truck and fifth wheel

How to Decide on the Best Truck for Towing a Fifth Wheel

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Owning a fifth wheel camper allows you to enjoy the great outdoors in comfort. However, in order to move your new “home on wheels”, you will need to find the best truck for towing a fifth wheel. If you are like most shoppers, you have no idea what to look for in a fifth wheel tow truck.

You want to get the truck with the right setup for your needs. Etrailer says: “just because one truck type is up for anything doesn’t mean it’s one size fits all. Factors like daily driving comfort, cab size, and up-front costs are worth considering as well”. (1) So while finding the best truck for fifth wheel towing is more than just the weights and specs, we will focus on those here, and let you manage the rest of your wish list. 

This article offers you the guidance needed on how to size a truck correctly for safe and effective fifth wheel towing. Then YOU can choose the truck with the additional features you want. 

5th Wheel Weights You Need to Know

Before you can get started finding the best truck to pull a fifth wheel, there are 2 different weights that you need to know from your fifth wheel camper.  For more information on the Average Camper Weight, click here.

  1. GVWR- The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is the maximum that your RV is allowed to weigh when fully loaded. Do NOT be fooled by the UVW (Unloaded Vehicle Weight) which is stated often by manufacturers and sales lots. If you are looking at UVW, just add the CCC (Cargo Carrying Capacity) to get the GVWR. 
  2. Hitch Weight: For every rv trailer, whether it be a 5’er or a travel trailer, most of the weight is born by the axels and wheels. However a small amount (15 – 20%) of the weight is carried by the hitch, and transferred to the tow vehicle. 
We’ll get into this more in the next section. 
 
It is critical that you do not pull a load that exceeds the ratings of your truck. Many people do. Just because you can get the load moving, doesn’t mean it is safe, and doesn’t mean you can stop it. 
Ford Truck with Arctic Fox Fifth Wheel

Understanding GCWR and GVWR

GVWR, the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, is the amount your truck weighs when it is completely loaded, including fuel, passengers, and cargo. This rating is the average of truck owners.The hitch weight of your trailer will be included in this number since that weight is transferred to the rear axle of your truck. . 

When you are researching trucks, you must determine two things. 

1) How much weight your truck can handle towing.

Looking at the sticker on the truck, you will see the GCWR. GCWR is an abbreviation for a Gross Combined Weight Rating. The Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) is the maximum weight of the vehicle, its fuel, passengers, and cargo, including a loaded trailer.

2) How much weight the rear end can handle.

The axle, suspension AND wheels/tires all must be rated to handle the weight of the truck and the weight of passengers and cargo.

The rear must also be able to handle the additional hitch weight coming from the fifth wheel. There should be a sticker inside the drivers door of your truck telling you how much each axle can handle.

For instance, when we bought our 5th wheel, our 2009 Silverado 2500HD needed to have an additional leaf spring added to the rear as well as heavier tires all around to handle the additional load.  (BTW We were NOT aware of this until AFTER we purchased the fifth wheel!!!) 

Long Bed Trucks vs. Short Bed Trucks

If you will be towing a fifth wheel, a long bed truck is preferred. Short bed trucks require specialized hitches because their turning radius is decreased. The hitch, and therefore the rig, is closer to the cab, cutting down on turning radius.

If the wrong hitch is used, you could accidentally cause the camper to hit the cab of the truck. Furthermore, a larger truck box will provide you with extra storage space for your camping supplies.

A long bed truck is eight feet long and provides better traction, improved turning clearance, and reduced sway than a short bed truck. However, many drivers feel a long bed truck is too large to be used as a daily driver (we can definitely agree with that.)

Conversely, short bed trucks are under eight feet long. These trucks are much easier to maneuver and park when you are not towing a fifth wheel trailer. Short bed trucks are great as a daily driver and can have just as large a large cab. However, short bed trucks do not have as much traction and their turning clearance is reduced.

truck and fifth wheel

Gas vs. Diesel Engines

Although a gasoline engine can pull a toy hauler or a fifth wheel camper, most die hard RVers prefer diesel trucks. Diesel truck engines generally provide better gas mileage, especially when pulling larger 5th wheel campers.

In addition to this, a diesel engine will last much longer than a gasoline engine when it is used to tow a travel trailer. The additional power supplied by a diesel is very nice to have when towing in the mountains. 

