A big fifth-wheel RV is an incredible holiday home away from home. Towing the fifth wheeler connected to the truck’s bed makes for a stress-free journey without the difficulties a bumper pull may present. The rig isn’t upset as massive trucks pass, sucking the leaves out of the ditch.
There are very few advantages to converting a fifth-wheel camper van to a bumper pull. Carrying out the conversion results in a less stable, harder to maneuver, possibly illegal rig. The only advantage is that the bed of the truck is freed up to carry things that a fifth wheel blocks.
Converting a fifth-wheel camper to a full-time bumper pull is not commonly carried out. There are good reasons for this which we will discuss in this article. Despite this, however, there are some circumstances where a bumper pull offers better maneuverability, and for these instances, you may want to consider a conversion.
Converting A Fifth Wheel Camper To A Bumper Pull
Converting a fifth-wheel camper to a bumper pull is not a simple task. No companies offer a conversion from the pure fifth wheel or gooseneck hitch to a pure bumper tow.
Apart from a few alternative solutions, you are essentially on your own.
The most apparent conversion will involve building a frame below the raised front end of the fifth-wheel camper. The kingpin will have to be replaced by a bumper hitch extending below the frame to connect to the vehicle’s bumper hitch.
The structure will have to be tied into the fifth wheel chassis to ensure that it does not induce any disruptive forces that will change the camper’s towing characteristics.
Although it has been done successfully by a few skilled owners, the internet is littered with images of conversions that have been unsuccessful.
Before considering converting your fifth-wheel camper to a bumper pull, let’s look at the differences between fifth-wheel trailers and bumper pull camper vans.
Advantages Of A Fifth Wheel Camper
Fifth wheel campers have many advantages over conventional bumper pull campers.
- Ease of Towing; this is the primary advantage of a fifth-wheel camper over a bumper pull camper van. Because the fifth wheel camper is connected to the tow vehicle in the truck’s bed, and the weight is situated over the rear axle of the tow truck, it is more stable to tow than a regular camper van.
The fifth wheel also tows better because of the location of the pivot point. The hitch being over the tow vehicle’s rear axle means there is no load acting as a lever arm behind the tow vehicle’s rear axle.
The trailer acts as a lever arm behind the tow vehicle’s rear axle with bumper pull camper vans. The longer the camper van, the greater the lever arm, and the higher the risk of it being unsettled.
The towing ability of fifth-wheelers is one of the main selling points of fifth-wheel campers. Any thoughts of removing this benefit by converting it to a bumper pull must be carefully evaluated.
- Total Length. As the fifth-wheel camper is attached to the truck bed, the length of the rig is reduced.
Converting a fifth-wheel camper to a bumper pull lengthens the whole rig. All the difficulties associated with that, including ease of reversing, high-speed stability, and reduced turning circles, are now added to the camper van.
- Turning Radius. The turning radius is considerably improved as the fifth wheel coupling mechanism is situated within the truck’s bed. Fifth wheel campers can be rotated to be at 90-degree angles to the towing vehicle, whereas bumper pulled RV’s have a turning angle restriction, beyond which the front of the RV connects with the back of the towing vehicle.
Converting a fifth-wheel camper to a bumper pull means your maneuverability is significantly reduced.
- Hooking Up. Hooking up a fifth-wheel camper is more straightforward to accomplish than a bumper pull. The driver can watch the position of the fifth wheel camper kingpin against the fifth wheel mechanism in the truck’s bed; this makes hooking up a one-person operation.
Although one person can hook up a bumper pull without a rear-view camera, it is not easy to position the truck’s tow hitch directly under the camper vans.
Converting a fifth-wheel camper to a bumper pull means that a new level of difficulty is being added to your hooking-up process.
- Second Tows. If you choose to tow a second trailer behind the camper, it is safer with a fifth-wheel camper rather than a bumper pull. Towing a second trailer behind the main trailer moves the pivot point further back, and the lever arm becomes larger. A natural instability is created, and units connected in this way will be much more likely to be unsettled by passing trucks.
Changing the fifth wheel camper to a bumper pull moves the attachment further back, resulting in greater instability.
Towing a second trailer behind a bumper pulled camper is illegal in many states. Every state along the Atlantic seaboard forbids double towing except for Maryland. Hawaii, Washington, and Oregon make it illegal to tow a second trailer behind the primary bumper-connected trailer.
Converting your fifth wheel camper to a bumper pulled camper van means that you restrict your ability to tow a second trailer behind the camper van.
- Occupants in the trailer. It is legal for passengers to be carried in a fifth-wheel camper in some states. No states allow the passenger to be in a bumper pulled camper van. It’s not recommended that any passengers be carried in either vehicle; however, converting a fifth-wheel camper to a bumper-drawn camper van makes it now expressly forbidden.
