Mileage is important when planning maintenance for any road vehicle. That’s what makes odometers super handy – they track that for you. Unfortunately, not all RV trailers and fifth wheels have odometers.
If you’re driving a small trailer – it won’t have an odometer. However, if you’re using a full-size fifth wheel RV, then it will almost certainly have one. Either way, there are other ways to measure how far you’ve gone.
If you’re happy with your little trailer, it’s likely you’re not looking to upgrade to an RV any time soon. Unfortunately, since you probably don’t have an odometer in that little guy, it’s important to be able to know how far it’s gone since getting maintenance. Let’s start with the basics and move on from there.
What’s An Odometer?
The odometer is the little part of your dashboard that slowly ticks up the miles as you drive. They generally come in one of three forms – digital, mechanical, and trip.
- A digital odometer uses (yeah, you called it) a digital display and microchip to track your mileage.
- Mechanical odometers use actual cogs with a cable and drive mechanism to measure the distance you’ve driven.
- And Trip odometers are resettable; they’re generally used to measure total distance for individual trips. This is really useful for figuring out mileage, among other things.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a few easy methods you can use in lieu of an actual odometer. Obviously in this day and age, there’s an app for that. You could also opt to use your tow vehicle’s odometer, though this can be less than ideal. The final option is one that’s actually rather common – the hubometer.
These guys are not technically an odometer in the traditional sense, though they do the same job. They were originally designed to measure mileage on tractors and commercial trailers, but have since been adapted to be used on recreational trailers. They’re installed in the hub of your trailer’s wheel.
While they can occasionally be wrong, they’re generally rated at within +/- 2% accuracy. These can actually be “started” electronically at the mileage your trailer is at – assuming you know what it is. If not, it’s still better to start from zero and “guesstimate” than just not know at all. It’ll save you a massive headache down the road. To slightly beat the accuracy issue, you can opt for a digital rather than mechanical hubometer.
There’s An App For That!
If you’re looking for the cheapest and easiest way to measure your trailer’s mileage, this is the option for you. If you have an iPhone, you can use GPS Speedometer and Odometer. On Android, you have the app by the same previous name, as well as DigiHUD Speedometer. Obviously, there are other options out there – these are just the highest rated options on their respective stores.
There are upsides and downsides to using your phone to record mileage. The benefits include no need for data or reception, easy use, and its price tag (free). The cons, on the other hand, are rather limited. If you’re clumsy and tend to break or lose phones, the data isn’t saved on the cloud – which means you lose it. It also tends to suck a bit of extra battery.
To get around this, just plug in your phone as you drive and record mileage on a piece of paper in your glovebox – easy.
Tow Vehicle Odometer
The most obvious solution here is to just set a trip marker each time you leave and record what your odometer says when done. Rinse and repeat and you’ve likely got a pretty accurate idea of your trailer’s mileage. However, if you tend to switch tow vehicles regularly, you’re likely to run into an issue.
Different vehicles measure mileage in slightly different manners. This can result in getting an inaccurate readout if you’re switching between, say, the F-150 and SUV. Otherwise, this is a perfectly acceptable (and also free) way to get a trailer’s mileage.
What About RVs And Fifth Wheels?
The larger forms of camping generally come with either an odometer (RVs) or a hubometer (fifth wheels). While there’s the chance if you bought used that they could be broken or slightly less accurate, that’s easy to check. If it is busted, you can use the above methods – if not, you’re set!
If you suspect your odometer is betraying you, there’s an easy way to check. I’m assuming here you don’t want to take it into the shop, but that’s also a viable option. But if (like me) you just know you can do anything you set your mind to, here’s the tool to use.
You can buy a tool called an odometer scan tool, or an odometer diagnostic tool, to check your vehicle’s mileage and odometer. If it’s busted, you’ll get a code telling you so, and you can go about your business. The one downside to these guys is that they can get a bit spendy. Some go for as low as ~$250, while others can cost thousands. It all comes down to what you want to spend your money on.
Fifth wheels and trailers are complicated machines. This means that knowing how far they’ve gone between maintenance is very important to their health. Regardless of whether or not they have an odometer, you can use an app, hubometer, or other methods to record mileage. Keep a good log and you’ll be camping for years in your trailer of choice.
Are Hubometers Hard To Install?
Yes. It’s best to take it to a pro to install unless you’re very mechanically inclined. These were designed for industrial use, not recreational. That means there’s a lot going on – so be smart about installing them.
Can Odometer Apps Track Me?
No – but your phone already does that. These apps don’t rely on a signal to record mileage, but you can certainly use a GPS app to communicate your location if needed.
What’s Hub Mileage?
It’s your trailer’s mileage, but slightly different from your regular mileage. There’s generally a ~5% variance from real to hub mileage.