Tow a fifth wheel with a half-ton pickup?

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Image courtesy fifthwheelownersclub.com

Steve Savage submitted this article to RVtravel.com when he was a Master Certified RV Technician with Mobility RV Service.

It seems there’s always some new danger lurking in the RV woods ready to trap the unwary, especially if they are new to RVing. In my opinion, the concept of half-ton pickups towing fifth wheel trailers is one of those traps. For the uninitiated, it will not take you long to discover many dealers are ballyhooing ultra-lite fifth wheels that weigh so little they can even be towed by half-ton pickup trucks.

How do they set the trap? Simple: Hang a sign on the pin of new fifth wheels (some even ship from the manufacturer with a sticker on the side) that gives the “unloaded weight.” What’s the matter with that? Nothing, as long as you understand that the unloaded weight is not the same thing as the “gross weight,” which is how much the fiver is going to weigh once it is fully loaded and hitched to your truck. How much difference can that make? In some cases as much as a ton or more.

What this means is, provided the manufacturer’s weight is accurate – which in some cases is dramatically low – the actual weight can be far more than that nifty sign hanging on the pin would suggest. This means potentially going well over the weight rating of axles and tires, and in some cases exceeding the gross weight rating of the truck.

Now, if that’s not enough to worry about, trucks that are loaded near their maximum, even if not overweight, tend to handle sluggishly and accelerate poorly, as well as shorten the life of drivetrain components. Put it all together and it’s hard to argue against the wisdom of choosing a three-quarter-ton pickup from the get-go, rather than “trading up” after the first “white-knuckle” experience on the Interstate.

Still have your heart set on towing a fifth wheel with a half-ton? Here’s what I think you need to do to stay safe: First, ignore the manufacturer’s weight stickers on the fiver of your dreams. Second, take it to a certified scale like those found at truck stops and weigh the truck and trailer, and then just the truck. This way you’ll know the combined weight, the weight of the trailer, and how much weight the trailer pin adds to the bed of the truck (the weight over the rear axle and tires). Third, add 1,000 pounds minimum to the weight of the trailer.

Now read the weight ratings for the truck and decrease those numbers by 10 percent. With all those weights, can the truck you want to use handle the weight of the fiver you want to haul? If the answer is “no,” buy a three-quarter-ton pickup. If the answer is “yes”, bear in mind a three-quarter-ton will still handle better than the half-ton, and possibly go up hills better, to boot. And remember, the half-ton pickup gives you virtually no room to grow when you buy your next “last” RV.

##RVDT1400

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Ray
1 month ago

I WAS one of those guys – We already had our Tundra for a 20 ft travel trailer and upgraded to Rockwood Signature Ultralite 5iver.. I did my homework and researched all the numbers , made sure it had the factory trailer kit and HD brakes and concluded that it was within spec. Close but “within”. It towed fine 99% of the time- but some grades over 6% hills could be a struggle. What none of these “1/2 ton promoters” account for is the other 1%. In our case we were hit by a freak 70 mph wind that just came out of nowhere and literally blew us over and off the road. We were very lucky no injuries at all and fortunately everything was flat and nothing to hit. I was hoping to enclose a photo in case any of the 1/2 ton owners need a reminder of what can happen the other 1% of the time but guess that is not possible.

The other 1% of the time..

Irv
1 month ago

I second and third every point in this article. The critical weight in most cases is the door sticker weight for:
“The combined weight of occupants, and cargo should never exceed: ????lbs”. Usually between 1500 and 2000 lbs for F150s.

You must balance this against:
any accessories added once it left the factory. (The dealer or you.)
passengers
cargo
tongue weight
the weight of the hitch
etc.

Best to take the truck to a scale.

Brian Holmes
1 month ago

this whole issue is born out of the guy that bought a 1/2 ton for that once a year mulch run 2 years ago and wants to get into camping cause the dealer says Oh yes you can tow it. It’s what they don’t tell you that gets you in trouble. You mean you wanted to add your stuff to and fill the gas tank and take your 2 kids and all their stuff then the cranky over weight wife along with the kitchen sink. Just can’t even think about begging for ANOTHER heavier duty truck and take a real lose on trade in. Oh yes it can tow it until……..I see them all time going down the road, knuckles are white and repeating to themselves over and over for when some one asks about how’s it going “it tows real nice”, it tows real nice”, ” it tow real nice”.

Peggy Packer
1 month ago
Reply to  Brian Holmes

I see them on I-84 in the Columbia Gorge. Normally, the winds are blowing 30 mph this time of year with 50-60mph gusts. Pulling with a 1 ton dually is challenging. Then, they decide going over the mountain pass might be easier. What they don’t understand is it climbs from 500′ above sea level to 4,000′ in less than 50 miles, it can do some expensive damage if your rig can’t handle it. The local tow companies love it.

Jacques Lemieux
1 month ago

A well known manufacturer is advertising a new line of 5ers for half tons. I have a Ford 1/2 with max tow pkgs and enhanced payload capacity. When I plug in the weights listed on the fifths wheels I would be close to capacity before loading anything, including myself and Mother Bear. For shame, Grand Design for a very unsafe sales pitch!