Kuat NV Bike Rack Review

Roads Less Traveled

This page is a review of the Küwat NV Bike Rack, a high quality and easy-to-use bike rack that mounts in a hitch receiver.

Nifty new Küwat NV Bike Rack.

This page is a review of the Kuat NV bike rack

The bike rack folds flat against the back of the truck.

A nifty new bike rack from Kuat is easy to use.

The bike rack is folded down and ready for bikes to be mounted.

Kuat

A strap is cinched over the rear

wheel to hold the bike in place on

the rack.

Strap cinching system for Kuat bike rack Kuat rack strap system

A lever arm folds up and down to hold each bike in place.

Lever arm hold bikes in place on Kuat bike rack

The lever arm can extend and

retract with the press of a button.

The lever arm holds the bike in

place on the rack.

Mounted and ready to go.

There is a built-in, retractable bike lock.

The two ends pull out and can be

snaked through the bike(s) to lock them

to the rack.

This image shows the locked lock without a bike.

The Kuat NV bike rack features a built-in bike lock.

One end of the lock inserts into the other.

Bike is mounted and locked to the rack.

The bikes are mounted and run no risk of dragging on the ground if the trailer bottoms out.

Two bikes mounted and locked.

An clever feature is the bike stand.

Insert the stand into this quick release

fitting...

A terrific feature of the Kuat NV bike rack is the built-in bike stand.

The bike rack is folded flush to the back

ot he truck/trailer, the bike stand is

inserted into it and clamped down with a

quick release.

A bike is mounted on the Kuat NV bike stand, ready for bike mechanic work.

Magic!!  A bike stand!!  The bike's wheels and

pedals are free to spin and you can do

whatever bike mechanic work you need to do.

We highly recommend the Kuat bike rack

Two bottoming-out episodes and the round

knob was beginning to look square.

The Kuat NV bike rack is awesome

Jack of JM Welding comes to our rescue.

We get a custom-designed hitch extension made to raise the bikes another 8

He draws the design on the floor using parts he had

available that day.

Designing an extension for the Kuat rack

The pieces are laid out.

We fabricated an extension for our Kuat rack

The hitch extension is welded

and has gussets for added

strength.

Jack powder coats the whole thing.

"I think it's gonna work!"

Awesome hitch extension for the Kuat bike rack

Perfect - the bike rack is raised 8" or so off the

ground.

We lock the bike rack to the hitch

extension.  An internal bolt/nut

attaches the hitch extension to

the hitch receiver and would be

very difficult to undo.

With hitch extension on Kuat NV bike rack bike is well of the ground

Ahhh… the bike is well off the ground.

The bikes are up well off the ground and we are ready to roll!!

Two bikes mounted and ready for their next adventure.

Kuat 2 Bike NV Rack

This is a review of the Kuat NV Bike Rack, a high quality, extremely

easy-to-use bike rack that mounts on a trailer hitch.

For several years we lugged our bikes around on the back of our

trailer using a cheap Swagman bike rack that held 3 bikes.  It held the

bikes by gripping the top tubes in metal jaws.  To mount a bike on the

rack or to dismount it you had to screw or unscrew two long screws

that cinched the rack's jaws closed around the top tube.  There were

several frustrating problems with this rack:

• It was time consuming to mount and dismount the bikes

• The rack's gripping jaws gouged the bikes' top tubes and

chipped off the paint

• The whole rack jiggled wildly in the hitch receiver as we drove,

especially on rough roads

• If the trailer bottomed out in a ditch, the bikes' tires dragged on the ground

• There was no way to lock the bikes onto the rack

• We had to use bungee cords to keep the wheels from spinning as we drove

At the 2011 Interbike bicycle trade show in Las Vegas Mark checked out every bike rack manufacturer for a better solution.  He

finally settled on one made by Küwat, a small company out of Missouri.  This is a slick bike rack.  It is simple, easy to use and

solves almost all the problems we had with the Swagman (see note below).

RACK IS HELD TIGHT IN THE HITCH RECEIVER

The rack cinches into the trailer hitch using a clever expansion

mechanism you control with a round plastic knob at the back of the

rack.  Set the rack into the hitch receiver, tighten the knob until very

tight (or use an allen wrench to get it super tight), and the inner

expansion mechanism holds the rack rock solid in the hitch receiver.

The rack doesn't move at all.

The rack can be folded flush against the back of the trailer (or car/

truck) when not in use.

Then fold it down when you are ready to load some bikes onto it.

EASY MOUNT / DISMOUNT

The rack holds two bikes that face in opposite

directions.  Each bike's wheels rest on a tray.  The front

wheel goes into a rounded tray that keeps it from

rolling.  An adjustable strap loops over the rear wheel to

hold it in place.  Then an adjustable lever-arm is

tightened onto the front wheel next to the fork to keep

the whole bike in place.

So to mount a bike there are three quick steps:

1.  Place the bike's wheels on the rack's tray

2.  Tighten the rear strap around the rear wheel.

3.  Move the lever arm into place on the front tire in front

of the fork and apply pressure to cinch it down.

The bike(s) can be locked using

retractable built-in plastic shielded

cable wires.  One wire comes out of

each end of the rack.  Snake the two

wires through the wheels and frame(s)

of the bike(s), and insert one

connector into the other to lock the

bikes to the rack.  Easy!

To dismount the bikes simply release the rear wheel strap,

press the thumb button on the front wheel lever arm to extend

it and lower it, and lift the bike off the rack.

KUAT NV BIKE RACK BECOMES A BIKE STAND!

As a bonus, the rack includes a built-in bike stand for working

on your bikes.

Simply fold the bike rack up so it is flush with the trailer (or

back of your car/truck).  Insert the bike stand unit using a

quick release lever.

Mount the bike into the stand by its top tube using the quick

release clamps.

Now the pedals and wheels can spin freely and you can do

whatever maintenance your bike needs, from lubing the

chain to replacing the bottom bracket.

ONE PROBLEM - AND A GREAT FIX

Side note: Kuwat does not recommend putting their bike

racks on the backs of trailers due to the long distance

between the rack and the rear wheels of the trailer.  That long

distance puts extra force on the bike rack as the trailer goes

over bumps in the road and makes it possible for the rack to

hit the ground when the trailer bottoms out going through dips

in the road.

The only problem we had with this rack -- one that was

easily remedied -- is that the rack sat quite low to the

ground because the hitch receiver on the back of our

fifth wheel is fairly low, and the rack sticks out quick far

from the back of the trailer.  When the trailer bottomed

our (for instance, entering/exiting some gas stations),

the outer end of the rack dragged on the ground.  We

had two episodes like this, one going in and out of a gas

station and the other doing a u-turn at a National Park

parking lot.  These mishaps scraped the rubber right off

the rack's expansion knob in two places.

While driving through Blanding, Utah, we asked at the

Visitors Center if there was a good welder/fabricator in

town.  We were sent to see Jack Montella of JM

Welding, and in a few hours he created the

perfect solution.

He built an S (or Z) shaped hitch extension that

fits into our trailer hitch receiver and provides a

new higher receiver for the bike rack.

Things like this are available commercially, but when we

priced it out, the cost would have been similar and would

have required waiting for the part to be shipped.  So Jack

made a custom one for us on the spot.

After drawing a picture of the hitch extension on the floor, he quickly cut the

pieces and welded it together.  He put two gussets in the corners to provide

extra strength and powder coated it.  Our only concern with the design was

that this new extension wouldn't fit tightly in the trailer's hitch receiver,

making both the rack and bikes jiggle as we drove.

Jack had a perfect

solution.  He welded a

nut into the inside of the

new hitch extension

where the hitch pin goes through the hitch receiver and the

hitch extension.  Then he fabricated a long bolt that would go

through both the trailer's hitch receiver and the hitch

extension.  As the bolt was screwed into the nut on the inside

of the hitch extension, the hitch extension was cinched up

tightly against the inside of the trailer's hitch receiver.  This

made a rock solid connection.

At the other end of the hitch extension, our bike rack fits into the hitch

extension receiver just as it did into the original trailer hitch receiver,

using Küwat's expansion mechanism inside its tubes.

This has raised the bike rack 8" further off the ground.  Now when we

go through a deep dip in the road, the hitch cable rings (a part of the

hitch receive we don't use or care about) drag on the ground rather

than the bottom of the bike rack.

After we installed the bike rack on the new hitch extension I walked behind the trailer

as Mark drove it over a very rough dirt road.  The rack and the bikes followed the motion of the trailer and nothing more

-- no jiggling whatsoever.

You can purchase the Kuat NV Bike Rack here.

If you have more than two bikes and are mounting the rack on a car or truck (not recommended for an RV),

you can purchase the Kuat NV bike rack extension here.

After a few years wiggles crept in and we started using Hitch Tighteners to make the rack even more stable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kuat NV Bike Rack is available at Amazon (left ad), and if you are putting this rack on a car (not an RV), you can add the extension (right ad).

We receive a 4-6% commission from Amazon (at no cost to you) if you make purchases through our links. This helps us cover our out-of-pocket costs for this site, but doesn’t pay us for our time writing reviews like this.

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Lumintop SD75 Flashlight Review – A Car Headlight In Your Hand!

We’ve been doing a lot of night photography lately, catching the Milky Way at Waterton Lakes National Park in the Canadian Rockies and hiking in the dark out onto a rocky point to catch sunrise at Deadhorse Point State Park in Utah. We even hiked the Fairyland Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park after midnight.

Stars at Fairyland Point Bryce Canyon National Park Night Sky

The Lumintop SD75 flashlight brightens the rock formations at Fairyland Point, Bryce Canyon National Park

We’ve also played with creating ghostly images by doing Light Painting in old buildings in Ouray Colorado.

Ghostly image in a ghost town

Mark gets a selfie of his own ghost.

A key piece of gear we have relied on for all of this is a Lumintop SD75 4,000 Lumen flashlight.

In the past we used Maglites and smaller LED flashlights to find our way in the dark and to cast light on the surroundings during a long exposure of the night sky. However, even the best of these flashlights was hopelessly dim.

Lumintop SD75 LED flashlight

Our Lumintop SD75 flashlight next to our Maglite.

Mark is a huge flashlight junkie, and he searched for a long time for a big and powerful flashlight to use for our nighttime photography excursions and to use when we roam around our boondocking spots at night.

He decided on the Lumintop SD75 flashlight.

This is a “search” flashlight similar to the ones used by law enforcement.

There are three power levels, and at max power it is a whopping 4,000 lumens.

The light it throws at max power is astonishing — it goes 0.4 miles!!

Walking in the dark with this flashlight is like holding a car’s headlight in your hand!

Lumintop SD75 flashlight low power

Low power.

Lumintop SD75 flashlight medium power

Mid Power.

Lumintop SD75 flashlight high power

High Power.

  • At low power, it can run for 50 hours
  • At mid power, it can run for 8.33 hours
  • At max power (4,000 lumens), it can run for 2.68 hours

Fairyland Point Bryce Canyon National Park Night Sky

Light painting the rock pinnacles at Fairyland Point, Bryce Canyon National Park

There is a strobe mode as well, and at max power strobe, it can run for 50 hours!

The Lumintop SD75 is made of heavy duty aerospace aluminum and has a hard-anodized anti-scratching HAIII military grade finish. The LED bulbs are the latest CREE XHP70 LED technology.

This is a serious piece of gear that comes in an equally serious suitcase!

Lumintop SD75 flashlight suitcase

The flashlight has its own suitcase. Don’t worry, it’s about the size of a very very big lunch box.

This aluminum suitcase has foam cutouts inside for all the goodies that come with it.

Lumintop SD75 flashlight suitcase open

Foam cutouts for all the extras.

The flashlight comes with four lithium-ion batteries that are rechargeable. It also comes with a wall charger as well as a 12 volt car charger.

Lumintop SD75 flashlight parts

The flashlight packs into the suitcase in two halves. The battery pack is shown in the middle.

So, we can charge the flashlight batteries either in our RV or in our truck, whichever is more convenient.

Lumintop SD75 flashlight charger

Wall charger and 12 volt charger.

There is a battery charge indicator light on the back end of the battery, so we know exactly how well charged the batteries are.

There are also two USB connectors for charging cell phones or other devices FROM the flashlight battery! That’s how much charge these batteries can hold!

Lumintop SD75 tactical flashlight back end

Cap off: Battery indicator light, 2 USB ports + slots for a strap.

There are also two slots on the cap that covers the back end of the flashlight that can be used to attach a carry strap or piece of line.

One very handy feature for when we are setting up our tripods and camera gear in the dark is an LED taillight that attaches to the back end.

Standing the flashlight on end, this taillight illuminates the area all around the flashlight. This would be ideal in a tent or doing emergency truck or RV repair work in the dark too!

Lumintop SD75 Flashlight with LED taillight

LED taillight
Handy in a tent, setting up photo gear or working on the RV.

There is a quarter inch tripod socket on the side of the flashlight so it can be mounted on a camera tripod as well.

Lumintop SD75 tactical Flashlight tripod mount

Unscrew this cap to access the standard 1/4″ tripod mount.

One feature we haven’t taken advantage of — because we haven’t been caught out in the rain or gone swimming with this flashlight just yet — is that it is water resistant to 2 meters!! It comes with extra O-rings to help keep it watertight as well.

Overlook night stars North Rim Grand Canyon

My camera aims at the stars at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

I wish we had had this flashlight when we cruised Mexico with our sailboat. We had a 12 volt “4 million candlepower” spot light that we kept on deck during every overnight passage just in case one of us slipped overboard.

Of course, we wore harnesses and clipped ourselves to the boat at sunset and stayed clipped in until sunrise as long as we were outside the cabin. But there was always the chance that the quick release mechanism on the harness might accidentally undo itself or some other catastrophe might happen that would send one of us into the drink.

Milky WayLodge at North Rim of the Grand Canyon starry night and fifth wheel trailer RV

The Lodge at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Frankly, there is no way in any conditions but the calmest seas that our spot light would have been bright enough to illuminate a bobbing head in the water.

This flashlight is so much more powerful, we both would have felt a lot more comfortable it we’d had it aboard with us!

Milky Way and fifth wheel trailer RV

The Lumintop SD75 flashlight brightens up our buggy.

If you are looking for a high quality flashlight for walking around your RV campsite at night, or for hiking in the dark, or for light painting old ghostly buildings in the wee hours of the morning, the Lumintop SD75 is a terrific choice.

It’s also a neat gift idea for that sweet hubby who loves gadgets and is so hard to buy for!!

If you purchase the Lumintop SD 75 flashlight at Amazon through this link here, you can get a 20% discount if you enter this code at checkout: DY7LBH7G.

Added Later: We have also begun using the Lumintop EDC 25 flashlight, a pocket flashlight that packs a whopping 1,000 lumens into a tiny package. We will have a review of this flashlight soon. But for now, we want you to know that this flashlight is just as amazing the class of pocket flashlights as its big brother is in the class of full-size flashlights.

You can buy the Lumintop EDC 25 1,000 Lumen Pocket Flashlight HERE. For a 20% discount, enter this code at checkout: 62Q8JKKA

And thank you for using any of our Amazon links immediately before loading up your shopping cart, because we then receive a small referral fee for every item you buy at no cost to you!!

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Power Inverters – Exeltech’s Pure Sine Wave Excellence

An inverter, sometimes called a “power inverter,” is a piece of electronic gear that converts DC power to AC power, and it is what enables RVers to use regular household appliances in an RV without hookups to an RV park power pedestal relying on a generator.

The September/October 2016 issue of Escapees Magazine features our detailed article about inverters: what they are, how they are sized, what flavors they come in and how to wire one into an RV.

Power inverter for an RV - an Exeltech XPX 2000 watt inverter

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For RVers who enjoy dry camping in public campgrounds or boondocking on public land, an inverter is the key piece of the puzzle that gives their RV traditional 110 volt AC power — like the power in the wall outlets of a house — without plugging the RV into a power pedestal at an RV park or a noisy gas-hungry generator.

WHAT IS AN INVERTER?

For beginning RVers, it is easy to confuse a converter with an inverter, because the words are so much alike. The difference is actually very straight forward:

  • A converter converts the 110 volt AC power coming out of a wall outlet, RV park power pedestal or generator into 12 volt DC power, and charges the RV’s 12 volt battery bank.
  • An inverter converts the batteries’ 12 volt DC power into 110 volt AC power so household appliances like the TV, blender, microwave and vacuum can run.
Exeltech XPX 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter living off the grid in an RV

Our “house” inverter – an Exeltech XPX 2000 watt inverter.

RV FACTORY INSTALLED CONVERTERS

Most trailers and some smaller motorhomes come with a factory installed converter. Frequently, these factory installed converters are inexpensive units that are not multi-stage chargers. So, for RVers who want to dry camp a lot and keep their batteries in tip-top shape, or charge them up efficiently with a generator while dry camping, it is a good idea to replace the factory installed converter with a better quality converter (we did).

More info on upgrading an RV power converter here: Converters and Inverters in an RV

RV FACTORY INSTALLED INVERTERS and INVERTER/CHARGERS

A few high end trailers and most higher end motorhomes come with a factory installed inverter.

In many cases, especially high end trailers, the inverter is dedicated to powering a residential refrigerator that runs exclusively off of 110 volt AC power (unlike an RV refrigerator that can run on propane). The inverter is there so the fridge can continue to run off the batteries while the rig is being driven from one RV park to another without a connection to 110 volt AC electricity. This inverter is sized to support the refrigerator and is not intended to be used for any other purpose in the rig.

