B&W Companion Hitch Performance in a Fifth Wheel Trailer Rollover Accident

The April 2017 issue of Trailer Life magazine featured our article on the new Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch from B&W Trailer Hitches. Ironically, just as that issue came out, a reader emailed us the harrowing tale of his recent fifth wheel trailer rollover accident.

Trailer Life Magazine Latch and Release B&W Companion OEM Fifth Wheel Hitch article

Trailer Life Magazine, April 2017.
Text and photos by Emily Fagan.
Installation by Mark Fagan and Mark Graika.

Like most RVers, we installed our hitch without giving much thought to rollover accidents, and we have been very happy with it.

The B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch is special because it is designed to fit into the new puck sytems that the diesel truck manufacturers are now making available in the beds of their pickup trucks.

This makes it easy to install the hitch in the truck without having to take the truck to a shop.

Mark was able to install it in our truck with a friend’s help in about an hour, using minimal tools, and that included opening the boxes and reading the instructions. A step-by-step guide for how to install the B&W Companion OEM hitch are at this link:

B&W Companion OEM Hitch Installation Guide

The other fabulous thing about the B&W Companion OEM hitch is that not only is it easy to install but it is easy to remove from the truck.

Anytime you want to use the bed of your truck to haul something big like lumber, fire wood or furniture, it is a very straight forward process to take the hitch out of the truck.

The best part is that there are no hitch rails in the bed of the truck, so once the hitch is removed, the bed of the truck is totally flat.

These features are not part of the design of conventional fifth wheel hitches, like the conventional rails-based B&W Companion hitch (not an “OEM” model), so it’s a worthwhile to consider buying a truck with the optional puck system on it if you are considering buying a late model diesel truck.

When buying a truck/trailer combination, not only are the quality of the truck and trailer important, but the hitch is really important too, and not just for its ability to tow a heavy load…

We were shocked when full-time RVers Mark and Doran Gipson sent us photos of their terrifying rollover accident with their fifth wheel. They were towing their home, a 2007 32′ Hitchhiker Discover America fifth wheel, with a 2008 Dodge Ram 2500, and they were hitched together with B&W Companion hitch.

While driving at 60 mph on I-10 outside in El Paso in February, two very inconsiderate drivers suddenly cut them off in a series of swerves right in front of them.

Here is Mark’s description of what happened:

“We were going 60 mph and were cut off by two vehicles who decided to not exit on loop 375. They dove back into our lane within 2 car lengths. With no time to brake, I swerved to the inside lane only to have the second vehicle also move into that lane as well. I lost the trailer when I swerved back to miss the concrete median.”

The result was that the trailer went over on the driver’s side at 60 mph, slid 150 feet and hit its roof on the concrete median.

Hitchhiker trailer wheel trailer RV rollover accident

The Hitchhiker fifth wheel hit the pavement at 60 mph and slid 150 feet.
Most trailers would have splintered on impact.

Fortunately, as the trailer went over on its side, the B&W hitch — which comes in two pieces: a base on the bottom and a coupler on the top — separated in two. The coupler stayed attached to the trailer’s king pin as the trailer toppled over while the base stayed in the bed of the truck, allowing the truck to remain upright.

Hitchhiker fifith wheel trailer rollover accident with B&W fifth wheel hitch coupler still attached

The upper half of the fifth wheel hitch — the coupler — remained attached to the trailer
as it rolled over on the driver’s side.

So, while Mark and Doran came to a skidding stop in their truck, sitting upright in their seats, the trailer rolled over, detached and slid to a stop on its side.

Truck damage from fifth wheel trailer rollover accident

As the trailer went over, the fifth wheel overhang crushed the driver’s side of the truck bed.

If the truck had rolled over too, Mark and Doran could have easily been very badly injured or even killed. However, because the truck stayed upright, they walked away unscathed. Thank heavens!!

With the truck badly damaged and the trailer on its side on I-10, Mark called for help and a wrecking crew arrived. As he wrote to me:

“The wrecker driver came with two trucks and a trailer because he had not gotten to a 5th wheel rollover without the truck also on its side and the trailer in pieces. He said that it would collapse when he tried to pick it up. But he put it on its wheels and towed it to his shop and still can’t believe how well built it was.

“Things were tumbled around inside but we virtually lost none of our possessions.”

Fifth wheel trailer damage from RV rollover accident with Hitchhiker 5th wheel trailer

The wrecking crew righted the trailer and were amazed that it stood up just fine on its own wheels.
The damage to the trailer was cosmetic except for a roof rafter.

“We tested the slides and everything worked. The major damage was cosmetic on the side that slid and possibly a broken roof rafter where the AC unit came against the concrete barrier. Though everything was scrambled inside, nothing was broken. We lost almost nothing of our possessions including TV and computers.”

My husband Mark and I saw a trailer accident on the highway once, and the entire trailer was in splinters. That is what usually happens in trailer accidents and that’s why the wrecker driver arrived at the accident scene prepared to pick up a million pieces off the highway.

Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer sustained little damage in 5th wheel trailer rollover accident

The wrecking crew expected the trailer to fall apart when it was righted, but it stood right up.
They towed it away on its own wheels just fine.

It is quite a testament to the way the Hitchhiker Discover America trailers were built that one could fall over on its side at 60 mph and still be intact with the slide-out mechanisms still functioning and only cosmetic damage on the side that skidded on the asphalt.

Unfortunately, Hitchhiker (NuWa Industries) stopped building fifth wheel trailers in 2013, but used models of all ages can still be found. Our blog posts from our visits to NuWa in Chanute, Kansas, can be found at the following links:

B&W Trailer Hitches is located just a few miles away from the NuWa plant (NuWa is now called Kansas RV Center) in Humboldt, Kansas, and we enjoyed a wonderful factory tour and a unique American heartland small town celebration that was sponsored in part by B&W Trailer Hitches two years ago (blog post here).

For Mark and Doran, the key to their truck staying upright during their rollover accident was the way the pivot arm on the base of the B&W Companion hitch bent sideways and let the coupler break free as the trailer toppled over.

Bent pivot arm on B&W fifth wheel hitch after 5th wheel trailer rollover accident

Looking forward towards the cab of the truck, the pivot arm on the driver’s side bent outwards allowing the coupler to break free (with some small broken parts inside) while the entire hitch base stayed planted in the bed of the truck. This kept the truck upright.

B&W fifth wheel hitch bent pivot arm after 5th wheel trailer rollover accident

Bent pivot arm on the fifth wheel hitch base.

It is impressive that the B&W hitch allowed for the hitch coupler and hitch base to separate completely once one of the pivot arms on the hitch base began to bend as the trailer went over. As the wrecker driver noted, usually both the truck and the trailer roll over together because once the trailer starts to go over the hitch forces the truck over too.

B&W Fifth wheel hitch coupler after trailer rollover accident

The coupler stayed attached to the trailer’s king pin.
In this photo it has been removed from the king pin and laid in the bed of the truck for inspection.

B&W Companion hitch coupler after rollover accident broken pieces inside

The coupler is flipped upside down here to reveal the broken pieces inside.

Broken pieces inside the B&W Companion fifth wheel hitch after a rollover accident

.

In the end, Mark and Doran decided to replace both their truck (a 2008 Dodge Ram 2500) and their trailer (a 2007 32′ Hitchhiker Discover America) as well as their slightly damaged B&W Companion hitch with a new set: a 2012 3500 Ram dually truck, 2012 36′ Hitchhiker Discover America and a new B&W Companion hitch!

We feel very blessed to have towed our fifth wheel trailer so many tens of thousands of miles and seen so many beautiful places in nearly 10 years of full-time travel. We’ve had our share of near misses, especially in our trip back east two years ago where traffic is blindingly fast on very crowded and confusing highways, and we’ve seen our share of accidents too.

One RV upgrade we did that has made a massive difference for us in dealing with sudden stops at high speed while towing our 36′ 14k lb. fifth wheel trailer was a trailer disc brake conversion where we upgraded from standard trailer drum brakes to electric over hydraulic disc brakes. This is a pricey upgrade, but one we highly recommend doing.

Hitchhiker fifth wheel RV with B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch under sunny skies

RVing in a fifth wheel trailer is so much fun, especially in gorgeous places far from the open road.
But accidents do happen and good equipment — from truck to trailer, hitch and brakes — can make a huge difference in the outcome when things go wrong.

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Dodge Ram Truck Owners — Please note:
Late model Dodge Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 trucks have been recalled (beginning 6/23/17) for side airbag problems in a rollover accident. See this article for details: Dodge Ram Side Airbag Recall

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How To Change The Inner Rear Tire on a Dually Truck

One of the first questions we had when we began considering buying a new pickup truck to tow our fifth wheel trailer was: How do you change the inside rear tire on a dually truck? Well, a few days ago we found out!

How to change an inside rear tire on a dually truck

We got a flat on our dually’s inside rear tire (passenger side) while towing our trailer — Oof!!

Our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 Dually has been a fabulous truck for us since we bought it six months ago, and we’ve now got 9,100 miles on it now, 4,633 miles towing and 4,467 miles driving around without our fifth wheel trailer attached.

A few days ago, we stopped at the Libby Dam on the Kootenay River in Montana to get a photo. As I walked around the back of the truck, I heard a weird hissing noise. I stuck my head into the wheel well, and my heart sank when I saw a huge bolt head on the rear inside tire. I put my finger on it, and the hissing stopped. I lifted my finger and the hissing started again. Oh, no!

I almost didn’t have the heart to tell Mark, but after we’d gotten our photos of the dam, I told him the bad news.

We were in a pretty remote spot, completely out of cell phone and internet range. We hit the nifty “Assist” button on the rear view mirror of the truck to give Dodge a call and ask some questions about changing rear tires, but the call wasn’t able to go through.

Assist button rear view mirror Dodge Ram 3500 truck

Ram trucks have a cool “Assist” button that connects you straight to Dodge…if you’re not in the boonies!

The closest town was Libby, Montana. It boasts a population of 2,700 people, but it was 17 miles down the road.

So much for getting any kind of roadside assistance!

The timing for this little inconvenience wasn’t great. We’d been on the road, towing, for 100 miles, and Mark had just been telling me he was ready to call it quits and take a nap. Oh well. No napping just yet!

Luckily, unlike the last time we’d been stranded on the side of the road — when one of our trailer tires blew out four months ago, shortly after our trailer suspension repair — rather than being on the traffic side of an interstate with cars whizzing by at 75 mph, we were working curbside in a nice big pullout next to an extremely quiet country road where a car would leisurely pass by us every five minutes or so.

We unhitched the truck from the trailer to make it a little easier to get at the rear wheels. Mark got our bottle jack out from its storage spot under the driver’s side rear seat of the truck, and he began setting it up. I grabbed a stool from our fifth wheel basement and laid out some mats on the ground to create a work space for him.

From a lifetime of mechanical work, he learned long ago to protect his hands, so he pulled on a pair of leather work gloves that he keeps in the truck.

The first step for changing the tire was to remove the hubcap.

Remove hub cap on Ram 3500 truck rear wheel

Start by removing the hubcap to reveal the lug nuts.

Then, using a breaker bar, he loosened all of the lug nuts. Doing this with the wheel still on the ground is easier than after it’s lifted, because the wheel can’t spin.

Breaker bar to remove rear wheel on dually truck

Use a breaker bar to loosen the lug nuts while the wheels are still on the ground.

