Fifth Wheel Trailer From Scratch

Discussions about all things to do with buses, trucks, and the homes made within them.

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Lostranger
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Post by Lostranger »

And the great posts just keep coming.

Stan, thanks for your input. I'm still far from satisfied with my knowledge of truck tractor laws in my state or anywhere else, but I'm getting the impression that such a truck pulling a designated "RV" (called "House Car" in NC) has a lot of leeway. FWIW, the tractors I'm considering are all at least 25 years old, but I'm not yet sure that NC has an antique designation for commercial trucks. May well have, but I've not found it. I'll keep looking.

I can legitimately qualify for "Farm Truck" status, and I'm still looking into whether that will work for what we want to do. The primary requirements are that a farm truck be used to haul our own farm produce or equipment/supplies necessary for the farm enterprise. I can't use my GMC dually to haul produce that I buy from someone else and haul to market. No one I've talked to is willing to commit on whether hauling living space qualifies under the farm truck law.

Apparently NC law enforcement has a reputation for being hard on people using RV conversion semis as "toy haulers." These appear to be primarily race car haulers, and the main infringement is length. NC law stipulates a maximum of 60' bumper to bumper. I think that, even with a 48' trailer, I can easily cover this with a cab over tractor. The only vehicles we'll haul in the trailer are bicycles.

I suspect at this point that, in order to travel out of state, I will have to have an apportioned tag and deal with the fuel taxes and reports. Maybe an antique truck registration exists and will make most of these problems go away. Hope so. I'll post when I know more.

Meanwhile, as the old time radio entertainers used to say...

"Keep them cards and letters comin' in, neighbors!"

Jim

P.S. Sharkey, I wondered if you were going to have holding tanks of some sort. I knew you would have thought that one through. I know from experience that small tanks are great for short trips and an unbelievable pain on long ones. Especially combined with a large family.

P.P.S. Dennis, Fresh water tanks are no problem to put in heated space if you don't mind losing the room. Grey and black water tanks have an almost fiendish addiction to gravity, and that makes them more challenging to keep from freezing. I imagine you could circumvent this problem with macerators and pumps, but that approach might have drawbacks.

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Post by stuartcnz »

I for one am excited by the direction that this thread is going.

Please keep the details coming in regards to RV status semi's and antique tractor units. Especially in regards to how they may avoid being classed as commercial vehicles.

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Post by Lostranger »

I come armed with much knowledge, but most of it is stuff I did not want to know:

In order to be registered as an antique in NC, a vehicle has to be at least 35 years old. That makes it all but impossible to find what I want in a road tractor without major modification. Even with antique designation, no one has been able to tell me if I can pull a 25,000 lb. House Car trailer.

I have been referred to the following site published by the NC Highway Patrol: http://www.unlimitedawnings.com/mstp.pdf It's almost all bad news. A truck tractor/semi trailer combination registered for 26,000 lbs. or less would be no problem, but I'm guessing that a single axle day cab tractor and a 45 or 48 foot furniture van would weigh about that much empty. I can get a House Car registration for the converted trailer, but it's not much help since the tractor is the main issue.

The referenced publication says in part: "If you operate a single CMV in interstate or intrastate commerce that is above 26,001 gvwr or a CMV with a gross combination weight rating of 26,001 or more pounds you are subject to all of our regulations." I assume that CMV means commercial motor vehicle. An earlier section says that if the truck has a fifth wheel, it must be registered as a truck tractor. This is a commercial designation.

I called the State Highway Patrol Motor Carrier Administration. They referred me to the DMV License and Theft division. After a few minutes with the lady at License and Theft, she referred me to the Motor Carrier Administration. And so it has gone. I did manage to get a number for the License and Theft office in my area of the state, but by that time, it was after 10:00 and all the inspectors were out in the field. Maybe tomorrow I can get a definitive answer from an inspector.

Based on what I've read in this publication, I'm not optimistic. If the state is going to require me to meet all commercial truck regs (Class A CDL, fuel sticker, log book, federal inspection, apportioned license, etc.) then I am not going that route. By now I've lost all interest in a goose neck style RV trailer with electric brakes pulled by a ton truck. I feel like my thinking has already revolved 360 degrees during this thread, and now it's headed for another 180. You do the math.