So, for most trailer owners that want to do a lot of camping without hookups, an inverter is an extra piece of gear that must be installed.

In contrast, many higher end motorhomes come with a factory installed inverter/charger that can do two things: 1) provide the RV with household 110 volt AC power at the wall outlets via the batteries while dry camping and 2) charge the batteries when the RV is getting its 110 volt AC power from an RV park power pedestal or a generator. These inverter/chargers essentially do the work of both a converter (charging the batteries from shore power) and an inverter (providing AC power via the batteries while dry camping).

So, for folks with a higher end motorhome, an inverter is usually already installed in the motorhome at the factory in the form of an inverter/charger, and it does not need to be added later. However, it may not be a pure sine wave inverter (see below).

INVERTER SIZES

Inverters come in all shapes and sizes and all price ranges too, from little biddy ones that cost a few bucks to big beefy ones that cost a few thousand dollars.

They are rated by the number of watts they can produce. Small ones that can charge a pair of two-way radios or a toothbrush are in the 150 watt range. Huge ones that can run a microwave and hair dryer are in the 3,000 watt range.

  • Small inverters (400 watts or less) can be plugged into a cigarette lighter style DC outlet in the rig. Mark has one that he uses for his electric razor every morning.
  • Larger inverters (500 watts are more) must be wired directly to the batteries and require stout wires that are as short in length as possible.

Our RV has a “house” inverter that is 2,000 watts. It can run our microwave and hair dryer and vacuum comfortably (we don’t run those appliances all at the same time, however, as that would overload it). Our small portable inverter lives in our bedroom and gets used for a few minutes every day before we head downstairs:

RV power inverter with electric razo

Mark uses this small inverter to power his electric razor every morning!

MODIFIED SINE WAVE vs. PURE SINE WAVE INVERTERS

Inverters also come in two flavors:

Modified sine wave inverters are cheaper than pure sine wave inverters and are the most common type of inverter sold in auto parts stores, Walmart and truck stops. Many inverter/chargers on the market are modified sine wave inverters.

Our sailboat came with a 2,500 watt inverter/charger that produced a modifed sine wave. It was wired into the boat’s wall outlets, including the microwave outlet. We used this inverter when we wanted to run the microwave but not for anything else (we preferred using a pure sine wave inverter instead).

Some vehicles now ship with an inverter installed in the dashboard. Our truck has a small modified sine wave inverter in the dashboard, and I use it all the time to plug in our MiFi Jetpack and get an internet signal for my laptop as we drive.

Exeltech XP 1100 Inverter

Our first pure sine wave inverter: an Exeltech XP 1100 watt inverter. We keep it now as a backup.

WIRING AN INVERTER INTO AN RV – DC SIDE

As mentioned above, small inverters can plug into a DC outlet in the RV wall (these outlets look like the old cigarette lighters found in cars).

Large inverters must be wired directly to the batteries. The wire gauge must be very heavy duty battery cable and short to support the big DC currents that will flow through it. If possible, the length should be less than four feet. A wire gauge chart gives the correct gauge of wire to use for the current that will flow and the length the wire will be.

To determine the maximum possible DC current that might flow through these wires, simply divide the maximum wattage the inverter is rated for by the lowest voltage the inverter can operate at. In our case, we divided our inverter’s maximum 2,000 watts by the minimum 10.5 volts it will operate at before it shuts off. This yields 190 amps DC. Our cable connecting our inverter to the batteries is 2 feet long. So the proper wire size is 2/0 gauge (“double ought”) and can be purchased here: High quality Ancor Battery Cable.

Heavy duty battery cable on Exeltech XPX 2000 inverter in an RV

We used 2/0 Gauge Ancor Battery Cable to wire the DC side of our inverter.

WIRING AN INVERTER INTO AN RV – AC SIDE

All inverters have at least one household style female 110 volt AC outlet. Usually they have two. These outlets look like ordinary household wall outlets.

One very simple way to wire the AC side of the inverter is to plug an appliance directly into it, for instance, plug the power cord of the TV into the inverter. We did this with a 300 watt inverter and our 19″ TV in our first trailer. The inverter was plugged into a DC outlet on the trailer’s wall, and the TV was plugged into the inverter right behind where it sat on our countertop.

If you want to plug more than two appliances into the inverter at once, then plugging a power strip into one or both of the inverter’s AC outlets is one way to go. We did this on our sailboat. We had a 600 watt pure sine wave inverter on the boat. Plugged into one of the inverter’s AC outlets, we had a power strip supporting our TV and DVD player. Plugged into the other AC outlet, we had a power strip supporting everything else: two-way radios, toothbrush, and laptop charging cords and camera battery chargers.

Exeltech XPX 2000 inverter and Trojan Reliant AGM Batteries in an RV

Our inverter is placed as close to the batteries as possible by being suspended above them.

Obviously, you have to be careful not to run too many things at once, or they will overload the inverter. Most inverters will shut down when overloaded or sound a beeping alarm if your appliances demand more from it than it can give. We ran into that a lot when we lived on our portable inverter for a few days while our house inverter was being repaired.

A more sophisticated way to wire an inverter’s AC side so it supplies power to all the wall outlets in the RV is to wire it into the rig’s AC wiring using a transfer switch.

WHICH INVERTER TO BUY for a BIG INSTALLATION?

Because we live off the grid and never plug our RV into a power pedestal (we’ve lived this way for nine years and hope to do so for many more), we rely on our trailer’s house inverter to run all of the AC appliances we own, every single day.

For this reason, we invested in the highest quality inverter we could find on the market: an Exeltech XP 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter. This is a very pricey unit, but it is our sole source of AC power day in and day out. It is the brand that was selected for both the American and Russian sides of the International Space Station, and its signal is pure enough to run extremely sensitive medical equipment.

Exeltech power inverter manufacturing

We visited the Exeltech manufacturing plant in Texas and saw first-hand how meticulously these inverters are made and tested prior to shipping.

Exeltech is a family run company with electrical engineering PhDs heading up their R&D department. All manufacturing is done in-house at their headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas. They have phenomenal tech support and an excellent warranty.

When our beautiful new Exeltech XP 2000 inverter was inadvertently blown up by a welding snafu at a trailer suspension shop during our trailer’s suspension overhual (the plastic sheathing on a bundle of AC wires got melted onto the trailer’s frame, bonding the wires to the frame and creating an electrical short — ouch), they got it repaired and back to us very quickly.

And thanks to our RV warranty, our failing suspension was rebuilt completely at no cost to us, and has worked flawlessly for 12 months now.

Power inverter

This high quality Exeltech inverter is a serious piece of electronic gear!

Many RVers like the Magnum brand of inverters. These inverters have a built-in transfer switch which makes them easy to wire into the RV’s AC wiring system.

There are many other brands on the market from Schneider Electric / Xantrex to Go Power, Power Bright and others. If you are going to dry camp a lot, then installing a high quality and expensive pure sine wave inverter makes sense. But if you are going to dry camp for just a few days, week or month here and there, then a cheaper one may make more sense.

MORE INFO ABOUT INVERTERS and SOLAR POWER

All of this info and more is covered detail in our feature article in this month’s Escapees Magazine. We also have loads of other info about inverters, converters right here on our website. Links to our many RV electricity related articles are at the bottom of this page.

ESCAPEES MAGAZINE and RV CLUB

RV Power Inverters

Inverters – AC Power from DC Batteries
Escapees Magazine Sep/Oct 2016
By Emily Fagan

Our five page article on inverters in this month’s issue of Escapees Magazine is typical of the kind of detailed technical articles the magazine publishes.

I have been publishing articles like this in Escapees Magazine since 2008, and I have written about anything and everything we’ve learned in our full-time RVing lives, from solar power to photography to batteries to the importance of fulfillling our dreams.

What makes Escapees Magazine unique is that it is written by RVers for RVers.

The magazine article topics come from real life experiences that RVers have encountered in their lives on the road.

Just as my article in this issue of Escapees Magazine is about what we’ve learned about inverters since we started RVing (and believe me, back in 2007, I was the one asking trailer salesmen what the difference was between inverters and converters, and I got some wacky, wild and very wrong answers!), other RVers write articles for Escapees Magazine about things they have learned.

When I sat down to read the September/October issue, I was impressed — as I am with every issue — by the quality of both the articles and the presentation.

Besides including some cool travel articles about RVing Alaska via the Alaska Marina Highway ferry system, and visiting the Very Large Array that listens to the cosmos in New Mexico, and traveling on the Natchez Trace in Mississippi, this issue has two wonderful profiles of full-time RVers doing intriguing things as part of their RV lifestyle.

RV by ferry on the Alaska Marine Highway

RV Alaska by Ferry!
Escapees Magazine Sep/Oct 2016

One article this month is about a full-time RVer who lives in an Airstream trailer and has dedicated himself to ensuring that the original silkscreen art prints created by the WPA artists in the 1930’s for the National Parks remain in the public domain, owned by the NPS rather than private collectors. It is a fascinating tale, written by Rene Agredano who has been full-timing since 2007 and writes the very informative blog Live, Work, Dream, a terrific resource for anyone who wants to learn the ins and outs of work camping.

Another article this month shares the stories of three very long term (10+ years) full-time RVers who have flourished as artists on the road. One RVer/artist specializes in watercolors and has held many exhibitions of her work around the country. Another RVer/artist discovered the fun craft of decorating gourds and teaches classes at her home RV park. A third RVer/artist has self-published a photojournal about her travels specifically for her grandchildren. This insipring Escapees Magazine article is written by full-time RVer Sandra Haven who shares the same home base RV park as the artists.

There is also a detailed article written by a lawyer on what it takes to establish a legal domicile and register to vote when you’re a full-time RVer without a sticks-and-bricks home built on a foundation that stays in one place.

These kinds of articles aren’t found in most RV industry publications!

Full-time RV traveler artist

RVers take their art on the road
Escapees Magazine Sep/Oct 2016

And what’s neat for would-be writers and photographers who are Escapees RV Club members is that the magazine’s editorial staff is always eager for new material from members…click here!.

Escapees Magazine is just a tiny part of the overall Escapees RV Club, however.

Founded by full-time RVing pioneers Joe and Kay Peterson, the Escapees Club strives to serve the varied interests of all RVers and to alert RVers to changes in government policies or the RV industry itself that might affect us as consumers of RVs, RV and camping products and RV overnight accommodations.

They also work as tireless advocates on behalf of all RVers at both the local and national levels.

RVers BootCamp at Escapees RV Club

RVers BootCamp – A training program for new RVers

One of the most interesting articles in this month’s magazine alerts members to corporate consolidations in the industry that will affect our choices as RV consumers in years to come. It also reveals that the Escapees advocacy group is investigating possible changes at the Bureau of Land Management that will affect RVers ability to use their RVs on BLM land nationwide.

In addition to the magazine, the Club offers discounts for RV parks, regional chapter groups, national rallies, bootcamp training programs for new RVers, and assisted living for retired RVers who are ready to hang up their keys but not ready to give up living in their RV.

One of the most charming articles in this month’s magazine is about Nedra, a woman in her mid-80’s who was once an avid RVer but now lives at CARE, the Escapees assisted living facility in Livingston Texas. I had the good fortune to meet Nedra when we visited the Escapees headquarters at Rainbow’s End, and she took me on a fun tour of the CARE facilities. Escapees is like a big extended family, and it was very heartwarming to see her story in this month’s issue.

We’ve been members of Escapees RV Club since 2008 and highly recommend joining if you are a current or future RVer, whether you plan to travel full-time or just occasionally. Supporting their advocacy work benefits everyone who owns an RV and ensures we consumers and hobbyists have a voice in this very large industry.

You can join Escapees (or Xscapers, the branch of Escapees dedicated to younger, working age RVers) here:

Join Escapees RV Club

If you mention this blog, Roads Less Traveled, when you join, they put a little something in our tip jar. We began recommending Escapees RV Club to our readers eight years ago, and this friendly gesture from Escapees is a brand new development in the last few months. So, this is not a sales pitch from us to earn tips, by any means. We simply believe in the work Escapees RV Club does to support RV consumers and hobbyists and hope you do too!

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Choosing a Tripod – Sunwayfoto Tripod & Ball Head Review

Selfie mania has taken the world by storm, and in our travels we are no exception.

Selfie photo taken with a bear

Mark gets a selfie with a bear. Wow!

And selfie sticks are all the rage at every scenic overlook we go to.

Selfie sticks and camera tripod

The gear of choice in the National Parks is the selfie stick!

But there is a better way to hold a camera still, especially a big DSLR: a good quality tripod and ball head!

Nikon D810 on Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod with XB-52DL ballhead and PNL-D810R bracket

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod and XB-52 Ballhead

Photography has become a major part of our lives and travels, and as our skills have improved, we have upgraded our camera equipment as well. In the following link we outline all of the gear we use, from cameras and lenses to accessories like flashes and tripods to software for post-processing (as well as explaining how we organize our photos), and we also provide links to all the resources we’ve used to learn how to take photos:

Photography Gear, Tips and Resources

Tripods – Cheap vs. Expensive

It is said that as a photographer improves, his or her biggest equipment concern goes from getting the right camera body to buying the most appropriate lenses to finding the best tripod. We are working our way along this progression, and soon after Mark purchased his Nikon D810 camera a few months ago, he began casting about to find a suitable tripod for it.

Mark’s old tripod / ball head combo was too flimsy to support the D810 properly, and it wasn’t all that easy to use. He decided on the Sunwayfoto XB-52DL “Low Profile” Ball Head sitting on the Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod legs with an optional DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp.

Because we have a lot of readers who are seeking to improve their photography as they travel, just like we are, we wanted to share our experiences with this new tripod kit.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead with T2C40C Tripod and DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp

Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp atop an XB-52 Ballhead
all sitting on a Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod

When we first became interested in photography, we couldn’t understand why tripods could be as cheap as $29 or as much as $1,500. But we have learned since then that the price/performance trade-off is very simple, and it all boils down to three things:

  • Sturdiness
  • Overall weight
  • Ease of use

Cheap tripods take precious time to set up, can be difficult to position the camera correctly to get the image you want, don’t necessarily hold the camera perfectly still (and sometimes even let it droop a little after you’ve got everything in place), and are often too short to put the camera at eye level. Expensive tripods do all those things with ease, and they are lightweight enough to carry comfortably.

When is a tripod handy to use? Whenever the shutter speed is so slow that hand-holding the camera will make the whole image blurry because your hand moves while taking the photo.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ball Head T2C240C Tripod PNL-810R L-Bracket Review-2

With a tripod, flowing water can be made to look silky smooth.

We use ours all the time for low light photography (sunrise and sunset), for night photography (shooting starry nights and the Milky Way), for long shutter speeds to reveal movement, like the flow of waterfalls, and for time-lapse sequences that show movement in a video format, like fast moving clouds and changing light.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead with DDC-60 Quick Release Clamp

The Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ball head is rated to support a whopping 132 lbs., far more than other comparable tripod ball heads.

Like most budding photographers, we’ve frittered away lots of good money on cheap tripods as we’ve learned these lessons. After all, when you’ve broken the bank buying a camera and lenses, who wants to dig deeper in their pockets to get a decent tripod?

As is his way, Mark did an exhaustive search with a few criteria in mind for what he wanted in his new tripod. It had to be:

  • Stable enough to hold the camera with our longest lens, which is a Tamron 150-600mm 
  • The ball head had to be strong enough that the camera wouldn’t droop after it was tightened 
  • The tripod legs had to be carbon fiber (i.e., strong and lightweight)
  • He didn’t want it to spend all our savings on it
Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead with T2C40C Tripod and DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp

An excellent value.

In the end he settled on the Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod with the Sunwayfoto XB-52DL “Low Profile” Ball Head. This is a Chinese brand that is not particularly well known in the US yet, and is competing against the much more expensive brands like Gitzo.

Sunwayfoto – Quality Camera Gear at a Good Price

Mark began looking into the Sunwayfoto brand because we both used their L-Brackets on our Nikon D610 cameras and Mark now uses the Sunwafoto PNL-D810R L-Bracket on his new Nikon D810. We liked the craftsmanship of our L-brackets, and when we discovered Sunwayfoto makes tripods and ball heads, their tripod kits seemed worthy of a closer look.

Side note: an L-Bracket is a handy piece of gear that mounts on the camera so the camera can be slipped onto the tripod easily. Because the bracket is an L-shape, the camera can be switched from a landscape orientation to a portrait orientation quickly and easily.

PNL-D810R Bracket for Nikon D810 camera

The Sunwafoto PNL-D810R L-bracket mounts on the camera to simplify the use of a tripod.

Sunwayfoto PNL-D810R mounted on Nikon D810 camera

Nikon D810 camera with Sunwafoto L-bracket attached.

Sunwayfoto PNL-D810R mounted on Nikon D810 camera

The L-bracket gets screwed into the bottom of the camera.

What’s neat about the Sunwayfoto L-brackets is that they fit the camera body perfectly, even when the plastic cover protecting the camera’s LCD display is in place. L-brackets made by other manufacturers don’t always fit properly when the plastic LCD protector is on. The Sunwayfoto L-brackets also provide lots of room to plug optional cables (like an external microphone) into the left side of the camera.