We used to carry a 4-way lug wrench for swapping out flat tires, but one time one of the arms twisted like a strand of licorice as Mark tried to unscrew a stubborn lug nut that wouldn’t budge. It was probably a cheap 4-way lug wrench. Most likely, a better quality 4-way lug wrench wouldn’t have done that, but Mark swore off of those things right then and there, and we’ve been carrying a breaker bar ever since.

The lug nuts on our 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 required a 15/16″ socket. The ones on our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 require a 7/8″ socket.

Our bottle jack is rated for 12 tons, enough to hold up the axles of either our trailer or truck easily. More important, it’s also tall enough for the axles on our trailer which we raised a few inches higher from the factory standard during our trailer suspension overhaul to help keep our rear end from dragging on steep ramps at gas stations and on uneven dirt roads.

He unscrewed the top of the bottle jack to raise it up.

Bottle jack for fixing a flat tire

Unscrew the top of the bottle jack by hand to raise it.

He placed it under a flat metal piece that was welded onto the axle.

Bottle jack under the rear axle of a dually truck

Place the bottle jack under a solid flat spot on the axle.

The bottle jack comes with a two-part handle. After removing the two plastic end caps, one tube can be fitted into the other to make a long handle and give you some leverage while pumping up the jack.

Bottle jack handle for fixing a flat tire

Remove the plastic endcaps and fit the tubes together to form a long handle.

He pumped the handle up and down to raise the top of the bottle jack and lift the axle slightly so the wheels no longer touched the ground.

Raise the jack under Ram 3500 dually truck rear axle-2

Raise the rear axle of the truck by pumping the bottle jack handle.

With the lug nuts slightly loosened, he now used a Rigid cordless impact driver to remove them completely.

Impact driver to remove lug nuts fix rear flat tire Ram 3500 dually truck

A Rigid 18 volt cordless impact driver makes it a breeze to remove the lug nuts.

We got the impact driver, a cordless drill and a portable radio as part of a terrific kit that included two lithium-ion battery packs. We use the drill every time we raise and lower our fifth wheel’s stabilizer jacks, and we listen to the portable radio all the time!

He collected the lug nuts in the hub cap.

Fixing rear flat on Ram 3500 dually pickup

Collect the lug nuts in the hubcap so they don’t roll away.

Then he pulled off the outer wheel.

How to change a flat tire on a dually pickup truck

Pull the wheel off.

How to change a flat tire on a dually pickup truck

The outer wheel is off, now for the inner wheel…

The wheel studs on a dually are extra long to hold both wheels onto the truck. So, once the outer wheel was removed, he could pull off the inner wheel.

Remove the inner rear tire of a dually truck

Slide the inner wheel off.

And there was the culprit — a big fat self-tapping bolt!

Flat tire on a dually pickup

And there it is — a nasty self-tapping bolt. Arghh!!

Our 2016 Ram 3500 came with a toolkit for raising and lowering the spare tire. It is located behind a plastic trim piece under the passenger’s seat.

Spare tire toolkit in Ram 3500 truck stored under passenger seat

The toolkit for lowering the spare tire is under the passenger’s seat.

He pulled off the plastic trim piece to get the toolkit out.

Spare tire toolkit Ram 3500 pickup truck

Here is the toolkit for lowering and raising the spare tire from its spot under the truck chassis.

Then he pulled the toolkit out from under the passenger’s seat. It is held in place with two knobs, one of which is tightened with a wingnut. When he put the toolkit back in place later, he had to align it before sliding it in, and then tighten the wingnut.

Mounting brackets spare tire toolkit Ram 3500 truck

The toolkit is held in place by these knobs (the left one is a wing nut).

The toolkit has several handle extensions and other goodies in it.

Spare tire toolkit Ram 3500 truck

The toolkit has all kinds of goodies in it, including a lug wrench that Mark opted not to use since it is probably even more flimsy than a 4-way.

One of the goodies is an L-shaped handle, and there are several extensions that interconnect to lengthen the handle as well.

Spare tire toolkip Ram 3500 pickup truck

Two of these tubes fit together to form a long handle that attach to the L-shaped handle.

He assembled two handle extensions to make a long rod and attached the L-shaped handle to the end. Then he inserted this handle into a hole above the license plate bracket. There is a square fitting inside the hole. The end of the handle slipped over the square fitting.

Lowering the spare tire on a Ram 3500 dually truck

The L-shaped handle and extension tubes fit onto the square fitting in the hole next to the license plate bracket.

Then, he rotated the handle slowly.

Lowering the spare tire on a Ram 3500 dually truck

Twist the handle to lower (or raise) the spare tire.

This gradually lowered the spare tire from its storage spot under the chassis of the truck onto the ground

Lowering the spare tire on a Ram 3500 pickup truck

The spare tire is held to the truck chassis by a brace that compresses a spring.

The spare tire is held tight to the underside of the truck with a spring fitting that can be snugged nice and tight.

Spare tire mounting system Ram 3500 pickup truck

Bracket and spring under the spare tire.

Then he mounted the spare tire on the truck to replace the flat tire.

Mounting the spare tire on rear of Ram 3500 dually truck

The spare tire is mounted on the truck.

Next, he slid the outer wheel in place. Using his cordless impact driver, he replaced the lug nuts, tightening them in increments. Starting at the valve stem, he tightened the closest lug nut a bit and then tightened the one that was opposite, then tightened the next one, and then the one opposite that one, etc., working his way around the rim and tightening the wheel equally all the way around. Then he gave each lug nut a final tightening using the breaker bar.

Then he put the hubcap back on. It didn’t pop on really easily using his palm, so he used the top of a rubber mallet to tap it in place.

Replace hub cap on dually truck rear wheel

The hubcap didn’t snap in place using palms only, but the butt end of a soft rubber mallet did the trick.

Interestingly, we could now see exactly how much rubber we had worn off our rear tires in 9,100 miles, because the wheels didn’t hang down evenly.

Spare tire and used tire height difference on Ram 3500 dually truck

The brand new spare and 9,000 mile used tire are different heights.

Using a pocket knife, he got a rough estimate of just how much rubber had been worn off — maybe 1/8″ or so.

Rear tIre wear dually truck 9000 miles

About 1/8″ of rubber has come off of the tire in 9,000 miles of driving.

He raised the flat tire up into the storage spot under the truck chassis where the spare tire had been, and lowered the bottle jack under the axle so the truck was sitting on all four rear wheels again. We hitched the trailer back up and started to drive.

This little hiccup in our RVing lifestyle had taken about 30 minutes.

Our fancy new truck has a cool display (the DID, or Driver Information Display) that shows the air pressure in each of the six tires on the truck (this is the TPMS, or Tire Pressure Monitor System). We were both really alarmed when the spare tire reported that it had 17 lbs. of pressure while the other three rear tires all had 63 to 65 lbs. What the heck??

Tire pressure dashboard readout Ram 3500 truck

The tire pressure for the spare is 17 lbs. Yikes!! (huh????)

The dealership where we bought the truck had told us they’d aired up the spare when we bought the truck new six months earlier. Even though Mark usually uses a tire gauge to measure the air in the spare, he hadn’t this time because it was a brand new tire that seemed perfectly good, had the right sound when he thumped it, and bounced nicely on the ground.

But we grew ever more alarmed as the dashboard display showed 15 lbs., then 13 lbs., and then went to dashes. The road was super quiet, so while driving the 17 miles to get to the Les Schwab tire place in Libby, we pulled over several times to check that the tire wasn’t heating up… It wasn’t.

Tire pressure dashboard readout Ram 3500 truck

Now the tire pressure is dashes. What does THAT mean??

We made it to Les Schwab, and they put a terrific new kind of patch on the tire that mounts from the inside. It has a big round rubber flange that mounts inside the tire with a plug that fills the hole.

The spare turned out to have 65 lbs. of air pressure, just the way it should have. So, we all scratched our heads for a while about the weird air pressure numbers we’d seen on the dashboard.

Then our service guy suddenly brightened up. “I know what it was!” he said. “The spare tire doesn’t have a sensor in it to report its tire pressure to the truck, but the original tire did!”

So, as the original tire was being carried under the chassis of the truck, where the spare usually sits, it was transmitting its decreasing tire pressure to the console on the dashboard, and the dashboard was dutifully displaying the numbers as coming from the right inside rear tire even though the tire was no longer in that position. Eventually the tire pressure got so low it was below the minimum, so the display showed dashes.

It turns out that that option for the spare tire to have a sensor on the valve stem is only available on Premium models of Ram trucks. We never saw that option in any dealer option lists.

I just showed this post to Mark to see what he thought, and he looked at me in astonishment and said, “When did you take all these photos? This is great!”

“When you were changing the tire!” I explained. “I’m sneaky!” (And I’d MUCH rather write about changing a tire than do it myself!)

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5th Wheel Trailer Suspension Failure – Replaced with our RV Warranty!

You never know what might break on an RV, and during our 2015 RV travels from Arizona to Nova Scotia and back, we faced four major repairs on our 8 year old fifth wheel trailer in four short months. Ouch.

The last breakdown — the failure of our fifth wheel trailer’s suspension — ended up being the most expensive repair of them all, because the entire trailer suspension had to be replaced. We were so miserable about the whole situation as it unfolded last fall in Phoenix, Arizona, that the last thing I wanted to do was to write about it on this blog.

So, the story has waited five months until now when our spirits are high and we’re camped near a stunning lake in the Canadian Rockies!

Bow Lake Jasper Ice Fields Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Repairs aside, this is why we RV!

2015 was a phenomenal year of travel for us, but it could have been a financial disaster.

$7,420

That was the scary total cost of all our RV repairs in 2015. Yikes!!

Fortunately, our out of pocket cost was just $1,045, because we had an extended RV warranty for our trailer.

Here's a summary of what our four year RV warranty through Wholesale Warranties cost, what our repairs WOULD HAVE cost, and what our warranty reimbursements have been to date:

Cost of Warranty $1,904
Total Cost of Repairs we've had done $7,834
Total Out of Pocket Costs for those repairs $1,145
Repair Reimbursements:
Trailer Axle Replacement $1,036
RV Refrigerator Replacement $1,647
Plumbing Issues & Window Leak $1,142
Suspension Replacement $2,550
RV Toilet Replacement $314
Total Repair Reimbursements $6,689

Our trailer warranty has paid for itself 3.5 times over, and there's still lots of time left on the contract!

As reflected on our RV budget and expenses analysis page, our combined maintenance and repair costs on our truck and trailer averaged $106 per month for our full-time travels between May, 2007, and August, 2015.

Life was good back then. Maintenance was easy and the unexpected repairs were small and manageable. Anything that went wrong was something Mark could fix (he’s an extremely gifted mechanic).

But 2015 unfolded very differently than prior years. This was mostly due to our trailer now being eight years old and also because we spent a month spent driving the rough back roads of Nova Scotia.

What is an RV Warranty and should you have one?

We weren’t sure at first, but after 4 expensive repairs in 4 months in 2015, we now know the answer is YES!!!

So, how did this all transpire?

When we were in Nova Scotia, we bent a spindle on the rear axle of our trailer. We limped to Bangor, Maine, and got a new axle installed.

Old trailer axle new fifth wheel RV axle

We had to replace a trailer axle after driving the rough back roads in Nova Scotia

Besides damaging a trailer axle while we were in Nova Scotia, we also sprang leaks in both our fresh water tank and in our big rear window. The underbelly compartment of our trailer was filling with water whenever we filled our fresh water tank, and our rear window was leaking water all over our living room carpet whenever it rained (and it rains a lot in the northeast). Ugh!

