By Steve Savage, 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.