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Why a Big Truck

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The scarcest statement I can hear from an uninformed RVer with a fifth-wheel (FW) trailer is “my truck can easily pull my trailer.”  Why, because pulling should be one of the last considerations for selecting a truck.

See A Sad Story for what can happen.

Why a Big Truck Why a Big Truck Why a Big Truck

So what are the important considerations for selecting a FW tow vehicle?  First, we should start with some terms:

GAW Gross Axle Weight – the maximum weight that axle can hold
GVW Gross Vehicle Weight - the total of the weight on the axles, the weight of the vehicle on the ground.  In the case of a trailer, the axle weight plus the weight being transferred to the tow vehicle
GVWR Gross Vehicle Weight Rating – the maximum weight the vehicle can weigh
UVW Unloaded Vehicle Weight – the weight of the vehicle as built, empty
NCC Net Carry Capacity – usually the difference between GVWR and UVW
GCW Gross Combined Weight – the combined weight of the tow vehicle and the vehicles being towed
GCWR Gross Combined Weight Rating – the maximum combined weight of the tow vehicle and the vehicles being towed

We will be using the term Dually pickup to mean the top end of the weight class for the pickup brand with dually wheels for extra weight capacity.

Now, here are some specifications on Dually crewcab pickup trucks with diesel, automatic, and 8’ beds.

Lbs. Chevrolet
3500HD
2013
Ford
F350SD
2013
Ram
3500
2013
GVW 13,000 14,000 14,000
Curb Weight 7,552 6,560 7,960
Net Cargo Cap 4,028 6,020 6,040
Max 5th W Trailer Weight 28,500 22,800 29,370
GCWR 30,500 33,000 37,500

We should note that in many states, a truck over 10,000 GVWR is considered a commercial vehicle (no matter how it is used) which affects license plates and insurance.

Not only are the manufacturers vague in publishing weight numbers (this is getting better), but they also hedge on what they do say.  For example, the following is a direct quote from Ford’s RV And Trailer Towing Guide for 2007.

“Maximum Loaded Trailer Weight is the highest possible weight of a fully loaded trailer the vehicle can tow, based on a minimum towing vehicle GVW. It assumes a towing vehicle with any mandatory options, no cargo, tongue load of 10-15% (conventional trailer) or king pin weight of 15-25% (fifth-wheel trailer), and driver only (150 lbs.). F-Series Super Duty chassis cab models also assume a second-unit body weight of 1,000 lbs. Weight of additional options, passengers, cargo, and hitch must be deducted from this weight.

Gross Combined Vehicle Rating view

Let’s determine the actual trailer capacity from the maximum weight pulled:

Lbs. Chevrolet
3500HD
2013
Ford
F350SD
2013
Ram
3500
2013
Curb Weight 7,552 6,560 7,960
Add fuel, passengers, some stuff 1,420 1,420 1,420
GCWR 30,500 33,000 37,500
Remaining Trailer weight 21,003 16,431 15,860
Maximum 5th Wheel by Manufacturer 21,500 25,000 28,100


Gross Vehicle Rating view

Now let’s determine the actual trailer capacity from the view of what the maximum trailer pin weight can be.  Normally the trailer pin weight should be around 20% to 25% of the total trailer weight so we could say the trailer can be up to five times the pin weight up to the limit of the GCWR of the truck.  We will use 20% for comparisons.

Lbs. Chevrolet
3500HD
2013
Ford
F350SD
2013
Ram
3500
2013
Curb Weight 7,552 6,560 7,960
Add fuel, passengers, some stuff 1,420 1,420 1,420
GVWR 13,000 13,000 11,500
Remaining Trailer Pin weight 4,028 4,931 4,620
Effective Trailer Weight 20,100 30,100 23,100
Maximum 5th Wheel by Manufacturer 28,500 22,800 29,370

The added "some stuff" includes things like; spare tire (an option), your weight, your mate, extra fuel tank, and tools.

