Tuesday, October 3, 2023


RV Review: Volvo VNL Sleeper Cab

Today we look at Heavy Duty Trucks, including the Volvo VNL Sleeper Cab, to tow fifth wheels. We explore why a vehicle like this can also be a great second RV for the owner.

By Tony Barthel
One of the questions brought about by the Luxe Elite Fifth wheel that I recently wrote about was, “What do you haul this with?” That’s a legitimate concern for a trailer weighing in at twelve tons. While there are certainly one-ton pickups that are rated to carry that much weight, others prefer a Heavy Duty Truck (HDT) to do that job. 

As such, I contacted Volvo to inquire about their VNL, the latest iteration of commercial truck haulers and a popular choice among those who keep freight moving on America’s roads. 

Do RVers use these?

There is a large contingent of RVers who use these and other commercial truck cabs to move their rigs. There are a lot of advantages to doing so, including the towing capability, of course, but they also include what you get in a tow vehicle. 

Surprisingly, the newest Volvo VNL sleeper cab really is almost an RV in and of itself. 

That sleeper cab features a 12-volt refrigerator, reclining bed featuring a very thick mattress and an upper bunk. It also has an optional microwave, full climate control and storage space. The obvious customer for something like this is the individual hauling freight. He/she is looking for a place to relax after a day of dodging passenger vehicles who think the truck can stop on a dime (it can’t). But these may also make a lot of sense for us RVers who want a larger fifth wheel. 

You can outfit the VNL with a large dinette that converts to a bed if you prefer. That means that all those complaints I’ve made about rest stop lunches being impossible in fifth wheels where the slides block access to the kitchen are made irrelevant. 

What sets these apart from other tow vehicles?

One of the things that set these big rigs apart from mere pedestrian tow vehicles is the number of choices you get when choosing engines and transmissions. The VNL offers a choice of four different diesel inline six-cylinder engines from the Volvo D11 to the Cummins X15. Most large trucks can be configured with engines and transmissions from various manufacturers. 

Speaking of transmissions, the VNL offers an I-Shift transmission that rows through the gears for you. Yes, it’s still configured like a manual transmission but it takes care of all that shifting automatically. Oddly enough, that’s also how the transmission in a Smart car works. So maybe that’s why so many RVers who utilize HDTs like those little things too. 

Do people use the sleeper cabs in their trucks?

In a Facebook forum about HDTs, there was a surprising number of people who, when asked, said that they do use the sleeper cabs in their trucks. These can provide rest for the co-pilot, or a place to just jump in the back and relax and have lunch on the road. It can even function as a “mini” RV when the main one is back at camp. 

Facebook user Roger indicated, “I use mine as a camper all the time.” 

Another user, David, wrote, “We set up the truck as an RV so it has power on board to run the heat, AC, microwave, refrigerator, TV, etc. It has been used for short trips with the trailer left in the campground.” 

Another Dave wrote, “We have used it quite a bit. Wife likes to take a nap in the sleeper while we are traveling. We used it recently while the trailer was getting its suspension upgrade, and warranty work. We have used it for extra sleeping areas when guests are staying over. And we have used it as a mini motorhome when we drove 2,000 miles to pick up our new trailer.”

What about the cost?

While the base price of a Volvo VNL might be more than you’re willing to pay, these trucks can easily last a million miles. You can find used ones at auctions all the time. The price you’d pay for one with, say, half a million miles would be far less than a new one-ton pickup. You’d still have hundreds of thousands of usable miles left in it. From there you can take it to an upfitter. They can transform it into a rig that is better suited to towing your Luxe Elite fifth wheel. Or whatever. 

In fact, there are companies who will set your HDT up to haul your daily driver around right behind the cab and then tow your large fifth wheel behind that. I’ve included a few photos from the HDT group I’m in to show how that works. You’re not limited to a Smart car. Look at the pictures of Robert Chapman’s Volvo and Jeep towing his fifth wheel. And check out the custom rigs from RVHaulers , for example. 

While the idea of two RVs in one, and one in the form of an HDT, might have seemed ridiculous when you first read this, if you have a larger fifth wheel, I wonder if it doesn’t seem as silly now? I’m always happy to read your comments on these reviews.