Sadly, large fresh water tanks are not a commodity item, because they come in all shapes and sizes.

So, rather than waiting for two months for a new fresh water tank to come to the repair shop in Maine, we decided to do both of these water-related repairs (as well as a bunch of other smaller repairs) in Chanute, Kansas, at NuWa Industries, the factory repair facility where our trailer was originally manufactured.

NuWa claimed to have a fresh water tank for our trailer model in stock (this proved not to be the case, but that is another story), and they had an appointment available in two months (and no sooner!).

We could live with the leaks and other small problems, so this gave us two months to get from Maine to Kansas. We moseyed west and enjoyed a fabulous stay in Maysville, Kentucky.

Unfortunately, within 24 hours of leaving there, our RV refrigerator died. Good grief — While en route from a trailer axle repair in Maine to a bunch of plumbing related repairs in Kansas, we had to get a new RV fridge somewhere near western Kentucky. Not many places stock 8 cubic foot Dometic RV refrigerators! We scrambled and got our RV refrigerator replaced outside Indianapolis.

RV Refrigerator replacement under warranty

We had to replace our RV refrigerator after 8 years (the typical lifespan for a fridge, we found out!)

Luckily, the refrigerator replacement at Camping World went really well.

Once we got to Chanute, Kansas for our new fresh water tank, window repair, toilet repair, faucet replacement and a few other things, our buggy had to stay in the shop for three days!!

RV fresh water holding tank replacement

We had to replace our fresh water tank and do many other plumbing and leak-related repairs.

We were not allowed to stay in our rig while it was in the shop in Kansas. Fortunately, the trailer warranty reimbursement for those three days of repairs included our two nights at a motel. Thank goodness for that warranty once again!

Back on the road after our plumbing and water leak repairs were completed in Kanses, we ventured onward to Phoenix, Arizona.

Sadly, our saga of trailer repairs was not over yet.

TRAILER SUSPENSION FAILURE

Since we had left Maine (where we had gotten our new trailer axle installed), we had watched with alarm as the two wheels on our trailer’s tandem axles had gotten progressively closer and closer together. The frame of our trailer, built by Lippert Components, had always had very narrow spacing between the two wheels.

When we had upgraded from the factory installed E-rated (10 ply) tires to the higher profile G-rated (14 ply) tires a few years prior, I could squeeze two fingers between the tires. After our trailer axle replacement and new tire purchase in Maine, I verified that this was still the case.

5th wheel trailer suspension tire spacing is okay

Spacing between the wheels is two finger widths.

However, by the time we got to Phoenix, I could barely get the tip of my pinky finger between them and I could not slide my whole pinky in.

Fifth wheel trailer tires 1-4 inch apart

My pinky finger can squeeze only partway in between the tires!

The spacing was down to less than 1/4 inch.

Fifth wheel trailer tires 1-4 inch apart

Sagging suspension made our wheels dangerously close together.

Something was very wrong.

We took the trailer to Straight Line Suspension in Mesa, Arizona, a repair shop that had a newly outfitted facility that does a lot of contract suspension maintenance work on fleets of school buses and commercial trucks.

After careful inspection, their consensus was that we needed to revamp the trailer’s suspension completely. Something was failing, and whether the culprit was the leaf springs, or the equalizer between the springs or the axles themselves, no one could determine exactly.

Fifth wheel trailer RV at suspension shop for service

Our buggy goes into the repair shop for a new suspension.

And this is where we were glad not just to have any old extended warranty contract on our trailer but to have one purchased through Wholesale Warranties.

THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING AN ALLY

Unlike most RV warranty brokers, Wholesale Warranties is heavily invested in the relationship between their clients and the warranty providers they represent. They want to be sure that their customers’ claims are properly handled by the warranty companies. So, they are more than happy to get involved in their clients’ claims to facilitate and make sure there are no misunderstandings.

This level of commitment to their products and belief in them is truly astonishing. And it makes all the difference in the world.

When the service provider (Straight Line Suspension) first called our warranty provider (Portfolio Protection), the warranty company was understandably reluctant to cover the repair without knowing the root cause of the failure. They pressed the shop to determine which specific part had caused the failure. Was it the shocks? The leaf springs? The axles? They wanted to replace only the component(s) that failed and nothing more. That makes sense!

However, the suspension experts had no idea which part had failed, and they said there was no easy way to figure that out. So, we called Wholesale Warranties and had a long conversation with John Wise. We described to him the gradual failure we had witnessed and the difficulty of pin-pointing exactly which component(s) had failed and in what order the failure(s) had occurred.

I emailed him photos of our wheel spacing both before and after the failure. Thank goodness I take so many photos and had both “before” and “after” photos to send him!

He then called our warranty company, Portfolio Protection, and reviewed the photos with them. He explained that the suspension mechanics were not sure exactly what had caused the failure but that the suspension was not functioning properly and needed to be replaced.

In the end, Portfolio Protection agreed to replace the springs, equalizers and shocks and also to correct the insufficient spacing between the leaf spring hangers, placing them further apart so that even if some components failed or sagged in the future, there would no risk that the wheels would touch.

If it weren’t for Wholesale Warranties coming to our aid to act as a liaison and facilitator and to help explain our breakdown in a way that the warranty provider could understand, this vital repair would not have been covered.

Of course, the role of Wholesale Warranties is strictly as a facilitator. They can’t force the provider to reimburse a repair that is not covered by the contract. We have called Wholesale Warranties for liaison assistance several times now, and they have been very up front when our repair was outside the limits of our contract.

However, being able to call them and describe the problem and get their input is extremely helpful. This is particularly true in cases like our trailer axle repair where both our RV insurance plan AND our RV warranty contract could be used to pay for the repair, but one was financially preferable to the other due to differing deductibles and different kinds of coverage.

 

FIFTH WHEEL TRAILER SUSPENSION REPLACEMENT

The first step in our trailer suspension replacement was to jack up the trailer and remove the two axles. We had just done a fabulous trailer disc brake conversion eight months earlier, and this was the THIRD time the hydraulic lines had been tampered with due to removing the axles or the belly pan from the frame. How frustrating!

Fifth wheel trailer axles hangers ready to be removed

The trailer axles are removed from the trailer.

Once the axles were off the trailer, the next step was to remove the leaf spring hangers.

Fifth wheel trailer axle hangers

The hangers must be cut off the frame.

The sparks flew like mad as each of the six hangers was cut off the frame using a torch.

Sparks fly as fifth wheel trailer leaf spring hangers are cut off

Sparks fly as the old trailer leaf spring hangers are cut off

Cutting off trailer leaf spring hangers

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Straight Line Suspension wanted to ensure the new springs were strong enough, so they chose 8,000 lb. American made springs from Rockwell American, even though we had just 7,000 lb. axles and only 11,250 lbs. sitting on the pair of axles (as of our most recent RV weighing by the Escapees Smartweigh program).

New 8000 lb fifth wheel trailer leaf springs

New 8000 lb American made leaf springs from Rockwell American

They pointed out to us the difference between Chinese made springs and American made springs. Chinese steel is notorious for being inferior to American steel, and the overall fabrication quality of the springs, especially at the eye, was not as good.

American made leaf springs

The eye of the American made leaf springs looks clean and well made.

Chinese leaf springs

Not so much for the Chinese made leaf springs

Our trailer’s original Chinese springs had come with nylon bushings inside the eye, but they had been upgraded to brass bushings. When the old springs were removed from the trailer, we saw the brass bushings inside were worn out. The curvature of the spring from the eye was also flat, an indication that the spring itself was worn out.

Worn out bushings in trailer axle leaf spring

Worn out bushings and the spring is flat — no curvature left!
(compare to above pics!)

Straight Line Suspension fabricated a new leaf spring hanger system that had three hangers welded onto a bar. These hangers would space the axles further apart than they originally had been.

New custom trailer leaf spring hanger

New custom trailer leaf spring hangers

The bar was then welded onto the underside of the trailer frame.

New trailer tandem leaf spring hanger ready to be installed

The new trailer leaf spring hanger bar is positioned so it can be welded onto the frame.

After welding on the new hanger bar, new equalizers were bolted onto each center hangers.

New trailer tandem axle equalizer

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Then the leaf springs were bolted onto the outer hangers.

New fifth wheel trailer leaf spring hangers leaf springs and equalizer

Springs and equalizers in place — all set to reinstall the axles.

The axles were installed using new U-bolts. Straight Line Suspension also made a brace to span the width of the trailer between the two hanger bars to add some rigidity to the suspension system.

New support for trailer tandem axle suspension

A brace running across the width of the trailer makes the system stronger and more sturdy.

New trailer leaf spring and leaf spring hangers

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Then they welded new shock mounts on the frame and installed new Monroe Gas-Magnum RV shock absorbers.

New shock absorbers on tandem trailer axle suspension

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The final result — our wheels were a fist’s width apart!!

Proper spacing tandem axle fifth wheel trailer RV

The trailer axles are spaced a lot better now.

SUSPENSION REPAIR COST BREAKDOWN

Here are the costs for the suspension replacement and our out of pocket costs as a result of our extended trailer warranty:

Parts: $1,119.83
Labor: $1,440.00
Tax: $90.15
Total: $2,649.98
Reimbursement: $2,549.98
Out of Pocket (deductible): $100.00

COMPLICATIONS

Unfortunately, in the world of repairs, sometimes fixing one thing breaks another.

After our trailer suspension replacement was completed, we towed our trailer out into the parking lot and went inside to get organized to leave for our next destination.

As always, we were not connected to electrical hookups, so we turned on our new Exeltech XPX 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter that we had installed as part of our overall RV electrical system overhaul so we could generate 120 volt AC power from our batteries and run our microwave and computers.

Instantly an alarm went off.

What???

We flew to turn off the inverter and then began troubleshooting segments of our AC wiring to try to figure out the problem.

Suddenly, we heard a huge loud POP. And that was the end of the inverter.

Good heavenly days.

Luckily, the inverter was still under its manufacturer’s warranty. Exeltech is phenomenal about caring for their equipment out in the field. They provide inverters to NASA and their equipment is on both the American and Russian sides of the International Space Station. They take great pride in their equipment and have an excellent warranty repair process.

Mark undid the really nice inverter installation job he’d done for our Exeltech, boxed it up, and shipped it to Exeltech’s Ft. Worth, Texas, facility.

Exeltech 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter installed above Trojan Reliant AGM batteries in fifth wheel RV

Geez… Our beautiful inverter (the suspended black box) had been working flawlessly!
(To keep the inverter cool and well clear of the batteries, yet still close, it is securely suspended above)

In the meantime, we spent a day troubleshooting our wiring to try to understand what had gone wrong. It wasn’t clear to us how the trailer suspension replacement might have impacted our trailer wiring, and Straight Line Suspension was certain that the two were unrelated.

After many hours of crawling under the trailer, and removing the belly pan section by section, and running our fingers along the frame and shining a flashlight into the unreachable depths, we found a spot where the AC trunk line was resting on the frame.

Well, it wasn’t exactly resting any more. The heat from the cutting and welding torches had melted the cable’s insulation onto the frame!

Mark carefully incised the casing, separated the hot and neutral lines, re-wrapped them in new insulation and affixed the cable firmly to the underside of the plywood flooring well away from the frame.

How had this happened?

