Editor’s Note: The following is a letter from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) Government Affairs Department updating members on the California DMV’s restrictions on the length of fifth-wheel trailers.

We wanted to give you a quick update on RVIA’s activities in regard to the problem of the California DMV refusing to title or register fifth wheel trailers that exceed 40 feet in length. Although California is currently only focusing on fifth wheels, a similar situation could arise regarding travel trailers since both fifth wheels and travel trailers are considered “trailer coaches” under California law.

Although there has been no change in law, the California DMV issued a Vehicle Industry News in October to its field offices informing them that a registration application form for a fifth wheel trailer “must include the length and width in inches” and that any unit exceeding 40 feet in length from the “foremost point of the trailer hitch to the rear extremity of the trailer body” is considered a mobile home, rather than a vehicle, that must be registered with the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). And while the vehicle length is not required on the MSO, the DMV registration and title application (REG 397, REG 343 and REG 31), most of which are filed by RV dealers, are required to include the length and width of the vehicle in inches.

This new DMV enforcement on the length of fifth wheel trailers is problematic for the RV industry because models in excess of 40 feet will no longer be considered “recreation vehicles” under California law and therefore not able to be titled or registered as a vehicle with DMV. Instead, any fifth wheel trailer exceeding 40 feet in length would only be able to be titled and registered as a mobile home, subject to the titling and registration policies of the HCD, and could only be moved on the highways with a special permit. In addition, it could create numerous other legal issues if a fifth wheel trailer is determined to be something other than a vehicle.

It should be noted California allows the “operation” of a trailer and tow vehicle so long as the combination does not exceed 65 feet. The bordering states allow fifth wheels and travel trailers of up to 45 feet (AZ and OR) or only restrict the total combination length (NV), so it is very possible that these out-of-state fifth wheel or travel trailers could legally be operated on California highways, even when a similar trailer could not be registered in the state. This creates the strange anomaly that a fifth wheel trailer exceeding 40 feet in length could be legally operated in California by an out-of-state resident as a vehicle, but a California in-state resident would need to register the unit as a mobile home and require a special permit to move the unit. Only 13 states and the District of Columbia restrict the length of a fifth wheel or travel trailer to 40 feet or less.

Our California lobbyists are checking with DMV to determine what precipitated this new directive on fifth wheel trailer length, and to see if the Department is open to possible solutions through regulations/policies.

However, because of California’s statutory framework, it is likely that RVIA will need to pursue a legislative solution in order to solve the problem. Although a legislative solution could not be pursued until January 2013 when a bill could be introduced, RVIA would request the DMV to stand down enforcement until a legislative solution has been considered by the legislature. We have come up with some potential solutions:

  • Change the way DMV measures fifth wheel and travel trailers to be identical to how semitrailers are measured (maximum of 40 feet from “kingpin to rearmost axle”);
  • Remove the maximum length restriction on fifth wheel and travel trailers so long as the combination of trailer and tow vehicle was 65 feet or less, as is currently done in several states, including the bordering state of Nevada;
  • Amend the section of the California Vehicle Code on length (Sec. 35400) to allow all RVs to be up to 45 feet in length, similar to the treatment of fifth wheel and travel trailers in bordering states of Arizona and Oregon; or
  • Amend Section 35400 to some other length between 40 and 45 feet for RVs other than motorhomes. If we are going to pursue this potential solution, we need to hear from your company on the preferred length and the best way to calculate this measurement.

In addition, there are several other inconsistencies, not elaborated in this memo, in both the California Vehicle Code and the California Health and Safety Code which require further research and/or advocacy in order to clarify the statutory intent. Such clarifications could also be part of the legislative approach.

While each of these potential solutions holds promise for solving the problem, none is perfect or will be easy to get through the Legislature. In the meantime, RVIA and our lobbyists will continue to explore all potential options to resolve this issue. For further information, please contact Mike Ochs in RVIA’s Government Affairs Department at mochs@rvia.org or at (703) 620-6003, ext. 320.