Gasoline powered trucks are cheaper to purchase, maintenance on the vehicle is more affordable than diesel trucks, and the cost of gas is less than the price of diesel. But with the mileage and power taken into consideration, many 5th wheel owners prefer a diesel truck to gas. 

Do You Need a Dually or Not?

Many people wonder if they need a dually to tow a fifth wheel. You do not need one to pull a fifth wheel; however, many people prefer purchasing a dually to tow a trailer. A dually simply means that the truck has a dual rear wheel drive.

Single rear wheel trucks offer better gas mileage, and it is cheaper to replace four tires rather than six tires. Conversely, a dually truck has better stability when hauling a fifth wheel or a toy hauler. A dually truck has a higher weight capacity, which reduces the stress on the truck.

With the rising popularity of Quad Cabs, Mega Cabs, and SuperCrew Cabs, many truck bed lengths have decreased from the standard 8 feet. However, when purchasing a truck intended for towing a fifth-wheel camper, you should be aware that your truck bed length will affect both the cost of your hitch setup and the simplicity of your towing experience once you're on the road.

Understanding the Difference between Torque and Horsepower

Many people are confused about the terms – horsepower and torque. In order to understand the difference between a truck’s torque rating and its horsepower, you must understand how a vehicle works. When you crank the truck and press the gas pedal, air and fuel combine and ignite in the combustion chambers in the engine.

This ignition causes the crankshaft, the transmission, and the axle to turn and create kinetic energy. Torque is the force of rotation produced by the truck engine’s crankshaft. The higher the torque rating of the truck, the better the engine is able to perform work. Horsepower is the amount of power necessary to lift a specific amount of weight. One horsepower is required to lift 33,000 pounds one foot per minute.

Simply put, torque is the engine’s capacity to perform work, while horsepower is how quickly the work can be accomplished. To pull heavy loads like an RV, you need a truck that produces torque at low RPMs.

Diesel trucks are able to produce more low end torque than gasoline trucks. Low end torque means the engine does not need to work as hard to create the energy and power required to tow a heavy load like a camper and get it up to freeway speed.  When an engine does not need to work as hard, it will last longer than an engine that has to increase its RPMs to produce an ample amount of torque.

RV Trailer

Payload Capacity

When you are shopping for a tuck, you will see that different trucks have different payloads. Some trucks are rated with a payload capacity of half of a ton. Other trucks are rated with a payload capacity of three quarters of a ton. Finally, other trucks are rated with a payload capacity of one ton. The payload capacity that is needed to tow a fifth wheel will depend on the weight of your loaded travel trailer.

As a rule of thumb, one half ton trucks are capable of towing fifth wheels that are under 30 feet long and weigh between 7,500 pounds and 10,000 pounds when loaded.

A three quarter ton truck is capable of towing fifth wheels that are between 30 and 39 feet and weigh between 10,000 and 16,000 pounds when the travel trailer is completely loaded.

Finally, full ton trucks are capable of towing fifth wheel campers that are longer than 40 feet and weigh more than 16,000 pounds.

(let the arguments begin)

Determining which truck is best for towing a fifth wheel can be difficult; however, with the information supplied above, you can make an informed decision.

First, opt for a diesel truck for better gas mileage, fewer repairs, and improved torque. If you will be towing a 5th wheel, you want a full sized long bed truck to prevent the trailer from jackknifing and hitting your truck. Finally, you should calculate the Gross Combined Weight Rating that is necessary to pull your fifth wheel, passengers, fuel, and supplies.

Then take your 5th wheel into account. Look at the overall of the fifth wheel RV compared to the towing capacity of the truck. Then look at the hitch weight of the camper compared to the rear end weight rating of the truck, and the tires. When considering the rating of the tires, divide the hitch weight in 2. (half the weight on each side of the truck.)

Once you have a good idea of what you need, consult your sales rep. According to Edmunds you should consider that each truck model is sold in a variety of cab, bed length, powertrain and axle-ratio configurations. We recommend consulting the manufacturers’ towing guides to make sure the truck you’re considering meets your needs.(2)

(1) Etrailer, https://www.etrailer.com/faq-fifth-wheel-truck.aspx

(2) Cameron Rogers, https://www.edmunds.com/truck/articles/best-trucks-for-towing/

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