilities for vehicles that might tow a 5th wheel. Traditionally, a 3/4-ton truck, a short bed truck, or an SUV are not optimal for towing a 5th wheel. But this hitch makes some of those vehicles an option.

Automated Safety Hitch Braking

You could even use the automated safety hitch instead of a traditional 5th wheel converter dolly for improved safety if you want to use a semi-truck to pull your 5th wheel trailer.

While a dolly like this makes stopping easier because of the extra brakes, it does add significant weight that will impact your vehicles GCWR (gross combined weight rating). Never exceed your vehicles weight rating.

5th Wheel Converter Dolly

The 5th wheel converter dolly, like the automated safety hitch, is a single-axle or dual-axle dolly that connects to the tow vehicle. Then the 5th wheel camper attaches to the dolly.

fifth wheel semi converter dolly
This type of dolly is used primarily for semi trucks, but has a fifth wheel hitch.

The original converter dolly attached an additional semi-trailer to the back of yet another semi-trailer for big rigs. It enabled a truck to pull two or more trailers simultaneously. It could also pull a 5th wheel camper.

When you attach the converter to the semi-truck, you can then hook your camper to the dolly. Again, this is another case of “you can do it–but should you?”

If you want to pull a 5th wheel with a semi-truck, the electrical connections you use to connect the brake lights on your semi-trailer are likely not the same for your dolly/camper configuration. So you might need a converter or to do some re-wiring.

Pay particular attention to the proximity of your 5th wheel camper to the back of your rig and the necessary clearances you’ll need for turning. Watch the 5th wheel overhang and cab clearance as well as truck frame and wheels clearance. 

semi truck towing fifth wheel

The answer to tow dolly legality is not completly straightforward, but the legality depends on many variables.

Generally speaking, the automated safety hitch system should be a safe option if you’re simply towing your 5th wheel trailer and not attaching other trailers behind. Most states see a dolly as an auxiliary axle, not an additional trailer.

According to Safety Towing Systems, Inc., “The Automated Safety Hitch System conforms to all applicable USDOT (U.S. Department of Transportation) requirements and is in the approval process in the Canadian provinces. Quebec province considers the Automated Safety Hitch System as part of the trailer, and all remaining provinces consider the Automated Safety Hitch System as part of the truck.”

That means, if all you have is your tow vehicle, the automated safety hitch, and your 5th wheel camper, officials will see it as a simple towing situation.

towing on a dolly
Source: safetytowingsystems.com

There are several states where it’s legal to pull two trailers simultaneously. There are others where it may not be permitted, and several will have limits to how many trailers you can pull and/or the overall length.

States like California and Michigan require a special driver’s license endorsement for certain towing types, such as a second trailer. California also requires a specific license endorsement for driving any “housecar” over 40 feet in length or more than 26,000 pounds.

If you’re going to use a 5th wheel towing dolly, do a quick check on the states through which you’ll be traveling to stay in the clear.

Disclaimer: We’re not Matlock, and we’re simply doing our best to relay what we know. We’re in no way offering legal advice. We can steer you in the right direction, but check out all local/state laws when you travel.

Research Before You Buy

As you can see, there are some exciting options for 5th wheel dollies. Whether it’s towing or moving your 5th wheel without your tow vehicle, there’s probably a dolly that meets your needs.

Maneuverability - The Automated Safety Hitch System

If you’re looking at a particular tow dolly, even if you’re using a heavy-duty truck, an option like the automated safety hitch system offers many benefits when it comes to safety and maneuverability. We think it particularly stands out as an essential innovation for the RV community.

It also appears that much of the United States and Canada widely approve–again, check specific locals to be sure. If you know it’s legal, and you don’t push beyond the length requirements of the places you want to go, you’ll be in exceptional shape! 

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Allen Lively

Monday 28th of February 2022

Is Automated Safety Hitch System a reliable company? I seen on the BBB some bad remarks and I would appreciate any knoweledge you have about ASH Systems.

Thanks Al

Mortons on the Move

Friday 18th of March 2022

Cant say we have any first-hand knowledge but I have heard from others that they never actually got their product working right.

David Bybee

Wednesday 21st of April 2021

I found your article very interesting. Also looked up the automated safety hitch. I have a three-quarter ton Ram. When I think of a possible new trailer that could be a fifth wheel, I would’ve had to think of a new truck also. This hitch dolly seems not only a viable, but a desirable alternative. Thanks

Daniel I Vansteenburg

Wednesday 21st of April 2021

With regards to pulling a 5th wheel with a semi truck (HDT), there is a group of people who have a lot of knowledge in this area. Each year they have 2-3 rallies each year. They have a National HDT Rally in Hutchinson, KS in October and they have a number of seminars covering many topics on how to convert/build setups to pull various types of trailers. Their website is nationalhdtrally.com. Also, you should not use a semi dolly, used in multi-trailer setups, as you cannot safely backup with them. We have a few people which use the automated safety system setup because you can backup with them.

Mortons on the Move

Wednesday 21st of April 2021

Thanks for sharing!

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