Sadly, Straight Line Suspension did not check the frame sufficiently in the areas where they would be welding before they started torching the hangers off of it and welding on the new hanger system. Of course, this is a difficult thing to do because a plastic corrugated sheeting covers the entire underbelly of the trailer, protecting the tanks and wiring from road grime.

In order to inspect the frame before taking a torch to it, this corrugated sheeting must be removed, and any wiring in the area where the welding will take place must be located to ensure that it is not touching the frame.

RV manufacturers should enclose all wiring in conduit, or at least tack it to the underside of the plywood flooring, rather running it along the I-beams. However, that was not the case in our trailer. The wiring was tacked up to the flooring in some places, but there were extensive gaps that sagged, and this one portion sagged enough to be touching the frame right where the cutting and welding took place.

We live off the grid in our RV on solar power, so our inverter is our sole source of AC power. Losing it was a huge inconvenience!

While we waited for ten days or so for our inverter to make it to Ft. Worth, undergo diagnosis and repair then be shipped back to Phoenix, Mark installed our old Exeltech XP 1100 inverter in its place. Thank goodness we hung onto it after our upgrade from the 1100 watt to the 2000 watt version of the inverter!!

Straight Line Suspension paid for the expedited shipping and insurance for our inverter, and eventually, the happy day came when our inverter arrived and Mark got it put back in place.

Exeltech XPX 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter living off the grid in an RV

The Exeltech XPX 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter has been repaired and is ready to be reinstalled.

Needless to say, this was an ordeal that was not fun to live through and one that I waited a long time to write about. However, it is an amazing illustration of just how valuable an RV warranty can be, especially if you get one from a broker that stands behind their customers during the claims process. It’s also an important reminder that if someone is going to take a torch to your RV frame, they should check the nearby wiring first!

We weren’t sure just how worthwhile an RV Warranty would be when we got ours, but 2015 would have been an extremely expensive year for us without it. It’s bad enough to be stuck on the side of the road. But having to pay through the nose for the nasty surprise of a major repair makes the ordeal even worse.

Trailer on side of interstate with bad wheel bearing

What’s worse than being dead on the side of the road? Knowing it’s gonna cost ya!

Wholesale Warranties loves our repair stories, and they have offered our readers a $50 discount on their RV warranty (for a trailer or motorhome) if you mention our website, Roads Less Traveled, when you set it up. The discount will come off the quoted price at the time of purchase (remind them before you sign if you don’t see it — it’s not automated!!). Here is the link to get a quote for a warranty on your particular RV:

Wholesale Warranties Quote Page

Or you can call them at (800) 939-2806 and ask for our contact, Missi Junior, or email her at missi@wholesalewarranties.com.

FURTHER READING:

Articles Related to Finances in the RV Lifestyle:

Our Personal Case History of RV Warranty Repairs:

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Choosing a Trailer for Full-time RVing: Cargo Carrying Capacity

The other day we found ourselves at a fabulous RV dealership in Missoula, Montana: Bretz RV and Marine on I-90. This is a huge place that has a mammoth inventory of trailers and motorhomes that spills over several lots. What a great spot to go RV shopping!

We LOVE RV shopping and have been at it for over ten years!

But what brought us here? Well, the 99 cents per gallon propane deal they are offering was one thing, and the free and extremely well laid out RV dump station was another. What a place!

Bretz RV & Marine Free RV Dump Station and 99 cent propane

A free dump and ultra cheap propane brought us to a very cool RV dealership in Montana

After we’d dumped and gotten our propane, we decided to have a look around the RV lots and check out some of the very pretty RVs. Bretz has an enormous selection of Airstream trailers, and we got a huge kick out of seeing a few up close. Beautiful!

Airstream Travel Trailer RV

How fun it was to prowl around these classic Airstream trailers.

I have written a little about what to look for in an RV for full-time living, and one of the things that a lot of new RVers don’t realize when they go shopping is how important it is to get a trailer with an adequate Cargo Carrying Capacity.

Cargo Carrying Capacity is the difference between what the RV weighs when there is nothing in it (the “Unloaded Vehicle Weight” or UVW) and what it weighs when you have loaded it down with all of your personal belongings plus food, water and propane as well as upgrades like solar power, washer/dryer, a big battery bank, a generator, a bike rack and bikes, etc., (the “Gross Vehicle Weight” or GVW).

It is important not to exceed the Cargo Carrying Capacity!

If you do, then you’ve gone over the trailer’s GVWR (“Gross Vehicle Weight Rating”) which is the maximum safe weight for the trailer when it is fully loaded.

On older trailers the GVWR is posted on a sticker that is placed on the outside of the trailer up near the front on the driver’s side. On newer trailers there is usually another sticker that indicates the Cargo Carrying Capacity.

Fifth wheel trailer cargo carrying capacity sticker

A sticker for the trailer’s weight capacities is usually on the driver’s side up by the hitch.

A few weeks after we moved into our 36′ Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer back in 2008, we took it to a truck scale. We reported on this blog at the time that it weighed 13,850 lbs. This was close to the trailer’s GVWR of 13,995, but not over.

Phew!! We had lived in it a very short time and had filled the cabinets only 1/3 of the way!

Weighing a fifth wheel RV on a truck scale

Right after moving into our new fifth wheel in 2008 we hopped on a scale to see what it weighed.

After we finished our sailing cruise of Mexico in 2013, we had to squeeze our lives back into our trailer, and we had a tough time getting rid of all the wonderful things we’d picked up from sailing.

So we had our trailer weighed using the Escapees Smartweigh Program at the Escapees RV park at North Ranch near Wickenburg, Arizona. Our trailer had gained 250 lbs. and now weighed 14,100 lbs. The weight on our rear axles was 11,250 lbs.

The trailer was built with two 7,000 lb. axles. It also came from the factory with E-rated (10-ply) tires that were rated to carry 3,032 lbs. apiece, or 6,084 lbs. per pair on an axle.

When it comes to GAWR (“Gross Axle Weight Rating”), the axles are rated according to the weaker component, whether it is the axles or the tires. So our GAWR was 6,084 lbs. due to the E-rated tires. However, by upgrading to G-rated (14 ply) tires that are rated to carry 3,960 lbs. each, or 7,920 lbs. all together, the weak link became the axles themselves rather than the tires. So our GAWR was now 7,000 lbs. due to the axles.

Either way, the 11,250 lbs. actual weight we had on our axles was well within both the original axle rating of 12,780 lbs for the pair (6,084 per axle x 2 axles = 12,780) and the new axle rating of 14,000 lbs for the pair (7,000 per axle x 2 axles = 14,000 lbs).

Weighing a fifth wheel RV on a truck scale

In 2013 we began to worry about the battle of the bulge.

Our Escapees Smartweigh weighing revealed that our old 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 single rear wheel truck was overloaded. After we upgraded to our new 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually, we went to a truck scale two more times to see how we were doing.

We knew the trailer weight was well within the towing capacities of the new truck, but we had had to replace a trailer axle in August 2015 and then replace the entire trailer suspension (ugh!) in October of 2015. Needless to say, we were concerned about the weight on the trailer axles.

When the trailer was weighed this time around, the weight on the trailer axles had increased to 11,600 lbs., 350 lbs. higher than two years earlier, but still well within the limits of the 14,000 lbs. that the axles and tires could carry.

Discussing the weight of a fifth wheel trailer RV

Mark gets the low-down on our truck and trailer weights.

We didn’t weigh the truck and trailer separately, so we don’t have a figure for the overall trailer weight yet. However, my suspicion is that the extra 350 lbs. on the axles means our 14,100 lb. overall trailer weight has increased by 350 lbs. to about 14,450 or so. This means the trailer is 455 lbs. or so over the its GVWR of 13,995 lbs.

Living light in a fifth wheel RV trailer

Despite having many cabinets that are only partially full, our trailer is over its weight limit!

Besides being overweight, we’ve learned something important from this.

The UVWR (“Unloaded Vehicle Weight Rating”) on our trailer is 10,556 lbs. Since 13,995 GVWR – 10,556 UVW = 3,439, this means the Cargo Carrying Capacity of our trailer is 3,439 lbs. That’s a little above average for most fifth wheel trailers.

However, if our trailer’s true weight is now 14,450 lbs., then the cargo we are actually carrying weighs 3,894 lbs (because 14,450 True Weight – 10,556 UVW = 3,894 Actual Cargo Weight).

Weighing a fifth wheel RV on a truck scale

A few weeks ago (in March 2016) we were back on the scales again.

So, what this means is that for us to live in our trailer comfortably over a period of many years, as we have done, we need a trailer with a Cargo Carrying Capacity of around 4,000 lbs. Other RVers may have different requirements.

Frankly, if we were to buy a new trailer, we would be looking for a Cargo Carrying Capacity of at least 5,000 lbs.

We dry camp 100% of the time, so we always tow the trailer with the fresh water tank full (since we will need a full tank when we set up camp). Water weighs 8.3 lbs. per gallon. So, our 70 gallons in the fresh water tank and 10 gallons in the hot water heater, weigh 664 lbs.

Our waste tanks are empty when we travel.

RVers who don’t dry camp at all can travel with as little as 20 gallons or so of water all together between the fresh water tank and hot water heater, or 166 lbs. of water weight instead of 664 lbs. like we have.

So, what does all this have to do with our RV window shopping at Bretz RV & Marine the other day?

Well, whenever we go RV window shopping, we routinely check the weight capacity sticker on every trailer we look at, because overall GVWR and Cargo Carrying Capacity are just as important to us as the kitchen and living room layout. And while we were checking out cool new trailers, we got a big surprise…

I LOVE little trailers, and I was smitten by a sweet tear drop trailer called the Little Guy Rough Rider.

Little Guy Rough Rider Travel Trailer

The Rough Rider – How Adorable!!

What a fun little trailer! It even has a cute saying on the back…

Little Guy Tear Drop Trailer I Go Where I'm Towed To

“I Go Where I’m Towed To” — Funny, that’s what Mark says!!

We also really liked a big Redwood fifth wheel.

Redwood Fifth Wheel RV with 5 slide-outs two doors

A beautiful Redwood fifth wheel trailer caught our attention.

It was a monster with two exterior doors and five slides. Wow!!

Redwood Fifth Wheel with five slides

This big beautiful baby has two exterior doors and five slides!!

Well, which one do you think can carry a heavier load — the little weekend trailer that is just a bed on wheels with a wee mini-kitchen on the back, ideal for summer camping, or the big “full-time,” four season fifth wheel trailer that might replace someone’s house??

Ahem, not the trailer you’d think.

The stickers on these two trailers gave the following:

Rough Rider Teardrop Trailer Cargo Carrying Capacity: 1,925 lbs.
Redwood Full-timer Fifth Wheel Trailer Cargo Carrying Capacity: 1,876 lbs.

Little Guy Rough Rider Travel Trailer Cargo Carrying Capacity

The weights capacity sticker for the teardrop trailer: Cargo Carrying Capacity of 1,925

Redwood Fifth Wheel Cargo Carrying Capacity 1

Weights capacity sticker for the big beautiful fifth wheel trailer: Cargo Carrying Capacity of 1,876 lbs.

Wow!

Reeling from this sticker shock, we wandered around the RV dealership lot a little more and found a wonderful big fifth wheel toy hauler.

Cyclone Toy Hauler Fifth Wheel RV front

Curious about cargo carrying capacities for toy haulers, we checked out this big trailer.

This triple axle behemoth had three slides and was built to carry big toys with motors, like ATVs, motorcycles, and other goodies.

