The First 48 Hours of Owning a 5th Wheel

Paul and I technically bought our fifth wheel in August, but we were unable to pick it up until mid-October for various and unexpected reasons. For weeks, I anticipated this pickup. How would we navigate the large rig? Would we be able to make the turn to get to the house? Could we back this thing up into the driveway? I would wake up in the middle of the night stewing about these questions and then bombard Paul for reassurance once he woke up in the morning. So many unknowns and yet so much riding on it.

Hooked up to the Blue Beast for the first time.

The day finally arrived for us to pick up the trailer. It was a Wednesday afternoon and the new hitch was installed that morning. We arrived at Camper’s Inn and although Paul and I both had some nerves, he agreed to drive it off the lot. They pulled the trailer around and told us to go get the Blue Beast (well, they told us to get the truck, but same thing, right?). Brian, the fast-talking service department tech who had patiently answered all of our questions during the walk-through, quickly started going through the instructions on how to attach the fifth wheel to the truck. Once successfully engaged, I looked at Paul, offered one last time to drive the rig, and shifted my attention to Brian for any last-minute advice. He promptly said, “I remember the first time I drove a fifth wheel and that was a bitch. I white knuckled it the whole way.” We laughed nervously, got into the truck, put it into gear and started slowly driving out of the lot. Here we go…

We made our first snafu, albeit minor, when Paul made a right out of the parking lot instead of a left. He was so focused on driving it, that he naturally made the easier turn. I quickly turned on the GPS to find a way to turn around and realized that he was going to have to make a pretty hard right turn onto a small street in order for us to turn around (gone are the three-point ‘oopsy’ turns of our small sedan). I couldn’t pull the trigger on the first turn but had him take the right on the second turn. It was a small street, but Paul navigated it like a pro (after a few heated backs and forth of him questioning how I could take him on this road). Once we were back on the main road, driving the rig was surprisingly easy. It braked well and although a bit wider than the truck, the truck’s mirrors were extremely helpful to make sure we stayed in our lane on the curvy road. It was a bit jarring though that we couldn’t see behind us and I quickly made a mental note to add a RV observation camera to our list of things to purchase before departure (since then we’ve found it extremely helpful and you can purchase it on Amazon HERE).

As we got closer to the house, we decided it would probably be smart to practice backing up in an empty parking lot before attempting to back up between two houses. We had scouted a semi-empty lot earlier in the day and headed that way. Once there, we slid the hitch from tow to maneuverability (add in a lovely screeching noise) and were ready to begin. Easy enough, right?! Sure, but here’s where the real fun began.

We quickly realized that we had NO idea how to back this thing up. We had watched numerous YouTube videos and read a bunch of articles but nothing can truly prepare you for actually doing it. In theory, we had it down – when you turn the truck wheel right, your trailer goes left. It’s opposite of what you think will happen, that’s what everyone said, but after an hour and a half of fruitless practice, it became abundantly clear that there was no way we were backing this thing up into the driveway that night. During our final attempt, I was the spotter standing out of the truck and was focusing on the where the back of the trailer was headed. I should have also been paying attention to where the trailer connects to the hitch, but clearly wasn’t. All of a sudden, I heard this loud CRASH and the sound of glass shattering.

Ashley surveying the damage.

I ran over to Paul to make sure he was alright and realized that the fifth wheel collided into the back of the truck. Paul was freaking out because he thought the fifth wheel had shattered too because it was so loud, but thankfully it was only the glass. At that point since we were both frazzled, the truck was damaged, and it was already starting to get dark out, we made the call to head home.

Not so fast. Before we left, we remembered that we needed to shift the hitch slide back into tow mode. We moved the lever into tow mode, nothing happened. We tried to drive a little forward, nothing happened. We attempted to reverse a little bit, still nothing. How about driving down the hill and slamming on the brakes, nope. Oh boy, what do we do? We had a 7,000+ pound trailer attached to the truck and we couldn’t maneuver it into the correct position to drive it home. We frantically whipped out our cell phones (of course mine was at about 7% battery) and started Googling how to operate the hitch but came up with nothing (there is actually a lot of information related to this topic online where you can get more information about operating a slide hitch, but in the moment and in our hysteria, our search was coming up blank).

At this point in the day, I was running through every failure scenario in my head. Instead of the questions that were plaguing me in the weeks before, I was thinking that I had made the worst decision of my life. I had quit my job, spent a lot of money to purchase the trailer and now damaged truck, was prepping for this giant adventure, and I couldn’t even back the trailer up or switch the hitch into the correct position.