Sunwayfoto XB-52 “Low Profile” Ball Head

Getting a good, solid and easy to use ball head was the most important criteria for Mark’s new tripod. The Sunwayfoto XB-52DL “Low Profile” Ball Head is the biggest of Sunwayfoto’s ball head offerings, and it is truly unbelievable in craftsmanship and strength. It is beautifully machined and anodized from a solid piece of aluminum. It also has a geared locking mechanism that claims a Max Load of 132 lbs (60 kg)! That is 82 more pounds than top-of-the-line Really Right Stuff’s largest ball head.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead for camera tripod

Sunwayfot XB-52DL Ballhead

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL camera ballhead

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ballhead

When locked down, the camera does not budge on this ball head. Even when carrying the tripod on his shoulder, Mark has found the camera doesn’t droop like it did with his old tripod setup.

Carrying Sunway T2C40C Tripod with XB52-DL and Nikon D610 camera

The ballhead holds the camera securely when walking around with the tripod on your shoulder.

The large locking knob on this ball head is made from solid metal and has an excellent feel to it. There is no rubber to wear out or come loose.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead Adjustment Knob

There are two adjustment knobs for the ball,
a large outer knob and a smaller inner dial.

There are two knobs for adjusting the position of the camera, a larger knob for gross adjustments and a fine tuning dial within that knob that lets you set precisely how easily (loosely) the camera swivels on the ball head.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead Fine Tuning Knob

The smaller knob fine-tunes how easily the camera flops around on the ball when it is loose. The larger one tightens it down.

There are also two notches on the ball head body to allow the camera either to be dropped extra far forward (for images aimed towards the ground) or to be tilted sideways (for portrait oriented images).

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead notches

There are two notches that allow the camera to be dropped down, rather than just a single one like many ball heads.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ballhead notches for camera angles

The notches in the ballhead allow the camera to be faced down.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ballhead notch points camera down

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The notches for setting up a portrait orientation are handy if you don’t want to use an L-bracket.

Nikon D810 on Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ballhead PNL-D810R bracket and T2C40C Tripod

The notches allow the camera to be flopped on its side for a portrait shot.

We prefer using an L-bracket and not using the ball head notches for portrait shots because of the inherent stability of placing the camera on the top of the tripod for portrait orientations instead of having it hang off the side.

Nikon D810 camera landscape mode on Sunwayfoto PNL-D810R and XB-52DL ballhead

Using an L-bracket gives the option of either a
landscape orientation…

Nikon D810 camera portrait mode on Sunwayfoto PNL-D810R and XB-52DL ballhead

…or portrait orientation
Here the camera is on top of the tripod and not flopped to the side in one of the notches, a more balanced and secure setup.

For the weight conscious, the Sunwayfoto XB-44 ball head is slightly smaller and lighter than the XB-52 but can still support a whopping 88 lbs. It weighs just 483 grams as compared to the 685 grams of the bigger ballhead, a difference of over 7 ounces (nearly half a pound), which some folks would find makes a difference on a long hike.

“Quick Release” or “Lever Release” Clamps

One of the best things about the XB-52DL “Low Profile” Ball Head is the fast action of the quick release. Simply flip the quick release lever open and slip the camera into the Arca Swiss compatible slot and then close the lever, and you are ready to go.

Sunwayfoto DLC60 Quick Release Lever Clamp

The Sunwayfoto quick release clamp makes it super easy to lock the camera in position.

Note that the Sunwayfoto XB-52 ball head without the “DL” suffix does not have a quick release clamp.

I was so impressed by Mark’s new tripod ball head, and especially the quick release mechanism, that I got one too. It replaced the Benro V2 ball head that had come with my Benro Travel Angel II tripod. The Benro ball head had a knob that had to be unscrewed and screwed back in each time the camera was mounted or dismounted on the tripod, something that got to be a real pain when I wanted to switch between portrait and landscape orientations quickly. It is also not nearly as finely crafted.

Like Mark, I absolutely LOVE the XB-52DL ball head. Even though it is almost 13 ounces heavier than my old Benro ball head, I find it is fast and easy and precise and worth the few extra ounces of carrying weight on a long hike. My tripod can still be strapped onto my Camelback H.A.W.G. hydration pack for those long days of hiking where I want 100 ounces of water along with a second lens, assorted filters, spare battery and SD cards.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ball head on Benro Travel Angel II Tripod Legs carried on a Camelback H.A.W.G

The ultlra strong Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ball head fits comfortably on my Benro tripod legs and can be carried easily with my Camelbak H.A.W.G. hydration pack.

The quick release clamp locking lever has three positions: Open (right), Center, and Closed (left). There is a slide-lock on the lever so you can’t accidentally bump it and risk having your camera fall off the tripod.

The knob opposite the quick release clamp is used to fine-tune the tension, or grip, on the clamp holding the camera’s L-bracket in place. This is an important knob if you have more than one camera body and L-bracket (or other Arca Swiss style plate), because the widths vary ever so slightly.

Sunwayfoto DLC60 Quick Release Lever Clamp

In the “open” position, the camera slips onto the plate.
The knob (top) adjusts the grip on the camera’s L-bracket or plate

When the lever is in the Center position, the locking mechanism is half open and allows the camera to slide from left to right within the range of the stops on the L-Bracket, but is still secure so the camera won’t slide out and fall to the ground.

Sunwayfoto DLC60 Quick Release Lever Clamp

In the “center” position the camera can be slid from side to side on the plate without falling off.

Nikon D810 on Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod with XB-52DL ballhead and PNL-D810R bracket

The camera can be slid about an inch to the left and right while everything else remains in place on the tripod.

When the lever is opened all the way, the camera can be removed for handheld shooting or for switching to the other orientation (portrait or landscape) quickly.

Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp

Mark likes to do panorama shots, so he opted to replace the quick release clamp (or “Lever Release”) plate that comes with the XB-52DL ball head with the DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp instead, because it has a bubble level that indicates whether the series of shots are going to be level with the horizon or are going so go sailing off on some kind of crazy diagonal, ruining the final, stitched image.

Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Lever Release clamp bubble level and tension knob

The optional DDC-60LR lever release has a bubble level which helps with stitching multiple images into one panorama shot.

This is another finely made product that not only makes mounting the camera on the tripod a snap and makes switching from landscape to portrait (with an L-bracket) an absolute breeze, but provides a mechanism for leveling as well.

The primary difference between this quick release clamp and the one that comes with the XB-52DL ball head is that the knob opposite the quick release clamp that is used to adjust the grip tension on the camera’s L-bracket (or other Arca Swiss style plate) is no longer there. It has been replaced by the bubble level. In the absence of this knob, there is a small dial on the plate for adjusting the grip tension instead.

Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Lever Release clamp bubble level and tension knob

The fine tuning grip tension knob is now a dial on the plate itself.

There is a spring that sits against the dial to hold it in place once you set it to your liking. Mark found the spring was a bit loose and the dial would turn a little on its own until he put a drop of Blue Loctite on the threads. In hindsight, he’s found that this has made it difficult to adjust the tension.

Another subtle difference between the Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Quick Lever Release Clamp and the one that comes with the XB-52DL ball head is that the open/closed positions of the quick release lever can be reversed (for left handed people). Simply place the lever in the center position, pull it out slightly, and rotate it. Then the open and closed positions will be in the opposite directions (left to open and right to close).

Our overall impression is that the quick release clamp that comes with the Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ball Head is easier to work with than the DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp because the grip tension adjustment is done with a knob rather than a tiny dial. However, it also has a minor limitation, for those who want to stitch together lots of images for panoramas, that it doesn’t have a bubble level.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod

The tripod legs Mark chose are the Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod legs. This tripod is a thing of beauty, with 8 layers of woven carbon fiber and a one piece CNC machined main structure.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod legs

The Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod has carbon fiber legs.

The leg joints on this tripod have longer (40mm) friction tubes in them than are found on most comparable tripods, which makes a sturdier connection between the leg joints when they are extended. The tripod is rated at a max load of 12KG or 26.5 lbs. which isn’t the beefiest tripod out there, but the legs seem solid enough for the Nikon D810 and big Tamron 150-600 lens.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod leg joints

The legs extend and retract by rotating a knob at each joint.

The only drawback is that the tripod is only 52.5” tall (without the center column extended). Once the XB-52 ball head is attached, it stands 56” high, which is a few inches taller than Mark’s older tripod setup and is almost at eye level for him (he would love for it to be just a few inches taller!).

Another improvement would be to have some foam on at least one of the legs for carrying in cold weather, although foam might start to deteriorate over time, and this tripod looks like it will last a long time.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod with Nikon D810 camera

The tripod is just about at eye level for Mark, but not quite.

The Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod also has a very innovative (patented) leg pivot mechanism. Instead of the typical hex head screw attachment to connect the legs, there is a connector which has a special anti-twisting boss design on one screw head while the other side screws into it with a torx type connecting screw (the Torx wrench is included with the tripod). This prevents the screws from twisting and loosening up inside the leg attachment as the legs are pivoted and moved back and forth to set up. Most Tripods legs need to be tightened frequently with two hex style wrenches.

Mark found that after using this tripod for about a month he actually needed to tighten those screws a bit. He removed the screws and put a drop of Blue Loctite on the threads which helped.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod and XB-52DL ballhead

There are torx screws to keep the leg joints at the top stiff.

One neat feature of the Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod is that the rubber feet on the bottoms of the legs can be unscrewed and removed to expose corrosion resistant Titanium spikes. These spikes plant the tripod firmly in loose conditions. Some of the other hardware used in this tripod is also made of Titanium, which very impressive indeed!

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod titanium feet covers

The rubber feet at the bottom of the tripod legs can be unscrewed.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod titanium feet

Underneath the rubber protection booties, the tripod has titanium points for gripping loose soil.

The center column of the tripod can be removed and replaced with the included short column so you can splay the legs out all the way out for close-to-the-ground macro photography.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod without center column for macro photography

The center column is removable to allow for close-up photography
that is low to the ground.

The Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod also comes with a spring hook that can be put on the bottom of either the long or short center column tube to help weight it down in windy conditions. Mark likes to hang his gear bag on it to keep his pack off of the ground and help steady the tripod.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod with gear bag suspended

You can hang your gear bag on the center hook to weight the tripod down.

The Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod comes packed in a high quality padded carry bag that has carry straps that can be attached to it for hiking. The kit even includes a nice lens cleaning cloth (a cleaning cloth is also provided with the Sunwayfoto XB ball heads).

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod in padded carrying case

The Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod comes with a good quality
padded carrying case.

Sunwayfoto T2C240C Tripod Review

The tripod carrying case has both a shoulder strap and a carrying handle as well as several pockets for small items like spare memory cards and battery.

Sunwayfoto is continuing to perfect their design of this tripod. When it was first introduced, it had only one anti-twist slot or groove in each of the legs, which made it prone to rotating and breaking. This resulted in some unfavorable online reviews of the tripod. The design has been upgraded and now has 2 slots in each leg. 

If you are in the market for a quality tripod kit, the Sunwayfoto ball heads, quick release clamps, L-brackets and tripod legs are a good bang for the buck. All of these are mix-and-match, so if you already have tripod legs you like, as I did, you can simply upgrade the ball head and/or the quick release clamp. Or, go all out like Mark did, and get the whole darn kit!

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ball Head T2C240C Tripod PNL-810R L-Bracket Review

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Happy shooting!!

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Here is a little more manufacturer info about these products and links to buy them:

Here is all the camera gear we use and resources we’ve relied on to learn photography:

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More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU above.

 

B&W Companion OEM Fifth Wheel Hitch Installation – Easy!

The B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch uses the new and very clever “puck” style hitch mounting system that can be ordered with Ram and Ford trucks in their fifth wheel and gooseneck towing prep packages. This truck option has five “pucks” installed in the bed of the truck: four in the corners to mount a fifth wheel hitch and one in the center for a gooseneck.

The new style fifth wheel hitches that are designed for these puck systems stand on four legs that each have a quarter turn locking mechanism at the foot to secure them into the four pucks in the bed of the truck. This allows the hitch to be installed or removed from the bed of the truck easily. When the hitch is removed, the truck bed floor is totally flat and free of obstacles, because there are no hitch rails to get in the way. Ford, GM and Ram have different puck layouts in the beds of their trucks.

When we were going through the process of buying a new Ram 3500 dually truck, we knew we wanted the best of breed fifth wheel hitch that incorporated this new design for our full-time RV lifestyle. After a factory tour of the B&W Trailer Hitches plant in Humboldt, Kansas, we were sold. You can navigate this page using the following links.:

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B&W Trailer Hitches

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B&W hitches have long had a stellar reputation in the RV industry, and when our 36′ Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer was getting a slew of big repairs done at the NuWa factory service center in Chanute, Kansas, (thank goodness for our RV warranty), we discovered B&W Trailer Hitches was just a ways down the road. So we took a factory tour of the plant.

B&W Fifth Wheel Hitches

All of the hitches manufactured by B&W Trailer Hitches are on display at the manufacturing plant.

What struck us more than anything is that B&W Trailer Hitches is a company that cares. They not only turn out a superior product, but they take take care of their employees.

When the RV manufacturing industry went into a steep nose dive in the years following the financial debacle of 2008, many of the employees that had worked at NuWa industries building fifth wheel trailers eventually found employment over at B&W Trailer Hitches as NuWa’s need for workers shrank. And when B&W didn’t have enough work for everyone to do, the company paid their employees to do city maintenance work in their hometown of Humboldt, Kansas.

How cool is that. And how RARE is that?!

Checking out a B&W Fifth wheel hitch

Mark checks out one of the hitches on display at B&W.

We got a taste of just how deeply these community values run when we saw the Biblesta celebration and parade during our visit to Humboldt, Kansas. In an age of political correctness when many people are afraid to express their beliefs publicly, this is a town that has been openly celebrating Christianity in an annual festival for the past 52 years. All the churches in the area — as well as B&W Hitches — have a float in this extraordinary parade. Read our blog post about it here: America’s Heartland – Is It In Humboldt Kansas?

B&W Trailer Hitches Moses Float Biblesta Parade Humboldt Kansas

B&W Trailer Hitches sponsored a float in the Biblesta parade in their hometown of Humboldt, Kansas

B&W Trailer Hitches Float Biblesta Parade Humboldt Kansas

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Founded in 1987 by Joe Walker and Roger Baker as B&W Custom Truck Beds, the company long ago became B&W Trailer Hitches. They still build custom truck beds, but the company has grown and now manufactures many other products.

In 1991, B&W invented the clever turnover ball for gooseneck hitches, and that put them in the forefront of the towing industry. For trucks that have a gooseneck socket in the bed of the truck, the turnover ball gets inserted this socket and a fifth wheel hitch can be installed that latches onto the ball and also onto rails that are installed under the bed of the truck. When the fifth wheel hitch is removed, the turnover ball can be turned over to make the bed of the truck completely flat since the rails for the hitch are under the bed.

This makes the entire bed of the truck available for hauling when the fifth wheel hitch isn’t installed, and it also allows the truck to be set up for either gooseneck or fifth wheel towing really easily. This is handy out in ranch country where one truck might tow a variety of trailers, and also be used to haul big loads.

B&W Hitches factory tour

B&W hitches on the assembly line in Humboldt, Kansas.

The new puck style hitch mount offered by the truck manufacturers is a similar concept. Rather than just one connection point between the 5th wheel hitch and the truck bed in the center, there are four points of contact in the four corners. The four puck system also allows for an even heavier duty weight rating on the biggest fifth wheel hitches, so larger fifth wheel trailers can be towed.

B&W Trailer Hitches is into quality, and one of the things that sets their hitches apart is that they are made from American steel. Since we have dealt with axle and leaf spring problems on our trailer several times over the last year, we have come to realize just what a huge difference there is between Chinese made steel and American steel. When it comes to something that puts your life on the line because it is carrying heavy loads, American made steel is the only way to go.

B&W Fifth wheel hitch bases stacked up at factory

Stacks of B&W fifth wheel hitch bases (these are not the new puck style base)

Another hallmark of quality in B&W hitches is that the nuts holding the hitch base to the truck are castle nuts. This means you can lock them with a sheer pin so they don’t back out.

Also, just about everything at B&W Trailer Hitches is done in-house. That way, they can retool the assembly line easily, as needed, for instance, if they improve the design or the puck layout is changed by the truck manufacturers.

B&W Fifth wheel hitch heads stacked up at factory

Stacks of fifth wheel hitch couplers (the top part of the hitch).

Lots of metal shavings are generated in the production of hitches on the B&W assembly lines. We were impressed that B&W recycles all the metal shavings at Missouri Metals. Very green!

Metal shavings from B&W Hitches recycled at Missouri Metals

B&W recycles all the metal shavings from their production lines

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B&W Companion Fifth Wheel Assembly and Installation

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We chose the 25,000 lb. B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch. This is way overkill for our 14,100 lb. trailer, but our goal in our whole truck-and-hitch upgrade was to be able to tow our fifth wheel effortlessly. It also gives us options down the road in case a day comes when we want to replace our trailer with something bigger or beefier.

The whole installation of the B&W Companion OEM 5th wheel hitch could easily be done right in the bed of the truck, but we we got the hitch before we got our truck! So, we did it in two stages. First we assembled the hitch in a friend’s garage. This took 40 minutes. Then, once we got our new truck, we installed the hitch in the bed of the truck. This second stage took 20 minutes because we needed to fine tune the mating of the four pucks and the four legs. In the future, lifting the hitch in and out of the truck bed will take just a few minutes.

