Welcome to the confusing world of measuring fifth wheel trailers! If you have come here for help, it means that you have probably already spent some time looking for a trailer. You’ve found one you like, and you notice that it is measured at 36 feet long.
So how are fifth wheels measured? There is no industry standard or agreement on how to measure wheel. Most commonly they will be measured from the back bumper to the center of the kingpin. When you purchase one, you will need to ask the dealer how they measure their fifth wheels.
However, because of the ambiguity that does exist, you really should do your research before buying. Here I will help you learn how you can get a reliable length measurement for your trailer.
How You Can Find Out
It really is a good idea to find out exactly how long your trailer is before signing on the dotted line. There are a few ways to find out more information and get a more complete picture of the fifth wheel you are looking at.
First, I would start by looking at the numbers from the manufacturer. These numbers are usually a good starting point. And they might even state whether their length measurement is a measurement of livable space inside (that would include the cab) or a measurement from the bumper to the hitch (which would be more representative of towing length).
Then, jumping from that starting point, I would search the RV or camper forums for posts with information about the trailer you are considering. Search specifically for the model of wheel you are looking at.
Usually, the people that know the trailer best are the people who have already been living with that trailer. You should find some good discussion and general information in these forums.
If you don’t find any information about the length of the specific model you are considering buying in your searches, then go ahead and ask a new question! The people in the forums are usually more than happy to help out and share their expertise.
You should make your question specific. Ask them exactly what you want to know. Do you want to know the length of the whole trailer with the cab included? Or the length from the hitch to the back? Or both? Ask and you will surely receive the information you are looking for.
If you are looking at buying a fifth wheel trailer directly from a local camper store or used from a private party, then you have other options that make things a little easier. When looking at the trailer, you can actually measure the thing yourself.
And you know, you really should measure it yourself if you want to know the exact length. As nice as the salesmen are, you don’t just want to take their word for it. They usually just repeat the numbers given by the manufacturer, which doesn’t help you if you really want to know the exact length.
Actually, take a tape measure with you to the camper store. A good salesman will help hold the other end while you measure. You’ll be able to get the length from the back bumper to the kingpin, and from the bumper to the front cab. Then there will be no more confusion about the towing length vs. the length of living space.
Why It Matters
You want to know how long your trailer is before buying it because sometimes the length can restrict the places you can visit. If your heart is set on that giant, enormous, everything-included fifth wheel trailer, that is fine by me. But you will want to keep in mind the limiting effect that the length of that trailer can have on the places you can camp, visit, and access.
If you plan on doing most of your camping in RV parks or established campgrounds, then you will probably not have to worry too much. These types of campgrounds usually have various campsites of differing lengths.
You should call or check ahead of time if you have a really large trailer. But usually the established, flat campgrounds will be able to accommodate you without problems.
However, outside of those type of places, with a huge trailer, you could find yourself in many different frustrating situations. The National Parks especially can get dicey if you are worried about having a trailer that is too long. In my experience, national parks can have very curvy and tightly wound roads.
And it is not just me, national parks are notorious among RV and camper trailer enthusiasts for being unfriendly to large RVs or fifth wheel trailers. Most of these parks were built up in a different era when RVing and trailer camping were almost unheard of.
So as you can imagine, people with long trailers find themselves either prohibited completely from the park or in a very limited position in terms of where they can drive or camp once inside. Generally, if a park does allow long trailers, it will be limited to about 30 feet or less.
You should keep in mind not only the length of the but also the length of your towing vehicle. If you will be able to move the towing vehicle to a separate parking space once unhitched, then the length of your trailer will be able to be the length of the campsite.
If not, then you will need to find a campsite that will be long enough for both the trailer and towing vehicle to stay parked together.
These are things you will run into when traveling with a large fifth wheel. If your heart is set on it, then go ahead and get it! On the other hand, though, I want you to consider the possibilities of traveling with a shorter trailer.
When you have the smallest trailer, you can then have your choice of camping spaces. The possibilities are much larger! The places you can go are not going to be so limited by the length of an enormous trailer.
Other Things to Consider
Now, there are some other things to consider. The length of your trailer also matters when renting out storage space. In general, they measure from the very front to the bumper. You will be charged for the total amount of space that the RV is taking up.
So if storage is something that will be a part of your considerations, then you should not only figure out the length of your trailer but should find out the method you storage company will use to measure.
Also, if you are ever taking a ferry or other transport, also know that you will likely be charged for the total length. These people really do not care about the towing length at all, they will definitely charge you based on what they see as the total length.
So simply put, there is no standard way to measure the length of a fifth wheel trailer. The stated length will usually be the length from the back bumper to the middle of the kingpin, but sometimes, the stated length will include the cab. The bumper-to-hitch measurement represents well the length of the trailer while towing.
The cab-included measurement is more representative of the total amount of living space. Both are important when considering buying a fifth wheel, so do your research and ask around.
Measure it yourself to be sure. And remember, smaller trailers make for bigger camping possibilities!
Is it safe to have people ride in the trailer while traveling? The answer is no! Not only is it unsafe, but it is illegal. When trailers come unhitched, then have no steering mechanism or brakes. They have basically zero safety features, because they are not made to contain people when moving, only when stopped. Only carry people in a car with seatbelts.
How will the length affect the gas mileage? Generally, the gas mileage you achieve is based on the weight of the vehicle and the wind resistance. Increasing the length of a trailer will increase both of these things, and therefore will decrease your gas mileage.