Planning an RV vacation and trying to calculate driving times? Wondering how fast you can go when towing a travel trailer or 5th wheel?
Driving a large vehicle will slow you down. Towing will slow you down even more.
The fastest you should be going at any point is probably 55 MPH - and even that may be too fast. To stay on the safe site, estimate 45 MPH for your trip.
As a rule of thumb, driving or towing any large RV subjects you to the driving speed limits of commercial trucks. In most states, that means you should not go faster than 55MPH.
However, commercial truck drivers are far more knowledgeable than most RVers when it comes to pulling and towing. In any towing setup - especially when towing a travel trailer or camper, you must slow down even more to prevent sway.
Keep reading to find out more on when slowing down is crucial. The information in this post could very well save your life someday.
The RV Towing Setup
Most often, you’ll see two types of trailers towed behind a pickup truck or full-size SUV: travel trailers or fifth-wheel trailers.
Travel trailers are the lighter of the two. They go behind your towing vehicle, be that a pickup truck or an SUV.
Fifth-wheels are usually heavier and bulkier than travel trailers. They are towed by pickup trucks with the front part of the 5th wheel hitched on top of the truck -
The towing method matters for your speed
As a rule of thumb - towing 5th wheels is easier. The way in which the 5th wheel "sits" on top of the bed of a truck makes the entire setup far more stable.
With travel trailers, you only have that narrow hitch connecting two large and heavy masses. That's a lot for that hitch to handle properly. Which makes travel trailers far more susceptible to the bane of all RV towing: Sway.
We'll talk more about sway in a moment. For now, we just wanted to explain why it really matters whether you tow a 5th wheel or a travel trailer.
How Fast Can You Drive An RV?
Putting sway issues and even towing issues aside for a moment - brings us to the question:
How fast can you drive the more stable version of an RV aka the motorhome?
What should be your speed limit - regardless of towing issues?
Even though you’re driving a significantly large vehicle, you still need to obey the rules of the road. You should drive within the speed limit. Generally speaking, it's safe to assume you're in the same class as a full-size truck or bus. So, that sign with speed limit for trucks? That one is for you.
And speed limits change according to the road you're on and the state/county you're in. We found this cool image on Wikipedia -
Clearly some states are "faster" than others! And Texas is just all over the place depending on which county you're in.
Again, these are the speed limits for regular vehicles - without towing. The speed limit for trucks is generally between 5 and 10 MPH less.
If you're towing, it may be worth checking the law of the states you plan on going through. Some of them have special limitations on towing which may include specific speed limits.
Conditions in Which You Should Drive More Slowly
While obeying speed limits is an integral part of being a safe driver, there are some conditions in which you should slow down even more. These include:
- Making turns: Whether it’s a sharper, more sudden turn or one that’s wider, reducing speed will help your vehicle safely navigate without risk of tipping.
- Driving in the dark: Adjusting to driving a motorhome or towing a trailer in the dark brings with it its own unique set of challenges. No matter what kind of driving you’re doing, you might want to take it more slowly at first. Once you’re more familiar with nighttime driving, you can move at somewhat faster speeds.
- Windy conditions: Driving against the wind is one way to potentially tip over your motorhome or trailer (more on this shortly). Work with the wind and cut back your average speed by a few MPH.
- Poor road conditions: There are many situations that constitute poor road conditions. It could be raining, snowing, or foggy. There could be construction going on around you. The road could suddenly turn to dirt or another uneven surface. In these conditions, you must take it easy. Rushing through could lead to an accident.
- Lack of experience: If you’re still not totally comfortable with your driving setup, that’s okay. You will adjust and familiarize yourself with time. Until you get there, you can drive more slowly. Just don’t move at such a snail’s pace that you put other motorists at risk.
More Reasons to Go Slowly
These are true for any vehicle but even more so for a heavy RV setup, here are some other reasons to stay conscientious of your speed:
- More damage is likely in the event of an accident: No one ever wants to get in an accident, but they happen every single day. The faster you’re driving in a car, the more damage you cause. Now think of what would happen if you’re behind the wheel of a motorhome. You could magnify the average damage from an accident by tenfold.
- You wear down the tires faster: Replacing car tires may be a pain, but changing out motorhome tires is an ordeal. Why do it more often than you have to? The faster and harder you drive, the more wear and tear you put on the tires and the rest of the rig.