These RV reviews are written based on information provided by the manufacturers along with our writer’s own research. We receive no money or other financial benefits from these reviews. They are intended only as a brief overview of the vehicle, not a comprehensive critique, which would require a thorough inspection and/or test drive.

Got an RV we need to look at? Contact us today and let us know – thank you!

Tony Barthel has been a life-long RV enthusiast and travels part-time with his wife where they also produce a podcast, write about RVs and love the RV lifestyle.


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2 years ago

Thanks for the helpful article Tony!  As someone who used to pull our toyhauler with a 3500HD, then a Freightliner M2 MDT and now a Volvo VNL780 HDT I can tell you first hand that most every negative comment on here are typical misconceptions. They’re simply not true. I frankly wish I had known about the HDT option before I bought the Freightliner M2 MDT as I would have skipped that purchase and gone directly to the HDT.  I could write several paragraphs explaining the key differences but the most common is relative to the CDL. You don’t need a special license beyond what you would need if you’re driving a Class A diesel pusher motorhome. In most states that means a regular drivers license.   The term “CDL” = Commercial Drivers License. The keyword is “Commercial”. As long as you aren’t using the rig for commercial purposes (most of us aren’t), you’re good. Many HDTers register their trucks as a motorhome which is what I did.

2 years ago
Reply to  Brad

My fuel cost experience in my Volvo isn’t any different than it was in my 3500 or FL M2. It might have been a little worse but I would argue that if you’re that concerned about a few miles per gallon, pulling a large 5ver probably isn’t for you anyway. It’s the nature of the beast.  Assuming private use, insurance costs aren’t any different. 

The turning radius on my Volvo VNL780 is better than my 3500HD.  Yes, the Volvo VNL780 is longer than a dually (mine is 30′) but I have yet to encounter a situation in any RV park where I could not manuever the tractor particularly when you consider the pin on the VNL780 is all the way aft (vs over the axle in a dually) which makes backing the trailler more responsive. Simply put, any RV park that can accomodate a 50′ diesel pusher motorhome can accomodate our rig. Yes, we may have to park the truck in overflow parking in some areas but that’s the same as with my 3500hd.

2 years ago
Reply to  Brad

You can purchase a quality used HDT for under $60k (even lower if you don’t mind repairing more things) and still have 400k or so miles available use on it. In my case, I purchased a used 2015 VNL780 with about 400k miles on it for $60k (and still had 100k miles of warranty left). You can’t do that with a new 1 ton dually. 

Yes, maintenance costs are higher but they’re not required as frequently. And remember, these trucks are built for one million or more miles. Most recreational drivers will never put that kind of mileage on them. My truck will likely out live me. 

A HDT gives you the ability to bring an additional car with you if you want for your daily driver. We had a bed built for the back of our truck and carry a smart car with us.   Doing it this way gives us room in our toy hauler for other things.  

2 years ago
Reply to  Brad

A HDT gives you the comfort of riding in a motor home which allows the passenger to get up and move around, get food out of the frig, make coffee, use the microwave, watch TV (if equipped), use the workstation or even take a nap in the bunk. The dually or even the FL MDT didn’t allow for that comfort.

A HDT provides a level of safety you won’t find anywhere else. Visibility is a huge plus. And, pulling power is second to none but more importantly, so is the stopping power. We pulled our 24klb toy hauler through the Rockies (8% grade) and even through the Teton Pass (10% grade) without breaking a sweat.  While all the other drivers around us were wearing down their brake pads, I never had to apply the brakes.  

Marty Main
2 years ago

Attend one or more of the HDT rallies this year. These are great education/information opportunities as well as chances to talk to actual users.

We went to the the West Coast and National rallies in 2020 and learned tons. We stayed in a motel for the West Coast rally and had our truck and trailer at the National. We had a blast.

Marty Main
2 years ago

Last Spring, I purchased a 2015 Volvo VNL 730 D13 with iShift trans for just under $30k that came with 620k miles. After a set of rear brakes and tires as well as a general service, it is great for every reason mentioned in the article and in the comments. Class 8 trucks are no wider than a 1-ton dually and most semis are not much longer that a crew cab pickup. Like Robert Chapman, I lengthened mine to carry my 4-door Jeep Wrangler and I’m looking forward to many more miles of comfortable and safe traveling.
Sure there are some challenges, especially in tight spaces, but typically they can be worked around. Volvos are the safest trucks on the road. I have seen several YouTube videos of wrecks with them and every driver walks away. I was going to get a Class A until I saw some videos of wrecks that most drivers were carried away in body bags. A piece of glass (windshield) provides absolutely no protection.

