What Size Truck Do You Need to Pull a Fifth-Wheel?
I have always dreamt of hitting the highway with a fifth-wheel trailer in tow. However, before I embarked on my adventure, I decided to do some research to figure out the best trucks that I could use, and here is what I gathered.
What Truck Size Do You Need to Pull a Fifth-Wheel?
At a minimum, you will need a ¾ ton truck, but a one-tone dually with an eight-foot bed and diesel engine can handle much more weight. You need to consider the maximum loaded weight and hitch weight of the fifth-wheel you want to tow. Match this with the maximum fifth-wheel towing and payload capacity of your truck.
Truck options vary, so this is just a general idea of the ideal weight. Keep reading to learn more about the best trucks you can use to pull the fifth-wheel.
What Kind of Truck Do You Need for Fifth-Wheel Towing
Towing a fifth-wheel is not a simple task, and it requires a strong enough truck. The main challenge is optimal weight distribution.
Your vehicle’s maximum total safe weight should exceed that of the trailer and its tongue by at least 10%.
Once you hitch the travel trailer onto the back part of your truck, the front wheels rise, and your truck’s rear axle acts as the pivot.
This exerts more weight at the rear part of the truck, which increases the chances of wear.
If you mount too much weight in your truck’s rear part, it can compromise the dynamics.
Luckily, a fifth-wheel hitch between the cab and rear axle. This helps distribute the weight more evenly and eliminate the pivot point, though the rear part of the vehicle will still have to hold more load.
Such a setup also helps in turning your vehicle more easily. Because the fifth-wheel’s front end sits above the truck bed, it reduces the overall length so you can quickly turn the vehicle to 90 degrees.
It also makes it easier to unhitch the trailer should you need to use the vehicle independently.
So, let’s see whether you will need a larger truck if you intend to tow more weight.
Does The Truck Size Matter?
You need a truck with the right power, technologies, features, and mechanisms to handle the towing job smoothly.
If the fifth-wheel exceeds a vehicle’s hauling capacity, this will put excessive strain on the engine, brakes, and transmission.
Such a truck won’t perform well, especially when driving on steep inclines. Driving an overloaded truck can overheat the engine, and it increases the risk of accidents.
Therefore, you should pay attention to the maximum weight your truck can pull and the load it can safely manage on its axles.
Some people still haul cargo attachments on trucks with low engine power. While such vehicles are advertised to tow fifth-wheels, this can be potentially dangerous, and the vehicles might not even work efficiently later on.
Even if you want to tow the smallest fifth-wheel, ensure that you use a vehicle at least ¾ tones, and the experience will even feel better with a full tone vehicle dually since it has bigger frames to support the weight.
I have outlined various factors to guide you in choosing a truck with the best hauling capacity for a fifth-wheel.
The Truck Bed Dimensions
Be aware that the truck bed dimensions will affect your towing experience and the cost of your hitch setup.
I recommend that you go for the eight-foot bed since it leaves enough space for the trailer to maneuver without hitting the back window.
A long bed of eight feet offers a cost-effective setup, more storage space, and is safer to use on the road. The only limitation is that such a truck might feel large, especially for a daily driver.
You can still use trucks with shorter beds, but they require a special hitch to manage the tight turning radius. A six or seven-foot truck is an ideal size for a daily driver.
It’s easy to park and maneuver, and most of them have a large cab. However, this size offers less traction, reduced turning clearance, costly setup, and it’s less convenient for towing.
There are still people who opt to go for a shorter bed, less than six feet. For this option, you might enjoy easy maneuverability, lightweight, larger cab, but it’s the least convenient option for towing with highly reduced turning clearance, lowest traction, and costly setup.
If you want to tow your fifth-wheel with a long bed truck, the hitches should be in front of the truck’s rear axle in that the camper sits close to the cab. For this option, you can use the fixed hitch.
This is a cost-effective option, and once installed, you don’t have to keep adjusting the hitch to achieve the desired clearance.
On the other hand, consider sliding hitches if you choose to use a short bed truck. It slides back towards the truck’s liftgate during sharp turns, increasing the distance between the trailer and cab to provide a better turning clearance.
You can either choose the manual or automatic sliding hitches. For the manual option, you have to adjust the hitch physically. You must pull over and shift it to the turn position while making a sharp turn.
To avoid such inconveniences, you can opt for automatic sliding hitches.
If you use a shorter than six-foot truck bed, even the sliding hitches may not provide good clearance in sharp corners.
So you will need to use a sidewinder pin box that will help locate the pivot more inches below the kingpin, creating more space between the vehicle’s cab and fifth-wheel.
I recommend that you use the sidewinder with fixed hitches. However, you can still use the sliding hitch, but you should always keep it in the locked position.
