When we got our first (and current) camper, a 5th wheel, we were a little unschooled. Not in the whole RV thing, but in this specific type of RV. Having had a pop-up, a small bumper pull camper, a 27 foot pull camper, and then a motorhome, we thought we had learned a lot – and we did. But each rig has its own characteristics and idiosyncrasies, and we mostly learn by doing. So here is a bit of what we have learned so far about our 5th wheel.
First we got our truck, a 1993 Ford F250 XLT, gas V8 4WD. It already had a 5th wheel hitch installed in the bed, so we were happy to get a puller with everything we needed. Then we found our 5th wheel camper, and had to drive 150 miles to pick it up and get it back to Chicago where we were staying. We assumed that the 2 would fit together well enough to get back home, and it turned out we were mostly right. When we hitched up, there was a very slight tilt up at the front of the camper, but not enough to worry about. When we got new tires later that were a size or two smaller, it made the tilt even less noticeable. Something to think about fixing in the future, but not an emergency for now.
And we never thought about the matching heights issue again, until one day outside of Hardin, Montana, when we broke down while traveling and watched a tow truck load our F250 on a flat bed, and a big Chevy diesel hook up to our 5th wheel and take us all back to town. We had a hub problem on the truck that had to be fixed, so the roadside assistance took care of getting us into an RV park for the night and the truck to a garage. I noticed as they were pulling away with our camper that it was sitting pretty high on their plate, and tilting back quite a bit, but it was a short trip. When we arrived at the park, they backed it in and I set up as usual with my 6 inch stack of 2x4s, albeit quickly. We were sitting fairly level, and had other things to think about in the meantime.
The next day when our truck had been repaired, I backed it in and went through the usual procedure connecting with the camper. Everything was OK until I got to the part where you retract the electric front jacks to lower the camper onto the 5th wheel hitch plate. It went all the way down (the jacks going up of course) and then unexpectedly stopped. Then I noticed that there was still weight on the blocks under the jack feet, and they couldn't be removed by hand. Apparently the different heights of the trucks meant that the set up was different, and now I had a dilemma. After a bout of head scratching and heated discussion, I decided that there was only one thing to do – drag the camper off of the blocks, very slowly and carefully. I didn't want to ruin my jacks, but short of getting another truck in front of the camper, I didn't know what else to do. Fortunately, it was a simple process and the feet slid off the blocks with just a little tug from the truck, and we were on our way.
But it got me to thinking about the height situation. There are so many variables here that it can make your head swim, and that's what happened. I thought about how lucky it was that our truck's hitch matched the camper pretty closely without adjustment. The hitch is designed so that it can be unbolted, and then raised or lowered on the bed, but it looks like either way would be too much. Clearly, the height of the blocks used under the jack legs makes a difference, but you want it to be stable, not towering on foot-high limber. The camper itself can be raised by lowering the axles into a different position, thereby raising the height of the camper from the ground.
Apparently all of these things matter, which is why RV dealer sites talk about matching all the variables when you buy from them – they'll set it up perfectly so that everything is at the right height and you never have to worry about it. Unless of course you have to have your camper pulled by another truck, which I can guarantee messes up the whole thing.