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Our travel truck plus how to choose the best vehicle for towing a camper

We keep getting asked on what type of truck we have and what kind people should buy. Here is our answers to these questions.

Choosing the best vehicle for your travels.

Unlike popular belief, the height, size, brand, and even year of a vehicle have little to do with what a truck or SUV can tow. Below are some facts and opinions on towing vehicles for full time RVing. This post is for the people who are completely new to RVing. If you have any general knowledge of trucks, you may want to skip down to the next section on this page.

“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads, not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it”

Truck or SUV?

First off, if you have a SUV that is either a ½ or ¾ ton (see below) and only go camping a few times a year, you do not need to get a truck. However if you are like us and are more serious about manhandling the camper, you are going to want a sturdy truck. It also gives you more options on the types of campers you can haul. Trucks can carry a truck camper (like what we will be using) and a 5th wheel, but an SVU cannot.

Diesel or Gasoline?

Diesels last longer, provide more power, and also have better fuel economy. However, they are also more expensive to buy, maintain, and they add more weight. My old gasoline truck held 5 quarts of oil, while my diesel carries 12. Gas vehicles usually require an oil change every 3,000-5,000 miles, while most diesels go from 5,000-10,000 before needing an oil change.

Keep in mind that when trying to stay under your GVWR a diesel engine usually weighs more than a gasoline engine. This means that you will not be able to carry as much payload with a heavier engine on board.

½ Ton vs ¾ Ton vs 1 Ton

½ Ton Trucks

½ ton trucks, which are also known as a 1500 (dodge and chevy) or F-150 (ford), are generally the smallest truck you’d want to travel with. They are all gasoline vehicles (unless you consider an eco-diesel a true diesel) and have the smallest payload ratings, however they can still pull their load and sometimes are cheaper to maintain.

3/4 Ton Trucks

¾ ton trucks, which are also known as a 2500 (dodge and chevy) or F-250 (ford), can either have a diesel or gasoline engine and are what most RVers travel with. They provide much more power, and payload ratings than ½ ton vehicles, but they won’t be able to compete with the payload ratings of the 1 tons.

One Ton Trucks

1 ton trucks, which are also known as a 3500 (dodge and chevy) or F-350 (ford), are also a very famous option for full timers, they provide a very large payload/tow rating and are diesel. Most have four tires in the rear (two sets of two side by side) and two upfront, this is known as a dually. There are some newer 1 ton vehicles that only have four tires all together, like the ¾ ton trucks, but provide a more heavy duty frame, brakes, and suspension. The downside to 1 tons is that they get lower MPG compared to ¾ tons, the parts will be more expensive, and they require you to buy two extra tires when the time comes.

Long wheel base vs Short wheel base

There are several sizes of truck bed length, but we’ll just cover the most popular two.

  • Long wheel base (8 foot bed)
    • Pros –
      • 8′ beds can carry a longer truck camper, more cargo, and extra room for your fifth wheel (note some fifth wheels require an 8′ bed).
      • 8′ beds depending on the brand usually have a larger fuel tank.
    • Cons –
      • The longer the truck is, the harder it is to maneuver around town.
      • 8′ beds are heavier, which means you are closer to reaching your max payload.
  • Short wheel base (6 foot bed)
    • Pros –
      • The shorter the truck is, the easier it is to maneuver around town.
      • 6′ beds are lighter, which means you aren’t as close to reaching your max payload.
    • Cons –
      • Smaller fuel tank than the 8′ bed trucks.
      • Less cargo room, smaller truck camper, some fifth wheels are not compatible.

Other things to consider

Leaf Springs

Leaf springs carry the weight of the camper, add more or add helper springs to prevent your truck from sagging in the rear or bouncing around. Take a look at the number and size of the leaf springs on a truck. Heavy duty trucks should have more and wider leaf springs than smaller trucks.