The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating
Pay attention to the vehicle’s weight specification and the towing capabilities to determine what size of truck you need.
The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is the maximum weight of the loaded truck and a fully loaded trailer. It should exceed the fifth-wheel’s by 10% to 15%.
This entails the trailer and its tongue’s weight, which is about 10% of the total weight of the fifth-wheel.
Also, check the Gross vehicle’s Weight, indicated on a sticker on your car driver’s side door. This is the truck’s total weight, including the fuel, passengers, and cargo weight before you hitch the fifth-wheel for towing.
Subtract the GVW from the GVR to get the maximum load weight that you can tow on your truck.
Let’s say, for instance, and you have a trailer weighing 6,000lbs.
So you add 600lbs, the weight of the tongue, to get the total value, 6,600lbs. If your truck’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is 7,500lbs, you can calculate the trailer and tongue weight percentage.
In this case, it should be
6,600 lbs ÷ 7,500 Gross Vehicle Weight Rating × 100 to get 88%.
Therefore, the GVWR of your truck outweighs the fifth-wheel’s weight by 12%, which is within the weight limit.
Always keep in mind that if you have a larger fifth-wheel, you will require a more powerful truck, so the bigger the truck, the better. It gives you better control over the truck and trailer.
Do I Need a Gas or Diesel Engine Truck?
Gas engine costs less upfront; the maintenance cost is also low, and so is the fuel. However, if you are buying a truck intending to use it to tow a fifth-wheel, I would recommend that you consider a diesel engine.
Trucks with a diesel engine have greater towing power, and the engine has more torques that guarantee better performance.
I believe that any person planning to tow a fifth-wheel intends to travel for longer distances.
A diesel engine is ideal for covering great mileage, and it will offer you better fuel economy and save you money in the long run.
In fact, vehicles running on diesel offers a 25% to 30% fuel economy compared to the gasoline models.
While you can still use the gas engine to tow a fifth-wheel, it’s more likely to wear off faster. Another good thing with the diesel option is that you can even tow heavier things, and the engine will serve you long enough.
With proper maintenance, you won’t have to fix a diesel engine as much as you need to when using the gas model.
How Much Can My Truck Tow?
When researching the truck’s weight categories, you will come across the term towing capacity. This is the maximum weight that a vehicle can haul, including the fifth-wheel and everything extra you carry in it.
Always check all the details of your truck to ensure that it can handle your load. The heavier the truck, the more the hauling capacity it has. The fifth-wheel camper should never exceed the maximum capacity of your truck.
To be on the safe side, you shouldn’t even come close to the maximum towing capacity. If you plan to tow a large travel trailer, always go for a big truck.
While using a large truck, there will be a small amount of strain on the drivetrain components.
However, if you must tow with a small truck, use suspension enhancements to stabilize your vehicle.
Check the tires on the truck to determine the payload ratings. You can increase the truck’s capacity by upgrading the tires.
Note that if your fifth-wheel is beyond your truck’s capacity and you get into an accident, the insurer won’t cover you since the accident most probably happened due to overloading. So, always ensure that you observe the towing limit.
Do You Need a Dually?
Both the dual and single rear wheels have unique advantages, so your choice will depend on your situation and preferences. A truck with a single rear wheel is more comfortable to drive.
You will also enjoy better fuel efficiency and improved road visibility. It’s easier to tow your fifth-wheel on such a vehicle and cheaper to replace four tires than six.
Keep in mind that you won’t always be using your truck for towing purposes, so it’s a great idea that you choose a vehicle that you can comfortably drive every day. A single rear vehicle offers easier maneuverability, and you can easily pull into a tight parking space or move through a narrow driveway.
For occasional towing, I would advise that you consider the single rear wheels. This is also an ideal option if you have a smaller fifth-wheel.
On the other hand, I would recommend that you consider a dually if you frequently tow a large fifth-wheel. The dual rear wheels give your truck a higher weight capacity and better stability.
This way, it causes less strain on your truck. Should you experience a tire blowout with the dually, you already have inbuilt backup tires.
The extra set of wheels will allow you to carry on, which is particularly important for long rides in rough, unfamiliar terrains.
Another reason why I prefer the dually is its uniqueness while towing the fifth-wheel.
Remember that you will be pulling the trailer on a hitch that only holds a fraction of the fifth-wheel’s weight. Meaning that more pressure goes to the truck’s rear wheels, so having extra wheels offers more support.
This way, you will enjoy steadier rides.
How Do I Install My Fifth-Wheel?
Once you match the truck and trailer’s weight, the next thing that you should consider is proper installation. You can choose to do it yourself or have it installed by the manufacturer.
Whatever choice, you need to have a solid anchor to fit the hitch rails. If you wish to try it on your own, begin by lowering the tailgate, then move the hitch in the direction of the pin to determine if they are at the right height.
