This is a guest post by Greg Dane. Greg is a new blogger over at RVclear.com. As it turns out, he is a commercial truck dealer. Let’s hear his advice on how to buy the right truck for your RV, or vice versa.
There are three kinds of RVers out there: ones who don’t need a truck, ones who have a truck, and ones who need a truck. Here, I’ll talk about the latter pair. (If you’re one of the first, what are you doing here anyway?)
If you’re in the market for an RV and you already have a truck or SUV there are a few things you need to consider:
First, know your limitations.
If you own a half ton truck and you want to pull a 14k pound fifth wheel, it’s just not going to work. Why? Most half ton trucks, (think Ford F150 or a Chevrolet Silverado 1500) will pull anywhere between 7,000 pounds and 9,500 pounds depending on how the rear end is geared and how tough the transmission is. Not to get too technical but a lower number like a 3.10 rear end means better fuel economy, and less towing capacity than say, a 3.42 rear end.
Here are some rules of the road:
You have three major truck manufactures out there who build half tons, 3/4 tons, and 1 tons. These of course are Chevy, Ford, and Dodge. The imports, like Toyota and Nissan, are nice vehicles but they don’t build anything bigger for retail use than a half ton truck.
So, if you think you want a travel trailer, ask yourself what size you could get with your current vehicle.
A small 10-14’ trailer will typically weigh anywhere from 2,500 pounds and up. The upper end of a longer trailer, say a 34’ will hit around 7 or 8k pounds. Now, most full size SUVs and properly-equipped half ton trucks can handle those weights. That said, I recommend you make sure to have a transmission cooler added. This will ensure you don’t burn up that precious vehicle climbing steep hills. You will also need trailer brakes to assist with breaking. It is important to not rely too much on your truck breaks. Also, a “tow haul mode” would be nice as this allows the engine to do some breaking for you, sparing your break pads. You do not want them screaming “Ouch! That hurts!”.
Finally, as I said earlier, make sure the rear end is geared so that you can pull the weight of your to-be trailer. Anything starting with a 3.42 up to a 4.10 should be good to go, but make sure to verify before you buy.
When you see a truck pulling a trailer and the whole thing looks like an inverted teeter totter, that’s too much trailer for the truck.
Simple, right? Remember this easy formula to avoid that embarrassment.
The tongue weight (the weight that rest on the ball hitch) is around 10-15% of the trailer’s weight. So, if you have a 7,000 pound trailer, your tongue weight at minimum will be 700 pounds.
Then you need to think about a stabilizer hitch. This helps distribute the weight to give you a smoother and safer ride. The next time you’re driving down the road and you see a trailer fishtailing behind the vehicle it’s being towed by, get out of its way. The driver of that vehicle has not followed my advice. Yikes!
If you get with a reputable RV dealer, they will guide you in the right direction based on your current vehicle.
And you should listen to them.
Too many times, I’ve seen customers buy a too-big rig and ruin their tow vehicle. A perfect example of this is when a customer is in love with his truck and knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he/she can pull anything. My brother lives on the edge like this. His 2005 F150 is rated to pull up to 9k pounds. Guess what his fifth wheel weighs? Yep, 9k lbs.
He knows without me telling him that if he upgrades, he’ll need a bigger truck. And if he didn’t do that? Well, the first thing to go will be the transmission. It just can’t handle the pressure.
RVs depreciate worse than trucks and cars. This means it is extremely prudent that you take your time in finding the right one. Talk to friends, get on some Facebook groups, research the manufacturer, whatever it takes! Each RV manufacturer and every car and truck manufacturer publish the recommended towing weights of any given vehicle.
There’s a ton of stuff to think about. Classes of hitches, goose neck vs. fifth wheel? Yes, these issues have to be addressed as well, but that’s for another day. Measure twice and buy once!
What about weekend warriors?
If you don’t full-time and just get out on the weekends and such, a 2,500 pound travel trailer would be great for you! Most any small SUV or half ton truck will pull it with ease. R-Pods are all the rage these days along with those retro/vintage trailers you see in the vibrant red and green. These types of trailers are light and don’t require a lot of horsepower to be pulled safely.
The same principles apply if you decide to buy an RV before the truck. Here’s how to buy the right truck for your RV.
I sell commercial trucks for a living, so I knew when we decided to buy an RV and live in it full-time I would need to buy the truck later since we didn’t own one at the time.
I bought a 36′ fifth wheel that grosses out at over 14,000 pounds. When you go this big, you’re stepping up into the big boy toys in terms of what class of truck you need. I would suggest visiting several campgrounds and just look around at the various combinations. This will help you figure out how to buy the right truck for your RV.
Most rigs like mine are towed by 3/4 ton or 1 ton truck with either a big V-8 (mine is an 8.1L Vortec V8 that Chevy no longer makes) or a diesel. Diesel trucks get decent gas mileage and they have tremendous low range torque. I don’t want to offend true diesel lovers but you will spend a fortune down the road maintaining them. Sure, they will last longer but you can get 300,000 miles out of a durable big V8 in today’s market, (like the 6.0L made by Chevrolet.)
Now what does that mean?
Think about the tortoise and the hare. When you pull a big RV, you don’t (or shouldn’t) care about how fast you can pull it. Your focus should be about whether or not you can pull it at all. This means you want to be the tortoise in this scenario.
Personally, I like the gas burner because it’s less maintenance for me down the road.
Whatever you buy, and if this is your first time RVing like us, please, please, please, buy used. There are great deals out there and you can save thousands. If you tire of the whole RV thing after awhile, a good used truck will always find another home. As a dealer I can tell you, if it runs at all, it will sale. In fact, our kids just sold a little Mazda B2000 (Ford Ranger really) and got more than they paid for it. It was a junker they had named Willy, after my dad. (My dad always drove small trucks!)
Finally, and this is the most important point of all, buy the RV that suits you and your family the best.
It’s like this. I once learned from an interior designer that you buy art for art and not to have the art match your walls or furniture. A quality piece of art last forever but homes get remodeled all the time. You should be comfortable in what you buy in order to truly love the experience. I wanted to buy a travel trailer but my wife knew that I would not be happy over time because I’m 6’5. She’s the smart one.
So be happy with your purchase, get some expert advice, and happy camping!
What do you think of Greg’s advice?
Let me know in the comments!