Cyclone Toy Hauler Fifth Wheel RV

Three slides and three axles — ready to go do some ATV adventuring in style!!

Like all toyhaulers, it had a big door in the back that would drop down to become a ramp so you could roll out on your ATV or motorcycle with ease.

Cyclone Toy Hauler Fifth Wheel RV Rear

The back has a huge door that drops down to form a ramp so you can ride out!

So this big guy was built to haul a big load, right?

Well, not exactly. It has a Cargo Carrying Capacity of 2,302 lbs. That is just a little more than the Little Guy Rough Rider teardrop!

The sticker on this toy hauler makes it very clear that when the trailer’s fresh water tank and hot water tank are both full, then the Cargo Carrying Capacity drops to 1,372 lbs.

So, your clothes, food, generator, on-board gas tank, propane tanks and your big toys like your ATV or motorcycle can’t weigh more than 1,372 lbs. all together if you wish to dry camp. If you are going to get hookups, then your limit will be 2,302 lbs., still a very tight squeeze if your toys weigh a few hundred pounds.

Cyclone Toy Hauler Fifth Wheel RV cargo carrying capacity 2

If this toy hauler is towed with empty water and waste tanks, it can carry 2,302 lbs.
If the fresh and hot water tanks are full and waste tanks are empty, it can hold just 1,372 lbs.

I’m not advocating one RV brand over another or knocking any particular RV brand with this info. Far from it! These specs and stickers come from random trailers that appealed to us and that happened to be on the dealership lot the day we were there.

When we have wandered through other RV dealership lots in different states at other times, we have discovered that many very popular brands have similar specs.

Florence Coffee Kiosk next to Bretz RV & Marine

Need a pick-me-up after looking at all those trailers and calculating all those numbers?
There’s a great little coffee kiosk next door to Bretz RV & Marine!

The important thing is that if you are shopping for a trailer that you are going to tow a lot, you should try to estimate how much weight you will put into it, including however much fresh water it will have in it when you hitch up. Then make sure the trailer you buy has sufficient cargo carrying capacity.

Unsure what your stuff weighs?

You can use a bathroom scale to get a rough estimate of what your clothes weigh by putting your laundry basket on it or weighing yourself holding your laundry basket and subtracting out your weight. You can also grab a bunch of clothes/jackets on hangers and do the same thing.

Likewise after a big grocery shopping spree — weigh yourself holding bunches of bags of groceries before you put it all away. Then look at what you already have in the fridge and pantry. The same can be done with pots and pans, dishware, tools, shoes, bikes etc. And don’t forget any upgrades you plan to do to the trailer after you buy it.

Or use our numbers as a guideline. We still haven’t filled all the shelves in our fifth wheel!

Happy shopping!!

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How to Put DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid) in a Truck & Which is Cheapest?

How do you put DEF fluid in a truck without spilling a drop? Here are a few tips for diesel truck owners out there as well as lots of helpful info about Diesel Exhaust Fluid, what it does and where we found it’s cheapest to buy.

Since 2010, diesel pickup truck engines have relied on Selective Catalytic Reduction technology (SCR), which uses Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF), to meet the EPA emmissions standards. DEF is a mixture of 1/3 urea and 2/3 de-ionized water, and it is sprayed into the exhaust system of diesel trucks to reduce the nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions into harmless nitrogen and water.

Pouring Diesel Exhaust Fluid DEF fluid into truck

Late model diesel trucks require refilling the DEF tank!

Each manufacturer designs their trucks with a tank to hold the DEF, and you have to replenish it every so often. Our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 has a 5 gallon DEF tank. The filler hole is under the gas cap next to the diesel filler hole. On some brands of trucks the filler hole is in the engine compartment under the hood.

Dodge Ram 3500 DEF and diesel gas cap

The Dodge Ram has the DEF filler hole next to the diesel filler hole under the gas cap

Diesel Gas Cap

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As a side note, opening the gas cap on a Ram truck is interesting because there is no screw-on dust cap covering the diesel filler hole inside. There’s just a spring-loaded flap. We find we need to wipe down the whole area after we’ve taken the truck out on four wheel drive roads in dusty places like southeastern Utah.

We use a nifty aftermarket diesel gas cap that uses a magnet to keep it handy during fill-ups. Very cool! A slightly less expensive one is also available here.

While it would seem trivial to refill the DEF tank, we struggled the first few times with the bulky jugs and awkward spouts, and it dripped here and there and was basically a pain in the neck.

We’ve also shopped around quite a bit to find DEF that is fairly inexpensive. One of the more common brands is BlueDEF. Others are Command DEF by Prestone and Blue Blood by Cam2. You can also buy it in bulk (see below).

However, the best deal we’ve found is the big blue 2.5 gallon jug of SuperTech DEF sold at Walmart (in-store) for $7.88. The jug is easy to use and it’s drip-free.

SuperTech DEF Diesel Exhuast Fluid

SuperTech Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF)

SuperTech DEF comes with a flexible pouring spout that is wrapped around the handle. Simply unscrew the jug’s cap and screw the spout on until it’s really tight.

Diesel Exhaust Fluid nozzle

The SuperTech DEF jug comes with a flexible pour spout wrapped around the handle

Diesel Exhaust Fluid installing the nozzle

Screw the flexible pour spout on tightly

Diesel Exhaust Fluid nozzle-2

Ready to pour.

There is a small black vent hole on the spout, and this little guy is essential to making the whole process go smoothly and cleanly.

Vent on Diesel Exhaust Fluid DEF container

The black air vent on the pour spout is the key to doing this chore
without dripping or spilling

After putting the flexible spout securely into the filler hole on the truck, give the jug a small squeeze to start the flow of fluid. This will make the vent hole on the jug such air in, which vents the jug and allows the fluid to flow easily.

Pouring DEF fluid Diesel Exhaust Fluid into the truck

Once the spout is inserted securely in the filler hole, squeeze the bottle slightly to start the flow.

Make sure all the fluid has been poured into the tank, and then you’re done!

Pouring DEF fluid Diesel Exhaust Fluid into the truck

Empty the contents into the DEF tank.

The first time we did this, we didn’t squeeze the jug first, and DEF dribbled out the air vent. But if you get the siphon going properly, by squeezing the jug as you start to pour, it’s a cinch.

Our Ram truck has a dashboard gauge that indicates the fill level of the DEF tank. When it gets down to half full, we put a 2.5 gallon jug of DEF into the tank to fill it back up again. We typically do this every 1,000 miles or so.

DEF has a minimum shelf life of a year. We keep just one 2.5 gallon jug on hand at all times. Since we refill our tank about every four to six weeks, we never remotely approach its shelf life.

Buying DEF in Bulk

Another option for DEF fluid is to get it in bulk at a gas station. This is not common yet, and most gas stations don’t have DEF in bulk. However, Flying J and Pilot truck stops carry it at some of their travel centers (see links at the end for locations).

In our travels, we don’t often fill up at Flying J or Pilot, simply because they tend to be on the interstates and we tend to be on back country roads. So, we haven’t yet seen or been able to take advantage of their bulk DEF at the pump.

However, for RVers that use these travel centers a lot, this is a super way to go. The current bulk Flying J / Pilot DEF price at many of their centers is a little less than the SuperTech bottled price (~$2.79/gallon vs. $3.16/gallon).

Pilot / Flying J offers a discount card for RV travelers that gives a few cents off on fuel and 50% off on RV dump station fees, and special discounts for Good Sam Club members.

Pilot Flying J RV Traveler Discount Card

Pilot and Flying J have DEF in bulk at the pump AND a discount card for RVers

What are the pros and cons with a truck that uses DEF fluid? An obvious disadvantage is that you’ve got to do this extra little chore every so often.

However, there are benefits too. The fuel mileage is slightly better on SCR equipped engines than on older trucks that used a Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) to meet the EPA emissions standards (like our 2007 Dodge Ram 3500). Cummins, manufacturer of the engine in the Dodge Ram line of diesel trucks, says the improvement can be up to 5%.

This increase in fuel economy is because the improved conversion of NOx emissions allows the newer engines to be fully optimized. Also, the older engines go into a “Regen” frequently to burn off the particulates in the Diesel Particulate Filter. In a Regen, a higher quantity of fuel than normal is pumped into the engine to make it run hot so the particulates can be burnt off. This wastes fuel and ultimately lowers the truck’s overall fuel mileage.

The newer engines that use SCR technology (and DEF) don’t need to go into a Regen quite as often.

For more info on all of this, there are lots of links below that explain the history and mechanics behind Diesel Exhuast Fluid.

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Go Cheap, Go Small, Go NOW!! Have Fun & LEARN in a Small RV

A few weeks ago we camped in Sedona, Arizona, with two good friends who own popup campers. We were reminded how much fun these little trailers can be and how much we learned in the two years we owned ours before we started RVing full-time in our first big trailer.

If you are thinking about RVing full-time sometime down the road, a year or more from now, the most valuable thing you can do in the meantime is buy a little rig and go play. There is no better way to learn about RVing than to go out and do it, and a small RV provides an awesome introduction.

You can trade in the little rig for a bigger one when you are ready to take the plunge and go full-time.

RV camping in Sedona Arizona

We camped in our fifth wheel with good friends who have two different styles of popup campers.

We owned our popup for two years and spent every possible weekend and vacation in it before we started full-timing. We towed it all over the place. It was routine for us to travel 300 miles with it for a long weekend or to tow it 1,500 miles on a week’s vacation.

Popup camper tent trailer RV

A popup tent trailer folds up small and opens up to be a nice sized rig with beds on each end.

Before we even knew what full-time RVing was, we had already learned a lot about the RV lifestyle from camping in our popup.

We dry camped in it most of the time, so we learned little things like exactly how much water we typically used in a day, and how to take a one gallon shower. We made all kinds of classic rookie mistakes as we tried to keep our battery charged, and we figured out how to “live small” and cook in a dollhouse sized kitchen.

The surprising thing is that our popup camper had many of the same basic systems as our current fifth wheel trailer that we now live in year round. It had DC lights, a propane RV fridge, 26 gallons of water, including a 6 gallon propane hot water heater, a water pump and a propane furnace. It had a shower and a two burner propane stove, and it could hook up to shore power for electricity and to a city water connection for water.

Popup tent trailer RV and campfire

Home sweet home!

It even had one thing our current RV doesn’t have: a king size bed!

There were two things it didn’t have. One was a toilet. When we bought it, we knew we’d be camping in campgrounds, and they always have toilets, so we decided that rather than give up precious space in the trailer for a toilet and have to deal with dumping it, we’d just use the campground toilets instead

It also didn’t have an air conditioner. We knew we’d be camping in places where we wouldn’t need one, so why pay for something we wouldn’t need?!

Toyota Tundra towing a popup camper

A popup trailer is small and easy to tow and fits in the garage!

The fun thing about running around in a little RV is that you can can go almost anywhere the Big Rigs go and get a taste of living a nomadic lifestyle without spending a fortune.

We took our popup camper to some wonderful RV parks and hooked up to electricity and water just like the big fifth wheels and motorhomes. We stayed in RV parks in San Diego (right on the water – wow!), and the Bay Area in California (in a cool wooded area not too far from the city), in the Moab Utah area where we bicycled in the red rocks, and in New Mexico, where we bicycled in the mountains.

