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Ask Dave: Can a half-ton truck tow a “lite” fifth wheel?

Dear Dave,
Greetings from Iowa. My question has to do with “lite” fifth wheel campers. How can you determine if a 150/1500 class pickup is actually capable of towing a “lite”-designated camper? —Greg

Dear Greg,
This has become a hot topic in my RV Buyer’s seminars at recent RV shows, as RV manufacturers are advertising “half-ton” towable all over the place! Plus, the price of larger trucks and especially diesel creates a real sticker shock situation.

There are three situations I look at when matching a truck to a trailer or a trailer to a truck, rather than accepting what an RV manufacturer or salesperson states. The first is the rated towing capacity of the individual truck. A few years ago it was easier to determine towing capacity as Trailer Life Magazine published a Towing Guide, which is no longer being published.

The best place to find towing capacity is the truck manufacturers’ websites such as these for Ram, Ford and Chevy.

You will need to match the engine size, cab configuration, and even tire size to get the correct towing capacity. Once you find this, take 10 percent off since it is not recommended to be towing the maximum weight capacity when trying to stop in heat or mountain conditions, or rain, or when needing a little extra “umph” to get up a 6 percent grade.

Next is the axle weight rating and what the hitch weight is of the “lite” 5th wheel you are considering. Your truck or a typical half-ton may have a listed towing capacity sufficient enough for the trailer. However, you need to make sure the weight of the front of the rig will not overload the drive axle of the truck.

Another consideration is the rear suspension. Most half-ton trucks have leaf springs designed for a smoother ride when not towing. Even if the weight on the back end of the truck is within safe specifications, how much does the unit “squat”? You may need to add air bags to get the truck leve. But keep in mind, air bags do not increase weight carrying capacity!

And finally, consider engine size, especially torque or the ability to pull that weight. I own a 2016 Chevy Silverado that has a posted towing capacity of 11,000 lbs. So, taking off 10 percent, it should safely tow 10,000 lbs. However, when towing a 9,000-lb. trailer, I get about 8 mpg and have a horrible time going up hills and gaining speed. I think part of it is the goofy 8-speed transmission, which is a nightmare even when not towing.

While running a side company, we had three F-350 trucks pulling 8,000-lb. trailers. When one of the trucks blew an engine at 300,000 miles, we bought a slightly used F-250 with the Triton V10. It got 6 mpg and 50 mph on a 6 percent grade! All the specs indicated it would be sufficient to handle the weight of the trailer, but real-world driving proved the opposite.

If you already have a half-ton truck, I would recommend test driving a few heavier trailers to see what weight would be best for you. You won’t be able to test drive a lite fifth wheel as it would require a specific hitch installed in the bed. However, you can get a feel for how it handles specific weights.

If you don’t have a truck now, I would suggest test driving both a gas and diesel to experience the difference. Then look at the weights of the lite fifth wheel you are interested in.

Technically some half-ton units can handle some lite fifth wheel trailers, but towing may not be a pleasurable experience.

I’d love to hear from other half-ton owners and their real-world towing experiences.

Dave Solberg is a leading expert in the RV industry and author of the “RV Handbook” as well as the Managing Editor of the RV Repair Club.

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Danny
7 months ago

You can do little things with a big truck but you can’t do big things with a little truck. Kind of simple but true. Started with a 21 ft trailer and 1/2 to truck. It was fine. Wife Upgraded to a 30 ft bumper pull. Theoretically I had the towing power but I didn’t have the weight to handle it. Mountains I managed but the prairie winds were a killer. Bought a 3500 Ram dually. May be more truck than I need but I never look back and I have the weight to handle windy days and the power to do what I want. My wife can even upgrade again, my truck can handle it. As someone said it’s better to overtruck than to be miserable because you don’t have enough truck.

Bob Palin
7 months ago

Towed a Lite trailer with my Tundra, tedious to say the least.
Now towing a 11,000lb fifth wheel with a 2500 Silverado diesel, it doesn’t notice (much).

NEVER going back!

Jim
7 months ago

Rough towing. I had a 2500 diesel dodge that real trouble pulling 10k. Traded for 2500 dodge 6.5? Gas and it didn’t really do it either. Hills were a problem out west here. Traded for 3500 dodge diesel and we are moving right along and quite happy. Handles well, more power than I can need for sure. Get fair mileage also, better than the gas. 50 gallon fillups are tough though. Rear end ratio are very important too.

Kevin
7 months ago

Great topic.

I started with a 1/2 ton with V8/tow package and a 7k travel trailer. The truck could pull it but I ran 2300 RPM, got 8 miles to the gallon ~200 miles per tank. The trailer outweighed the truck so it was the tail wagging the dog, plus stopping every 2.5 hours for gas – uncomfortable and a pain.

I upgraded to 10k 5th wheel and 3/4 ton gasser (6.6 liter). The tow experience is good, gas mileage around 9MPG (35 gallon tank), engine brake, and RPM around 1700. Would consider 11k weight OK.