If they don’t match, adjust the height using the front jacks. Keep the receiver and jaws open before you make the connection.
Move the vehicle to the fifth-wheel and then fix the kingpin into the hitch receiver’s cradle.
Once it makes an audible click sound, it means that the kingpin has grabbed the jaws.
Before you drive off, ensure that you check the jaws and ensure that you lock them with a cotter key to hold the control arm and keep it still.
Remember to also connect the emergency breakaway line of the fifth-wheel to the hitch to secure the cargo.
Now lift the trailer jack to a retracted position so that the truck can support it fully.
Remember also to connect the fifth-wheel lights then close the tailgate before heading out.
Can I Make Hauling A Fifth-Wheel Easier?
You can make various adjustments to increase your truck’s hauling capacity, boost engine performance, and make towing easier.
However, I would still advise that if you are looking for ways to increase the weight of a trailer you can tow, consider going for a bigger truck.
Since not everybody is willing to get a new truck, if you already have a smaller vehicle and still want to pull your fifth-wheel, I will show you how to make the hauling process easier. Weigh the solutions below to determine what best works for you.
While this might seem obvious, most people ignore it. Don’t carry any unnecessary items on your trip, and this will help you immensely in managing your load weight.
You don’t have to pack all the fancy equipment, but instead, carry only the necessities and extra few items to lower the trailer’s weight.
Some of the things you might feel tempted to carry in excess includes clothes, entertainment tools, utensils, gas tanks, food, and water. While such items might seem light, they will add up the weight when in large quantities.
Another benefit of packing fewer items in your travel trailer is that you will have more space.
Enhance the Suspension System
If your truck gets too low to the ground while towing a fifth-wheel, consider replacing the springs or remodel the entire suspension system.
This will help maximize the performance of your vehicle and provide a safe, comfortable ride. You can even choose to install coilover springs to prevent the underbody of the vehicle from hitting the surface. Although this addition can be pretty expensive, it even helps reduce body rolls when taking turns.
This gives a driver better control over the truck and fifth-wheel, especially when driving for a longer distance.
Install a Cold Air Intake in Your Truck
The cools air intake system allows continuous airflow into your truck’s engine. Keep in mind that the main ingredient in the engine combustion process is oxygen.
With an increased circulation of clean and sufficient air, your vehicle becomes a bit powerful, and it can cover more mileage.
If you opt for this method, you should always take good care of the cold air intake filters since they can quickly get clogged, affecting the engine performance.
The best thing you can do before heading out with your fifth-wheel is to gather more information on how towing works.
Learn how to attach the trailer to the truck, what could go wrong, and how to fix some common problems.
Check out the best trucks to use with a fifth-wheel and confirm whether your model can serve the purpose.
Keep in mind that a small truck may not pull a fifth-wheel efficiently. So thoroughly study more about your vehicle’s capacity, the Gross Trailer Weight it can handle, and the Gross Vehicle Rating.
Equipping yourself with such knowledge will help make your trip smooth and more manageable. If something goes wrong, you will have an idea of what it is and possibly fix some issues.
Opt For a Bigger Radiator
When you are pulling a heavy load on your truck, it puts strain on your engine, and it’s more likely to heat up, affecting your vehicle’s ability to function correctly.
A radiator is a great addition that cools the engine and maintains it at optimum operating temperature.
The larger the radiator, the faster it can cool your truck’s engine.
So if you feel like the fifth-wheel is straining your vehicle, adding a larger radiator will help you achieve a smoother ride.
What Are the Best Trucks for Towing a Fifth-Wheel?
While there are many trucks suitable for hauling a fifth-wheel in the market today, the Ford F-350 Super Duty is a top choice among most drivers.
I would recommend this truck due to its incredible horsepower and high amount of torque. It has a bigger frame, better suspension and uses the most advanced technology to enhance your driving experience.
However, although this option offers excellent value for your money, it’s more expensive than other trucks.
If you need a more cost-friendly option, there are different and more efficient truck models in the market today that offer similar features.
Only ensure that you check the payload, truck bed dimensions and don’t exceed the recommended weight capacity for the truck.
You can consider models like Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD, Ford F-150XL, Ram 3500, 2021 Toyota Tundra, or Nissan Titan XD.
Truck Size Hauling A Fifth-Wheel
Choosing the right truck size to haul your fifth-wheel is the key to having a safe and comfortable ride. The size of truck you need to tow a fifth-wheel will vary depending on whether you want to pull a heavy load and the frequency of use.
In such a case, you will need a bigger and stronger truck than a person who occasionally uses the fifth-wheel.
Always keep in mind that a vehicle with the highest towing capacity and a powerful engine will better handle the job.
When it comes to the model, I advise you to do your research since this decision highly depends on your personal preference.