Do You Need Air Bags For Towing Fifth Wheel RV’s?
Having air bags for towing a Fifth Wheel RV will definitely make the ride more comfortable, but do you really need them? We have done over 20,000 miles this year with and without air bags and have a lot of real life data for you.
Do you need air bags for towing a fifth wheel? No, but there are a few reasons you may want to seriously consider getting them.
That is our Truck before any upgrades with our RV on it. As you can see, our Fifth Wheel isn’t by any means small. We knew it was big before we went to pick it up, but didn’t fully grasp just how large it was.
We are literally the same size as the tractor trailers we park next to at the rest stops on the Interstates.
When we first picked up our Montana 381TH my truck squatted like a power lifter. She’s pretty, She’s strong, and seeing her drop that booty to the ground wasn’t sexy.
There is nothing I can do about it now, my Wife and I and one of our best friends are already in Indiana to pick it up. We have to be back in Jersey by tomorrow night because we all have work the following morning.
How Do I Know If I Need Air Bags For Towing?
All of the math worked. Our truck was rated to tow the RV. Our hitch was rated for the pin weight. The tires were rated high enough too. Everything I have to go by says we are good to go.
When I first backed under the pin and hooked up everything looked great. Then I started to raise the front jacks. The truck got lower and lower, until it started to pass the point where it was sitting level, and the headlights actually started to point skyward.
This right here is a sign that your suspension needs some help. When your truck is pointing nose up, you are actually taking weight off of your front tires. The whole purpose of the Fifth Wheel style of hooking up, is to evenly distribute the weight of your trailer to all 4 tires.
If your truck goes nose up in the parking lot, just wait until you put your foot into the throttle.
On our ride back east I looked like I was driving in a 1930’s movie. My 10 and 2 was more like 12 going back and forth like I was using a shake weight.
One thing to keep in mind, we haven’t even put a single thing in our new RV so this is the lightest it will ever be. There’s no clothes in the dresser, no food in the fridge, and no water in the tanks.
Towing Without Air Bags
After we had moved in to the RV, we took it on several trips without air bags. Now in hind sight towing the RV with that squatted stance probably wasn’t the brightest thing I’ve done.
The truck pulled it without a problem, not one that I noticed anyway. We were able to cruise at highway speeds and start and stop at traffic lights without issue. We were even able to navigate the mountains of Vermont fine, or so I thought.
The more trips we went on, the more I became in tune with the truck and what it was doing going down the road. Yes we were able to take off from a light at a decent rate, but when I did, that squat got more pronounced.
There was an excessive amount of chucking (the bounce and bang noise from the trailer weight on the truck). If you hit a pothole, you don’t even want to know how much of a shudder rolled through the frame of the truck.
We could even stop the rig in what I thought was an acceptable distance for its size. Until our brake pads disappeared on our way to Lake George that is. Then my buddy Sean and I had to do a full brake job at a campground. That was fun.
Towing With Air Bags
After installing the air bags, towing our RV was a whole new experience. Honestly even if we downsize to a smaller rig, I’m still going to use them. The advantages of having them far outweighed the cost of buying them!
Right off the bat our truck looked better with the fifth wheel hooked up. Now I know that looks isn’t what this article is about, but if you’ve seen my truck, you know I spent a few bucks on how she looks. Draggin ass is NOT the look I was going for!
When the truck sits level with the RV on it, the whole setup just looks better! Beyond how it looks, the way it tows is a dream. Rather than all of the weight being on the rear axle, it was spread evenly across all 4 tires.
Guess what? Now my tires are wearing down evenly! No more baldies in the back!
Our brakes are now wearing more evenly as well. I can tell by how all 4 rims have brake dust on them now instead of just the front two! Not thrilled about the extra cleaning at the car wash, but hey we can stop in less time now!
Ride comfort? Night and day. With the RV hooked up, and the air bags inflated, it is SO much softer of a ride. When we are snaking through mountain roads, it stays much more level now too. When the RV isn’t on the truck, just deflate them and it’s back to stock.
Having Air Bags For Towing Saved Our Ass
Have you ever had a leaf spring snap on you? We did, and didn’t even know it! That could have ended catastrophically, but phoning a friend and having air bags, saved our cross country trip.
I have included a YouTube video from our second season on the road. If you are trying to decide if you should get them, I would suggest you watch the video.
It’s real life. No Hollywood BS, No paid promotion, No lets make it look good for YouTube. This is just real life what happened to us, and we happen to be YouTubers.
The Air Bag System We Have
There are several ways you can set your air bags up. I knew were were going to be inflating and deflating them several times per week, so I wanted easy. The install took a little longer, but my every day was easier.
We went with the Load Lifter 5000 air bags for our F350. The air bags installed in about an hour without any busted knuckles or inventing new curse words. Two thumbs up!
For inflating the air bags, I wanted to be able to just hit a switch and air up or down depending on what we were doing. You can just run an air line to your back bumper and air up and down when you hook up, lots of people do. I didn’t want to pull out an air compressor 3 times a week.
I went with the Firestone Ride-Rite on board compressor system so I can just hop in the truck and hit some switches. Installation was pretty straight forward. The hardest parts were finding a spot to mount the compressor, and a spot to run the air lines into the cab for the switches.
Overall, I am not in any way disappointed with the way this system functioned. It performed exactly as I expected it too, and if you watch the above video, you can see how handy it came in.
The Air Bag System I Wish I Got
If I were to do it all over again, the only thing I regret not doing, is getting a system with a tank. The system we got works fine, and we still use it today, but there are things that I would like to do that I wish I thought of sooner.
If I had gotten a compressor system with a tank I would be able to put a quick connect under the bumper to attach an air line. Then I would be able to fill truck tires when they were low, even in the middle of nowhere. We could air up bike tires, blow up tubes to float in the lake, all kinds of things.
The other thing we could do is use that same system for an air horn setup. I know the air horn isn’t necessary but we’ve all been cruising at highway speed and had a smart car merge in front of you at 30 mph. The air horn definitely comes in handy for getting their attention.
So no. You don’t NEED airbags for towing your fifth wheel, but they do come in handy. If you are going to get an airbag system, I would say to shop around and get a system with an air tank that fits your truck. Hopefully you never have to do the Mark and Doug airbag patch job, but if you do, hopefully you run into your own Mark and Celia on the road.