Bottom line at this point is that I imagine I'm back to looking for a bus to convert. Two ironies here: 1. Such a bus would weigh almost as much as a small tractor with a furniture van conversion, but the bus (once registered as a house car) is subject to none of the commercial vehicle regulations. 2. Apparently one can become "legal" by replacing the fifth wheel connection between the trailer and truck with a goose neck hitch, but what idiot would trust that much weight to the shank of a 2 5/16" hitch ball?

I don't understand.

Call me,

Frustrated in the Beautiful North Carolina Mountains

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Post by Sharkey »

Seems you have a couple of options:

1) Outfit as a gooseneck trailer, get inspected and titled, then switch over to 5th wheel.

2) Register in a more enlightened state.

Also, attempting to navigate the DMV bureaucracy is probably going about it the wrong way. I see LOTS of 5th wheel trailer RV's around that are pulled by Class 8 tractors. If anyone knows how to circumvent the backwards laws in your state, it will be the recreational trailer dealers. Put on your best clothes and "go shopping" for a 5th wheel. When the salesman asks you what kind of a tow vehicle you plan on using, hit him with your plan to use a commercial-type truck. If there's a way around the laws, they'll either know it or find it out for you to make the sale.

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Post by Mark R. Obtinario »

I would agree with Mr. Sharkey. There has to be a way around it because I see them going up and down the road all the time.

One that I did see had on the sides of the truck several designators you don't normally see.

First off, it had a sign that said it was a not-for-hire RV. I think that might be a key element, the fact it is not involved in any kind of commerce. Which means you wouldn't be able to hook up to any non-RV trailer for any reason.

Second, it didn't have truck plates. It had RV plates (sorry I don't remember which state).

Third, it didn't have any weight designators for gross weight.

I am thinking that if the rules that apply to a bus conversion (permanent sleeping, toilet, and sink, etc.) it should be able to be applied to a truck.

Since it wasn't licensed as a truck it would never have to go over a scale or through a port of entry. Which would mean it never would need IFTA, log books, CVSA inspections, etc.

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Post by graydawg »

Mark you said it perfectly, what would also help and avoid interaction is that it look like a RV with windows, AC units, awning, etc and don't go in a scale in the first place, you are not commercial, and for the states with weigh in motion scales get in the left lane and avoid the tripping devices completely. Look like a RV'er and act like one. James

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Post by Lostranger »

I just got off the phone with Inspector Harwood of the North Carolina Department of License and Theft. This is the body charged with reclassifying vehicles for House Car status.

He says, as I already suspected, that if the truck has a fifth wheel, it must be classified as a commercial vehicle in this state. No exceptions. It DOES NOT MATTER what you write on the side. It DOES NOT MATTER that you are pulling a trailer that has been designated House Car. It DOES NOT MATTER that the truck is never used to pull a commercial load. It doesn't even matter if the truck never pulls anything, in order to be licensed in this state, it must have a commercial registration.

I am not interested in establishing residency in any other state, and I am certainly not going to change the hitch to a goose neck arrangement. The rig would be unsafe in goose neck form, and it would be illegal if I changed it back to a fifth wheel.

What I am going to do is lobby to have this law changed. I will propose to our state representatives that the law should allow reclassification of class 7 and 8 trucks for RV use but impose such stiff fines for abusing the provision that few will be tempted to do so.

However, since such a process, if successful, will probably take slightly less time than solving the Middle East conflict, I am back in the market for a bus. Maybe my efforts can help someone in the future.

Thanks again to everyone who contributed, and best of luck to all of you in your housetrucking adventures.

Jim

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Post by Lostranger »

Here is a copy of the letter I have already begun sending to our state legislators:

Dear Mr. Gillespie,

I am a resident of Marion. My wife and I are approaching retirement, and it has long been our intention to spend much of our post retirement time traveling. To facilitate that travel, I intended to convert a commercial semi-trailer, probably a furniture van, to RV standards and have the vehicle reclassified as a House Car.

My recent research has revealed, however, that any road tractor capable of pulling such a converted trailer must, in North Carolina, be registered as a commercial truck tractor. This makes the vehicle subject to all state and federal regulations pertaining to commercial trucks. The expense and trouble associated with operating such a truck would be onerous.