Chalet and Popup tent trailer RV

Our friends have two styles of popup: an A-frame (smaller & lighter) and a tent trailer (big beds on each end)

Camping in these RV parks gave us a chance to wander around the loops and meet people that were experienced RVers. We’d talk with them about their rig, find out what they liked and didn’t like about it, and we’d get their advice for what to look for if we ever wanted a bigger RV (we had NO idea we ever would!) and we’d get suggestions for where to travel with our little popup.

We learned about full-timing, and we learned about work camping, and we discovered a world we’d never known anything about. We supplemented that education with online research and magazine subscriptions, but there is no better way to understand an RV’s systems than to use them, and no better way to understand the RV lifestyle than to live it.

Chalet folding trailer RV

This is a Chalet A-frame, and it has a twin bed, a dinette that folds into a full size bed and kitchen.
The beauty of an A-frame is it’s light enough to be towed easily by a minivan.

Lots of people email me expressing interest in going full-time and some express interest in boondocking too. These are big steps, and having as much first-hand experience as possible before you jump in is a really good idea. Online resources are great, but they are limited and only go so far.

If you haven’t done much tent camping, and you dream of camping in the wild, learning how to dry camp in a cheap, small, rolling box is a wonderful way to start. It’s a lot of fun, and it will teach you what to look for when you buy a bigger rig, and more importantly, it will help you decide if it’s something you enjoy before you make a big commitment and turn your life upside down.

Boondocking is basically glorified tent camping in a fancy rolling box.

If you are interested in solar power, you can learn all about it for just a few hundred dollars with a folding solar panel kit and an inverter. The batteries on a popup are right there on the trailer tongue. So, it’s easy to see what’s going on!

Before you go full-time, you can sell the solar panel the kit, either with the little trailer or without!

Popup Camper Moab Utah

Here’s a pretty campsite in Utah’s red rocks.

The transition to full-time RVing is a lot less stressful if you are an experienced RVer already. It’s not a requirement, and plenty of people jump right into living in an RV without ever having used one before, but I think that having hands-on experience is the best way to go.

The wonderful thing about getting a little “starter” RV and playing with it for a while before going full-time — besides all the fun you’ll have — is that the mistakes you make don’t cost much, and you haven’t got a lot at risk.

Popup camper Cape Breton Island Nova Scotia

Here’s another a great camping spot — on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia

If you don’t like it, you can sell it.

If you DO like it but have some unexpected repairs, they won’t break the bank and you won’t be trying to live in it while it’s being fixed.

Best of all, you can go home after every excursion and take a long hot shower, wash your clothes in your own washing machine, and you can savor your photos and your memories in the comfort of your big living room, all things that will no longer be possible once you commit to the RV lifestyle full-time.

Another great thing about a little RV is that if you have a small budget you can use it to live your full-time travel dreams.

A few weeks ago we camped next to a couple in their early 40’s who are a river rafting and white water kayaking guide (him) and a mountain biking guide (her). They live in a 17′ travel trailer, and they absolutely love it.

They boondock full-time with the seasons as their jobs move between Colorado and Arizona. The trailer is a huge upgrade for them. They lived in a tent for a few years until this past October when they bought the trailer.

Summerland Travel Trailer by Springdale

A river rafting guide and mountain biking guide love living in this 17′ travel trailer.

We’ve known a lot of 40-somethings over the years who lived in much fancier digs, with granite counter tops and sleek cars in the driveway. But they weren’t happy with their lives. It was enlightening and motivating and inspiring to spend time with these two people who had decided fifteen-plus years ago, right out of college, that they wanted to spend their days doing what they loved, even if it meant having a very simple home.

We’ve also met people living in a popup tent trailer and a half-ton pickup camper.

So, for those who think a nomadic lifestyle is out of reach financially, it just depends on how you want to live.

Our friends Rich and Mary bought our popup camper from us when we went full-time nearly nine years ago. While Rich was setting up camp, he let me take pics of the process so I could show you just how easy it is to set up a popup tent camper.

Here are the steps:

First you crank it up with a cranking tool that comes with the trailer.

Cranking up a popup tent trailer at campsite

First, crank up the roof all the way.

Popup tent trailer roof cranked up for camping

The roof is fully raised but the bed slides are still inside the trailer.

Then you pull out the bed slides on either side. Each slide locks into place in the open position.

Sliding out a bed slide in popup camper trailer RV

Pull out the bed slide at each end. In many models one or both beds is a King.

Then you put the support struts in place. While traveling, these are latched under the bed sllides. Once the bed slide is opened, just hook the end onto a latch on the frame.

Support struts for bed slide in popup camper RV

Attach the supports for the bed slide.

Popup tent trailer roof bed slide out for camping

The bed slide is in place but the canvas tent isn’t propped up yet.

Then go inside and remove anything that’s hogging up space. Rich stores his solar panel inside while traveling, so he takes it out at this point.

Popup tent trailer RV solar panel

Bring out whatever is stored inside: solar panel, camp chairs, patio mat, etc.

This popup camper — a 2005 Fleetwood Colonial — has a slick lower half door that folds down to become the entrance step. There are lots of designs out there, but this is common in the old Fleetwood lineup.

Setting up the door in a folding tent trailer RV

Fold down the entry step.

Popup camper trailer RV Setting up the door

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Now remove the door from its travel spot where it is suspended from the ceiling and put it in place using the velcro strips on either side. The door and its frame are one unit, so the hinging is solid, but it stands upright in place using latches and velcro.

Door in place folding tent trailer RV

Lower the door from the ceiling and press it into place along the velcro strip on the canvas.

Now open up the canvas above each bed. There is a special support rod that hooks in place that holds up the center of the canvas roof over the bed and gives it its shape.

Inside popup tent trailer RV queen size bed slide

Prop up the canvas over each bed with the support rod
You can hang things from the loop – a lantern, fruit basket, whatever.

Popup tent trailer RV queen size bed slide

The canvas over the bed slide is fully opened.

Now crank down the landing jacks. These give the camper floor a bit of rigidity as you move around inside. The interior isn’t huge — it’s just a 10′ by 8′ box or so — but you can walk around. Having the landing legs down keeps the floor solid.

Cranking down the stabilizer jacks in popup camper trailer RV

Lower the landing jacks.

Last of all, set up the gray tank. This is a bucket outside the back of the trailer! If you want to see exactly how much water you use to wash dishes, there it is!

Popup camper gray water tank

Set up the gray water tank (this popup camper doesn’t have a toilet).

The shower is a shower wand on the back of the popup camper. We just wore bathing suits and stood on interlocking rubber mats. If you are more modest than that, you can set up a shower enclosure.

We didn’t have any kind of solar gear when we owned our popup. We used a battery charger in our garage to charge the batteries before we’d go on a trip, and that was it. We learned really quickly how to be conservative with electricity.

Rich decided to install a second battery on the trailer tongue. He also bought a solar panel and had it wired so it could be connected to the batteries easily.

Another super easy alternative is to get one of the portable suitcase solar panel kits that is designed for RV use.

You can also run heavy gauge wire from the batteries to an 800 or 1,000 watt inverter located inside the popup and then run a power strip from the inverter to a handy place in the rig so you can charge your phone or laptop or run a small appliance.

Popup tent trailer with RV solar power

Put out the patio mat, raise the awning and set up the solar panel. Done!

What a fabulous rig!!

If you are looking forward to having big RV adventures on the road someday in the future, make that “someday” be today! Go out and get a cool little RV and have a blast.

Popup tent trailers like ours are a little heavier (the GVWR is 3,000 lbs.), so both we and Rich bought Toyota Tundra pickups to tow it. An A-frame popup is lighter, because there are no bed slides, so our friend Mark tows his with a minivan.

More info and links for specific popup camper manufacturers below.

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

The B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch uses the new and very clever puck 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.

After ten thousand miles of towing with the B&E Companion OEM hitch, we are happy to report that we have been very happy with this hitch. In early 2017 we heard of a case where this hitch performed extraordinarily well in a fifth wheel rollover accident. You can read about it here:

Fifth Wheel Trailer Rollover Accident and B&W Companion Hitch Performance

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!

How to Change the Inner Rear Tire on a Dually Truck

We installed an Edge Juice with Attitude CTS2 Programmer on this truck and Mark loves it. We haven’t yet written a review, but we did review the Edge Evolution CS Programmer we installed on our 2007 Dodge Ram HERE.

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Dodge Ram Truck Owners — Please note:
Late model Dodge Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 trucks have been recalled (beginning 6/23/17) for side airbag problems in a rollover accident. See this article for details: Dodge Ram Side Airbag Recall

More info about Pickup Trucks, Ram Trucks, Tow Ratings, etc.:

Here is more info about the trucks and trailers we have owned

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Alice Cooper Sells Us a New Truck!

He what??!!

Alice Cooper VIP Benefit Concert for Solid Rock Foundation

Would you buy a truck from this man?

December 2015 – When we bought our Dodge Ram 3500 single rear wheel truck brand new in 2007, we purchased it to tow our lightweight full-time home, a 7,000 lb. 2007 27′ Fleetwood Lynx travel trailer. For such a big, monster truck, that little trailer was a featherweight. But within a year, we had upgraded our year-round living quarters to a 36′ 2007 Hitchhiker Fifth Wheel trailer, a beast that weighs in at 14,000 lbs. fully loaded.

Dodge Ram 3500 truck with 36' Hitchhiker FIfth wheel trailer RV

Our ’07 Dodge Ram 3500 truck and 36′ Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer — at home on the road!

This trailer was the absolute maximum size our truck could tow safely.

Over the years, our truck has valiantly lugged our home up and over 10,000′ mountain passes in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and other mountainous states and endured many a 7% or steeper grade in the process.

The truck’s GCWR (Gross Combined Weight Rating) is 21,000 lbs., but our truck and trailer weigh 22,150 lbs. when hitched up and fully loaded. The truck’s GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) is 10,100 lbs., but the truck weighs 10,850 lbs. when the trailer is sitting on its back.

When it comes to safety on the road, we’ve been pushing it!

2007 Dodge Ram 3500 single rear wheel truck

Our big beautiful trailer maxed out our big beautiful one ton truck!

We gave our truck bigger lungs and stronger muscles by installing a K&N Cold Air Intake Filter and an Edge Evolution Engine Tuner (installation and review HERE). We also gave it broader shoulders to carry heavy loads by installing a Timbren Suspension Enhancement System.

These upgrades helped, but even though the truck was very happy towing our trailer on flat roads, it worked awfully hard when it was put to the test on mountain grades. Frankly, the transmission and modest rear end were not really 100% up to the task in the Rockies.

Edge Diesel Evolution Tuner

We gave the truck’s engine more horsepower and torque by installing an Edge Evolution Tuner

Back in 2013 when we moved off of our sailboat and said goodbye to the cruising lifestyle, and recommitted ourselves to living the RV lifestyle full-time, we began tossing around the idea of upgrading our rig.

The beauty of having a towable RV is that we could replace the RV’s engine and drivetrain independently without affecting our living quarters (and vice versa). A new truck would revolutionize our driving experience on the road but not cost nearly as much nor be nearly as chaotic as replacing our home at the same time.

We were also toying with the idea of getting a truck camper someday so we could travel to more remote places. The weight of many truck campers requires a dually truck (four rear wheels instead of two to support the weight), so we began flirting with the idea of buying a dually.

We had a lot to learn about the latest trucks, and we studied everything we could about the myriad of improvements that diesel trucks have undergone since we last paid attention in 2007.

2007 Dodge Ram 3500 with 2007 36' Hitchhiker Fifth wheel Trailer

Our ’07 Dodge Ram 3500 single rear wheel truck was great, but a stronger truck would be better.