- Your breaking time is not as fast as you’re used to: You cannot expect to slam on the brakes and come to a stop in seconds when driving a motorhome. It will never happen. You must be aware of your surroundings at all times so you can plan when to apply the brakes if need be. This all goes back to preventing and avoiding accidents.
The faster you go when towing, the less stable your setup becomes. You could then experience what’s known as trailer sway. This is when your trailer moves independently of your pickup truck or SUV. It fishtails, veering into the next lane. The trailer can easily collide with metal railings or other vehicles on the road.
What causes trailer sway? These are the chief reasons it happens:
You didn’t bother to check the weight distribution of your trailer before you left. If the weight is excessive in one corner of the trailer, that area could spin out and sway.
Heavy, strong winds are another contributing factor. These winds don’t have to be weather-related, either. Man-made winds like drafts from fast-driving motorists can also leave your trailer swaying.
Slow down to reduce the risk of sway
Everything we discussed so far applied to all RVs - motorhomes and towing setups.
Now we come to sway.
To a great extent - sway is a towing issue. And it's more of an issue with travel trailers than 5th wheels.
Swaying is when that trailer you're towing behind you gets a life of its own and begins to move from side to side, essentially pulling the towing vehicle along with it. This is what it looks like -
What happens is that the towing vehicle loses control over the trailer. As the trailer sways to one side, the driver tries to "correct" the pull by pulling in the other direction. That only makes things worse.
A professional full-size trailer truck driver knows how to deal with sway should it happen. Those of us who are not professional truck drivers, usually don't. Drivers tend to make things worse, to the point of the trailer tipping over and taking the towing vehicle down with it.
The solution is to prevent sway from the outset. Be sure to check out our in-depth guide to preventing trailer sway for a more comprehensive overview of trailer sway and how to prevent it. For now, we'll cover the most important information as it pertains to this post.
In the context of this post, the thing you have to do is drive more slowly.
At all times, meaning even when you're trying to take over another vehicle. If taking over means you have to speed to the point where you could lose control over the travel trailer - then don't.
Here are some additional tactics to try and avoid trailer sway:
Tow the trailer with the right truck -
Match the pickup truck or the other towing vehicle to the weight and size of your towable. Remember that the height, width and mostly length of your trailer all factor in. Yes, towing capacity is a number that relates to the weight of the trailer. But length matters too. If towing a very lengthy trailer, you should do that with a stronger truck than you would for a shorter trailer of the same length.
Tow under your towing limits -
The heavier the load - the higher the risk for sway. Never go above your towing capacity. To stay on the safe side - keep some "cushioning" and go under the towing capacity by 10% or so.
Use a weight distribution hitch -
These are recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). They keep the weight distribution even, which can prevent trailer sway from happening. We talked about weight distribution hitches above.
Redistribute weight -
If your cargo, gear, and other equipment are all piled to one side of the trailer, change that. Also, avoid placing most of the weight in the rear of your trailer. The closer the weight is to the hitch, the better. Here's a fantastic short video that demonstrates this point -
Avoid traveling in high winds
Strong winds, especially crosswinds, can spell doom for your trailer. A crosswind that’s 35 miles per hour is enough to risk tipping your trailer. Check the forecast and avoid windy days.
Remember - these things add up - speed included
The factors contributing to the risk of sway add up. To recap, the following elements increase the risk of sway -
- Heavy weights
- Weight distribution issues
- Length of trailer
- Type of hitch
Speed is the one thing that's easiest to control from one moment to the next. So, the higher the load - and the less well-balanced - the slower you should go.
Windy conditions? Slow down. Don't wait for sway to begin - just slow down gradually and gently (don't hit the brakes!) to avoid sway.
And if you're really worried about sway - consider switching to a 5th wheel or motorhome.
Passing Other Motorists and Changing Lanes
On the note of trailer sway and even motorhome swaying (because yes, it can happen to all kinds of RVs), you have to be a kind, patient driver. If you’re the type who would always pass cars to change lanes while on a major highway, you’re going to have to change your ways.
Performing those maneuvers can be too risky for a trailer or motorhome. You’d have to speed up significantly to pull it off. You’re also switching lanes at the same time. Both the direction change and the speed boost can threaten your vehicle’s stability. You could soon find yourself swaying or tipping.
It’s recommended that you only change lanes if at least two of the lanes are going in the same direction, with no sudden exits or off ramps ahead. You should be at a speed close to the other motorist so you don’t have to crank the accelerator to gain more speed.
Drive slow - and drive safely!