Towing a 5th wheel

Getting To The Tailgate: How To Match A Truck To Tow A Trailer

I grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee where college football is a way of life. During the University of Tennessee’s football season, the parking lots surrounding Neyland Stadium become a home away from home for the alums. All your friends and their families travel to the stadium to show off their pregame setups and you don’t want to miss this for anything. If you’re like me and moved away after college, the only thing standing between you and tailgating with your old frat buddies is getting there.

I know I’m dating myself with this story, but it’s one worth reading so you don’t make the same expensive, yet avoidable mistake as I did many moons ago. My fatal error was thinking I was buying a massive powerhouse in the new 1994 Chevy Kodiak 1/2 ton truck. However, trust me when I say that the realization that you have bought an underpowered truck to pull a large fifth wheel trailer is likely to be a nerve wracking experience. Once we had left my post-college home in Atlanta and reached the open highway is when my mistake became quite obvious.

Learn From My Mistake

Even though the truck was huge, it was barely able to do 60 MPH under load. Not a huge problem in the stop-and-go traffic that constantly plagues the ATL, but when you’re traveling long distances, there are times when you will need to pick up the speed if you ever want to reach your final destination. Stopping was never quite an issue though since it has good brakes, but it was impossible to get anywhere quickly. By the time we were arriving at the Tennessee state line and started to head up and over the Great Smoky Mountains, we had gone all the way down to the first gear hoping and praying that we had enough juice to clear the summit. The last place I wanted to break down and wait for a tow truck was on the side of I-75 in the middle of nowhere. Talk about a white knuckle drive. I know I had to have aged a decade during that ascent.

I only made this one trip with the Kodiak from Atlanta to Knoxville and traded it off before it was even due for its first oil change. It was a gravely expensive mistake, which was the result of my lack of experience in matching the truck to the trailer.

Ram 5th wheel

Matching A Truck To A Trailer

An important part of towing trailers is to pick the right truck to become the tow vehicle. Physical size is surprisingly only a small fraction of the whole equation. If you have incorrect gear ratios in the rear axle or are underpowered, you can easily find yourself running out of gears when downshifting to climb hills.

The car dealership that sold me the Kodiak obviously did not care that the truck had an engine too small for what I wanted to do. They only cared about getting the truck off their hands since it had been sitting on their lot for about a year.

Unlike my truck buying snafu in the 90’s, the 1-ton dually pickups of today are much more capable of handling most RVs on the market. The dual rear wheels offer better stability and are good for safety because the weight is distributed over more tires.

The choice between a large gas and a diesel engine, however, is a personal one to some extent. They are both large enough to handle the work, but the diesel engine will last significantly much longer. One thing is for sure: it is important to choose a truck with a rear axle gear ratio of 4:10 to ensure that you have sufficient juice to clear the hills.

Since my younger, more naive years, I have owned the Chevy 8.1 gas, the Power Stroke, and the Duramax and all can handle a large fifth wheel trailer amazingly well. Traversing the mountains and valleys of East Tennessee are no problem for this experienced tower now. And traveling back home to tailgates with my fellow Volunteer Nation has become second nature to driving the family sedan around town. It’s amazing how the right equipment can make a job more enjoyable. Who would’ve thunk it?

Fifth wheel being towed

How To Research RV Tow Trucks

Today’s diesel pick-up trucks have more than 300 HP and over 500 foot pounds of torque. The sorry truck I had purchased was actually 180 HP less than the 3-quarter ton truck I had traded in. The truck was just about maxed-out for load when I built the storage space and loaded it. I then added the massive double side trailer behind it! But, hey, we live and we learn. That’s why I’ve written this cautionary tale. If I can help a tailgate enthusiast avoid the expensive mistake I made, then I have done my job.

You want to compare your truck’s tongue weight and total weight. Also, thanks to SAE J2807, your truck comparisons will be much more accurate since automakers are now required to use this uniform method of rating and testing trucks. I tell you, kids these days have it so easy. Ha!

The moral of the story: Do proper research and understand your needs before buying a truck. And happy tailgating. Go Vols!

This is guest post by Lauren Smith: Lauren Smith was born and raised in the deep south where she discovered early on her love of the outdoors and football time in Tennessee. She is an avid RV traveler and has never been known to turn down a chance to tailgate with her buddies back home on Old Rocky Top.