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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 vehicle’s GCWR (gross combined weight rating). Never exceed your vehicle’s 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.
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.
Is It Legal to Tow with a 5th Wheel Dolly?
The answer to tow dolly legality is not completely 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.
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.
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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