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.
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