So, it’s about a one hour DIY job to install a B&W Companion 5th wheel hitch right out of the box. That’s a huge improvement over paying the fifth wheel dealership to do a two hour installation like we did when we installed our first fifth wheel hitch in our first truck!

These are the tools for the project:

Our B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch was shipped to our friend’s house by UPS. It came in two boxes.

UPS Delivers B&W Companion Fifth Wheel hitch

Exciting day — UPS delivers our hitch!

There is a base and a head (or coupler) and assorted parts. We laid them all out to get a look at them.

B&W Fifth wheel hitch assembly pieces

We lay out all the parts and the instructions.

There is a one page installation instruction sheet that comes with the kit (also available online here). There’s also a sticker on the hitch base with instructions for mounting the hitch’s two parts into the truck bed.

Instructions on B&W Companion fifth wheel hitch

The orange sticker on the hitch base has instructions for mounting the hitch in the truck bed.
The sticker faces the truck cab.

The first step is to install the big triangular pivot arms that support the hitch coupler (the top part of the hitch). The orientation of these triangular pieces depends on the placement of the hitch over the axles, which varies by truck model. In the case of the Ram 3500 dually long bed, they are oriented so the shallower slope goes towards the cab of the truck.

The hitch has a big orange sticker on the side that faces the cab, so the shallow slope of the pivot arms faces that sticker.

B&W Fifth wheel hitch assembly

The shallow sloping side of the pivot arm faces the truck cab in our installation.
The pivot arm orientation varies with the type of truck bed.

There are four pairs of lock washer and bolts, two for each pivot arm. There are five possible holes, so you can set the height of the pivot arm higher or lower, which will change the gap spacing between the overhang of the fifth wheel trailer and the sides of the truck bed. We chose the middle setting for starters.

Bolts locking nuts and plates for B&W Companion Fifth wheel hitch

The pivot arms are attached using these parts.

The bolts and lock washers screw into the threaded block an the back side of the pivot arms.

B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch assembly

Use a socket and ratchet to tighten the bolts.

Assembling a B&W Companion fifth wheel hitch

The bolts screw into a threaded block plate on the back side.

Assembling a B&W Companion fifth wheel hitch

Mark bolts the pivot arm to the threaded block plate

The next step is to install the wire torsion spring on the flange on the driver’s side pivot arm that is closest to the truck cab.

B&W Companion fifth wheel hitch parts

The wire torsion spring is next.

The mounting clip (below the spring in the photo above) is attached to the spring. Then the spring is installed so there is 1/2″ of clearance between the top of the spring and the bottom of the rubber bumper on the pivot arm. A few taps with a small hammer secured the clip onto the flange.

Tap the pin into place B&W Companion 5th wheel hitch

Tap the spring into place with a small hammer

Measure distance to pin B&W Companion 5th wheel hitch installation

The spring must be 1/2″ from the bottom of the rubber bumper
on the pivot arm.

Now the pivot arms are fully installed on the hitch base.

B&W Companion 5th wheel hitch assembly

The two pivot arms are in place (photo is prior to mounting the torsion spring).

The next step was to put the hitch head — the coupler — onto the hitch base and install its handle and three safety pins.

5th wheel Hitch assembly

The coupler (top of the hitch), seen upside down here, is next.

We lubricated the rubber bumpers on the tops of the pivot arms with CRC Lithium Grease.

Grease the 5th wheel hitch assembly

Spray some grease onto the rubber bumpers

Then, holding the coupler by the two saddle handles on either side, Mark placed the coupler onto the hitch base. When you set the coupler down on the base, press down on the handles to secure it.

Mount B&W Companion 5th wheel hitch head on base

Set the coupler on the base and press down on the handles to secure it

The coupler rests on the hitch base. Saddle locking pins under the two saddle handles prevent it from lifting up. A “hairpin” holds the saddle locking pin in place.

Fifth wheel hitch head chain link

A saddle locking pin prevents the coupler from lifting off the base.
It’s held in place with a hairpin (cotter pin) that is under Mark’s fingers in this photo.

Next, the coupler cam handle gets installed onto the coupler.

B&W Companion 5th wheel handle installation

Install the coupler cam handle onto the coupler

The handle is secured to the coupler with two button head cap screws (tightened with a 7/32″ allen wrench), and it is held closed (or open) with the coupler’s cam handle safety pin.

B&W Companion fifth wheel handle assembly

Two button head cap screws and a the cam handle safety pin do the trick.

B&W Companion 5th wheel hitch locking clevis pin

The cam handle safety pin.

Then lube the inside of the hitch jaws with Lucas Oil X-tra Heavy Duty Grease or a similar automotive chassis grease.

Greasing the jaws of the fifth wheel hitch

Grease the inside of the jaw so the trailer’s king pin can turn smoothly inside.

B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch

Done!

Nice work, guys. 40 minutes by the clock! (I’m glad I was just the camera woman!)

Completed assembly of B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch

Now all we need is a truck!
(Continued below…)

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Installing the B&W Companion OEM 5th Wheel Hitch in the Truck Bed

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As mentioned above, all of these assembly and installation steps could have been done in the truck bed, but we did not have our truck yet, and we were excited to get started and work on the hitch in the meantime.

Finally our truck arrived and we had a blast with Alice Cooper as part of the purchase!

The gooseneck / fifth wheel hitch tow prep package puck system in our Ram 3500 dually truck was ready for the hitch installation.

Tow prep package puck system Dodge Ram 3500 Dually truck

The gooseneck / fifth wheel tow prep package has five pucks in the bed of the truck.
Fifth wheel hitches use the outer four pucks.

Mark and his buddy lifted the hitch base into the truck bed. Back in our article about our truck, a reader noted that he hoists his fifth wheel hitch in and out of his truck bed using a hydraulic lift table. If you are going to be moving the fifth wheel hitch in and out of your truck bed a lot, and you have the garage space, and you don’t have a strong, strapping friend at your beck and call to help you, this seems like a super idea.

The 25,000 lb. B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch has the following weights:

  • Hitch base – 131 lbs.
  • Coupler – 75 lbs.
Placing the B&W fifth wheel hitch in the bed of a pickup truck

The hitch base is placed in the bed of the truck.

Each foot of the base required a little adjustment to fit properly into the truck’s pucks. This was done by loosening and tightening the cap screws on the pilot assemblies on each foot.

Installing B&W Companion OEM fifh wheel hitch in truck bed

Each puck requires some small adjustments the first time.

Then the tension in the latch handle was set by adjusting the height of the castle nut. We used needle nose pliers to remove the cotter pin and then reinstall it and bend the end once the castle nut height adjustment was set.

Bending the sheer pin

A sheer pin prevents the castle nut from backing out.

It took a little pushing and shoving to get everything in place, but these are one-time adjustments. The latch handles could now be opened and closed easily.

B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch leg and puck in truck bed

Hitch latch handle in the open position.

B&W Companion OEM 5th Wheel Hitch levers in locked position

Hitch latch handle in the closed position.

The B&W Companion hitch base was now installed in the bed of the truck.

B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel in truck bed

The base is installed and all four latch handles have been adjusted to open and close easily.

Next, the hitch head (the “coupler”) was set on the hitch base. The two saddle handles were pushed down and the saddle lock pin was put in place.

Placing fifth wheel hitch head on base in bed of truck

The coupler is placed on top of the hitch base.

Ta da!! The B&W Companion OEM 5th Wheel Hitch is installed in the truck and ready for use.

Installation of B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch

The B&W Companion OEM 5th wheel hitch is completely installed!
This view (above photo) is looking towards the tailgate.

Installing a B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch

This view is looking towards the truck cab.

Great job, guys. Thanks!!

B&W Companion OEM Fifth Wheel Hitch installation on Ram 3500 Dually truck

Hey, can I have a beer too?

Celebrations behind us, the next day we hitched the new truck up to our fifth wheel trailer and took our home on a joy ride up and down some nice long 7% grades nearby. What a combo!!!

Prior to hitching the truck to the trailer the first time, we cleaned the hitch plate on the trailer and lubed both that and the coupler plate on the B&W hitch with CRC silicone spray.

We ended up adjusting the pivot arms down one notch, and that seems right for our particular truck and trailer.

Dodge Ram 3500 Dually truck B&W Companion Fifth Wheel OEM Hitch

We adjusted the height of the pivot pins by one notch to get the distance between the sides of the truck and the fifth wheel overhang right.

Stay tuned for more posts on hitching and unhitching with the new Ram auto-leveling system and for our report on just what we think of this mighty towing combo after a few thousand miles of towing.

Where can you get a B&W Companion OEM 5th Wheel Hitch? At these links:

The following info is FYI for those whose truck does not have a Puck System in the bed.

The Gooseneck Turnover Ball hitch is one option which allows you to have a totally flat truck bed when the hitch is removed. The other option is to go with the traditional rail mounted Patriot fifth wheel hitch.

B&W Gooseneck Turnover Ball Hitches:

Unlike the Puck System hitches, the Gooseneck Turnover Ball hitches require installing the Gooseneck Turnover Ball in the bed of the truck with rails mounted underneath. So, each truck bed in each model year has a different kit. The B&W Companion Hitch that mounts onto the Gooseneck Turnover Ball in the bed of the truck comes in two flavors: long bed and short bed (slider hitch).

Gooseneck Turnover Ball Companion Hitches (these are the “couplers” or actual hitches):

Gooseneck Turnover Ball Mounting Kits (the under-bed rail system and gooseneck turnover ball itself):

B&W Traditional Rail Mounted Patriot Hitches:

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More info about the B&W Companion Hitches and our truck and trailer:

Dodge Ram 3500 dually truck with B&W Companion OEM Fifth Wheel Hitch in the bed

The B&W Companion OEM 5th Wheel Hitch connects our Ram 3500 Dually truck
to our NuWa Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer.

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Dodge Ram 3500 Dually Truck – Best RV Fifth Wheel Trailer Towing

Choosing a truck to pull a trailer is a critical decision for RVers, because getting there, and particularly getting there safely, is the first and most important part of enjoying the RV lifestyle! Towing specs and towing guidelines always give the outer limits of what a truck can safely tow. Too often, in towing situations, the trailer is a little too big for the truck, or the truck is a little too small for the trailer, pushing the truck right to its outer safety limits or beyond.

2016 Ram 3500 dually diesel truck

The 2016 Ram 3500 Dually is an awesomely powerful truck for towing big and heavy trailers

The truck-trailer combo may be just a little out of spec on paper, so it may seem okay, like you can get away with it, but it is a really unwise decision. Not only is it absolutely no fun to drive a truck that is screaming its little heart out to tow the load its tied to, but if you have an accident and it is determined your truck was towing a load that is beyond its safety limits, you will be liable.

Heaven forbid that there is a fatality in the accident — either yours or someone else’s. There are lots of horror stories out there of people’s lives that were transformed because someone decided not to get a truck that could tow their trailer safely.

Of course, truck and trailer salesmen don’t help. We have heard time and again, “That truck is fine for this trailer,” or “This trailer will be no problem for that truck.” Don’t listen to them! Trust your instincts and your gut feelings. If you are studying the specs and are nervous that your truck *might* be too small because your trailer puts it on the hairy edge of its specs, then you need a bigger truck or a smaller trailer.

2016 Ram 3500 diesel pickup dually truck

We have been amazed at the huge difference between our old 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 Single Rear Wheel and this new 2016 Ram 3500 dually

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Sizing a Truck and Trailer for Safe Towing

This article covers all the specifications we studied and were concerned about when we placed the order for our 2016 Ram 3500 truck to tow our 14,100 lb. 5th wheel trailer. You can navigate to the various sections with these links:

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The Trade-In – 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 Single Rear Wheel Long Bed diesel truck with 6.7 liter Cummins engine

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When we bought our 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 Single Rear Wheel long bed diesel truck with the 6.7 liter Cummins engine, its purpose was to tow a 7,000 lb. (fully loaded) 2007 Fleetwood Lynx travel trailer. Our 2004 Toyota Tundra (4.7 liter engine) had been okay to tow that trailer on paper, but when we took it on its first mountain excursion up and over Tioga Pass on the eastern side of Yosemite in California, it could not go faster than 28 mph with the gas pedal all the way to the floor. What a scary, white knuckle drive that was. Who needs that?

2004 Toyota Tundra towing 2007 Fleetwood Lynx Travel Trailer 27'

Our ’04 Toyota Tundra half-ton pickup rests as it tries to tow our 27′ travel trailer over Tioga Pass… sigh.

We replaced the Toyota Tundra with a 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 which was rated to tow much bigger trailers than the little Lynx travel trailer, so all was good with that small travel trailer. However, within a year, we upgraded our trailer from the lightweight Fleetwood Lynx to a full-time quality, four season, 36′ NuWa Hitchhiker LS II fifth wheel trailer that the scales told us was 14,100 lbs. fully loaded. Suddenly, our big beefy diesel truck was at its outer limits!

Dodge Ram 3500 towing a fifth wheel trailer boondocking

Our ’07 Dodge Ram 3500 tows our 36′ 14k lb. fifth wheel trailer

We drove our ’07 Dodge Ram 3500 and 36′ fifth wheel combo for seven years without a mishap, but it was not an ideal situation. The truck would strain in the mountains and would wander in strong cross winds on the highway. We installed a K&N Cold Air Intake Filter and an Edge Evolution Diesel tuner which helped the engine breathe better and increased its power (see our Edge Evolution Tuner Review), and we installed a Timbren Suspension Enhancement System to keep the truck from sagging when hitched to the trailer. But the frame of the truck and the transmission were still stressed by the heavy load on steep inclines.

We wanted a truck that was well within its towing limits and that could tow our trailer effortlessly.

TRUCK and TRAILER WEIGHT RATINGS

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The weight ratings for trucks and trailers are an alphabet soup of confusion that takes a little imagination to grasp. Here’s a synopsis:

UVW Unloaded Vehicle Weight The weight of the vehicle without fuel, people and stuff
GVWR Gross Vehicle Weight Rating The heaviest weight the vehicle can safely be when it is loaded up with fuel, people and stuff
GCWR Gross Combined Weight Rating The most a truck-and-trailer combo can safely weigh when hitched together and loaded up with people, fuel, food, etc
Payload The GVWR less the UVW The amount of weight the truck can safely carry. Compare to the trailer’s Pin Weight
PW Pin Weight The actual weight on the truck’s rear axle when a trailer is hitched up. Compare to the Payload

The Pin Weight is most easily visualized by first imagining yourself standing on a bathroom scale and making a note of your weight. Then your teenage kid walks up and puts his arms around your neck and hangs on your shoulder. The weight on the scale goes up a little bit, but not a huge amount, because your kid is still standing on the floor on his own two feet. The more he leans on you, the more weight the scale shows.

The difference between the weight the scale shows when your kid is hanging on your shoulder and the weight it shows when you’re by yourself is the “pin weight.” In the case of you and your kid, the “pin weight” might be 30 lbs.

5th wheel trailer and Ram 3500 dually truck hitched up towing

The Pin Weight is the weight of the trailer at the hitch pin, a value that has to be calculated.

The following chart shows the factory safety weight ratings given by Chrysler and NuWa and the actual weights for our ’07 Dodge Ram 3500 truck and ’07 36′ NuWa Hitchhiker 5th Wheel trailer. We had our rig weighed by the Escapees Smart Weigh program at their North Ranch RV Park in Wickenburg, Arizona. This is a detailed, wheel by wheel, RV specific method of weighing.

Our truck, when loaded, carries fuel, 24 gallons of water, a generator and BBQ, the fifth wheel hitch, several leveling boards, two huge bins of “stuff” and ourselves, as well as the pin weight of the trailer. So, even though the pin weight itself was within tolerance on our ’07 Dodge 3500, all that other stuff made the truck way overweight. Moving those things to the trailer would clog our fifth wheel basement and would just make the trailer way overweight instead.

2007 Dodge Ram 3500 SRW (Single Rear Wheel) Truck

UVW GVWR GCWR Payload/Pin Weight
Rating 7,147 10,100 21,000 2,953
Actual 8,025* 10,850 22,125 2,850

* LOADED with passengers, fuel and cargo but not towing

2007 NuWa Hitchhiker 34.5 RLTG Fifth Wheel Trailer

UVW GVWR
Rating 10,556 13,995
Actual 14,100
2016 Ram 3500 dually diesel truck payload is 6,000 lbs

Besides the pin weight, our truck carries spare water, a heavy hitch, leveling boards, and generator.
And there’s more stuff plus ourselves in the cab!

We improved our trailer’s cargo carrying capacity by upgrading from E rated tires to G rated tires and by revamping the suspension completely (I have not yet written about that project). So, even though some elements of the trailer frame are still at the spec limit, we have some leeway with our trailer in those places where the rubber meets the road.

The truck, however, was over its limit for both GVWR and GCWR, and it was pushed nearly to its max when towing.

The 2007 Ram 3500 towing guide is here: 2007 Dodge Ram Trucks Towing Guide. Our truck is on p. 20, on the 2nd to last line. Search for this text: “D1 8H42 (SRW)” (you can copy and paste it from here).

 

DIESEL TRUCKS ON THE MARKET

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There are three brands of big diesel pickup trucks on the market: Chevy/GMC, Ford and Dodge. People have lots of brand loyalty when it comes to diesel trucks, and the bottom line is it’s pointless to get into a religious war over truck manufacturers. That said, the following are our personal opinions and there is no offense intended to anyone who loves a particular brand.

