Dear Ole Mechanic;

Truck Towing Travel TrailerI finely did it and declared myself retired.  The kids are all grown, gone and scattered.  The wife and I are in reasonably good health and want to go visit our grandkids.  We are looking at a 30-foot, fifth-wheel travel trailer.  While we were looking at different models, one of the sales persons ask what we were going to tow it with.  I pointed to my ------ ------ pickup that is only a year old.  He expressed some doubts about its ability to do the job and recommended against it.  He said that trying to tow with that light of a truck could lead to a bad experience that might cause us to blame the trailer.  He said that I should look carefully at the load capacity of the ------.  I pointed out to him all of the ads that I had seen on TV and how the ------ ------ did all of those things while towing a trailer load of cement blocks.  He still cautioned me to double-check the GCVW of the truck (whatever that is.)  The truck has ------’s big gas V8 engine.  Do I really need to trade for a bigger truck?  The ------ is ------’s biggest truck and it gets really good gas mileage.  What would you suggest?

Travlin’ Grandpa

Dear Travlin’;

I have purposely blanked out the name and model of your truck for two reasons.  One, trailer towing recommendations apply to all makes of trucks and two, I do not want to appear to dislike any one brand of truck.  All of them are guilty of covering their rear ends with fine print and fast talk in their TV ads.  In thse ads, there is a little statement that can cover a multitude of sins.  That statement is “With optional equipment."  A good example of that is a truck leased by a friend of mine which just happens to be the same brand as the one that you have.  When he first got it, I did a little close checking.  It had P285R 70 X 16 tires on it.  The “P” stands for Passenger car tires.  Had the tires been “LT”, for Light Truck, I would have been a lot more comfortable with him towing a trailer.  While the actual load rating given on the tire was reasonable for the truck by itself, I would not try towing a trailer of any size for any distance with them.  I called the ------ dealership and sure enough,  LT tires were available as “Optional Equipment," at extra cost, as was a special “Optional Equipment” towing package--also at extra cost.  The towing package did include the optional equipment trailer brake controller wiring loom, but not the controller.  The dealership did not recommend installing a trailer brake controller in the standard wiring system, because of “a possible mis-wiring during installation could interfere with the Anti-Lock Brake operation“.  If it did, then that could void the warranty on the ABS.

Is it starting to sound like you have entered a different world?  It should, and it all started when you said “fifth wheel."  It should also sound like you have entered the world of the "tail wagging the dog!"  If you think that the tail won’t wag the dog, just load the trailer so that it is tail-heavy with more weight in the rear of the trailer than is on the front or hitch.  When that happens, you will know it as the trailer will have a mind of its own.  The trailer--especially if it is heavier than the truck--can easily tip over both the truck and the trailer, put both in the ditch, or cause them to roll over in the ditch.  In this different world, you will learn that GCVW stands for Gross Combined Vehicle Weight--which is the combined weight of the truck, trailer and all of the contents of both--including passengers.  This new world will also make you aware of overhead clearances.  Why?  Because your 13-foot tall trailer will not fit under the 12-tall awning over the McDonalds drive-through or under the 10-foot awning over the gas pumps at the filling station.  Don’t worry, you will try it and since you are the one causing the damage, it will be your insurance company that gets the call.  You will learn that GVW stands for Gross Vehicle Weight rating and that the rear springs of a truck don’t like being overloaded.  Tire-load rating will become important--especially “P” car tires.  Just imagine what happens when the truck’s rear tire blows out at 50 MPH and the trailer--which weighs more than the truck--starts pushing the truck with the blown rear tire.  It's not pretty.  Semi-truck drivers and tow truck drivers call it "jackknifing." 

Truck Towing Travel TrailerTo properly tow a 30-foot travel trailer, you are going to need a ‘Heavy Duty’ or ‘Super Duty’ ton truck.  Your ------ may be able to do it if has all of the heavy-duty towing options and you downsize your travel trailer a little bit.  A ton pickup with optional equipment can be rated to handle 12,000 to 14,000 pounds of  GCVW.  The empty truck will weigh in the neighborhood of 5,000 to 6,000 pounds, so don’t get a trailer that weighs more than 6,000 pounds.  By the time you add all the passengers, pots & pans, clothing and a little fresh water in the trailer, you will be pushing the GCVW limit.  Why do you see a lot of one-ton dually trucks pulling travel trailers?  The extra rear tires provide better stability and the heavier truck can have GCVW ratings up over 16,000 pounds.  The extra weight-handling capability is just an extra margin of safety, because you don't want you grandkids visiting you in the hospital--or the cemetery.

Herr Professor Nuzanbolts