Extended vs Regular Cab Trucks

Having the extra room is an obvious plus, however take into consideration that your trucks curb weight will be closer to the GVWR with an extended cab. As well as the ext cab adding to the length of your truck.

Lift & Leveling Kits

While lift kits are nice to have without the camper, it can cause your truck’s center of gravity to rise which is dangerous if driven on uneven roads or a tire is blown. It also can be annoying to raise your camper up to your truck’s height when hooking it up.

Leveling kits raise the front of the truck to align to the height of the back because the front is weighed down with the engine block. However, when weight is added to the back of the truck the front can become higher because of the leveling kit. This won’t cause any problems but will look strange and overloaded.

4×4 vs 2×4

Having 4×4 is great, however you have to remember that this also adds to the curb weight of the truck. If your not planing on taking your camper off road, I would suggest sticking with two wheel drive. Even if there is snow, wait it out or don’t go where is snows. However having 4×4 is a huge plus when you do decide to leave the RV behind and go exploring. You just have to keep in mind the weight that it adds.

Manual vs Automatic

Almost all newer trucks are automatic. This is very nice since it will keep you from having something else to think about (shifting) while towing. However manuals usually last longer, sometimes help you have better MPG, and are cheaper to work on. If you’ve never drove a stick shift, I’d suggest that you learn, and then go buy an automatic for your travels if you still desire one.

Weight Ratings

Vehicle

  • Payload – Payload is the maximum amount of weight the vehicle can carry on top of its curb weight.
  • Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW or Curb weight) – is the weight of the vehicle without any payload (passengers, cargo, fuel, tools etc…)
  • Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) – is the total maximum weight allowed for the vehicle. Curb weight + payload should not exceed the GVWR.
  • Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) – is the maximum weight each axle can carry. Note if you need to safely increase your payload get some tires designed for heavier payloads, however do not exceed the GAWR.
  • Tow weight – the maximum weight the vehicle can tow.

Trailer

  • Gross Combination Weight (GCW)- is the actual weight of the trailer.
  • Tongue weight – is the weight of the trailer’s hitch when the trailer is empty.
  • Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR) – is the maximum safe weight of the combined vehicle and trailer. This includes all cargo (passengers, fuel etc…)

Ideas to Beef up Your Truck’s Suspension

  • Add leaf springs
  • Add helper springs
  • Add new shocks (rancho or bilsteins are very good brands)
  • Air bags
  • Sway towing kit (for travel trailers)
  • Rear sway bar (for any camper, but best results for a truck camper)

Note: adding after market suspension upgrades will not increase what your truck can legally carry, however it will give you more control over the vehicle.

Our Truck

We just bought a 1996 ¾ ton cummins diesel with 250,000 miles on it. I can hear you saying, “Why a 1996? That is too old, you’d have much better MPG, power and a better engine with a newer truck.” Well here are my thoughts. Unlike today’s engines that are run by computers, the 1996 cummins 12 valve is an all mechanical engine, it is simpler, and that’s what I love about it. The 12 valve also only has 6 cylinders, and is only a 5.9 liter engine, however it still has more power than pretty much all ¾ ton V8 diesel engines in the 1990s. And since tuned, it can compete with newer diesel trucks today. As far as MPG goes, it is one of the best you will get for under $15,000.

IMG_20160625_161020

Highway I get around 19-21 MPG (without the camper), and so far 16 in town. These engines are also known for the reliability and durability. If taken care of, you should be able to get close to 1 million miles out of it. Also, since it is an older truck it was cheaper to buy, and we can stay debt free!

Other than the engine, the second generation dodge uses the same body and a lot of parts on all their ram trucks (1/2 ton – 1 ton) this means that the parts are more available and less expensive other ¾ ton parts for other brands.

 




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Hunter
Post Author
Hunter
I'm Hunter, I love the outdoors, exploring, traveling, and being with my wife, Lora. And since Sept 30th 2016 we have been traveling the country in our RV! More...

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