When towing on a long-distance road trip, you may want to stop overnight and simply take off again the following morning. When that's the case, can you leave your camper hitched to your tow vehicle? Or should you always un-hitch and hitch up again in the morning? We checked various RV resources, forums, and groups to see what more experienced RV'ers are doing.
You can absolutely keep your rig hitched to your towing vehicle overnight. In fact, in some situations, it's best to keep the camper hitched. That way, you can move along right away if you're asked to. A few tips we picked up for those overnight parking occasions -
- Make sure the RV is on level ground (or adjust it to level the rig itself).
- Unplug the trailer's electric cables from your tow vehicle so you don't risk draining the truck's battery.
- Go over your checklist before starting again in the morning, including a walk around your rig.
Keep reading as we'll share more of what we've learned in this post.
To un-hitch or not to un-hitch - that is the question
For many RV'ers, the routine is simple enough: You arrive at your destination, unhitch your trailer or 5th wheel, and set them up properly by putting down the jacks, extending the slides, and securing the camper using blocks and chocks.
Once done, you can un-hitch your truck or SUV from the camper. Now you have yourself a vehicle that you can use for sightseeing and doing errands in the area, while your home is fully stable and secure in your camping spot for a few days, and possibly even weeks.
Should you go through the process for an overnight stop?
At the end of a long day of traveling, you finally decide to stop for the night. Perhaps you managed to find a campground that will take you in for the night. Or maybe you are parking your RV for free at Walmart or a similar location (check out this post for 7 possible locations for free overnight parking).
All you want to do is take a shower and get some shuteye before hitting the road again the following morning. So, it's good to know that you can do just that. For a short one-nighter, you don't have to go through the entire process of un-hitching your rig. This is especially encouraging for new RV'ers who may take longer to hitch and un-hitch.
Of course, you could un-hitch if you wanted to. There are pros and cons to every decision, so let's quickly cover those before moving on to the tips themselves.
Here's why you should stay hitched overnight
There are several potential advantages to staying hitched.
You'll be saving precious time
The process of completely detaching your tow vehicle from the camper can take some time. Not only do you have to carefully release the hitch, but you also need to put down your jacks and stabilize the trailer.
And the following morning, you have to go through the same process in reverse. Only this time, you're hitching up. Typically, that's even more time-consuming, especially if you're new to RV'ing.
Just how much time you'll save depends on how long it takes you to hitch and unhitch. Under optimal conditions, experienced RV'ers operating a rig that they know well may only need a few minutes to do that. However, if you're new to RV'ing, it could take you longer.
Here's a great video about how to hook up a 5th wheel. Notice how the process has several steps. If you're new, you will probably take at least 10 minutes to go through them all.
And that doesn't take into account the time needed to maneuver your truck. Depending on the area, amount of light, and your level of expertise, that could take a good while longer.
You can leave quickly
If you're not in a campground, you may or may not be welcome to stay through the night.
For example, even if you asked for permission to Wallydock (park overnight at a Walmart), the next shift's manager may decide that you shouldn't stay. Pretty much anywhere that you park without explicit permission, you could be asked to leave at short notice. Or you may choose to do so.
When that happens, the faster you can leave, the better.
If you are boondocking at a Walmart or rest stop then NO. No unhooking, slides etc. You should be able to start the engine and drive away at a moment's notice. Bobtop46 - RVForum.net
Not only will staying hitched help with that, but by staying hitched, you are less likely to draw unwanted attention. Most people are concerned about someone parking in their area for a long period of time. Seeing a camper that's still hitched to the tow vehicle sends a clear message: I'll soon be on my way.
You can leave quietly in the morning
Another reason for staying hitched up is to avoid the relatively noisy morning routine of hitching up. Backing up to hitch is usually a two-person ceremony: The spotter helping the driver to back up to the right point properly.
While using some walkie-talkie radio or phone connection is advised, the conversation itself may be too noisy if you happen to be leaving a campground at the crack of dawn. By staying hitched, you can avoid that particular commotion.
Here's why you might want to un-hitch for the night
Everything has its pros and cons, and RV'ers also mention reasons why one might prefer to un-hitch.