GMC makes the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra which both have the Chevy Duramax 6.6 liter engine and the Allison transmission. The Allison transmission is widely used throughout the commercial trucking industry and is considered to be the best.

FORD makes the Super Duty series of trucks which have Ford built engines and transmissions. Ford has modified its Power Stroke engine several times since the early 2000’s. The current engine is a 6.7 liter engine and it has performed well. Earlier models, the 6.0 liter engine and 6.4 liter engine, both had significant problems and were less reliable.

CHRYSLER makes the Ram series of trucks which have the Cummins 6.7 liter engine and Aisin transmission. The Cummins engine is widely used throughout the commercial trucking industry and is considered to be the best.

With the late model Ram trucks there are two models of 6 speed automatic transmissions to choose from. The 68RFE transmission was the only one available for our ’07 Dodge, and we found it developed problems over time (before our installation of the K&N Cold Air Intake and Edge tuner). It stuttered on climbs and didn’t always shift smoothly. The new (in 2013) Aisin AS69RC transmission is much more rugged and reliable and is now available as an option in the Ram Trucks lineup.

Dodge Ram 3500 diesel dually truck

All three big diesel truck brands are good. After much research and many test drives, we chose the Ram 3500.

PICKUP TRUCK SIZES

All trucks are categorized into eight weight classes, from Class 1 (lightest) to Class 8 (heaviest) according to their GVWR. Pickup trucks fall into the smallest (lowest) three classes:

Class GVWR
Class 1 0 – 6,000 lbs
Class 2 6,001 – 10,000 lbs
Class 3 10,001 – 14,000 lbs

All three classes of pickups are referred to as “light duty” trucks, as compared to dump trucks and semi tractor-trailers in the higher “medium duty” and “heavy duty” classes. Within the pickup truck market, however, they are referred to as “Pickups” (Class 1), “Full Size Pickups” (Class 2) and “Heavy Duty Pickups” (Class 3). So, even though a large diesel pickup is marketed as “heavy duty,” it is not technically a heavy duty truck. It’s just a heavy duty pickup. This may be obvious to many, but sure had me confused at first glance.

When we were first time truck buyers shopping for a truck to pull our popup tent trailer, the advertising made the ’04 Toyota Tundra look like it was a heavy duty towing monster that could pull a mountain right across a valley. But it is not so! Pickups come in all sizes.

Dodge Ram truck grill and Toyota Tundra truck grill

Toyota Tundra and Ram 3500 — Which one is the towing monster?

Pickup truck sizes are referred to as “half-ton” “three-quarter ton” and “one ton,” and they are numbered accordingly:

Size Ford Chevy/Dodge
Half-ton 150 1500
Three-quarter ton 250 2500
One ton 350 3500

Ford also mass markets 450, 550 and larger pickups. Some people make custom Chevy and Dodge trucks in those sizes too, but they don’t come from the factories that way.

2016 Ram 3500 dually diesel truck with fifth wheel trailer at campground

Ensuring the tow ratings of the truck are well beyond the actual weight of the trailer is essential.

For reference, a ton is 2,000 lbs. The truck naming convention comes from the original payloads these trucks could carry when they were first introduced decades ago. Back in those days, a half-ton truck could carry 1,000 lbs. (half a ton) in the bed of the truck. A three-quarter ton could carry 1,500 lbs and a big one ton truck could carry 2,000 lbs.

In 1918 Chevy had a very cute half-ton pickup that was basically a car with sturdy rear springs. By the mid-1930’s pickups came with factory installed box style beds, and a 1937 Chevy half-ton truck went on a 10,245 mile drive around the US with a 1,060 lb. load in the bed. It got 20.74 miles to the gallon!

As the payload capacities increased, the manufacturers assigned model numbers that corresponded to the weights the trucks could carry. But technology advances never quit!

2016 Ram 3500 dually and 36' fifth wheel trailer RV

Our 2016 Ram 3500 dually can tow this trailer with one hand tied behind its back.

Since those early times, truck and engine designs have improved dramatically, and the payloads modern trucks can carry now is significantly higher. For instance, the payload of a 2016 Toyota Tundra, a half-ton truck, is 1,430 to 2,060 lbs., depending on the options, making it essentially a “one ton” truck. The payload of a 2016 Dodge Ram diesel can be as high as 6,170 lbs. (and even higher for the gas HEMI version), making the 3500 model more of a “three ton” truck than a one ton.

In the modern trucks, the major difference between a three quarter ton 250/2500 truck and a one ton 350/3500 truck is the beefiness in the rear end suspension for supporting a heavy payload, that is, the number of leaf springs on the rear axle. In our opinion, if you are going to spend the money to buy a three quarter ton truck for towing purposes, you might as well spend the tiny incremental extra few bucks to buy a one ton.

LONG BED vs. SHORT BED PICKUPS

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Pickups come with more than one bed size. A “short bed” truck has a box that is a little over 6′ long and a “long bed” truck has a box that is around 8′ long. When a fifth wheel hitch is installed in the bed of a pickup, it is placed so the king pin of the fifth wheel will be over the rear axle. In a short bed truck this leaves less distance between the hitch and the back of the pickup cab than in a long bed truck.

The advantage of a short bed truck is that the two axles are closer together, so the truck can make tighter turns. This is really handy in parking lots and when making u-turns. The truck also takes up less space when it’s parked, again, a big advantage in parking lots.

2016 Ram 3500 diesel truck dually

A long bed truck is less maneuverable when it’s not towing but is preferable for towing a fifth wheel trailer

However, when towing a fifth wheel trailer, there is a risk that the front of the fifth wheel cap will hit the back of the pickup cab when making a tight turn. For this reason, there are special sliding fifth wheel hitches, and some 5th wheel manufacturers make the fifth wheel cap very pointy and even concave on the sides so there’s room enough to ensure the pickup cab doesn’t touch the fifth wheel cap on tight turns.

The advantage of a long bed truck is that not only can it carry more and bigger things in the bed of the truck, but when it is hitched to a fifth wheel trailer, doing a tight turn will not risk the front of the fifth wheel hitting the back of the truck cab.

Also, you can open and close the tailgate when the fifth wheel trailer is hitched up. We can actually walk from one side of our trailer to the other through the gap that’s between the open tailgate and the front of the trailer, even when the truck is cocked in a tight turn.

A long bed truck allows the tailgate to be open when hitched to a fifth wheel trailer

With a long bed, the truck can be at a sharp angle to the trailer and still have the tailgate open.

For folks that use their pickup primarily in non-towing situations and take their fiver out for just a few weekends a year (and stay close to home), a short bed truck is fine. However, in our opinion, if you are going to tow a large fifth wheel frequently, and especially if you are a seasonal or full-time RVer traveling longer distances, a long bed truck is the way to go.

We bought a long bed as our first diesel truck for our little travel trailer, knowing we might eventually get a fifth wheel, even though it takes much more real estate to back a travel trailer into a parking spot with a long bed truck that it does with a short bed truck (because the pivot point on a travel trailer is behind the bumper rather than over the truck axle, forcing the front end to swing exceedingly wide to make a turn).

When we use our truck as a daily driver, even though we always have to park away from the crowd and walk a little further, and we sometimes struggle making u-turns and maneuvering in tight spaces (it takes nearly four lanes to do a U-turn in a long bed pickup without the trailer attached), we have never once regretted having a long bed truck.

SINGLE REAR WHEEL vs. DUAL REAR WHEEL (DUALLY)

In the one ton class of trucks (Ford 350, Chevy/Dodge 3500), there is an additional consideration: single wheels on the rear axle of the truck (“single rear wheel”) or two pairs (“dual rear wheel” or “dually”).

The advantages of a single rear wheel truck are:

  • Only 4 tires to maintain instead of 6
  • Changing a flat will never involve accessing an inner tire under the truck
  • No wide rear fender to worry about at toll booths and drive-through bank windows and fast food windows
  • Easy to jump in and out of the bed of the truck from the side using the rear wheel as a foothold
  • Can handle rough two track roads better because the rear wheels fit neatly into the ruts
  • Gets traction on slick ice, snow and muddy roads better than a dually

The advantages of a dual rear wheel truck (“dually”) are:

  • Wider stance supporting the weight of the king pin (or bumper hitch)
  • Can carry a heavier payload — heavier trailer pin weight and/or bigger slide-in truck camper
  • Much safer if there’s a blowout on one of the rear wheels, and you can still drive (for a while)
2016 Ram 3500 dually diesel and 14K lb. fifth wheel trailer

A dually has a wider stance, providing more stability, and it can handle much more weight in the bed of the truck.

Why do you need to get in and out of the truck bed from the side? Climbing in on the tailgate is great, and there is a very handy foothold at the license plate mount on the 2016 model that is low enough for a short person to reach easily. However, when the truck is hitched to the fifth wheel, it’s not possible to climb in from the tailgate, and sometimes we need to get into the bed of the truck when the fiver is attached!

For instance, we keep 22 gallons of spare water in the bed of the truck in 5.5-gallon jerry jugs. I’m the one who holds the hose in the jugs while Mark goes to the other end of the hose and turns the water on or off at the spigot. We could switch roles, but I like that job!

When we’re hitched up, I have to get into the bed of the truck from the side to get to the water jugs. I plant one foot on the rear tire, and I hoist myself up and over the side. Getting over that fat fender is not so easy with the dually!

When hitching/unhitching, Mark also reaches over the side of the truck to loop the emergency break-away brake cable from the trailer onto the hitch in the truck bed. That way, if the trailer comes unhitched as we’re driving, the quick yank on the small cable (as the trailer breaks free) will engage the trailer’s own brakes as we wave it goodbye behind us.

Obviously, for both of these maneuvers, the width of the dually fender makes reaching into the bed of the truck a whole lot harder. Doing these things on a single rear wheel truck is trifling by comparison!

RESEARCHING SINGLE REAR WHEEL vs DUALLY TRUCKS

Our biggest debate was whether or not we should simply buy a new single rear wheel truck that had the latest engine and drive-train and chassis improvements or if we should take the plunge and get a dually. We do occasional research online, but our preferred method of learning about things in the RV world is to talk to experienced people in person, especially since we are out and about all day long and we enjoy meeting new people.

So, we interviewed every single dually truck owner that we ever saw. For two years! Whenever we saw a dually parked somewhere, we’d look around to see if the owner was anywhere nearby. If so, we’d walk up and ask him about his truck.

Did he like it? What did he tow with it? How long had he had it? Was it his first dually? Did he have trouble maneuvering in tight quarters? Had he towed that same trailer with a single rear wheel truck? How did they compare?

Diesel dually Ram 3500 pickup

We asked lots of people how their dually performed compared to a one ton single rear wheel long bed truck towing the same heavy trailer.

To our astonishment, although we searched for two years for a person who had towed the same large fifth wheel trailer with both a dually and a single rear wheel truck, and we talked to dozens of dually truck owners who had towed all kinds of trailers, we found only one who had towed the same fifth wheel trailer with both styles of truck.

This guy was a rancher with several big cattle and horse trailers as well as a 40′ toy hauler fifth wheel. He’d been towing comparable trailers with single rear wheel long bed trucks for over twenty years. Three years ago he’d switched to a dually, and he said the difference for his toy hauler was night and day. He’d never go back.

Another fellow told us the ranch he worked on had both single rear wheel and dually trucks and that the duallies were used exclusively for the big trailers because they were better tow vehicles.

Fender flare 2016 Ram 3500 dually pickup truck

We LOVED the new, sleek styling on the Ram duallies.
Our biggest questions: is the wide dually fender flare a pain? How does it do at toll booths and drive-through windows?

This was very convincing, but an interesting side tid-bit we learned is that many folks go either dually or single rear wheel when they buy their first diesel truck for a big trailer, and they stick with that type of truck when they replace it. Guys love their trucks, so we heard few complaints, but when folks raved about how their single rear wheel or dually was the ultimate towing machine and that they’d never switch, when pressed for details, we found they didn’t have first-hand experience using the two different types of trucks to tow the same large trailer.

For those looking to conduct their own research, in addition to talking with ranchers and horse owners, one of the best sources of information we found was the trailer transport drivers who drive their own personal trucks to tow both large RV and horse trailers from the manufacturers to the dealerships where they are sold..

 

TEST DRIVES and CHOOSING A TRUCK BRAND

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Our questions would have all been answered in a heartbeat if we could have hitched our trailer onto a dually sitting in a truck dealership lot and towed it up a mountain and on a few back roads. However, that wasn’t possible.

Perhaps in the future, because of the fantastic new hitch puck systems that can be factory installed in pickups these days, dealerships will decide to keep one of the nifty B&W OEM fifth wheel hitches on hand for prospective customers to do just that (if they can sort out the liability and insurance issues).

Ultimately, we held out on the dually versus single rear wheel decision until the very end, but we knew inside that if we did buy a new truck it would probably be a dually. So every test drive we did was with a dually truck.

We took all three brands of pickups out on over 200 miles of test drives at 25 or so dealerships.

Ram 3500 dually pickup diesel

Going for test drives is lots of fun and is the best way to learn the product

Dealing with Slick Salesmen

A reader wrote me recently to say he was intimidated by the sales tactics at car dealerships, so he was reluctant to do many test drives or much dealership research. That is a real shame, because the only way to learn about trucks is to spend time with them, test drive them, sit in them, crawl underneath, study what’s under the hood, read the marketing literature, and hound the salesmen with questions.

After all, the salesmen are there to teach you what you need to know about the product, and if they don’t sell you a truck today, they are helping another salesman (or themselves) sell you a truck tomorrow. What goes around comes around, and any good salesman understands that. You can easily deflect the high pressure sales tactics by saying, “We are starting our search and just want to do a test drive today. We won’t be ready to buy for a few months.”

Where to Do a Test Drive? Where to Buy?

The best places to find knowledgeable diesel truck salesmen and buy big diesel trucks, especially duallies, is in cattle ranching country. As we scoured dealerships from San Diego to Maine and from Sarasota to the Tetons, we found urban areas generally have few big trucks on the lot and the salesmen know very little about diesel trucks. Cattle ranchers, horse owners and big commercial farmers know their trucks, and so do the salesmen they work with.

Dually Ram 3500 truck and 5th wheel trailer camping

The most knowledgeable truck salesmen are in places where people need and use big trucks — a lot!

Our first test drives were focused on the turning radius and maneuverability of a dually truck as compared to the single rear wheel truck we knew so well. It was hard to tell, but the turning radius seemed to be the same or better (and we now feel the 2016 Ram dually definitely turns tighter) than our old 2007 single rear wheel Ram.

As for general maneuverability, Mark didn’t notice a whole lot of difference driving a dually versus our single wheel truck. Frankly, owning a long bed diesel truck period means you have to park in the back 40 and walk long distances anyway, so we soon realized that dealing with a dually in parking lots would be no different.

We did one round of comparative test drives on the uphill entrance ramp to an interstate in Baker City, Oregon. We visited each truck dealership in town, and when we did our test drives, we floored each dually truck on the incline to see how powerful it felt. The 2015 Chevy won by a long shot, against the Ford and Dodge 2015 models, but did not feel as powerful as our single rear wheel ’07 Dodge Ram (at that point our truck had the K&N Cold Air Intake and Timbrens but did not have the Edge Evolution Diesel tuner).

Fifth wheel trailer and Ram 3500 diesel dually truck at campground

Our trailer snuggles up to its new companion, a 2016 Ram 3500 dually

Deciding Factor – The Cummins Engine

In the end, the deciding factor for us for choosing a brand was the Cummins engine. This was true when we were researching our ’07 single rear wheel truck and again when researching the 2013-2016 duallies. Lots of people wish they could buy a pickup with both the Cummins engine and an Allison transmission in one brand of truck, a combo that is on many commercial trucks. But that’s not possible.

For us, the simplicity of the inline 6 cylinder Cummins engine (as compared to the more complex V8 engines in the Chevy and Ford) along with the longer stroke (inherently higher torque) makes a lot of sense. Inline engines are used commercially in big rigs and tractors, and the 6.7 liter Cummins engine has a long and solid track record, not just in Ram trucks but in many commercial applications as well. The Cummins quality control and manufacturing seem to be top notch.

Here is a fantastic video showing a Cummins engine being built:

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HORSEPOWER, TORQUE, TOWING and PAYLOAD CAPACITY OF THE 2016 DODGE RAM DUALLY

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Amazingly, with each passing year, the payload and towing capacity of each brand of truck jumps higher. From the time we started test driving duallies in 2013 until we placed our order for our new 2016 Ram 3500, the horsepower and torque across all three brands increased, and the towing and payload capacities climbed too.

Built with the right options, the 2016 Ram 3500 diesel truck has an eye-popping, 385 horsepower and 900 ft-lbs. of torque with a GCWR of 39,100 lbs. It can tow a trailer weighing 31,210 lbs. and has a max payload of 6,720 lbs.

This is absolutely astonishing, and neither the Chevy nor the Ford trucks match that torque right now.

Accurate comparisons between brands are challenging within the same model classes, however, because there are different standards for making measurements. Ram Trucks uses the SAE J2807 standards, while other manufacturers don’t. Also, we were able to locate Ford’s towing and payload capacity charts online (see the links at the bottom of the page), but did not locate a similar chart for GM.

Some of the head-to-head tests between the brands that are posted online are also a little misleading, because, for instance, a Ram 3500 is pitted against a Ford F450. Even though both of those models are Class 3 trucks (10,001 to 14,000 lbs GVWR), one would expect the Ram 3500 to compete head to head with the Ford F350, not the Ford F450.