2 years ago

I looked into these to tow my fiver several months ago since there’s an outfitter near my home. Yes they make a good hauler for the largest fifth wheel. BUT, they will never get the 16 miles per gallon @ 65 miles per hour that my 6.0 liter Ford F-350 gets towing my 18,000# fiver or the 33 miles per gallon @ 65 mph that I get when I’m not towing.
Another issue that you will have is trouble parking in most small parking lots.
Most older campgrounds will be difficult to maneuver with the longer wheel base so you’re going to be constantly looking for pull through spots and then there’s the problem of where to park that big tractor after you unhook. Most campgrounds don’t have a space big enough for them.
With the massive influx of new RVers clogging an already over crowded and limited number of camping spots I have to question the wisdom of making a decision that will further reduce ones camping abilities.
Just my 2 cents worth.

2 years ago

I barely have room to park my dually with the toy hauler at most rv parks. I couldn’t imagine trying to fit the Volvo.

2 years ago

Appears comments leaning toward “thumbs down.” Would be great to hear of cost experience from folks who’ve done it. The west isn’t saturated with toll roads and you could remove one rear axle w/4 wheels while leaving lots of excess weight capacity. Most sold at auction with complete service records and some at less than $20k. Photos were great and opportunity to comment appreciated.

2 years ago

Conspicuous consumption.

2 years ago
Reply to  friz

Nonsense. You can purchase a HDT for recreational RV use for less than you can purchase a new one ton dually.

2 years ago

I drove a similar VOLVO when I was over the road trucking!

The company I drove for, leased these vehicles and after 500,000 miles turned them back in.

Unfortunately, the RIG I had, also had LOTS of Problems. Seems I was in the Shop more than on the road.

Class 8 Diesels come with hefty price tags, insurance and license fees. Plus, if you are just touting for recreation, you still have to stop at weigh scales. Plus, the added TOLL fees you’ll find driving around the country.

RV Parks will also pose a problem, Finding one that can take this big beast!

But, I guess if you have a RV Loaded with Cash, GO FOR IT!

OH YAH! Don’t forget the Commercial Drivers License too!

Last edited 2 years ago by Really
2 years ago
Reply to  Really

Really; Mostly not true. I have a volvo and use it solely for towing my 5th wheel. Cost to operate so far, just a bit more than a 1 ton light duty truck. I’ve owned several LD trucks and an International medium duty. My 2015 w/660k miles was $24k out the door.
Mine is registered as a motorhome, so no CDL required. If you live in Calif and a few other restrictive states, it’s hard to have it re-titled. Insurance is cheaper than a new F350. Fuel mileage is 1/2 or less than a F350.
Finding a good used HDT is time consuming. You need to do your research and not believe most of what the salesman says. But that’s true for any used vehicle peddler. There’s good support for newbies several places on the web, to get you started.
These trucks with trailer can navigate any RV park a larger class A can.
They are a pleasure to drive. You feel really safe going down the road. And they can stop anything you will pull.
Oh, other than the Dakotas, you can drive right by weigh stations.

Brandon Trae Gordon
2 years ago
Reply to  Trimster

Well you best stop at weigh stations in Kentucky because any vehicle with a gross of 10k lbs or more has to stop.

tim palmer
2 years ago
Reply to  Really

Exactly what I was thinking. It is hard enough to park large fiver in many RV parks AND park your tow vehicle on your spot too. If you are getting a really big fiver then why need the extra living space in the tow vehicle? Get a used day cab and tow with that.

2 years ago

All of what you said plus: air ride suspension, air ride seats, plenty of reserve towing capacity.

In my opinion, best advantage of a large commercial truck is better visibility.

With a light load of 24k lbs, no gear hunting. No questions about tow/haul mode.

With some one ton pickups topping $100K, not a significant difference in purchase price. Total cost of ownership may be less with the commercial vehicle.

Taxes may be higher on the commercial vehicle.

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