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Choosing a truck to pull a 5th wheel

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Tips and Tricks for New RV Owners
The Secret to Stress Free Hitching

Towing a trailer behind a Fifth Wheel

Choosing a Truck to pull a Fifth Wheel

Selecting a truck to pull a Fifth Wheel RV
can seem like a daunting task. If you have searched various internet pages then you would have already run into all the various terms and calculations that seem to make finding a truck nearly impossible.
Read on, we have made the process as simple as possible.

On this page we have simplified all of the terms and important information in an easy to read format. We have also included an interactive comparison guide and a Tow Ratings Guide at the bottom of this page that is used to illustrate what we are referring to. This way you can see first hand how specific truck choices affect towing capabilities. Things like 4x4 versus 2 Wheel drive, engine, tires and axle ratio are all covered below as well as Gross Axle Weight Rating.

Fifth Wheel Towing Calculator

Long Bed vs Short Bed
In almost every case you will want to tow a Fifth Wheel RV with a long bed truck. Short bed trucks will require a special hitch for the Fifth Wheel due to the decreased turning radius over the bed.
You are probably going to want to install a truck box in the bed of the truck for extra storage. With a long bed truck this will not be a problem.

To get an idea of Fifth Wheel RV hitch sizes and pricing we have compiled this list:
Hitch Sizes and Prices (opens in a new window)

Here is a link to our Fifth Wheel owners data showing common trucks being used to tow / MPG and weight of rigs being towed
Fifth Wheel Owner Towing Data / MPG / Truck Type

What is the Best Truck To Pull a Fifth Wheel RV
We are asked this question many times. For some people it is a matter of choice as to the brand of truck they prefer and the many options that the trucks are fitted with.

From surveys done by us with our readers, the most popular truck to pull a Fifth Wheel is the Chevrolet 2500 HD with a Duramax Turbo-Diesel V8 engine. As you will see below the towing capacity of this truck is able to handle most Fifth Wheels. The standard cab 2500HD has a towing capacity of 17,800 lbs and that is single rear wheels as opposed to the added cost of dual rear Wheels.

What is the Best Trailer Brake Controller for a Fifth Wheel RV

What is the best Brake Controller
Click image above to see all Tekonsha controllers with wiring harnesses for various truck models. (Opens in a new window)

When you are pulling upwards of 10,000 lbs, you want to make sure you can stop quickly and effectively. The Tekonsha P3 trailer brake controller uses a G-Sensor accelerometer, instead of the traditional pendulum mechanism. This brake controller is one of the best available and works reliably on downhills and inclines, unlike the current pendulum brake controllers. This brake controller will stop the trailer with almost no shuddering and the troubleshooting feature allows you to view diagnostics which is extremely helpful. The Tekonsha also shows an alert should the trailer brakes come disconnected for some reason. Tekonsha provides a wiring harness for almost any model of truck. This makes installation easy compared to trying to wire in other makes of brake controllers.Tekonsha has been a best seller for a while now and with good reason.

What is Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) and do we care?
The Gross Axle Weight Rating is the maximum weight the axle can carry. This means all of the weight the axle can carry, including the weight of the axle itself and the truck bed. For us to know how much we can load onto the truck, like the weight of the front of the Fifth Wheel, we ignore this rating as we don't know how much the axle and truck bed weigh. The most important weight rating we need to know is the Max. Payload for the truck.

When selecting a truck we need to know the Hitch Weight or Pin Weight of the Fifth Wheel we will be pulling. That weight is normally always in the specifications for the Fifth Wheel. The Fifth Wheel Pin Weight is the weight of the front of the Fifth Wheel that will be pushing down on the axle of the truck.

The fifth wheel hitch weight or pin weight cannot exceed the maximum payload of the truck.

Maximum Payload for the truck
The way we know how much weight the truck can be loaded with is to check the Maximum Payload capacity for that truck. Below is the specifications as shown in a dealer sheet for a truck. You should be able to find the Max Payload on the dealers specs for the truck.

If you cannot find the Max. Payload spec. It can be calculated like this:

How to Calculate Truck Payload Capacity

Take the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) and subtract the Curb Weight of the truck. The Curb Weight is the weight of the truck without cargo or passengers. Both of these weights should always be in the specifications for the truck.