Ram 3500 dually truck_

Best in Show

Here are the towing and payload capacities of the many models of Dodge Ram trucks:

2016 Towing and Payload Capacities of Ram Trucks

The one we ordered is on the last line of the second section on the fifth page. Search for this text: “CREW CAB LONG BOX, 4X4, DRW

AISIN TRANSMISSION

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As mentioned above, the Ram trucks are sold with two options for the transmission. After our troubles with the old 68RFE transmission in our ’07 Dodge Ram 3500, we wanted the new and better one, the AISIN AS69RC. In the Ram Trucks marketing literature, the 6.7 liter Cummins engine is paired with the AISIN AS69RC transmission to make their “High Output Engine” because it delivers max torque at the low end for heavy towing situations. This combo became available in 2013.

RV boondocking fifth wheel trailer Quartzsite Arizona

“High Output” engines on Ram Trucks pair the Cummins 6.7 liter engine with the Aisin AS69RC transmission

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REAR AXLE GEAR RATIO

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The rear axle gearing on a pickup determines the GCWR for the truck (the maximum safe weight of truck and trailer hitched together and fully loaded) and the maximum weight trailer that the truck can tow safely. It also makes a huge difference in how the truck drives, both while towing and not towing.

Rear axle gear ratios are given as a ratio, for example “4.10” which means 4.10:1 or “3.73” which means 3.73:1. The ratio refers to the number of teeth on the axle ring gear as compared to the number of teeth on the driveshaft’s pinion gear. With a 4.10 rear end, the driveshaft has to turn 4.1 times in order to rotate the rear wheels one revolution. With a 3.73 rear end, the driveshaft must turn 3.73 times to rotate the rear wheels one revolution. So, with a 4.10 rear axle ratio the driveshaft’s pinion gear is spinning more quickly at a given speed than with a 3.73 rear axle ratio.

“Easier” Gears vs. “Harder” Gears

If you think of riding a bike, when you have the bike in a “hard” gear, it takes a lot of leg strength to turn the wheels, but one pedal stroke will cover a lot of distance. For example, going uphill in a “hard” gear would be especially hard. Your legs are turning really slowly and straining and you’re wishing you could put it in an “easier” gear! But when you descend in that same gear, you can hit high speeds easily. Back to trucks, this is like having the driveshaft turn a little to make the wheels turn a lot as it does with the 3.42 or 3.73 rear axle gear ratios found on Dodge Rams.

However, when the bike is in an “easy” gear, just a small amount of leg strength will turn the wheels, but one pedal stroke doesn’t get you very far. For example, going uphill isn’t so bad — you can inch up slowly — but once you began descending you’re spun out because your legs can’t pedal fast enough to hit super fast top speeds. In the truck world, this is like having the driveshaft turn a lot to make the wheels turn a little as it does with the 4.10 rear axle gear ratio.

Long bed pickup Ram 3500 dually diesel truck

Wide Load!! The highest tow ratings are achieved with a high rear axle gear ratio (like 4.10)

Towing Heavy Loads vs. Driving Fast on the Highway

So, on a truck, the higher ratio (4.10) is ideal for towing heavy loads. It takes more turns of the driveshaft to rotate the rear wheels of the truck, so the engine revs higher, putting it in the power band for RPMs, and the heavy load gets moved. But the top end speed and fuel economy get sacrificed a bit.

With a lower gear ratio (3.73 or 3.42) it takes fewer turns of the driveshaft to rotate the rear wheels of the truck. When the truck is zipping along at highway speeds, the gears are turning a little more slowly (lower RPMs) than they would with a 4.10 rear end, which saves on fuel efficiency and makes the fastest attainable speed a little higher.

The highest tow ratings are achieved with a 4.10 rear end, so the heaviest trailers will be best if towed by a truck with a 4.10 rear axle gear ratio. However, if most of your towing is with lighter weight trailers, and your driving will be primarily on interstates, and your personal preference is to drive fast, a 3.73 or 3.42 rear axle gear ratio may make more sense.

Our ’07 Dodge had a 3.73 rear end. The problem was that at the speeds we tended to drive — 55-65 — the engine would lug. Mark manually changed gears a lot to try to keep the RPMs up, but he found it fatiguing to have to monitor the gears so closely and to change gears all the time.

We also don’t drive on interstates very often, and when we do, we’re the grannies of the road, moseying along in the right lane.

Sunset over a 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually diesel truck

We take life, and the open road, fairly slowly, so a 3.73 rear end, which is awesome a 75 mph,
was not the right choice for us.

4.10 vs. 3.73 – RPMs at Different Speeds

We wanted a 4.10 rear end on our new truck, but we wanted to be 100% sure this would truly make the kind of difference we expected. So, on one Ram dually test drive we drove a stretch of highway in our ’07 Dodge at various speeds between 45 and 65 mph, noting the RPMs in a notebook, and then we took a 2015 Ram 3500 dually with a 4.10 rear end out on the same road at the same speeds. The salesman raised an eyebrow in surprise when we marched into the dealership and announced we wanted to do a test drive at various speeds to note the engine RPMs, but he went along with the idea!

On that test drive we found the 4.10 rear end shifts out of lower gears sooner than the 3.73 rear end, and generally keeps the engine RPMs about 100-200 RPMs higher at each speed. Our new truck bears out those findings.

So, how can you tell if a truck on the dealer lot has a 4.10 rear end without peering at the window sticker? Check underneath the back end of the truck. The differential is the big round casing that hangs between the rear wheels. On trucks with a 4.10 rear end, the differential has a series of vertical cooling fins on it. These help keep it cool since the gears spin faster and it is designed for heavier towing loads, both of which make it heat up.

Cooling fins on 4.10 differential for 4.10 rear axle gear ratio

Looking under the rear end of the truck, the differential has cooling fins if the rear axle ratio is a 4.10

BEEFED UP FRAME

Besides the more powerful engine tuning and transmission, Ram has improved the truck frame on the dually considerable. Every aspect of the frame is more sturdy than it used to be, making the truck not only powerful enough to pull heavier loads but strong enough to withstand the multitude of forces as it hauls the load up a mountain.

Beefed up suspension Ram 3500 dually truck

Peering under the front end of the truck, the frame has been strengthened for heavy towing

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FOUR WHEEL DRIVE (4×4)

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We learned with our ’04 Toyota Tundra truck towing our 7,000 lb. 27′ travel trailer that four wheel drive is a necessity for us in our RV lifestyle. In our first weeks of full-timing, a small, wet grassy incline prohibited us from camping in a campground in Texas, because our truck kept slipping and couldn’t tow the trailer up over the short rise! From that moment on, we’ve felt that a four wheel drive is mandatory if you are going to tow a big trailer.

Also, while descending a really gnarly, skinny, twisty, single lane road on a mountain in Utah, with grades of 10% or more in places, we discovered that the safest way to drive DOWN a very steep descent is to put the truck in four wheel drive LOW gear, and creep down the mountain at 5-10 mph using the exhaust brake. This tactic was a lifesaver for us on that mountain with our ’07 Dodge truck and fifth wheel trailer. Without it, we would still be living at the summit of that mountain!

The following link has more tips for driving a big RV in the mountains

2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually 36' 5th wheel RV at campsite

4×4 low gear allowed us to creep down off a mountain summit and find new campsites elsewhere!

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PUCK SYSTEM FOR MOUNTING A FIFTH WHEEL OR GOOSENECK HITCH

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The new Dodge Ram and Ford Super Duty trucks have a really fantastic option for a factory installed puck system in the bed of the truck where you can mount either a fifth wheel or gooseneck hitch. During our truck search, GM did not have that option on their trucks.

This option has five holes in the bed of the pickup, one in the center for a gooseneck hitch and four outer ones to hold a fifth wheel hitch. The idea behind this mounting system is that rather than drilling holes in your brand new truck bed to install hitch rails to support a fifth wheel hitch — the method that was always used until this new system was devised — you can buy a hitch designed for these puck mounts and simply drop it in.

Gooseneck - Fifth Wheel Towing Prep Puck System

Looking towards the tailgate, there’s a gooseneck puck in the middle and four pucks in a square
to mount a fifth wheel hitch. The bed is totally flat without the hitch in it.

If you want to use the bed of your truck for hauling, and you won’t be towing your fifth wheel, you can easily remove the fifth wheel hitch temporarily and have the entire bed of the truck available to you. Not only is it a snap to remove the hitch, but the bed of the truck will be flat and obstacle free because there won’t be any hitch rails installed in it.

Installing a B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch

The B&W Companion Fifth Wheel Hitch is easily installed and removed (facing the front of the truck)

Another huge benefit is that installing the hitch is an easy do-it-yourself job. We have a detailed pictorial step-by-step guide showing how to install a B&W Companion OEM Fifth Wheel Hitch here (it took just one hour from start to finish!):

Installation Guide for B&W Companion OEM 5th Wheel Hitch – Step-by-Step Pictorial

To see the specs, pricing and details about this hitch, visit these links:

EXHAUST BRAKE

Our 2007 Dodge Ram came with an exhaust brake built into the turbo. Mark LOVED this brake and used it all the time, both towing and not towing. The only thing that bugged him about it was that coming down mountains with our trailer hitched on, he often had to shift gears manually and feather the gas pedal to keep the truck going the speed he wanted.

The 2016 Ram trucks have an improved exhaust brake that has two modes: max braking power and constant speed braking. We definitely wanted that option!

BACKUP CAMERAS

Dodge Ram trucks have two backup cameras, one that aims at the bed of the truck (for hitching and unhitching) and one that aims behind the truck (for backing up). Beginning in 2016, both of these cameras could be set to display their image on the main touch screen display (in the 2015 model, one camera would display in the rear view mirror while the other would display on the touch screen display).

2016 Ram 3500 dually diesel truck with fifth wheel trailer RV camping

It’s nice to have a backup camera when backing the truck in next to the trailer!

AUTO-LEVEL SUSPENSION

An option on the 2016 Ram trucks is to have four leaf springs with computer controlled air bags to provide for auto-leveling of the rear suspension. This is instead of the standard six leaf springs without air bags that have a fixed height suspension.

Without the air bags — the standard configuration — the “rake” of the truck’s rear end is four inches, meaning that the rear end of the truck is raised four inches higher than the front to compensate for the weight of the trailer which will push it down when it’s hitched up. For a shorter person, this is quite high, and I was astonished how much higher the tailgate of a 2016 Ram truck sits than our old ’07 truck did.

With the air bags, the rear end is raked only one inch, making the whole back end of the truck much easier to access for those of us who aren’t that tall. In addition, there is an “Alt Ride Height” button that can be used to lower the back of the truck one more inch. Hurray for short people!

When the trailer is hitched onto the truck, pushing the truck down, the on-board compressor kicks on and pumps air into the air bags, raising the back end of the truck until it achieves its normal one inch rake. If you prefer to drive with the truck level, the “Alt Ride Height” button can be pressed to lower the back end one inch.

When we did our test drives, we found that the duallies with the auto-level suspension had a slightly smoother ride when not towing than the ordinary leaf spring only models did. This has proven true with our new truck too.

VENTED and HEATED LEATHER SEATS and STEERING WHEEL plus OTHER GOODIES

As we test drove different trim levels of trucks, we decided that if we were going to buy a new truck, we’d go all out and get the many little conveniences and options that are a “splurge” but that make using the truck a pleasure.

Interior leather seats Ram 3500 truck

Let’s go for a ride!

Heated and vented leather seats with power seat adjustments and lumbar support, a side step to make it easier to get in and out of the truck, independent climate control for driver and passenger, a CD player, OWL on/off-rad tires, the fancy electronics console with the big touch screen display and GPS nav system and power adjustable pedals were all on our list.

Most of these options are bundled into the Laramie model of the Ram 3500 trucks.

Interior cockpit and dashboar Ram 3500 truck

The Laramie comes with a beautiful interior that includes all the fancy stuff.

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THE OPTIONS LIST FOR OUR 2016 DODGE RAM 3500 TRUCK:

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  • Ram Laramie Crew Cab 4×4 3500 Long Bed
  • Dual Rear Wheels
  • AISIN AS69RC Transmission
  • 4.10 Rear Axle Ratio
  • 5th Wheel / Gooseneck Towing Prep
  • Auto-level rear suspension
  • Diesel Exhaust Brake
  • Cargo and Backup Cameras
  • LT235/80R17E OWL On/Off-Road Tires
  • Tubular side steps
  • Power adjustable pedals
  • CD player
  • Top level Nav/GPS Display with voice activation and climate control
  • Tan colored Heated/Vented Leather Seats and Steering Wheel

The Tow and Payload Ratings for the 2016 Ram 3500 dually with the above options as compared to our 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 single rear wheel are the following:

Rating 2016 Dually 2007 SRW Trailer
UVW 8,319 7,147
GVWR 14,000 10,100
GCWR 39,100 21,000 lbs.
Payload 5,565 2,953 2,850
Max Trailer Weight 30,200 13,700 14,100

Even though the make and model of these two trucks is the same, separated by just nine years, these numbers show that they are two radically different trucks!

After doing so many test drives, studying all the material and thinking about this truck for two years, there was no way we would give up any of the options we wanted, especially the ones that made the tow ratings and payload rating so high. But we never found a dealership that ordered this exact truck for their lot. Time and again, Mark would find a truck that was close, but there would be some things missing and other things we didn’t want.

So we decided to order the exact truck we wanted and wait 8 weeks for it to be built.

We had a ball ordering this truck through Airpark Dodge in Scottsdale, Arizona, where a marketing connection with Alice Cooper made one of Mark’s lifelong dreams come true. See our really fun blog post:

Alice Cooper Sells Us a New Truck!

Once the truck arrived, we installed our very cool new hitch in less than an hour:

Installation Guide for B&W Companion OEM 5th Wheel Hitch – Step-by-Step Pictorial

A significant difference between our 2007 Dodge Ram truck and our new 2016 Ram dually is that the new truck requires occasional refilling of the DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluide) tank. Here are some tips we’ve discovered about DEF since we purchased our new truck:

How to Put DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid) in a Truck and Which Brand is Cheapest!

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Wet Cell vs. AGM Batteries & Wiring Tips for Installation on an RV or Boat!

There is a world of difference between wet cell batteries (also called flooded batteries) and AGM batteries for use in an RV or marine battery bank, because AGM batteries are totally sealed, maintenance free and keep the user from coming into contact with battery acid (electrolyte). In a nutshell, the advantages of AGM batteries over wet cell batteries are the following:

  • AGM batteries are maintenance free, which means:
    • They don’t need periodic equalizing to clean the internal plates and never need the electrolyte topped off with distilled water.
    • They do not release gasses during charging, so they don’t need special venting in the battery compartment.
    • Since gasses are not released, the terminals and battery cables do not corrode over time and don’t need to be cleaned.
  • AGM batteries discharge more slowly than wet cells, so an RV or boat can be stored for a few months without charging the batteries.
  • AGM batteries charge more quickly than flooded batteries because they can accept a higher current during the Bulk charging phase.
  • AGM batteries can be installed in any orientation, which is helpful if installation space is limited.
  • AGM batteries can’t spill battery acid if they are tipped over. This is especially important when a boat heels excessively or capsizes. (Not that you’d be too concerned about spilling electrolyte if your boat were upside down!)
RV battery upgrade from 6 volt wet cell batteries to AGM batteries

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OUR ORIGINAL BATTERY INSTALLATION

We used Trojan T-105 wet cell (flooded) batteries for nearly six years in our fifth wheel trailer, and they worked great. They were installed in our basement compartment, all lined up in a row. This was a custom installation that was done by H&K Camper Sales in Chanute, Kansas, when we purchased our trailer new from the NuWa factory in 2008.

Fifth wheel RV battery boxes in basement

Four 6 volt golf cart batteries installed in our fifth wheel basement

The original battery compartment was designed at the NuWa factory to hold two 12 volt Group 24 batteries. Group 24 batteries have the same footprint as 6 volt golf cart batteries but are about an inch shorter. We had 2″ angle iron bolted onto our fifth wheel frame so the four batteries could stand side by side in battery boxes.

Angle iron supports under an RV fifth wheel battery bank

2″ angle iron is bolted onto the fifth wheel frame
to support the batteries.

There were four venting flex hoses that ran from the battery boxes to four individual louvered vents on the front of the basement on either side of the hatch door.

RV 5th wheel basement with 6 volt battery boxes

Each battery box is vented to the outside with flex hose going to a louvered vent cover.

These batteries worked well, but because we put our RV in covered storage for 4 to 20 months at a time during the four years we cruised Mexico’s Pacific coast on our sailboat, we were not actively present to take care of the the battery charging and maintenance duties. Despite our best efforts to have someone do this while we were gone, when we moved off of our boat and back into our fifth wheel, we found our four Trojan wet cell batteries were completely dead and unrecoverable.

We replaced these batteries with four inexpensive 6 volt golf cart flooded batteries from Costco. These new batteries did not last. Within 18 months, the internal plates had sulfated badly, they took forever to charge, and they discharged extremely quickly.

6 volt wet cell batteries in fifth wheel RV basement

Upgrade time! We removed the old wet cell batteries and replaced them with AGMs.

In April, 2015, while staying in beautiful Sarasota, Florida, we replaced our wet cell batteries with four fabulous new Trojan Reliant T105-AGM batteries that Trojan had just begun manufacturing and selling. We replaced all the wiring as well.

