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Bad buying advice leads to RVing disaster

Mike Pavel says the guy who sold him the truck assured him that the Ram pickup was the perfect match for a given truck camper. And for 25,000 miles across the U.S., it was. But a few miles into Mexico’s Baja country, Pavel’s Ram 3500 suffered a potentially terminal frame break, leaving the Eagle Cap camper pitched at a precarious angle. As for what the truck dealer told him? No matter. Mopar says Pavel will need to come up with the $17,000 to fix the broke-back pickup.

Well within load capacity?

How did Pavel get in this “expensive fix” situation? When he originally visited the Ram dealer, he says he explained the matter in full. The Eagle Cap camper he wanted to haul had a dry weight of 4,900 pounds. He knew he’d be adding some gear weight, but as he told thedrive.com, he’d be well within the range of the payload capacity of the truck. After all, he says, 7,800 pounds capacity is a long way away from the camper’s 4,900, even with some gear stowed in it.

But here’s the snarl: Mike Pavel was apparently under a misimpression—or perhaps even misdirection. He understood his 2020 model Ram 3500 had a payload capacity of 7,800 pounds—and some models are close to that, showing 7,680 pounds. But Mike didn’t have the long-bed, regular cab, two-wheel drive model with a 6.4 Hemi. Rather, his is equipped with a crew-cab, a 4×4, with the larger, 6.7 Cummins diesel. Ram’s specifications suggest a carry capacity of that model at 5,580 pounds.

Warning signs

Who told Mike the wrong specs? Who knows? Maybe in the excitement of the dealer telling him the news that the Eagle Cap was a good match, he just assumed his rig had the heavier specs. But the wrong impression led to a broken frame after some rough Mexican roads. With 2,500 miles on relatively smooth U.S. roads, Pavel was ready for the challenge. He headed into the Baja, where, by Pavel’s own admission, the roads are pretty tough. He says both with bumps and narrowness, he kept the rig speed down, averaging less than 60 miles per hour.

The first sign that all was not well was when Pavel heard some creaking noises. Eyeballing the springs and shocks showed nothing. He kept going. A few days later, while heading north, things got scarier. At first it felt like he had a flat tire as the truck surged forward. Another roadside inspection revealed nothing but, concerned, he dropped the truck speed to less than 10 miles per hour. But another under-check showed cracks developing in both frame sides.

The next manifestation happened just across the road from a mechanic’s shop. The broken frame couldn’t be mistaken, and didn’t need a crawl underneath. The photo says it all. Using his camper jacks to raise the weight of the camper back up, the mechanic was able to do a temporary fix on the frame, but obviously something more was needed.

Thrown under the bus

Pavel turned to the dealer, who told him this wasn’t the first time he’d seen a situation like this. He urged Pavel to file a warranty claim and that if it was accepted, voila! Ram would stick a new frame under the truck. But Mopar didn’t wave the magic wand. They flatly turned down the warranty request, ruling the broken frame was not a bad workmanship issue but, rather, a result of customer overloads. At last check, Pavel was hoping his insurance company would cover repair costs.

What are the takeaways from Pavel’s broken frame problem? First, you must absolutely know the true payload capacity of your tow rig. We’ve heard that when some ask a dealer what the payload capacity of a truck is, they’re tossed out a number. Too often, that number is true—but not necessarily for the specific truck the customer is looking at. It could well be the maximum capacity of the top payload capacity rig for that model of truck. Do your homework and look it up.

Weight distribution matters

Keep in mind, payload capacity for a pickup truck isn’t just what goes into the truck bed. Add in the weight of the passengers and other gear that may be hauled in the cab. Payload weight doesn’t just go over the rear axle—it’s distributed over all the wheels, front-end included. And how that weight is distributed can make a huge difference.

broken frame
Mike Pavel via thedrive.com

Look at the picture of Pavel’s truck and camper. This short-bed pickup is carrying a fairly long camper. That means that a great deal of the camper weight is stuck out far behind the truck axle. Still, the rear wheels are acting as a pivot point for that weight. As the truck rolls, bumps, and bounces down the road, the frame, in Pavel’s case, ahead of the rear axle, takes a fair amount of flexion. While the bumpy roads of the Baja may have contributed to the broken frame, it could have happened anywhere. Expansion and contraction from heat, the flexing as the load weight shifts up and down, all of this adds up. Eventually, the frame, evidently hauling more weight than designed for, simply suffered metal fatigue.

Here’s another thing to hold in mind. When you toss more weight on the back of your rig, you’re transferring more weight to where it can create flexion problems. This applies not just to pickup trucks, but to motorhomes and trailers, too. Got a bike carrier on the back of your rig? It may not look like it’s a lot of weight, but sticking that weight farther back simply transfers more weight to the back, and can create additional flexion issues up front. You may still be on the “safe” side of axle capacity, but the frame may be the “weak link in the chain” that can ruin your whole trip.

