My wife and I are looking into a fifth wheel purchase. I was wondering if we have to get a 3/4-ton pickup or higher? Or can I tow a fifth wheel with a 1/2-ton pickup? Thanks for any consideration! —Steve, 2021 Forest River Salem FSX
There is a difference between towing legally and towing safely, in my opinion. I conduct seminars at RV shows and see the signs all over the place stating “half-ton towable.” Technically, I guess they can state that if you just look at the numbers. So, can you tow a fifth wheel with a 1/2-ton pickup? Technically, yes, but…
I have a 2016 Chevrolet Silverado with a 5.3L gas engine with a crew cab. According to the 2016 Trailer Life Towing Guide, my truck can pull 10,700 lbs. For the past 20+ years, I have worked with the RV Education & Safety Foundation (RVSEF) helping to develop their comprehensive safety program that includes towing guides and especially matching truck to trailer. They recommend not going to maximum weight when towing, but rather reducing it by at least 10 percent as you do not want maximum weight behind you when trying to stop on a hot day or in the mountains. It’s also nice to have a little “oomph” when trying to go up a 6 percent grade. If you are at maximum weight behind you, there’s not much oomph left in the tank. However, I should be able to safely tow 9,630 lbs.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating
All RVs that belong to the RVIA certification program have a weight sticker that will indicate what the unit weighs unloaded (UVWR, or Unloaded Vehicle Weight Rating) and what cargo weight you can include. This is known as the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), which is the maximum weight the unit can weigh including water, propane, and cargo.
Looking at these “half-ton towable” units, I see several that list a GVWR at 9,000 lbs. and up to the 9,630 lbs.—such as this example of a Flagstaff model. Even some of the heavier models could be towed if I did not put the whole 2,000 lbs. or more of cargo in the unit and stayed under my goal of 9,630 lbs.
Other weight factors
However, there are other factors to consider such as the hitch weight of the rig and what that will do to my truck’s Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR). This unit unloaded has a hitch weight of 1,165 lbs. and most likely much more when I load the bedroom closet and that huge compartment in the front! According to the data plate, my truck has a GAWR on the rear of 3,950 lbs. I have not weighed it to see what my actual weight capacity is. However, I have found most posts indicate the weight capacity is 2,000 lbs.
Of course, my dealer says I can put as much weight in the back as I want! Don’t guess! If I can put 2,000 lbs. in the back and stay under GAWR, then that means there is only 1,950 lbs. on the back end unloaded. Get the actual weights and make sure you know what you are putting in the truck. Also, remember you need to factor in people and that generator you stuck in the back because there wasn’t room in the rig!
Safe towing may not equal good performance of tow vehicle
I have not towed a fifth wheel with my truck as I do not want to install the hitch. But I have towed dozens of trailers and have found that even though I am well under the safe towing weight, I am not happy with the performance of the truck with anything over 6,000 lbs. First, the back end sags considerably, even with less than 1/2 the hitch weight, as it is designed for a smooth ride and has softer springs. My older truck had the Z71 package, which had beefier springs and did not sag. If I were to do any amount of towing, I would add airbags to even out the truck to the trailer, which I have done several times with other trucks. Note, the airbags do not increase any weight capacity!
I ran a company for the past 10 years that had three trucks and trailers covering the country and each put on about 100,000 miles per year. We learned a lot about towing, bearings, and tires the hard way! The F-350 and Chevy 3500 performed the best with the 8,000-lb. trailers and even the 10,000-lb. gooseneck.
Even if you are able to stay substantially below the safe towing weight and the back end can handle the hitch weight, another concern is the power of the gas engine and, more importantly, the torque. A few years ago we purchased a Ford F-250 with the Triton V10 engine. We thought it would handle the 8,000-lb. trailer easily, since it was the same engine powering the larger Class A units at 22,000 lbs. On the first trip out, the truck got 6 mpg and could only hit about 45 mph on a 6 percent grade! My Chevy truck is not much better, although it does get a little better mpg. But the goofy 8-speed transmission is a joke and can’t seem to figure out what gear to use!
A question for you…
I get accused of this a lot, so I’ll add that technically, yes, you can safely tow with a 1/2-ton pickup and gas engine. However, you might not be happy with the performance. And keep in mind, that the F-250 was a 3/4-ton unit but the gas engine failed miserably, in my opinion.
Let’s hear from our readers that have gone through the trials and tribulations of 1/2-ton towing. Leave a comment, please.
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