CORROSION CAUSED BY WET CELL BATTERIES

One of the biggest problems with wet cell, or flooded, batteries is that the battery terminals and ring terminals on the battery cables get corroded easily due to the gassing that goes on when the batteries are being charged. When Mark removed the battery cables from our old batteries, he measured as much as 20 ohms of resistance from the end of each cable to its ring terminal.

Corrosion on battery cable

We measured 20 ohms of resistance between the end of the cable
and the end of the ring terminal.

Flooded batteries need to be held at 14.5 or more volts during the Absorption charging stage (depending on the battery), and at this voltage the electrolyte in the batteries begins to release gasses into the air. These gases are both explosive and corrosive, and venting them protects everything around them. However, inside the battery box these gases can corrode the battery terminals and wiring.

The best way to clean off the corrosion is with a solution of baking soda and distilled water. Put it in a disposable cup and then use a cheap paintbrush to paint it on and smooth it around the terminals and cable ends. Let it sit for a few minutes and then pour a little distilled water over it to rinse the baking soda and crud off. Dry it with paper towels.

Also, while driving down the road, the electrolyte can splash around inside the battery cells and drip out the vent holes. Dust can settle on the spilled electrolyte and can cause a minute trickle discharge across the top of the battery. So, it is important to wipe down the tops of the batteries regularly and keep them clean.

It’s a good idea to wear rubber gloves for all of this too!

6 volt wet cell RV house batteries

These batteries did not hold up well and corroded badly every few weeks.

Watch out for drops of liquid settling on your clothes when messing with the batteries. It’s nearly impossible to avoid, and Mark has holes in some of his jeans from drops of battery acid landing on his pants while he either checked the state of charge of the batteries with a hydrometer or poured distilled water into the battery terminals or cleaned the corrosion from the battery terminals and cable connections.

Battery hydrometer not used with AGM batteries

Now that we have nifty new AGM batteries, we no longer need the hydrometer!

OUR NEW RV BATTERY INSTALLTION

We chose the new Trojan Reliant T105-AGM batteries to replace our old flooded batteries because these are a completely redesigned battery from one of the top battery manufacturers, Trojan Battery. Rather than being dual purpose batteries, like othe AGM batteries on the market, the new Trojan Reliant AGM batteries are single purpose deep cycle batteries.

Trojan Reliant AGM 6 volt RV batteries

Our new Trojan Reliant T105-AGM batteries ready to go.

TRUE “DEEP CYCLE” – START BATTERIES vs. HOUSE BATTERIES

Large RV and marine batteries can be used both to start big engines and to run household appliances. However, these functions are polar opposites of each other! A start battery gives a big but short blast of current to get an engine started and then does nothing. In contrast, a house battery provides a steady stream of current to power lights and household appliances for hours on end.

Most deep cycle AGM batteries on the market today are actually dual purpose start and deep cycle batteries, largely due to the history of how batteries have developed and what they have been used for. The new-to-market (in 2015) Trojan Reliant AGM batteries were engineered from the ground up to be strictly deep cycle batteries, and the design is not compromised with start battery characteristics.

Installing Trojan 6 volt Reliant AGM battery in RV fifth wheel

Mark installs the new batteries in the old plastic battery boxes.

12 volt batteries come in many sizes: Group 24, Group 27, Group 31, 4D, 8D and more. As the battery sizes increase, they provide more and more amp-hour capacity. 6 volt batteries come in various sizes too, and the golf cart size is one of several.

The Trojan Reliant T105-AGM 6 volt golf cart style batteries (68 lbs. each) are rated to have a capacity of 217 amp-hours when two of them are wired in series to create a 12 volt battery bank. In comparison, our sailboat came with three Mastervolt 12 volt 4D AGM batteries (93 lbs. each), and we added a fourth. These batteries were rated to have a capacity of 160 amp-hours each.

The advantage of using two 6 volt golf cart batteries instead of enormous 4D or 8D 12 volt batteries is that they are smaller, lighter and easier to carry around and to put in place during the installation and easier to remove in the event of a failure.

BATTERY WIRING

We wired our four new 6 volt batteries in series and in parallel. We wired two pairs of batteries in series to create two virtual 12 volt battery banks. Then we wired those two 12 volt banks in parallel with each other.

Four 6 volt batteries wired in series and in parallel

Four 6 volt batteries: two pairs wired in series to make virtual 12 volt batteries.
Those pairs are wired in parallel with each other (red / lavender circles explained below).

Trojan Battery recommended the following wire sizes for this battery configuration:

  • 4 gauge wire between the batteries that are wired in series
  • 2 gauge wire between the pairs of 12 volt battery banks wired in parallel

This is thicker wire than many RVers and sailors typically select for their battery banks.

Because we were wiring batteries that would be physically lined up in a row, we drew out a wiring diagram to be sure we got it right.

Four 6 volt batteries in a row wired in series and in parallel

Same wiring but with the batteries lined up in a row (red and lavender circles explained below).

WIRING THE BATTERY CHARGERS and INVERTER

Because AGM batteries have a lower internal resistance, they can accept a higher bulk charging current than wet cell batteries.

Trojan Reliant AGM batteries can accept a bulk charge current of 20% of their 20 hour amp-hour rating. For the T105-AGM batteries, the 20 hour amp-hour rating is 217 amps per pair of batteries wired in series. So the max current the batteries can accept is 20% of 217 amps, or 43 amps, per pair. The wiring for each charging system should be sized for a max current flow of 43 amps.

In contrast, Trojan’s wet cell batteries can accept only 10%-13% of their 20 hour amp-hour rating. For the T105 battery, the 20 hour amp-hour rating is 220 amps per pair of batteries wired in series. So the max current the batteries can accept is 13% of 220 amps, or 28 amps.

It is important when wiring both the battery charging systems and inverter systems into the battery bank (that is, the solar charge controller, the engine alternator on boats and motorhomes, the inverter/charger or the individual DC converter and inverter), to ensure that the wiring going to those devices is connected across the entire battery bank and not to just one 12 volt battery (or 6 volt pair) in the bank.

If the charging systems are connected to the battery terminals of just one 12 volt battery, whether it’s an individual Group 24 or 4D battery or is a pair of 6 volt golf cart batteries wired in series, then the batteries in the system will not charge equally. Likewise, if only one battery of the parallel bank is wired to the DC side of the inverter, the batteries will not discharge equally.

In the above drawings, the two optimal connection points for the charging and inverter systems are shown in red and in lavender. Either pair of terminals works equally well.

We found that with individual devices for our converter, our inverter and our solar charge controller, there were a lot of ring terminals getting piled up on two of the battery terminals. So we chose the inner pair of battery terminals for the inverter and the outer pair for the converter and solar charge controller.

Since we dry camp 100% of the time and rarely use our converter except when we have to pull out our generator after days of storms or to run our air conditioning, this division means that our primary charging system spans the batteries one way while the inverter driving the AC household systems that discharge the batteries span the batteries the other way.

NOT ALL BATTERY CABLE IS CREATED EQUAL

We chose Ancor marine wire for our battery cables because it is very high quality cable. The individual strands of wire inside the casing are thin, which makes this cable very supple, despite being thick overall. It is easy to work with and to snake around tricky areas. The individual strands inside the cable are tinned as well.

This is expensive wire, but after all the wiring projects we have done on our RVs and on our sailboat, we felt it was well worth the extra cost.

We also used Ancor marine tin plated lugs made of high-grade copper with flared ends for our ring terminals (available here).

Ring terminal on battery cable

Mark slips a ring terminal onto the new battery cable.

It was critical to get a good solid connection between the ring terminals and the 2 gauge and 4 gauge wire we were using.

We don’t own a crimper of that size, but West Marine Stores often have a crimper for heavy gauge wire that customers can use, and we got an excellent crimp from a workbench mounted crimper.

Crimping ring terminal on battery cable

Crimping 2 and 4 gauge wire requires a large crimper.

With Mark hanging onto the ring terminal and me hanging onto the wire, we both pulled with all our might and we couldn’t pull the lug off the wire.

Good crimp on battery cable

A good, solid crimp.

As these projects always go, we needed to return to West Marine for crimping a few days later when we wired in our solar charge controller. We went to a closer West Marine store this time, and they had a different crimper that wasn’t quite as nice.

Using a hand crimper to crimp ring terminal onto battery cable

This wire is so thick you need a huge wire cutter!

Mark wasn’t as confident that these crimps were as good electrically as the ones made with the first crimper, even though we couldn’t pull the lugs off the wire. So he fluxed the wire and used a propane torch to flow solder into the connection. This way we had not only a solid physical connection but an excellent electrical connection as well.

Soldering ring terminal crimp on battery cable

Mark flows solder into the connector to make a superior electrical connection.

Then he slipped shrink tubing over the connection and used a heat gun to shrink it in place.

Heat gun shrink wrap over ring terminal on battery cable

Shrink tube covers the whole connection, and a heat gun tightens it up.

After our installation, we discovered that Camco makes 2 and 4 gauge battery cable and you can get them here.

Back at the RV, Mark wired the batteries up. He placed the batteries in the battery box bottoms to keep them from sliding around and put the battery box tops on as well so that if anything fell over in the basement while we were driving, it wouldn’t accidentally land on the battery terminals and short something out. We keep that area clear, but you never know when you’ll hit a huge bump and things will go flying.

Trojan Reliant AGM 6 volt batteries in fifth wheel basement

The batteries are ready for their battery box tops.

The AGM batteries do not need to be vented, so he removed all the vent flex hoses. This gave us much better access into the fifth wheel basement from the front hatch door.

Trojan Reliant AGM 6 volt batteries in fifth wheel RV battery compartment

The new batteries are installed, wired and labeled.

Without any flex hose behind the louvered vents, dust and road grime could now flow into the basement, so Mark removed the vent covers and placed a piece of solid plastic behind each one.

Replacing battery vents on fifth wheel RV

The louvered vents are open to the basement in the back and will let dust in.

RV battery vent

Mark puts a thin plastic sheet behind each louvered vent to keep dust out.

We then went on to wire in our new converter, inverter and solar charge controller (installations to be shown in future blog posts).

HOW DO THE NEW TROJAN RELIANT AGM BATTERIES WORK?

The performance of these new batteries is nothing short of outstanding. We are floored everyday by how quickly they get charged, and not one bit of corrosion has appeared anywhere.

Mark is happy not to have to check the electrolyte levels in the batteries any more or to remember to equalize them every month. The new AGM batteries are winners all around.

RV battery boxes in 5th wheel basement

Even though AGM batteries don’t have to be installed in battery boxes,
ours are because our basement is large and open and we want to protect them from falling objects!

WHY WOULD ANYONE USE FLOODED BATTERIES?

Our Trojan T-105 wet cell batteries worked just fine for us for years, and flooded are actually advantageous over AGM batteries in two significant ways:

  1. Flooded batteries are much cheaper than AGM batteries.
  2. Well maintained wet call batteries can be cycled more times than AGM batteries

Flooded batteries cost 30% to 40% less than AGM batteries. This can add up to a savings of hundreds of dollars. Depending on the value of the RV or boat, it just may not make sense to have a huge investment in batteries on board.

Also, perfectly maintained wet cell batteries can be cycled more times than AGMs. “Perfectly maintained” means staying on top of equalizing the batteries to keep the battery plates clean and also checking each cell in each battery regularly to ensure that the electrolyte is completely topped off with distilled water at all times.

Under these ideal conditions in the laboratories at Trojan Battery, the Trojan T105 flooded batteries can survive 1,200 cycles where they are discharged to 50% (12.06 volts) and then fully recharged. The Trojan Reliant T105-AGM batteries can survive only 1,000 cycles.

Of course, battery cycling in real world conditions is very different than in laboratory conditions. The degree to which RV and boat batteries are discharged and recharged day to day is far from regular (partial discharging and partial recharging are common). Also, batteries on RVs and boats that are left in storage for any period of time can be difficult to maintain and may degrade despite good intentions (like ours did).

So, the ultimate performance and value of flooded versus AGM batteries is going to vary widely from one RVer or sailor to the next. However, for us, we will not be going back to wet cell batteries any time soon!

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Edge Evolution CS Tuner Review – Peak Truck Performance!

The engines in most cars and trucks are computer driven these days, but the installation of an engine tuner puts the driver in the driver’s seat instead. An engine tuner, or programmer, gives the driver the ability to fine tune the engine’s efficiency and performance by manipulating the computer’s input parameters to suit the driving task at hand.

Since 2007, we have lived year-round in a 14,100 lb, 36′ 2007 NuWa Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer. For eight years, the truck we used to tow this big trailer was a 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 Single Rear Wheel Long Bed truck. Half of our miles driven, we towed the trailer. The other half, we drove it around town with nothing in tow and a few hundred pounds of cargo the bed of the truck. Once in a while we threw in an off-road adventure just for fun.

2007 Dodge RAM 3500

Our 2007 Dodge RAM 3500 single rear wheel truck

When the truck had 85,000 miles on it, we installed an Edge Diesel Evolution CS tuner, and what a world of difference that made to our driving experience, not only when we were towing but also when we were driving the truck around without the trailer attached.

In a nutshell, it has:

  • Increased our truck’s power
  • Improved our gas mileage
  • Given us a readout for the transmission temperature.

And it was an easy installation to boot.

We also installed an optional companion product, the Edge EAS Exhaust Gas Temp sensor which gives us another piece of crucial temperature data when we are towing under heavy load. This is not a mandatory installation.

We couldn’t be more pleased with these upgrades!

Big Bend Texas Bound

Our truck with our fifth wheel trailer attached.

This is a long post, and you can skip down the page to the following sections:

1. Why Install an Engine Tuner?
2. Edge Evolution CS Tuner – Tested and Validated
3. Installing the Edge Tuner
4. More POWER Driving in the Rocky Mountains
5. More TEMP DATA Towing in the Rockies
6. Better MPG – Fuel Efficiency Improvements, Towing and Not Towing
7. Additional Exhaust Gas Temperature Sensor Installation
8. Other features of the Edge Evolution CS tuner

1. Why Install an Engine Tuner?

We first became interested in the idea of installing the Edge Evolution CS tuner when Mark saw an article in the October 2014 issue of Diesel Power Magazine (“Tested, Proven, Validated — Edge’s DPF-On Tuner Walks the Walk”). This article discusses the improvements the tuner had made on our exact model truck (well, a 2009 rather than a 2007, but with everything else virtually the same, including the mileage!).

The Edge Diesel Evolution Tuner works on Ford, GM/Chevy and Dodge RAM.

Edge Evolution CS Tuner mounted on the dashboard of a Dodge RAM 3500 truck

The Edge Tuner is mounted on the windshield, low enough not to restrict visibility but still easy to see.

Why install a tuner? It lets the driver fine tune the engine performance and boost power when needed

The beauty of the Edge programmer is that it doesn’t change anything in the engine permanently. It simply gives the driver the ability to fine tune the engine for its specific job at the moment, whether that is towing a big trailer, carrying a heavy load in the bed, racing off-road, or driving around town.

Light duty diesel trucks (i.e., Ford 250/350, Chevy 2500/3500 and Dodge RAM 2500/3500) are built for many uses, from towing heavy horse and RV trailers, to off-road racing, to driving across town and across country carrying big loads.

The on-board computer of every model truck is programmed at the factory to be able to do each of these things pretty well. However, it is impossible to program the computer to operate the engine at peak performance in all conditions. To make things worse, the truck manufacturers don’t provide the driver with a way to optimize the engine’s performance or to monitor some of the data the computer has already gathered.

Much of the truck computer’s capabilities and data remain inaccessible to the driver.

This is where the Edge tuner comes in, because it allows the driver to fine tune the engine for the immediate job at hand.

The idea behind the Edge tuner is to put the programming power into the hands of the driver, and to provide gauges for monitoring much of the data that the engine’s sensors detect. The Edge tuner can program the truck’s computer to maximize towing power or maximize non-towing fuel efficiency, depending on the kind of driving you are doing that day. It can also set the truck’s computer back to the stock factory settings, which is important if the truck is going into the shop for repair.

Because nothing mechanical is modified or tampered with, this means that nothing whatsoever is lost by installing the Edge tuner, but a whole lot is gained.

Why install a tuner? It gives the driver more detailed engine & transmission temperature data

We were intrigued by the Edge tuner because the installation appeared to be very easy, and the results were absolutely terrific. We tow our big fifth wheel trailer over huge, nasty mountain passes in the western states on a regular basis in the summertime, often tackling 10% and 15% grades on secondary roads. A little more towing power would be awesome!

What’s more, the tuner displays temperature data that the truck’s computer already has but that the truck manufacturer doesn’t display on the dashboard gauges. All this data is readily available via the OBD-II port (“On Board Diagnostic”) under the dashboard, you just have to plug into it. This is what the Edge programmer does — it is totally “plug-and-play.”

Edge Evolution CS Tuner programmer for diesel trucks

In this image, the tuner is set up to display three different types of temperature data:
Engine Coolant Temp (left), Exhaust Gas Temp (middle bar), Transmission Fluid Temp (right).
From the factory, most trucks display ONLY the Engine Coolant Temperature.

So, the Edge tuner would allow us to monitor the transmission temperature as we drove over mountain passes. This is vital data that is not accessible with our standard engine temp gauges.

Installing a companion product, the Edge Products EAS Exhaust Gas Temp sensor would let us monitor the exhaust gas temperature as well. Data from this optional sensor is shown in the middle gauge in the above image.