Don’t make Mike’s mistake. Know your actual limits, and do not overload. And don’t believe everything that your dealer tells you.

##RVT1087

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Bob K
13 days ago

It works the other way too. Often a dealership trying to sell you a truck camper will say, “oh yeah, that 3/4 ton truck will be fine”, when you might actually need a 1-ton dually. I’ve seen various truck campers advertised as being suitable for 3/4 ton trucks but they never state which one specifically. Truck capacity varies so much, and total payload depends if you’re fully stocked with water/propane and how much gear you’re taking. Add another 500-750lbs easy to the camper weight.

The worst of it is, as this bloke is finding out, you’ll not be insured if you’re over your truck’s payload rating. Moral of the story – don’t trust anything any salesperson tells you.

Chris
13 days ago

Let’s see the sticker on the frame….

Irving
14 days ago

Heck I got some ocean front property in Arizona if he wants to buy that too!

Vito Veccia
14 days ago

Most salesman don’t know their own products. I’ve gotten into arguments at dealership’s that I used to work at, explaining them the importance that EVERYONE must do their factory training. The response? I’ve been selling cars for 30 years, I know what I’m doing. The very next day: I have a customer screaming at me over the phone, what’s this DEF thing he’s talking about? Obviously, this was when the technology was still new, but you get the point.
As far as the payload goes, I have a personal rule of thumb, that you shouldn’t exceed 50 percent of your weight capacity, as to extend the life of your front end and brakes. But obviously, that’s not always a realistic scenario.

Tim
15 days ago

That camper grosses out at around 6000#, has a nearly 12 foot floor length with a 1/3 of that weight cantilevered beyond the end of the bed. Only an idiot would think that a one ton truck could handle that load. That should have been mounted on a F-450.

William
14 days ago
Reply to  Tim

5500 ram only

Combatoverride
13 days ago
Reply to  Tim

Careful. The F450 and F350 pickups have the same GVWR spec. The F450 is actually rated to carry less cargo because of the extra factory weight on a F450.

MRFLETCHERJR
15 days ago

Long or short when you cant dump a black water tank the bike on back you’re going to be way over weight and that black water tank was it . For sure because across the US he was able to dump it but down there. I’ll bet he wasn’t ,and anywhere from 200 -500 extra lbs was in that crapper . And I know this from reading the weight limits on my new trailer while waiting on a new axle for it. I added up everything but that black water tank.

Steve
15 days ago

Feel sorry for this guy, but here’s your sign!

Yves
15 days ago

This is kinda stupid. Is it only me? but the payload sticker is right inside the driver door jamb. I’ve looked at dozens of trucks for my truck camper and the first thing I did was open the door and check that sticker. I was always surprised to see a beefy truck with a small payload rating. For sure that dodge did not have a payload of 7800 lbs. Probably less than 5000. Anyway I feel bad for the guy but the info was right in front of him.

Bob p
11 days ago
Reply to  Yves

BUT, he’s got to be intelligent enough to read it, from the picture it looks like he may be in that age group that doesn’t subscribe to common sense. Lol

Nic
15 days ago

His own fault. He should have done the research himself to be absolutely certain it would work. Not even that hard to go on a website and look up all the specs for a vehicle. Everyone knows not to trust a car sales person

Bob p
11 days ago
Reply to  Nic

I know of one who didn’t.

Dave Gray
15 days ago

Very unfortunate indeed. Sadly, too many buyers are unaware of an excellent calculator specifically designed to learn just how big of a camper a truck can handle. It is up to you all to share this important free, accurate application. http://tcLoadCheck.com

Randy Bailey
16 days ago

Study the manufactures tow and load limits for each particular model. Information is easy to find. I have found most salesman know very few particular specs and options available, especially on trucks.

Byron White
16 days ago

I had the same issue once. Bought a GMC truck. Told the salesman I was going to buy a camper and he said this would do the trick. Got home and was looking it over, opened the Glove box and could not believe my eyes. Sign said “Do Not Put a Truck Camper On this Truck”. They would not take it back.

Buster
14 days ago
Reply to  Byron White

“Professional Grade” BS!

Bob p
11 days ago
Reply to  Buster

Not this profession!

Roger V
16 days ago

Never….believe….a…..Salesman. Any salesman. In this case, the real numbers were easily available. Needed only to look them up himself.

MattD
16 days ago

Definitely a short bed, I’ve owned 4 Rams since 96 and all were SB except for the last one, which was a long LB SRW 3500, to put an Arctic Fox slide-in camper in it, and towing a boat. The reason I didn’t buy a dually, it wasn’t needed for the model of camper I bought. Or so I thought. I installed Timbrens helpers over the back axle and that did level it out, bit I lost the carrier bearing at one point because of the weight. With that camper, the center of gravity was slightly in front of the axle. My point is, I would never try to carry that size camper in a short bed even tho it is a dually. Center of gravity is the key here and weight distribution is everything. IMO,this is on the buyer. BTW the first thing my salesman asked was, do you have a 1 ton long bed?