I don’t know how we did it, but Paul managed to move the lever into the tow position, I drove the trailer and slammed on the brakes (this is the WRONG way to do it). It made the horrible screeching sound as referenced above but it was finally in the correct position. SIDE NOTE: if you have a sliding hitch, you’re supposed to put the lever into the unlock position to move from tow to maneuverability and vice versa. We learned this later in the evening as I was lying in bed watching YouTube videos on the subject.

We finally left the parking lot and headed home. I was driving at this point and that turn I was worried about making in the previous weeks, was a breeze. We pulled up to the house, decided to try backing it up once (I have no idea what we were thinking) and failed miserably. We agreed that Paul would take the rig, pull around the neighborhood and we’d park it on the lawn/street for the night (we called the cops to make sure this was alright and although they agreed, it wasn’t completely kosher).

Paul pulled away solo and quickly found himself in a predicament. He made a left turn onto a single lane street from the left lane and got the trailer stuck on the curb. In making the turn, he also dinged the back frame of the truck. Two drunk guys from a nearby bar saw what was happening and ran up to help him. One hopped into the passenger seat, let him know he drove a limo for a living and started giving Paul directions on how to navigate the rig. Desperate times call for desperate measures and Paul listened and it actually worked (thank you drunk man).

The best we could do that night.

Once off the street, he pulled over to a small parking lot and I met him with my father-in-law to help him get home. We realized that the “quick ride” around the neighborhood was a little more difficult in such a large rig, but we found a large enough parking lot that was generally empty. Although the U-turn required some backing up (wait, did we learn something), we were able to turn around and get home. We parked the rig on the grass, taped up some garbage bags to the broken window because, of course, it was going to rain, and called it a night.

For hours that night I tried not to let the fear of failure creep into my mind. I watched endless YouTube videos on backing up, how to correctly use a slide hitch, and how to disengage a fifth wheel from a truck (as we were having problems with that too). The next morning we woke up determined to figure things out. We made an appointment to fix the truck (the taped bags did come off in the middle of the night, but it wasn’t too wet) and we went back to the parking lot to practice some more. Unfortunately at this time of the day, trucks use this lot as a cut-through so we were forced to go home because we needed to drop off the trailer to get the truck fixed.

The key lodged into the tailgate of the truck. WD-40 did not help to get it out.

After parking it back on the grass in front of the house, Paul inserted the key into the tailgate lock and the lock wouldn’t budge. He asked me to try my luck at it and I promptly wedged the key in the lock. It was now stuck in the tailgate and we couldn’t pull the tailgate down (since it was still locked) to remove the fifth wheel. Seriously?! I was ready to scream at this point. Paul called a local locksmith and I tried calling AAA and, who knew, but they actually cover that kind of stuff.

The tide started to turn for us after this happened. The AAA locksmith came and fixed the lock (he had to remove the tailgate cover as there was Line-x coating the lock). He also provided us with some sage advice on how to disengage the fifth wheel from the truck (we just had to put the truck in reverse a bit to relieve some pressure from the kingpin). We were also able to move the glass appointment to later in the day and although the technician wasn’t sure he would be able to fix the back window due to the dents on the truck (one was from Paul but the previous owner, also a fifth wheel owner, had done the similar thing on the passenger side), he was able to get it in. We also found another empty parking lot on the ride home that we planned to practice at the next day (thanks Annie for running the most miserable marathon there). We were on a roll and that night we felt a sense of hope for our adventure.

Look at all that space to practice!

The next day, we drove to our new-found lot and spent three hours practicing the art of backing up a rig. We only encountered one minor issue while practicing. Somehow the emergency brake line for the trailer got stuck under the hitch and pulled out. We called Camper’s Inn looking for advice and they advised us to drop the jacks of the trailer to lift the weight off the hitch a bit to remove the wire from under the hitch. Whew, another crisis adverted and we felt confident that we understood how to back the rig up properly so we went home.

And guess what, WE DID IT!! Paul successfully backed our 28-foot fifth wheel into the driveway (with my direction of course).

I wouldn’t say we’re pros at this point, but we definitely learned some valuable lessons in the first 48 hours of physically having our RV. We know there are going to be other hiccups on this adventure, along with some doubts if we made the right decision, but there will be great times ahead too. Let the good times roll…

We did it, it’s in!

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