For example, if we have a GVWR of 9900 lbs and a curb weight of 6469 lbs then: 9900 minus 6469 will give us a max payload of 3431 lbs.

Next we have to take into consideration the weight of passengers in the truck and any other cargo loaded into the truck and deduct that weight from the max payload.

After we have a loaded truck (passengers and cargo plus the weight of the fifth wheel hitch / pin weight) our loaded truck weight should not exceed the max. payload for that truck.

When we see these huge Fifth Wheels, one tends to think that the front end weight or hitch weight of the Fifth Wheel must be huge. But most Fifth Wheels hitch weights average around 2,000 lbs or less. The 40 foot Big Horn weighs an impressive 16,000 lbs but the hitch weight is only 2,040 lbs.

Above we calculated how much we can load onto the truck, which includes one of our most important weights. The weight of the front of the Fifth Wheel. This is the weight that will be pushing down on the rear axle when the Fifth Wheel is hitched to the truck.

Tires increase payload capacity How Truck Tires can Increase Payload Capacity

All tires have various load rating specifications. If the standard tires on the truck are load rated for 3,000 lbs and you replace those tires with a tire rated for 3,400 lbs, then you have just increased the payload capacity of the truck by 800 lbs.

How Much Weight Can The Truck Tow
Next we need to know how much the truck can pull behind it and this weight will be the maximum weight of our Fifth Wheel RV or we will exceed the towing capacity of the truck.

If we exceed the towing capacity of the truck we will put excess strain on the engine, the transmission and the brakes. The truck will not perform well pulling the Fifth Wheel and steep inclines could overheat the engine.

Driving an overloaded truck is stressful and if an accident were to occur, insurance could be affected by the fact the truck was overloaded.

The Max. 5th wheel towing capacity is also found in the dealer specs for the truck,
as shown below.
The weight of your fifth wheel will be shown in the specs for the fifth wheel and also on a small metal plate on the side front of your fifth wheel.

If we look at a Fifth Wheel RV we see in the specifications that there is a Dry Weight, a Gross Weight and a Cargo Weight.

So for example a 40 foot Big Horn 3755 FL has a Dry Weight of 13,910 lbs and a Gross Weight of 16,000 lbs.

So we need a truck with a maximum tow capacity of 16,000 lbs and a 16,000 lb hitch right? Not so. We need to factor in added weight from the fresh water tank and cargo we have stored in the Fifth Wheel. Let's look at the 3755FL Big Horn again. It can carry 73 Gallons fresh water, 90 gallons grey water & 45 gallons black water. That is an extra 1,734 lbs just in water.

It is far better to have an over rated truck than one that's max. towing capacity is very close to the gross weight of the Fifth Wheel RV. If this is the case then the truck will almost always be over loaded. We also want to make sure that the hitch for the Fifth Wheel is rated more than the Gross Weight of the Fifth Wheel. This would be our safety zone.

When you look at truck specifications you will see Conventional Trailering and Fifth Wheel Trailering. Conventional Trailering is tow capacity with a ball hitch on the rear of the truck. We want to look at Fifth Wheel Trailering for our weights.

Bringing it all Together - Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR)
When the Fifth Wheel is hitched to the truck and the Fifth Wheel is loaded for travel, along with the truck with its driver and passengers and fuel, the weight of the loaded truck and the loaded Fifth Wheel should not exceed the Gross Combined Weight Rating shown in the specifications for the truck.

Factors that affect Towing Capabilities
Factors that affect towing are mainly 2 wheel drive trucks can pull more than 4x4 trucks, diesel engines can pull larger capacities than gas trucks. Diesel trucks also tend to get better mileage than gas trucks when pulling an RV. Your trucks axle ratios affect towing capacity.

If you need to find Tow Ratings for a vehicle, here is a comprehensive Tow Guide. The Tow Ratings start on page 13. 2018 Tow Guide (Will open in a new window)

Fifth Wheel Towing Calculator

You might also enjoy:
Tips and Tricks for New RV Owners
The Secret to Stress Free Hitching



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