IMO a 1/2 ton could not cut it unless you were only doing short distance. I would have loved the diesel for more torque and mileage but could not justify the +$10k and dealing with the DEF and additional maintenance costs.

Tony
7 months ago

I had a 41′ Montana paired with a Chevy HD3500 dually Duramax diesel. No problems with towing except for a few engine mishaps and not knowing much about them. Now I want to downsize to a 35′ travel trailer and looking at a gasser instead. I’m going to miss the exhaust braking – that is very desirable.

bill bateman
7 months ago

The rear axle ratio will complete these calculations

KBowden
7 months ago
Reply to  bill bateman

Great point. Identical vehicles can have huge towing capacity differences – based only on axle ratio.

Kevin Woock
7 months ago

give me a brake! I have towed 5th wheels with both 1/2 & 3/4 ton pickups, the big difference to me was brake performance. getting it moving is one thing but stopping power is #1 on my list.

Tony Grigg
7 months ago

Great topic. I have a 34′ lite weight 5ver that weighs in at just under 10k lbs. My dealer stated that “technically” an F-150 could pull it, but I’d be a WHOLE lot happier with an F-250 in any hills or windy conditions. He also said diesel would not be required. He was spot on. We have been out for months at a time, with no long term stays, so lots of road time in various terrains. I’m driving an F-250 with gas 6.2L engine. I can certainly tell when I’m hill climbing, but it doesn’t really strain. I would NOT want to try this with my previous F-150.

Ray
7 months ago

I agree with OVERTRUCK. Plan for the future. If you can, get a diesel 3/4 ton. Maintained, they are good for 200,000 miles +. Chances are this is your first trailer. Go lite and you will probably upgrade within 50,000 miles. You’ll be thankful you have a truck already capable of handling a significant upgrade.

Bob p
7 months ago

There is a wealth of information on towing with 1/2T trucks on the YouTube channel Big Truck Big RV, not only does he talk about towing capacities but he also talks about the “wind sail” effect of the big side walls and the affect it has on a 1/2T truck. Chassis strength, brakes, suspension are basically what was formerly on station wagons. As stated in the answer above they’re designed for a comfortable ride to and from Lowes to get 4 bags of mulch, and also to make the driver feel macho that he’s driving a truck. For work like towing a good sized trailer not so much. It could handle a Casita, or Escape 5.0. Basically any 1/2T besides a base 2dr std cab is not going to handle the pin weight of the lightest 5th wheel. If you look at the weight carrying capacity sticker it will probably say you may have 1000lb payload if you have the typical crew cab with normal options, some are even less. I saw one F150 fully loaded crew cab that had 678 lb payload, not even enough to carry 5 people.

Bob M
7 months ago

I have a 2018 Silverado with towing package. You might have to ask a dealer what the towing capacity is. Each truck is different. Mine is 9100 lb towing capacity. My trailer is about 8500 lb and I have no trouble towing it. It has the small 8 cylinder with 6 speed transmission. But make sure the 5th wheel is light weight. I’m waiting on a Ford F150 hybrid and it’s towing capacity is 11000 lb, with tow package over12000 lbs if it has the max towing capacity

Jim B
7 months ago
Reply to  Bob M

Three comments, payload, payload, and payload.

Leonard Rempel
7 months ago

My recommendation for what it’s worth is OVER TRUCK! I pull a 35′ Montana with a 3500 Chevy dually diesel, and could not be happier. The torque to go up any grade is amazing, and the absolute best (and safest) feature is the engine brake going down any grade. I set the cruise to about 80 km/hr (50 mph) and never touch the brake pedal. Safe and stress free!

Don
7 months ago

Yup. There are VERY few 5’ers that can be towed by a half-ton, and those will be very sad folks. Do yourself a favor: find a decent used 3/4 ton diesel p/u if you want to tow any 5th wheel. You’ll be glad you did…

Tony B Ivie
7 months ago
Reply to  Don

Even with a 3/4 ton and especially a diesel (which decreases the trucks payload) you still may not be good to go.

Wayne C
7 months ago
Reply to  Tony B Ivie

What Tony said is true. I have a RAM 2500 diesel and pull a 8500 pound fifthwheel with about 1500 lbs pin weight. I’m about 300 lbs over gross vehicle weight on the truck. It tows fine but it still bothers me that I exceed that spec. The gross axle, gross combined weight, trailer gross weight and towing capacity all have large margins.

volnavy007
7 months ago

I sent the VIN to the the manufacturer and received a WRITTEN listing of the trucks limitations.

bill bateman
7 months ago
Reply to  volnavy007

I was able to get the same vin info on my Silverado 3500 gas from the local Chevy dealer parts man.

Roger B
7 months ago
Reply to  volnavy007

You can get that info on the internet as well. There are websites to search vin numbers that show all the vehicles specs as built.

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