Having this extra information would allow us take action if something other than the engine coolant temperature overheated. It would also keep us better in touch with what was going on in the engine, in the event that the engine coolant temp was within an acceptable range but some other part of the truck’s propulsion were overheating. That scenario doesn’t seem possible, but read on…

You see, the factory installed engine coolant temp gauge in the truck cab tells only part of the story!

Why install a tuner? It improves the truck’s Fuel Efficiency (MPG)

We’ve always wished for a little better fuel mileage, both towing and when we are driving around town without our house attached. The tuner’s Level 2 programming mode promised improved fuel efficiency in non-towing conditions.

As it turned out, the tuner has increased our truck’s fuel efficiency in all situations.

What about the truck’s warranty?

A tuner (or “programmer”) does not permanently modify the truck’s computer or engine. There are “chips” on the market that make a permanent modification, but tuners and programmers don’t fall into that category.

We have called a few Dodge dealerships, and they have all assured us that if we had a truck that was in warranty (ours is not), they would service the truck even if it had an Edge tuner installed in it. Their recommendation to us was to reset the Edge tuner to “Stock” and then unplug it from the OBD-II port under the dashboard before bringing it in for service so they could properly analyze the engine (they use OBD-II port for their diagnostics).

The dealerships did say that if they found service was needed because of the presence of the Edge tuner (for instance, the tuner failed and shorted something out), they wouldn’t warranty that work, but they said the Edge tuner itself would not void any warranties.

 

 

2. Edge Diesel Evolution Tuner – Tested and Validated!

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It’s easy enough for manufacturers to offer a bunch of sales hype and fake claims about a product like this, but the aspect of the magazine article that really got our attention was that the folks at Diesel Power did a controlled experiment to measure both the horsepower and torque that this tuner generates. First, they put a stock 2009 Dodge RAM 3500 on a dynamometer and took horsepower and torque measurements. Then they installed the Edge tuner on the same truck, put it back on the dynomometer, and did the measurements a second time.

With the Edge tuner set to its lowest setting (Evolution Level 1), the results were:

Stock (no tuner) With Edge Tuner
Horsepower: 321 @ 2,900 rpm 362 @ 2,900 rpm
Torque: 605 ft-lb @ 2,350 rpm 711 ft-lb @ 2,300 rpm
Peak Exhaust Gas Temp: 1,266 degrees 1,200 degrees

So, they saw a jump of 41 hp, 106 ft-lb torque and a drop in peak exhaust gas temperatures. Wow!!

The Edge Tuner suddenly became a “must have” for us.

3. Installing the Edge Evolution CS Tuner

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The installation took a total of 90 minutes, from opening the box, to sitting down and reading the manual, to getting the unit installed in the truck. Very easy. In fact, it was so darned quick that Mark had completely finished the installation before I got my camera out to get pics of the unit going in.

Edge Products Diesel Evolution Programmer Package Contents

Edge Diesel Evolution Tuner Package Contents

The package contents include:

  • The user manual
  • The display unit
  • A windshield mounting bracket
  • Two wire/plug assemblies
  • Tie wraps

You just mount the display unit on the windshield with the suction cup mounting bracket, plug the unit to the OBD-II port, use the tie wraps to dress it all up, and you’re done. So I guess I didn’t miss much!

 

4. More POWER!! Driving in the Rocky Mountains

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15 mph grade in the Colorado Rocky Mountains

The switchbacks are 180 degree
hairpin turns

When we installed the Edge tuner on our truck, we just happened to be staying at the base of one of the biggest mountain passes we have ever traversed with our truck and trailer, the Million Dollar Highway that runs through the Colorado Rocky Mountains between Ouray, Silverton and Durango, on US Route 550.

This hair-raising, 70 mile stretch of road winds through dozens of 10 mph, 15 mph and 20 mph hairpin turns, going up and down grades that the Colorado Department of Transportation rates at “7% or more,” with some folks claiming a few are in the 9% range.

To add a little excitement to the drive, this is a fairly narrow two lane road with steep, unprotected drop-offs.

The views are divine, but it can be a white knuckle ride. The drive begins in Ouray at an altitude of 7,800′ and then climbs and descends over three major passes:

After finishing the Edge tuner installation, we took the truck up and down the first part of this road between Ouray and Red Mountain Pass about a dozen times. Mark set the tuner to Evolution Level 1, and he felt the difference in performance immediately.

He hit the gas pedal on a steep incline and his eyebrows shot up as he said to me, “This feels like a race truck!”

Steep 10 mph switchback on Red Mountain Pass on Route 550 the Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Silverton Colorado

Steep 10 mph grades climbing Red Mountain Pass

 

5. More TEMP DATA!! Towing in the Rockies

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Once he was comfortably familiar with the road and the mountain passes, and once we were ready to leave Ouray, we hitched the trailer to the truck and drove the entire Million Dollar Highway — Route 550 — over those three mountain passes from Ouray through Silverton to Durango.

20 mph grade on the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado's Rock Mountains

20 mph switchback ahead.

Mark was impressed that the truck had plenty of power at all times and made it up and over the passes without straining. He kept the engine torque in its power band of 2,200 to 2,600 rpm, and he never had to depress the gas pedal all the way to the floor to maintain a safe speed.

You can set up the Edge tuner display to show whatever data interests you most.

On the CS model (which we installed), there are two large analog displays with accompanying digital readouts and a smaller digital display in between them.

The CTS model (which is slightly more expensive) has three analog displays with accompanying digital readouts.

Mark had set up our tuner to show the Engine Coolant Temp (ECT) and the Transmission Fluid Temp (TFT) on the two large semi-circular analog gauges to the left and right.

The ECT is a measure of the antifreeze temperature in the radiator, and is the “engine temperature” reading that is given in an analog gauge on the truck’s dashboard. It is also the temperature that most manufacturer’s use to indicate that the engine has overheated, usually displaying a big red light on the dash.

Fifth wheel trailer in the Colorado Rocky mountains_

Despite the hairpin turns and sheer drop-offs, semi-tractor trailers and RVs traverse this highway all the time.

The TFT is a measure of the transmission fluid temp, and it is not a value that is tied into any of the dashboard instrumentation on most trucks.

In general, both the ECT and TFT temps should be kept below 225 degrees, although newer trucks can run slightly hotter than older trucks.

The digital readouts on the Edge tuner display unit are big numbers that are easy for both the driver (and passenger) to read.

Getting into the Red Zone

What a shock it was to begin our first big ascent on Red Mountain Pass and to see that while the Engine Coolant Temp was in the normal range, according to both the factory-installed in-dash gauge and the Edge tuner (which showed 215 degrees), the Transmission Fluid Temp went into the red zone, climbing past the safe zone of 225 degrees up to 237 degrees.

The ascent was almost over when we hit this max, and both temps quickly dropped back down as we descended towards Silverton. The ECT cooled down to 198 degrees and the TFT cooled way down to 163 degrees.

On the next ascent, Molas Pass, (10,970′), the Engine Coolant Temp climbed back up to 215 degrees (still in the safe zone) while the Transmission Fluid Temp topped out at 244 degrees.

Edge Diesel Evolution CS Tuner showing high transmission fluid temperature

The truck’s temp gauge (and Edge ECT data) said we were not overheating, but
that’s just the antifreeze. The transmission fluid temp (right) was 19 degrees too high.

In the next valley, the temps dropped back down again, and on the last ascent, Coal Bank Pass (10,640′), the temps climbed again, but this time the Transmission Fluid Temp stayed below 235 degrees.

Insights

We were both amazed that the truck never overheated, according to the dashboard Engine Temp gauge, but in fact, the transmission had exceeded its limits by as much as 19 degrees, or 8%. We never would have known that without the Edge tuner, and it made us wonder just how hot the transmission fluid would be in the event that the engine coolant temp actually went into red alert.

If the transmission stays over 225 degrees for too many minutes, the transmission fluid breaks down permanently, and the transmission can be irreparably damaged.

10 mph grade on steep Red Mountain Pass switchback on Route 550 the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado

Steep grade ahead — prepare for a 10 mph turn

You can set up alerts in the Edge tuner display so that buzzers sound and/or the display flashes when any of the data being monitored exceeds its maximum. However, by default, the alert system is turned off. This makes sense, as it could be annoying to have a buzzer going when you are already nervously looking for a way to safely pull over to let the engine cool.

For anyone installing the Edge tuner, just keep the magic number 225 in mind, and you will easily see when you have exceeded that value on the tuner’s display, as the numbers are nice and large. There is also a “red zone” on the analog display, but we found it was so faint that we did not notice it until we studied our photos of the gauge afterwards!

 

6. Better MPG – Fuel Efficiency Improvements

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When we tow, we set the Edge tuner to Level 1.
When we are not towing, we set the Edge tuner to Level 2.

Increased MPG – Towing – Improves by 2 MPG!

Before we installed the Edge tuner, we typically got somewhere between 9.7 and 10.5 mpg while towing for long distances, according to the electronic gauge in the truck. This gauge has its limitations, because it is somehow averaging the most recent miles driven, but I have not been able to find exactly how the average is calculated or how many miles back it goes — is it the most recent 100 miles? 500? 1,000?

Measuring the MPG from one full tank of diesel to the next is a more accurate method, but it is still fallible because one tank may be filled slightly more than another, and if the tank of gas includes both towing and non-towing miles, then the numbers are thrown off.

So, I can’t offer scientifically collected numbers here, but I can say that after we installed the Edge tuner, the gauge in our truck now typically shows numbers between 11.7 and 12.5 when we are towing consistently for distances of 250 miles or more.

In essence, the truck is saving 2 miles per gallon while producing more power. Very impressive!

Increased MPG – Not Towing – Improves by 3 MPG!

Our truck always used to get somewhere in the 16-18 MPG range when we weren’t towing, better on highways and less in town.

Now, if we travel 100 miles or more without the trailer, we see an MPG in the 19-21 range. That is an improvement of 3 MPG!

What a shock it was the first time we drove 130 highway miles at 65 mph and saw 21.6 MPG on our truck’s mileage gauge!!

Return on Investment

If this fuel savings alone were used to justify the cost of a new Edge Evolution tuner, how many miles would we have to drive for the unit to pay for itself?

If we assume the tuner costs ~$450 and diesel costs ~$3/gallon (both rough but reasonable estimates given prices in the last year), and we assume a conservative savings of 2 MPG, whether towing or not, and we tow for half the total miles driven, we will have saved approximately $450 in fuel once we have driven about 15,500 miles.

Of course, the tuner does a lot more than save a little fuel…

 

7. Additional Exhaust Gas Temperature Sensor Installation

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A month after installing the Edge Evolution CS tuner, Mark installed a companion product, the Expandable Accessory System (EAS – product #98603) Exhaust Gas Temperature sensor. This product measures the temperature of the exhaust gases in the exhaust manifold, giving the driver yet more insight — beyond just the antifreeze temp and the transmission fluid temp — into how hot the engine is running.

This was an optional installation, but after seeing the value of knowing the transmission fluid temperature, we wanted to be able to monitor our exhaust gas temperature readings as well.

This installation was quite a bit more complicated than the Edge programmer, as the probe had to be inserted into the exhaust manifold. This required drilling a hole in the exhaust manifold, tapping the hole, screwing the probe into the newly tapped hole, and running the wires through the engine firewall back to the Edge Evolution tuner where they plugged into the back of the display unit.

The hardest part of this installation was drilling and tapping the hole, in part because the exhaust manifold is not super easy access to with a large drill, and in part because the metal of the exhuast manifold is very thick and hard.

The instructions in the manual called for:

The most important thing is that the tap handle be big and solid to give you lots of leverage, because the solid cast iron on the exhaust manifold is very thick and very hard. This will make the difference between an easy installation and a miserably hard one.

As always, Mark got the project underway before I got my camera going, so I don’t have a “before” photo. However, the “after” photo below shows what you’re gunning for and what stands in the way between you and the exhaust manifold.

Edge Products Evolution Programmer Installed on a 2007 Dodge RAM 3500 truck

Completed installation with only the braided stainless cable for the probe showing.

First, unscrew the bolt holding the two black tubes in place so they can be pushed aside.

Remove the bracket for access to the exhaust manifold

Remove the bolt to free up the tubes that are blocking the exhaust manifold

The probe will be inserted here.

Location for inserting the Edge Products EAS Exhaust gas temperature probe in the exhaust manifold

Location for the Edge Products EAS Exhaust gas temp probe in the exhaust manifold

Space is tight, so a 90 degree right angle drill is necessary. Drill a pilot hole first. Then drill the real hole for the probe.

In order to avoid getting metal filings in the wrong places, grease the drill bit first. Drill a little, then wipe the drill bit down, re-grease it, and drill a little further. Do this for both the pilot hole and the real hole.

Use a 90 degree right angle drill

Use a 90 degree right angle drill

Hole drilled in the exhaust manifold

Hole drilled in exhaust manifold

Now the hole is ready to be tapped. Grease or oil the tapping tool well, and work it in and out a quarter turn at a time. As before, after a few turns, back it all the way out and wipe off the metal filings, and re-grease it.

As mentioned above, a small tap handle will not give you enough leverage for the thick, hard cast iron of the exhaust manifold.

Preparing to tap the hole in the exhaust manifold

An undersized tap handle will make the job very difficult. Get a big, sturdy one!

Once the hole is drilled and tapped, the probe can be screwed in. Grease the probe’s threads with <strong>Permatex Anti-Seize Lubricant first. Then, a cable connecting the probe to the Edge tuner is run from the exhaust manifold back through the engine firewall between the engine and the cab, and on up to the tuner.

Edge Products EAS exhaust temperature probe screwed into the exhaust manifold

Edge Products EAS exhaust temperature probe screws into the exhaust manifold

Wires run through the engine firewall between the engine compartment and the truck cab

Wires run through the engine firewall between the engine compartment and the truck cab

 

Mark opted to put the display for the exhaust gas temperatures in the middle display area between the Engine Coolant Temp and the Transmission Fluid Temp. Of course, you can choose to display any data in any of the three display areas, and Mark experimented a little before settling on ECT on the left, EGT in the middle and TFT on the right.

Edge Evolution CS Tuner programmer for diesel trucks

Engine Coolant (left), Exhaust Gas (middle bar), Transmission Fluid (right)

The more expensive Edge Evolution CTS tuner has three large displays with both analog and digital readouts rather than the two large displays and one small one on the Edge Evolution CS tuner.

Results

We installed the Exhaust Gas Temperature probe after we had done all of our mountain driving for the season, so we have yet to test it in the mountains. The “overtemp” magic number for the EGT is 1350. Typical temps we have seen driving around town are in the mid-900’s, and climbing a long 5% grade while towing our fifth wheel, we’ve seen the mid-1100’s. However, these have just been the long, gradual grades of Arizona and not the steep switchbacks typical of Rocky Mountain passes.

We will report our findings about the exhaust gas temperature readings once we have taken our RV over a big mountain pass!

 

8. Other Features of the Edge Tuner

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The Edge tuner has a ton of other things it can do, because it essentially opens up the truck’s computer so the driver can access the data and temporarily modify the input parameters for the current driving conditions. (Obviosuly, you must be parked to mess with the menus on the tuner.)

Our only interest in the tuner has been the improved power while towing, improved fuel economy while not towing and the additional temperature data that is made available when towing over big mountain passes.

Maintenance and Diagnostic Trouble Codes

There is a Maintenance Manager mode where you can establish a reminder system for standard maintenance items like changing the transmission fluid, checking the trans case fluid level, inspecting the brake pads, lubing the tie rod ends and rotating the tires. Simply get it started with your current odometer reading, and the reminders will alert you at your chosen intervals.

If you are really concerned about fuel economy, there is a Mileage Coach that can show you how to vary your foot’s pressure on the gas pedal to maximize fuel economy as you drive. You can also find out the fuel cost per mile of a particular trip if you enter the price of the fuel you buy!

In addition, the Edge tuner can reveal the Diagnostic Trouble Codes that are present when the truck’s Check Engine light goes on. Most codes can be looked up on the internet, so this might save some head scratching before heading off to a mechanic to get the problem looked at.

For racers

We have used only Levels 1 and 2 (for towing and around town driving), however there are two more levels beyond that for increased power performance, if you find your truck on the starting line of a racecourse. These modes adjust the fuel injection and timing to be more aggressive. In addition, the CTS model can be interfaced to a backup camera and it can also monitor the pitch, roll and G-forces!! For those with racing in mind who find themselves at a drag strip, there are also 0 to 60 mph performance tests and quarter mile tests, and the record highest values of these tests are maintained.

Studying the Data

You can also connect the Edge tuner to a computer using the USB port. You can retrieve all the data from the Edge programmer into an Excel-readable .csv file. using the downloadable Windows software called MyStyle (instructions given in the manual).

For us, however, we are content with just the basics!

Product info:

For fun:

After 20,000 very happy miles with this engine tuner, we replaced our ’07 Dodge Ram 3500 with a 2016 Ram 3500 dually. A detailed description of our buying process and options on the new truck can be found here: Which Are the BEST Ram 3500 Options for Towing a 14K lb. 5th Wheel Trailer? A fun story is that rocker Alice Cooper Sold Us Our Truck! For those that are curious, we put a fabulous “puck” based B&W Fifth Wheel Hitch in the bed of our new truck, and we’re getting another Edge tuner!

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