VIDEO: Towin’ and Backin’

Posted In: Backing, California, Towing, Uncategorized, Video

To tow or not to tow: that is the question. Whether it is nobler in the mind to haul a travel trailer, pop-up camper, or fifth wheel… or to just say “fuhgettaboutit” and drive a motor home? Here are a few scattered thoughts on the towing experience as it relates to RVs.

Bear in mind that you’re probably going to end up towing SOMETHING.

The only RVs for which towing is neither necessary or possible are the small van-type (think Volkswagen Westfalia) and the smaller motor homes that are often built on a truck chassis. The upside of these self-propelled options is their very mobility. You can park ’em in just about any parking lot, and you can fuel ’em up in normal consumer gas stations. The downside of these RV options, obviously, is living space. While they make super choices for vacationing and tailgating, you may not want to live full-time in one. And there’s also a measure of immobility: in that once you set up your campsite, you are literally tethered to the place. You may not want to unhook all of your cables and hoses just to run to the local store for a gallon of milk.

What about the massive “mac daddy” motor homes, you ask? Sure, in theory you can travel in these behemoths without towing anything. But have you ever tried to take a Prevost bus through a Starbucks drive-thru? The odds are that you’re going to want a smaller, maneuverable vehicle in which to jaunt around town. Which leads you back to towing, and the reason you see all those large motor homes hauling small hatchbacks along the highway. Once I realized this fact of RV life, the thought of buying a pickup truck and towing a travel trailer or fifth wheel seemed more palatable to me.

Since my experience is towing an Airstream travel trailer with a diesel pickup truck, we’ll now narrow our conversation to this option. Airstreams, so they say, are towing champions. Their shape is relatively aerodynamic (as opposed to many RVs, which are shaped like Medieval clay bricks). Furthermore, Airstreams, as the name implies, are constructed of sleek aircraft aluminum. (While I’m not sure if the aircraft aluminum has major towing benefits, it sure looks cool!) One final upside to all travel trailers is that in the smaller lengths (ours is medium-sized at 25-feet) they are quite maneuverable. So we start out with several towing advantages.

For our truck, we chose a Ford F250 (DIESEL) three-quarter ton (in other words, HEAVY) pickup truck. Why did we choose diesel? Was it because we relish paying five dollars a gallon for fuel? Was it because we enjoy listening to engine noise that sounds suspiciously like a 1960s school bus? No, my friends, we chose diesel because the engine delivers gobs of butt-kicking torque. We’ve hauled our RV across the Rocky Mountains without this truck breaking a sweat. It’s rated to tow 20,000 pounds, and our loaded Airstream only weighs about 8000 pounds. So we’ve got power to spare. And the diesel also gets a decent mileage return (roughly 12 miles per gallon), at least when compared to a gasoline engine. Our truck is an extended cab, which means it’s got a small backseat. An even better towing option would be a “crew cab” truck because not only would it have a full size back seat, but it would have a longer wheelbase. The longer wheelbase would produce even greater towing stability.

I’m by no means claiming that our choices are “the best.” It would be more accurate to say they were “the best for us.” After over a year of towing our rig, I have no major complaints — other than the skyrocketing cost of diesel fuel. I love being able to toss supplies in the bed of the pickup truck. It’s also a cinch to unhitch and use the tow vehicle as our ride around town. In fact, owning a pickup truck has been an eye opener. It’s safe to say that once you’ve owned one, you wonder how you ever lived without one.

But what about BACKING UP that monster rig into a campsite? Backing up anything on a hitch is counterintuitive. The first few times you do this job, you’ll probably suffer pangs of tooth-gnashing stress and worry. The best advice is to GO SLOW, and work out some sort of COMMUNICATION STRATEGY with your spouse or partner in RV-ing.

Here’s where Kristy and I make use of that fancy Bluetooth cellphone technology. We call each other, and I place her voice on Bluetooth speaker phone so it emanates from our truck’s stereo speakers. While I’m backing up our Airstream, Kristy is monitoring the progress outside. We have a hands-free conversation which consists of my wife saying things like “go more towards me” or “now go more towards the woods” or (my personal favorite) “that’s it, you’re doing great, straight back…perfect!” The communication not only makes this job go easier, it also makes it go SAFER. Anytime you’re backing up an 8000-pound trailer, you want to make CERTAIN no one is behind you.

Sadly, we’ve heard a few tragic stories about people being killed in accidents while doing this task. If you are the person standing outside the trailer, NEVER – and I repeat, NEVER — stand between the trailer and any hard object like a truck, tree, or building. Mistakes happen; sometimes drivers accidentally shift into reverse, or depress the gas pedal at the wrong moment. You simply must stay in a safe position at all times. Damaged RVs can be repaired; damaged people often cannot.

Now that I’ve frightened you with these warnings, you can relax. Backing up an RV has actually become a fun task for me. Once you develop a little expertise, it becomes a satisfying mental challenge. There’s nothing like getting it perfect on the first try. :mrgreen:


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