We began test driving new trucks right away when we arrived back in San Diego after our Mexico sailing travels. 2013 models were on dealer lots at the time, and in the ensuing months, the 2014 models began to arrive at the dealerships.

Since then, we have taken Ford, Chevy and Dodge trucks on over 200 miles of test drives, and visited at least 25 dealerships across the country. Mark subscribes to Diesel Power Magazine, and he has studied the subject of diesel trucks endlessly.

After much deliberation, we finally decided that a Ram 3500 dually was our truck of choice.

When we saw that the centerfold for the 2016 Ram Trucks brochure mentioned Roads Less Traveled, we had to have a 2016!

Dodge RAM Brochure Cover

2016 Ram Trucks Brochure centerfold — It was meant to be!!

Diesel trucks improve every year, and this new one has a whopping best-in-class GCWR of 39,000 lbs as compared to the 21,000 lbs of our old truck. And that was just the first item on a long list of eye-popping stats.

Our only question was where it would be best to buy it. Because of our mobile lifestyle, we could buy it in any state at any dealership.

By the summer of 2015, Mark had come to know more about each option on the new Ram trucks than most of the salesmen we talked to. He also knew exactly which options he wanted and which ones he didn’t want. Unfortunately, this made it nearly impossible to find “the ideal truck” just sitting around somewhere on some random Dodge dealership lot.

Throughout our 2015 travels across 24 states, we checked in at almost every Dodge dealership in almost every town we visited to see if they had “our truck.” None did. We repeatedly searched online to see if a detour of 100 miles in this direction or that would bring us to our dream truck. No dice.

2014 Dodge Ram 5500 truck

We test drove Ford, Chevy and Dodge trucks all over the country for two years.
In Wyoming, we even test drove a custom 2014 Dodge Ram 5500. Very cool, but very stiff!

We soon realized that we would have to place an order for our truck in order to get the combination of options we wanted, and we would have to wait 8 weeks for it to be built and shipped to a dealership.

We were in perpetual motion driving from Arizona to Nova Scotia and back in 2015. Our favorite dealership was Marshall Motors in Salina, Kansas, where diesel truck salesman Alex Thatcher was the most knowledgeable of any we’d met. But we wanted to keep moving to get back to Arizona for the winter.

Logistically, ordering a truck in Arizona made the most sense for us because we were going to be there for a few months. But which dealership would be best?

2007 Dodge Ram 3500 truck with 2007 36' Hitchhiker Fifth Wheel Trailer RV

Mark LOVED our ’07 truck and worried he might not love a new one as much…

We got a tip that Airpark Dodge in Scottsdale, Arizona has an annual Christmas holiday “Buy a Car Get a Guitar” promotion where anyone that buys a new car also gets a glistening new electric guitar signed by rock star Alice Cooper as part of the deal.

When Mark heard that, he was sold — We were THERE!

Mark has been a huge Alice Cooper fan since the day the rock star exploded on the scene in 1971, and we listen to his music all the time. Mark turned 18 shortly after Alice Cooper’s clever and poignant song “I’m Eighteen” came out, and he graduated from high school the year Alice’s hit “School’s Out” soared to the top of the charts.

Alice Cooper and Mark were both born in Detroit, and both spent their adult lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Mark didn’t move across country just to be like the rock star, but he went to a ton of Alice Cooper concerts in both cities over the past four decades, and he dressed up as his idol on many a Halloween night!

Alice Cooper Wannabe Cooperstown Phoenix Arizona

Wild eyed fans love to dress up as Alice Cooper, even to this day.
Mark morphed into Alice Cooper for Halloween many times!

As a kid, Mark used to have a t-shirt decorated with Alice Cooper’s early trademark mascara eyelashes, and he wore it so much he wore it right through to rags. On the occasional day he didn’t wear it, a friend would ask him, “Where’s your Cooper shirt?”

Before we started traveling full-time, back when Mark and I were avid cyclists, we rode our bikes past Alice Cooper’s house all the time. Mark would always point it out, and we would wonder what life was like behind the huge front doors that had handles shaped like snakes.

There was no doubt that now, if Mark could lay his hands on a guitar that Alice Cooper had actually touched and signed, he would be totally beside himself. We knew exactly where we would be ordering our new truck!

Here’s the TV ad for the Airpark Dodge promo — check it out:

Buy a Car, Get a Guitar starts Dec. 10th.

Buy a Car, Get a Guitar starts Dec. 10th.

Posted by Airpark Dodge Chrysler Jeep on Tuesday, December 8, 2015

 

At the end of the ad, after passing out a slew of free guitars for car buyers, Alice asks: “I wonder what you get if you buy a truck?”

OMG — We sure found out!!

To begin with, when we got to Airpark Dodge to pick up our new baby, Mark was given his signed Alice Cooper electric guitar. He was in seventh heaven!

New Alice Cooper Guitar Giveaway for Dodge Ram 3500 dually truck

A new electric guitar signed by Alice Cooper – Wow!!
Oh…. and a new truck too.

As we admired the Alice Cooper memorabilia on the walls of the dealership, we discovered that the GM of Airpark Dodge is golf buddies with Alice Cooper. To our amazement — and dismay — we found out that the week before we got there, Alice had been hanging out at the dealership kick-starting the promotion.

Oh, man. How did we miss seeing him in person at the dealership?! We were so bummed!!

Alice Cooper's Office at Airpark Dodge Scottsdale Arizona

Alice Cooper hangs out at Airpark Dodge in Scottsdale Arizona so much he has his own office
(well, ummm… it’s a broom closet!!)

But then we found out that “Coop,” as his friends know him, was going to be performing at Talking Stick Arena in downtown Phoenix two nights later. Concert tickets were sold out, but afterwards he was going to host a special party at his bar/restaurant across the street (called Cooperstown) to benefit his teen rock center and rock music school in Phoenix called Solid Rock.

With that tid-bit of inside scoop, we dashed downtown on the appointed night, and before we knew it, we were mingling with a crowd of other fans at Cooperstown, waiting for the official concert across the street to end and for Coop to come on over and play at his bar.

Suddenly, a crazy Alice Cooper lookalike in a straight jacket and tall leopard boots grabbed Mark by the neck. Yikes!

Alice Cooper impersonator

Ya gotta watch out for those rabid fans!

He let Mark go, and we wandered around admiring the posters and wacky stage props and guitars and other memorabilia that cover the walls of Cooperstown.

Cooperstown Alice Cooper Restaurant Phoenix Arizona

There’s all kinds of cool stuff on the walls at Cooperstown in Phoenix

Suddenly, Alice Cooper appeared. He’d removed his stage makeup from the big concert across the street at the arena and was mingling with his fans around the restaurant. He knew some of them and recognized others from previous encounters.

Alice Cooper with a fan in Phoenix Arizona

Alice Cooper chats with a fan who’d brought him a special gift she’d made.

His son Dash got up on stage and performed with his band Co-op (“Coop” with a Dash !!). I had to smile as he leaned over the rail to watch his son in action.

Alice Cooper watches his son perform at Cooperstown Phoenix Arizona

Alice Cooper watches his son perform at Cooperstown

Moments later, he turned around, and we caught him just long enough to get some photos with him. He was very obliging, and oh lordy me, we were both totally star struck!

Alice Cooper up close and personal

From Mark’s lifetime bucket list of dreams – Meet Alice Cooper…
Check!

Moments after Dash’s band finished, Alice was up on stage with his own band, rocking out just steps from where we stood. Holy Smokes!

Alice Cooper band in concert Cooperstown Phoenix Arizona

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Alice Cooper Solid Rock benefit concert Cooperstown Phoenix Arizona

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We laughed and sang along and clapped and cheered with everyone else. This was AWESOME!!

Alice Cooper band at Cooperstown Phoenix AZ

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Alice Cooper in concert benefit Solid Rock_

Hot hot hot!

Between singing along, we both managed to snap some fun pics.

Alice Cooper in concert Solid Rock Foundation Benefit

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Alice Cooper VIP Benefit Concert for Solid Rock Teen Center

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Not only was Alice Cooper phenomenal, but his band was incredible too. His guitarist, Nita Strauss, is stunning in every way!

Alice Cooper bandmate Nita Strauss

Nita Strauss is a mind blowing guitarist in Alice Cooper’s band

All of a sudden, Alice Cooper’s son jumped back on stage and began singing with his dad. How cool is that?!

Alice Cooper and son Dash sing together

Alice Cooper sings with his son Dash

What a fantastic night this was. What fabulous memories!!

Alice Cooper sings at Cooperstown Phoenix

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Alice Cooper in Concert Phoenix Arizona

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Needless to say, we were gushingly excited. And we listened to Alice Cooper songs for the next week, nonstop.

Alice Cooper Solid Rock Benefit Concert Arizona

Looking down at the stage and crowd of fans in Cooperstown

Oh… and our new truck?

WE LOVE IT!!!

Here are the details explaining exactly what we ordered on our new truck and why:

2016 Ram 3500 Dually Diesel – Best RV Fifth Wheel Towing

Buying a new truck meant buying a new fifth wheel hitch. We got a B&W hitch that we installed ourselves in one hour!! Here’s more info…

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

Also, our new diesel truck requires the use of DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid), and we learned a bunch about where to get it cheaply and how to get it in the truck without spilling…

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

2016 Ram 3500 dually pickup truck

What a ride!!

If you are in the market for a truck, swing by Airpark Dodge in Scottsdale and see if the Coop is in! If he isn’t, talk to our salesman, Ed Kulas.

More Alice Cooper links below…

The hit song “I’m Eighteen” that has captured the hearts of 18 year olds for over 40 years:

“School’s Out” – This song, along with the drinking age dropping from 21 to 18 in most states and the draft ending nationwide — made 1972 a very special year for an entire graduating class of high school seniors:

“Elected” — Very appropriate for the 2016 election year, or for any election year for that matter. Alice Cooper wants to be elected, and he promises the formation of a New Party, a Wild Party… a Beer Party!!

Nowadays, Alice cooper is a pitchman for lots of companies. Here’s a super cute TV ad he did for Staples during the Back to School sales season:

Here’s a fun ad he did for Residence Inn:

And here’s a cute one for Service Arizona, the online vehicle registration service from Arizona’s Department of Transportation:

Wonder where this wacky rock star came from? Here’s a bio of how Vincent Furnier evolved into and then away from his alter ego Alice Cooper:

Here’s Alice Cooper talking a bit about his stage persona, his thoughts on Lady Gaga and music today. Skip 2:17 into the interview and you’ll hear him tell the TRUE story behind the urban myth that he killed a chicken on stage (I sure remember hearing THAT rumor circulating among my teeny-bop friends…yikes!):

Here’s a wonderful interview that gives insights into the now “lovable” and truly beloved Shock Rock star:

An interesting morsel we discovered in all of this was that Alice Cooper was approached and offered tons of money to do a reality TV show about his life today. But when the producers found out he’s a sober, drug-free family man who plays golf six days a week and goes to church every Sunday, they went with Ozzie Osbourne instead.

Here’s Alice Cooper, son of a pastor/evangelist, grandson of a pastor/evangelist and son-in-law of a Baptist minister…on Christianity:

Alice Cooper talks to golfers about how an addiction to golf saved him from an addiction to alcohol:

Here’s a little more from Alice Cooper about his faith and Christianity. Skip 6:05 minutes into it to hear about his foundation for at-risk teens, Solid Rock (the website given in the video has been replaced with www.alicecoopersolidrock.com):

Here’s a 2013 Arizona Republic newspaper article on Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock Foundation

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RV Refrigerator Replacement – How an RV Warranty Saved Our Bacon!