The current law makes distinction based on whether the truck has a fifth wheel connection between the truck and trailer. The people I have spoken with at Motor Carrier Enforcement and License and Theft say that if the fifth wheel is replaced with a goose neck hitch, then the entire rig can be reclassified as a House Car. This would be absurd, however, since the entire rig would weigh approximately 35,000 pounds, and the goose neck hitch would make a dramatically inadequate connection. It would not be safe.

I understand the concern that a road tractor registered as a House Car could then be used to pull commercial loads. I further understand that some people in the motor sports industry have abused current regulations in the process of hauling property. What I propose is that the law be amended to allow class 7 and 8 trucks with fifth wheels to be reclassified as House Cars and that such stiff penalties be imposed for abusing the provision that few will be tempted to do so.

The law as currently written constitutes an undue burden to law abiding citizens such as my wife and me. It would require me to have a Class A CDL, pay commercial insurance and registration fees, use an apportioned license plate, pay extra fuel taxes, file monthly reports. keep log books, and comply with a host of additional state and federal regulations. This law is also our of touch with most of the rest of the country.

I am not interested in spending our retirement years in a flimsy, unsafe and cramped camping trailer. I am also not interested in leaving North Carolina. I know your are busy, but I ask you to please consider introducing legislation to amend an antiquated and burdensome law.

Sincerely,

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Post by graydawg »

If this is the law beat them at their own definition. Remove the fifth wheel hitch altogether and build your own hitch and coupling say a 6 inch round ball and a hitch to match any welder/ fabricator could make it, of coarse it would be hard to pull a commercial rig if you ever wanted, but on the other hand it would make it impossible to steal the trailer with a commercial rig also. I am sure a 4 inch throat if you want to call it that on the coupler would be sufficient if not just make it bigger or use hardened steel. ( just a little bit of thinking outside the box )

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Post by Mark R. Obtinario »

This may sound like a dumb idea but what about reversing the positions of the pin and 5th wheel deck?

If the pin were on the truck it would elminate the fifth wheel on the truck and would then be able to comply by the current laws.

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Post by Lostranger »

You guys are something. Thanks Mark R. and graydog. I suspect that reversing the two components would solve the quandary. I have a friend who does major modifications to commercial trucks and equipment all the time. I'll consult with him tomorrow. That thought never occurred to me.

It's a shame to have to go to such trouble and expense to accomplish nothing, but in this case it's probably worth it.

Thanks for all the great ideas.

Jim

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Post by Sharkey »

Mark R. Obtinario wrote:what about reversing the positions of the pin and 5th wheel deck?
That's actually a very clever idea, but I'd suggest making whatever attachment to the trailer end removable/reversible in case it's ever necessary to use a standard 5th wheel connection to tow the trailer. Think tractor breakdown, etc. It would suck to have to have the trailer put on a lowboy simply because no "regular" truck can hook up to it.

Build up two connector plates, one with a standard pin on it, the other with your custom 5th wheel revers-o-matic. In the event of needing to tow with a regular tractor, pull a few grade 8 bolts and replace the connector with something standard.

Maybe an "adaptor" could be made with back-to-back pins, something that could mate two 5th wheel connectors?

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Post by dburt »

Of course if you put a camper box on the truck that would have a bed, sink and toilet in it, mounted semi permanantly, you could then license it as a motorhome in many states, and use it to tow your trailer. That is how many race teams do it :)

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Post by Lostranger »

deburt said:

"Of course if you put a camper box on the truck that would have a bed, sink and toilet in it, mounted semi permanantly, you could then license it as a motorhome in many states, and use it to tow your trailer. That is how many race teams do it."


Race teams get ticketed with that setup in the Tarheel State. None of those things matter in North Carolina. As long as the tractor does not have a fifth wheel, I can get House Car designation on both tractor and trailer.

I know it doesn't make sense. What can I say, it's a rule made by politicians. But of course I'm not complaining. We have the best politicians money can buy.

Jim
(Happy at Last!)

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Post by Standaddy »

Marks idea has been proven to work already. When semi-trailer rigs were first coming into existance in this country, some were built just that way. At least one of the big names in trailer manufacturing, can't remember for sure, but maybe Fruehauf, used that setup. I have seen pics of such, either on the ATHS website or Hank's Truck Pictures site.
Stan

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