General observations:  Dodge RAM is overstating their trailer capabilities, Chevrolet and Ford are understating them.

Now, a listing of the weight of the trailers we are considering remembering that the tow vehicle has to be qualified from a GCWR and a GVWR aspect:

Why a Big Truc   GVWR Pin Weight*
Carriage 18,600 3,000
King of the Road 20,000 3,100
New Horizons 21,000 3,190
Why a Big Truc Newmar Kountry Aire 20,000 3,100
NuWa Hitchhiker 17,900 3,200
Teton 20,000 2,900
Travel Supreme 19,900 2,600
*Note these are from the manufacturer.  As a reference, out Travel Supreme weighed in with a pin weight of 4,500 as built and loaded

We should note that the above values were from manufacturer brochures.  The pin weights listed appear to be with a trailer as delivered.  A lot of the load you will add to the trailer will be in the cargo bay and the closets, all adding more weight to the pin weight.  We should note that the specs above are for trucks that have heavier capacities than previous Dually truck capacities.

In the years we have been doing this research, we have observed the weights capacities of pickups rising, each in response to the others increases.  But we have seen a increases in engine capacities, and transmission capacities.  But what is the real issue is not GVWR or GCWR, because you can see these FW trailers being towed by Dually pickups all the time?  The issue is the stopping and handling capacity of the truck.  A major improvement we have observed is that all three manufacturers are installing exhaust brakes in their diesel pickups.

When we first started looking at RVs, we were open to fifth-wheel (FW) trailers and motorhomes.  At the first RV show, we were in a National Seabreeze FW and the dealer rep asked what we would pull it with.  I indicated that I had a Chevrolet Silverado ¾ ton 4x4.  The rep said that if I did it right, I would have to get a Medium Duty Truck (MDT).

The next year I spent time researching MDTs and came to respect the reason the rep told me why I would need a MDT for the size trailer we had been talking about.  The next show I asked the same dealer rep what prompted him to get a MDT and he replied, “The second time my trailer pushed my pickup through an intersection.”

Most people look at the horsepower as the big issue and have felt that, with the new diesels that Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge Ram are using, they can easily pull big trailers even up hills.  But can the pickup control the combined vehicle weight, when steering and braking?  Pulling a heavy trailer with a pickup means you are over-stressing the truck.  Things will break. Expensive things like the transmissions.

There are many add-ons to increase the horsepower of the engine.  But the frame and the brakes are as they come, and even the transmission does not have capacity increasing add-ons.

Example:  For years, Dodge detuned the Cummins engine because it native torque rating exceeded the transmission rating.  Then people would go out and use chips and other performance enhancements to restore and increase the Cummins horsepower, all over the transmission rating.

If you ever plan to travel in the mountains, the drive trains of these pickups, even with tow mode transmissions, will require you use your brakes to control your speed downhill.  Compare that to a tow vehicle with an engine brake where engine braking is used to control downhill speeds leaving your brakes for emergencies.

Probably the biggest reason to be concerned about having a properly sized tow vehicle is the litigious world we live in.  If you get involved in an accident, even one that was not your fault, and you are over-weight, you are severely exposed to legal action.  To start, the authorities may choose to cite you for operating an unsafe vehicle.  Then your insurance company can choose to not cover you.  And finally, there is always a lawyer looking to get money from someone who was in the wrong. See A Sad Story

Some Canadian Provinces and a few states are starting to stop and check the weights of RV rigs to see if they are within the GVWR and GCWR ratings of the vehicles.

Conclusion

So, if a Dually is marginally up to the job of pulling a heavy FW trailer, what do you need?  The answer is a Medium Duty Truck (MDT).


Disclaimer: The information in this site is a collection of data we derived from the vendors and from our personal experiences.  This information is meant as a learning guide for you to  make your own decisions  Best practices and code should always be followed.  The recommendations we make are from our personal experiences and we do not receive any compensation for those recommendations.