We’ve been reporting on whether or not an RV warranty is a good investment for RVers, and this page — the second of four installments — presents our latest findings.
(Hint: the answer is a resounding YES!)

Ten days ago, after a fabulous two weeks in Maysville, Kentucky, and a long day of driving, we set up camp, grabbed a beer, and kicked back to enjoy a cold one. But to our dismay, the beer was kinda warm. We ratcheted the RV refrigerator up a notch and went about our business. After dinner and a movie in our RV, we decided to have a bowl of ice cream. When Mark lifted the lid on the Haagen Dazs, what he found inside could only be described as cool chocolate soup.

Oh no! Our 8 year old RV refrigerator had died.

RV extended warranty repair RV refrigerator replacement

Do something quick! We’re going to lose everything in the fridge and freezer!!

As the clock neared midnight, we began a frantic search for RV repair shops in the area. We put together a list of them, went to bed quite distressed, and first thing the next morning we started making phone calls. Mark threw bags of ice in the fridge and freezer and we didn’t dare open either door after that. We lamented sadly that all our frozen meats — all those nice burgers and steaks, and even our bacon, darn it — were quickly defrosting.

After about 15 phone calls, we were still nowhere. Everyone told us it would be a two week wait to get a fridge and that it would probably cost upwards of $1,500. Finally, we called Camping World just south of Indianapolis. They had an identical unit in stock and they could squeeze us in for service the next morning. They told us they always try to make an extra effort for desperate travelers passing through.

Well, we weren’t exactly passing through. We were in Kentucky driving west towards Tennessee, and they were 150 miles to the north in the totally wrong direction. But what can you do? We were absolutely thrilled to find an RV repair facility that had an RV refrigerator in stock and could install it quickly, so a 150 mile detour was not a problem!

This would be our second major repair in just over a month. We had just had our 36′ fifth wheel trailer axle replaced. What’s worse, we were actually on our way to an RV repair appointment in Kansas to fix a leak in our fresh water tank. What kind of luck was that?

As it turns out, Lady Luck was following us very closely. Our RV extended warranty had covered the bulk of the trailer axle repair, and we were pretty sure it would cover this one too.

Where we stood on our trailer warranty at this point was the following:


We were 11 months into a 4 year RV extended warranty
Cost of RV warranty: $1,904
Reimbursements (less deductibles) to date: $1,036
Remaining Reimbursements to Break Even: $868

You can see the current status of our warranty HERE.

It looked like this RV warranty repair would not only bring our total reimbursements to the point of covering the original cost of the RV extended warranty but would go well beyond that.

18 hours after we’d discovered our fridge was dead, Camping World service manager Rick Helvey was in our trailer examining its hulking carcass. He told us that propane RV refrigerators typically last only 10 years.

What??!!

It was no surprise to him that our 8 year old unit had kicked the bucket. He opened the fridge vent on the outside of the trailer and showed us the telltale signs of a dying RV refrigerator: greenish or yellowish dust.

The presence of this dust meant the ammonia was leaking out and the cooling unit had given up the ghost. The crazy thing is that the price of a cooling unit is nearly the same as the price of a new RV refrigerator — Not Cheap!

RV warranty repair on a refrigerator - inside the vent

Yellowish dust in the fridge vent area is proof positive that the fridge is dying.

RV warranty repair RV refrigerator installation

Here is a closer look at the greenish – yellowish dust.

He called our warranty provider, Portfolio Protection, to get approval to proceed with the repair the next morning. To his astonishment (and ours), they said they wouldn’t reimburse us for a replacement refrigerator. They would reimburse us only for the replacement of the cooling unit to save themselves a little money. Here’s the breakdown:

Install New RV Refrigerator Parts: $1,389.99
Labor: $267.00
Tax: $97.00
Total: $1,753.99
Replace Cooling Unit Only Parts: $1,049.00
Labor: $356.00
Tax: $73.43
Shipping: $100.00
Total: $1,578.43

DIFFERENCE IN OVERALL COST: $175.56

This was a problem — for us and for Camping World!!

If we got our refrigerator replaced, we would be in and out of Camping World in 3 hours the next morning and they could go back to business as usual with their local customers. If we had to have the cooling unit replaced, we would have to wait a week or two for the part to come in and Camping World would have to reshuffle their appointments the next morning, once again, because our appointment was already on the books. We had all assumed the approval of a replacement refrigerator would be a slam-dunk.

New RV fridge ready for installation

Our new refrigerator is ready and waiting — all we need is approval to install it!

What to do?

Well, here’s one reason we are becoming more and more enamored of our RV extended warranty through Wholesale Warranties. Unlike most warranty brokers who wash their hands of the deal once you’ve purchased the contract and signed on the dotted line, they are willing to go to bat for you if the warranty reimbursement process isn’t going as smoothly as it should.

We called Wholesale Warranties and told them what was going on. The difference in cost between repairing and replacing was not astronomical. Couldn’t the warranty company allow us to go ahead with the refrigerator replacement?

Within an hour they had called our warranty company, Portfolio Protection, explained to them why it made more sense for everyone involved to install the new fridge Camping World had in stock and, magically, our refrigerator replacement had been approved. We were floored that Wholesale Warranties would do this and that they could be such effective facilitators. Yet it turns out that making these calls is business-as-usual and is routine customer support for them.

Early the next morning we parked the fifth wheel in front of Camping World, and service technician Raymond and his assistant José got started on it right away. Unfortunately, our old refrigerator was 1/4″ too wide and could not fit through our front door. RV refrigerators are installed at the factory before the doors and windows are in place!

RV warranty repair Removing RV refrigerator from fifth wheel trailer

Good heavens, the old fridge can’t go out the front door!

So, the dining room window had to come out!

RV extended warranty Removing an RV window from fifth wheel trailer

The dining room window has to be removed
so the refrigerators can be hoisted in and out.

RV extended warranty repair RV window removed

It would have been so much easier if the refrigerators could have gone through the door!

RV warranty refrigerator replacement gets through window

The new fridge is ready for some strong person to pick it up!

A forklift was used to remove the old fridge and hoist up the new one. It was at this point that I realized just what a challenging DIY project this would have been for Mark!

RV warranty refrigerator replacement New RV fridge on forklift

Thank goodness for fork lifts! This is not an easy DIY installation for one guy!

Then the new RV refrigerator was put in place.

RV warranty repair New RV refrigerator installed in fifth wheel trailer

Raymond settles the new refrigerator into place.

The pretty oak panels from our old refrigerator were slipped into place on the new door.

Under warranty Oak panel installed on RV refrigerator door

Our oak panels from the old fridge slide neatly into place.

Then Raymond ran around back to hook everything up in the refrigerator vent.

RV extended warranty repair new RV refrigerator installation

The back of the new fridge is exposed in the vent area where Raymond hooks it all up.

Meanwhile, his assistant José removed the silicone remnants from the wall around the window opening using a scraper and wiping the wall down with Acrysol

Removing silicone seal on RV window

José scrapes the old silicone sealant off the outside wall
around the window opening.

Removing silicone from RV window

The wall has to be completely clean for a good seal on the window.

Raymond lifted the window into place, and he and José screwed it in place.

RV warranty refrigerator replacement Installing RV window

Raymond puts the window back in place.

Installing RV window on fifth wheel trailer

The guys work together to get the window screwed into place.

Then they remounted the window valence and reinstalled the day-night shades.

Installing valence on RV window

The window valences are reinstalled over the windows.

Installing day-night shades on RV window

The day-night shades are reinstalled on both windows.

Raymond gave us instructions not to put a bead of silicone around the window frame for about a week because he had used caulk tape that would ooze a little for the next few days.

We were impressed with how quickly these guys worked and got the job done, and we were really grateful to Rick for making an opening for us. In just 36 hours from the time we had soup for ice cream, we had a brand new RV refrigerator up and running. Now we just had to wait for it to cool down (about 9 hours).

In the meantime, our frozen meats had fully defrosted but were still cold. We couldn’t re-freeze any of them when the refrigerator finally cooled down. Arghhh!

As we hitched up the fifth wheel, I noticed Mark had a twinkle in his eye as he drove it around to the back lot. He hopped out and instantly set up the barbecue, right there in the Camping World parking lot. He happily began grilling burgers, hot dogs, steaks, chicken and brats.

“We can’t let all this good meat go to waste!” He said to me as he handed me the bacon and sent me inside to fry it up.

It turned out he’d invited the service guys to come on over to our place for a barbecue lunch, and when the yummy smells from our grill began to waft across the Camping World parking lot, they quickly showed up in a golf cart and began chowing down.

The crew enjoys a barbecue lunch

The Camping World service team stops by for an impromptu barbecue. Thank you guys for a super job!

At last it was time to settle up the bill with the service manager, Rick. Our RV warranty deductible was $100. Indiana charges sales tax on deductibles, so our total out of pocket cost for this phenomenal repair was only $107. Wow!!

Our RV warranty (less our $107 deductible + tax) covered $1,647 on this one repair alone — that is nearly the cost of the entire four year RV extended warranty itself!

Shockingly, this RV refrigerator replacement was just one of a slew of major repairs our trailer needed in a four month period in 2015:

Here's a summary of what our four year RV warranty through Wholesale Warranties cost, what our repairs WOULD HAVE cost, and what our warranty reimbursements have been to date:

Cost of Warranty $1,904
Total Cost of Repairs we've had done $7,834
Total Out of Pocket Costs for those repairs $1,145
Repair Reimbursements:
Trailer Axle Replacement $1,036
RV Refrigerator Replacement $1,647
Plumbing Issues & Window Leak $1,142
Suspension Replacement $2,550
RV Toilet Replacement $314
Total Repair Reimbursements $6,689

Our trailer warranty has paid for itself 3.5 times over, and there's still lots of time left on the contract!

Are we happy with our extended trailer warranty? OMG Yes!!

Having suffered four major repairs in four months, we have come to the conclusion that anyone with an RV older than four or five years should seriously consider getting an RV extended warranty, especially if they don’t like unexpected financial surprises.

What a shock it was to find out that RV refrigerators are expected to fail by their tenth year of service. All you need is that one repair plus another one or two (air conditioner, water heater, furnace, slide-out mechanism, hydraulic leveling system, etc.) to cover the cost of a four year warranty and even wind up ahead.

Do I sound enthusiastic and excited about our trailer warranty? I am!! I was hugely skeptical about RV warranties before our trailer axle and RV refrigerator replacements, and all I can say is that this has been an amazing process!!

If you want to find out what a warranty would cost for your rig, Wholesale Warranties is offering a $50 discount to our readers. Call our contact, Missi Junior at (800) 939-2806 or email her at missi@wholesalewarranties.com. Or go to this link:

Wholesale Warranties Quote Form

The discount comes off of the quoted price at the time of purchase — just be sure to ask!

To learn how RV warranties work and how they differ from RV insurance, see this article:

What Is An RV Warranty and Is It A Good Investment?

If propane RV refrigerators are so prone to failure, why don’t we have a residential refrigerator? — It takes a huge solar panel array and big (heavy) battery bank to power a residential refrigerator along with everything else in an RV. See the following:

Can a Residential Refrigerator Run on Solar Power in an RV?

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