- Backing Up. Camper trailers attached to the towing vehicle by a fifth-wheel are easier to maneuver.
Bumper towed camper vans react to minor movements in the steering wheel. Until you learn the techniques, you may overcompensate and end up with some wild angles when backing up.
The 5th wheel camper requires more significant wheel movements to turn, making it easier to plan and execute a reversing action in this type of rig. The one potential drawback of reversing a fifth-wheel camper van is that inexperienced drivers often turn the towing vehicle end too far one way, and the angle is thrown off.
Disadvantages Of A Fifth Wheel Camper
Fifth wheel campers towing characteristics are generally better than bumper-pulled RVs. However, some of the advantages are a double-edged sword.
- Storage In The Back Of The Truck. As the fifth wheel camper is connected to the bed, over the truck drive wheels, the back of the trucks load space is all but eliminated. If you want to take a dirt bike or an ATV on holiday with you, you should consider purchasing a fifth-wheel camper with a ramp at the back so you can carry your “toys” inside.
Converting a fifth-wheel camper van will increase the load space in the back of the truck.
- 5th Wheel Tow Receiver. Not only does the fifth wheel reduce storage in the back of the load bed while the fifth wheel camper is being towed, but this HUGE and HEAVY chunk of steel continues to take up space while the fifth wheel camper is not being towed. It is possible to remove the fifth wheel when it is not used; however, this is a lot of work and needs to be repeated every time the fifth wheel camper van is used again.
By contrast, the hitch for a bumper pull camper van takes up no space at all.
- Fifth Wheeler Are Expensive. Fifth wheelers are the most expensive version of non-self-propelled RVs; this is a moot point as if you are considering a conversion, by implication, you already own a fifth-wheel camper.
- Fuel Economy. Fifth wheel campers tend to be large vehicles with extreme vertical height. The tow vehicle must battle against the wind resistance created by this shape, so fuel consumption is adversely affected. Converting the fifth-wheel trailer is not going to change this.
In fact, with the reduced stability that a bumper pulled camper van has, the fuel consumption figures may worsen.
- Fifth Wheel Campers Are Heavy; this is an unavoidable fact and one of the reasons you must be cautious if you want to convert the fifth wheel camper to a bumper pull. Remember that a conventional fifth wheel arrangement attaches over the tow truck’s rear axles.
When properly installed, the weight of the fifth wheel camper presses down between the cab of the pickup and the rear axle. The weight is applied most efficiently and directly to the towing truck’s load-bearing structure.
By moving the attachment point to the very rear of the tow truck, the weight is sent to the back of the tow vehicle creating a vertical lever arm; this places higher stresses on the tow vehicle’s suspension and drive train.
- Going Boondocking. Traveling off-grid to out-of-the-way campsites is not accessible to a very heavy fifth-wheel camper; this would be exacerbated by converting it to a bumper pull that is inherently less stable and less maneuverable.
It Is Not Optimal To Convert A Fifth Wheel Camper To A Bumper Pull
Considering all the above points, converting the fifth wheel to a bumper pull is unrealistic. While converting a fifth-wheel camper to a bumper pull is possible and will create more space in the back of the tow truck, the downsides exceed the benefits.
Carrying out a conversion of this nature may result.
- Loss of stability
- If the state authorities do not approve it, you may lose your insurance coverage.
- In some states, such a conversion is illegal.
- You lose most of the inherent benefits of a fifth-wheel camper van.
What Are The Solutions?
Assuming you intend to undertake this conversion, it is recommended that you consider purchasing The Automated Safety Hitch tow dolly system.
Although not legal in some states, this provides the best balance between a fifth-wheel towing system and converting to a bumper pull.
- Because the automated safety hitch adds an axle to the tow vehicle, the main benefits of a fifth-wheel camper are maintained.
- It provides significantly more stability and safety than a fifth-wheel camper van rig or a bumper pull.
- As the safety hitch has a different braking system, the rig now has three sets of brakes.
- The system provides additional leveling assistance, which means your rig travels in a completely level attitude, further increasing safety.
- Hitching the safety hitch to the vehicle is made easy by an auto hitch feature.
- When the tow vehicle indicators are activated for eight “flashes” of the turn signal, the stability locking mechanism is released, and the trailer can be turned more than 90 degrees. When the rig straightens up and accelerates, the stability locking mechanism re-engages, and you can safely drive the rig at highway speeds.
It is possible to convert a fifth-wheel camper to a bumper pull. The fact that no manufacturers have launched a commercial product is probably all the indication you need to confirm that it is not a great idea. It means that you forego all the towing benefits of a fifth-wheel camper for the disadvantages of a bumper pull.
Purchasing a system like the automated safety hitch is a good solution and improves a fifth-wheel camper’s already great towing features.
Good luck, and happy camping!
Check out our article on: Travel Trailer VS 5th Wheel (What Are The Differences)