DDerkinson
16 days ago
Reply to  MattD

not a shortbed you need your eyes checked. ONLY MEGACAB ARE SHORTBED DUALLIES

MattD
16 days ago
Reply to  DDerkinson

uh, sorry, look at the flare of the fender. It’s almost to the cab.
AND as one commenter points out, if you turn the guy (in the first picture) sideways, he’d be 8′ tall. It’s a shortbed

Last edited 16 days ago by MattD
Dan H
16 days ago
Reply to  MattD

Definitely not a short bed. In the Dually models with double cab, only the Mega Cab is short box model. This is definitely not a Mega Cab and is a full 8′ bed with a 11.5-12′ camper hanging out the back which is why it gives the illusion of a short bed, but certainly is not.

Hugh Redmon
15 days ago
Reply to  Dan H

This is the correct answer.

John T
14 days ago
Reply to  MattD

Matt D is 100% correct. Shortbed. And center of gravity is key. Also, with the heavy front end, imagine the force on that frame going over a bump.

Moose
16 days ago

It NEVER ceases to amaze me on absolutely how many people do not understand payloads or how to adjust their TT hitch correctly. I knew zero about any of it 3 years ago when I retired and purchased my first TT. Knowing I was going to be primarily in rural areas with my 30′ trailer on mountainous roads, I absolutely knew I had to educate myself with how to prepare as such. My Equalizer hitch has several INVALUABLE videos on how to correctly set up the hitch. The dealer was close but not close enough. People assume the dealer will take the necessary time and effort to set up hitches, HAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHA. How many idiots do we see on the road watching the rear end of their truck and the front of the trailer both down 6-12″…. How many heavy 5th wheels being towed with newer 2500/250 diesel pickups grossly over their smaller payloads. BigTruckBigRV taught me all about payloads. Quick google searches brought up a couple of sites where you can punch in your vehicle’s vin# for weight

Doug Braddock
16 days ago

With truck campers you, the buyer, are an RV manufacturer. Essentially, by mating a given camper with a given truck you are building an RV and it is your responsibility to make sure the resulting combination is safe. ‘Safe’ means the truck is not overloaded and the center-of-gravity is forward of the rear axle. That said, buying a truck to carry a specific model of camper is a bewildering exercise. We picked a camper first (2019 Cirrus 820 – 2,700 lbs. empty) and then sought a truck to carry it. Luckily, we wound up with a Ford salesman who was sincerely interested in making sure we got an adequate truck. He was able to get very close estimates of the doorframe sticker GVWR for various combinations of truck style and options. In the end, the sticker on the truck that was delivered (F350 crew cab, 4×4, SRW, short-bed, XLT, gas 7.3) was under the estimate by 10 pounds (4,090 vs. 4,100 pounds). We were lucky to find that dealer!

Bob p
11 days ago
Reply to  Doug Braddock

To be safe you should never be over 85% of gross. Yes it will carry it with 10 lbs to spare, but what will happen in an emergency? What will be the result when a child’s ball followed closely behind by the child sudden runs in front of you at a 25mph street? What will happen at 60mph when a car suddenly pulls into your lane. Very few ever ask “What if”.

Brad Wartman
16 days ago

It’s not just trucks that have an overloading problem. When towing our 2000 Komfort 25′ 5er with our 2003 Dodge 5.9L Cummins the trailer is always a little higher in the front, transferring more weight to the back axle. Swapping out the factory axles with heavier-duty ones and flipping the axles helped but still the rear axle supports more weight than the front one. Last year an inspection revealed a couple of flexion cracks in the frame; luckily they could be remediated and the frame was reinforced in areas that were seen as future trouble spots. In addition to the cracked frame I also have to keep an eye on the rear tires as they wear faster.

Dennis G.
16 days ago

Online arguments abound regarding GVWR and towing capacity. Often reading statements like, “You know manufacturers add a 10% fudge factor, or I’ve towed 2500# over weight for 5+ years without a problem”.
These people were lucky, and got away with it. This gentleman was not so lucky.

wanderer
16 days ago

I had a terrible time finding weight data when I was purchasing a vehicle for towing. Not only are the salesmen completely ignorant, but I discovered why. For every ‘model’ of truck or SUV out there, there can be as many as a hundred different versions, all with their own axle ratios, towing capacities, etc. No one can learn them all, and you cannot use the online search sites to filter for important numbers, just color and ‘trim’ etc.

Like the RV manufacturers, there need to be fewer models, built right, well documented. But apparently they all benefit from the confusion. Too bad if people suffer accidents or death.

Bob p
11 days ago
Reply to  wanderer

The VIN will tell you everything to know about the truck’s capabilities.

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