It makes it easier to use your vehicle
The main reason most RV'ers state involves using the tow vehicle to run errands, go to the store, etc. That's always easier to do when you're not towing.
However, that doesn't necessarily mean you should stay un-hitched for the night. You could come back and hitch up again to enjoy the benefits mentioned above.
Your setup may be too long
Tow vehicles tend to be big and long. The combined length of a big truck and a 40ft long trailer can be challenging when you're parked on the street. To avoid blocking too much space, you may need to unhitch and park your truck somewhere else.
The only time I would unhitch for an overnight is if the consist was so long that it blocked a drive and unhitching and parking the parts side by side would eliminate that problem. wa8yxm - iRV forums
It's easier to level and stabilize your camper
With some types of campers, you should properly put down your jacks/stabilizers in order to use the slides.
Leveling is also important, especially if your RV fridge runs on propane. Some people prefer to go through the entire process, un-hitch, and get the RV properly leveled and adjusted.
I lower my stabilizers and my tongue jack just to take the weight off the truck but I stay connected. timfromma - Forest River Forums
The Middle Ground approach
Some RV'ers like to take the middle road when it comes to hitching vs. unhitching for an overnight. So they keep the trailer hitched but put down the jacks and use blocks and chocks to keep the rig stable.
While it means it could take a bit longer to move, the most annoying procedure - that of actually backing up - is avoided.
Tips for when you're staying hitched overnight
Finally, there were a couple of things that experienced RV'ers shared about how to stay hitched overnight.
Keep it level
Spending the night in a camper that's not properly leveled isn't much fun. Moreover, if your fridge runs on propane, it must be level to keep working.
Many modern RV's have auto-leveling systems, so you can lower your jacks and allow the rig to balance itself. Here's another tip, specifically for travel trailers -
If you're worried about the weight on the rear of the tow vehicle, you can drop the tongue jack to the ground to support some of the weight. Just be darned sure to raise it before you move again. SmokerBill - Jayco Owners Forum
Unplug your trailer from the truck
While driving, the trailer or 5th wheel is connected to the tow vehicle with an electric cable. That connection is crucial for operating the lights and brakes of the camper. The camper gets the power to run those from the tow vehicle's battery.
The camper will keep using power from the tow vehicle as long as that cable is plugged in. However, once you switched off the engine, that spells trouble. You'll end up with a dead battery on your vehicle pretty quickly.
The solution is simple - make sure to disconnect that cable when you park overnight. Then, remember to plug it back in before you drive off in the morning!
Thoroughly check everything before moving in the morning
RV'ers typically have a checklist for when they leave a campground. That checklist includes hitching the rig but also a slew of other things.
When staying hitched overnight, it's tempting to forgo the procedure and simply drive on. But you shouldn't.
Before leaving in the morning, go over your checklist. Then, get out of your RV and walk around the rig to inspect everything. And while you don't actually have to hitch your camper, do check the hitch to make sure it hasn't been tampered with overnight.
Is it bad to leave a trailer hitched?
You may be wondering at this point whether the weight could negatively affect your tow vehicle. However, experienced RV'ers say no damage was done even after weeks and months of keeping the camper and tow vehicle coupled.
As long as you're towing properly and within your weight limits, there should be no issue for your tow vehicle. However, if you're still concerned, putting down the jacks can help take off some of the load. Just don't forget to put them back up in the morning!
Does the camper battery charge when plugged into the truck?
As long as the camper is plugged into the truck (or another tow vehicle), it charges the camper battery. That's not necessarily a good thing. As you switch off the truck's engine, the vehicle's battery will no longer get charged. From that point on, your camper will be sucking the energy out of the vehicle's battery.
By the following morning, after you've used your camper for the night, you could easily find yourself with a drained battery on your vehicle.
That's why you should always unplug the camper from the truck by detaching the electric connecting cable between the two.
While you can absolutely keep your camper hitched overnight, you need to pay attention to the ground rules. Keep the camper level, unplug it from the vehicle, and don't forget to check everything in the morning before getting back on the road.
As you become more experienced, deciding to unhook the rig becomes a no-brainer. You'll be able to make it based on your specific circumstances and enjoy your night break in peace.