Before our summer RV travels this year, we decided to upgrade our fifth wheel trailer’s hitch to a Reese Goose Box (20K Gen 3 model).
This hitch is essentially a replacement for the original kingpin that came with the trailer. The Reese Goose Box hitches to a gooseneck ball in the truck bed, eliminating the need for a fifth wheel hitch all together!
After towing our 15,000 lb. Genesis Supreme toy hauler for 1,100 miles to 12 different campsites, our overall impression of this hitch is…
We absolutely love it!
The Reese Goose Box has been a game changer for us. AND…with a few tips given below…it’s as easy to hitch and unhitch as a conventional fifth wheel hitch!
For over two months now, we’ve towed our trailer every few days on all kinds of roads, including interstates, back country roads, around tight winding switchbacks and on very lumpy, bumpy, potholed dirt roads on our way to remote boondocking locations. We’ve also climbed up and over several towering Colorado mountain passes, including Monarch Pass, Hoosier Pass and Slumgullion Pass (twice!), each of which is more than 11,300’ in elevation.
The Reese Goose Box has performed flawlessly everywhere. The ride is much smoother than any fifth wheel hitch we’ve ever used, and it’s easy to hitch and unhitch.
The Reese Goose Box replaced the original kingpin that came with our trailer.
We installed Reese Goose Box on our trailer ourselves, just the two of us. It was intimidating but it wasn’t difficult, despite the heavy weight of the original king pin and the even heavier weight of the Reese Goose Box. (There’s a trick to it!)
However, before we describe that process and present our step-by-step installation method (in a future post), we wanted to explain why the Reese Goose Box is so unique and also show you how to hitch and unhitch a trailer so you can see exactly how it works.
The 20K Reese Goose Box is rated to tow up to 20,000 lbs.
We’ve been towing fifth wheel trailers around for 15 years now, and we’ve used a variety of fifth wheel hitches made by Pullrite, B&W and Demco.
While each one was a fine hitch with certain great advantages, the drawback with any fifth wheel hitch is that when you aren’t towing a trailer, the bed of the truck is occupied by a large and heavy fifth wheel hitch.
It is awkward to remove the hitch, even a lighter weight one (as we discovered with our Demco hitch), and it’s all too easy to avoid this chore and simply leave the hitch in the truck bed indefinitely. Unfortunately, with the hitch in there, you lose the use of the truck bed except for hauling smaller items that fit around the hitch!
With the Reese Goose Box there is no need to have a fifth wheel hitch in the bed of the truck.
However, now that we RV seasonally, we wanted to have the full use of our truck bed during the off-season when we’re at home. It’s no fun hauling plants, soil, mulch and lumber in the trunk of a passenger car or trying to fit those things around a fifth wheel hitch.
The “business side” of the Reese Goose Box is the driver’s side with the locking lever and air bag status window clearly visible (more on those important items below!).
By using a gooseneck style hitch instead of a fifth wheel hitch, all you need in the truck bed is a gooseneck ball and gooseneck receiver. The gooseneck receiver can be a factory installed OEM puck system or can be an after-market installation. What an easy way to free up the truck bed!
For this reason, some people switch out their fifth wheel kingpin for a gooseneck hitch. However, that puts a lot of strain on the fifth wheel trailer frame (fifth wheels are a lot taller than horse trailers…), and fifth wheel manufacturers advise against it.
Unlike a gooseneck hitch which has a long vertical lever arm that creates strain on the frame as it sways back and forth, the profile of the Reese Goose Box is angled and shaped like an ordinary fifth wheel kingpin. That reduces the strain on the frame significantly.
We were surprised to learn that the Reese Goose Box is the only gooseneck style hitch that Lippert Components Inc. has approved for use with their fifth wheel frames. I spoke to a Lippert sales rep to verify this, and he stated that, unlike other gooseneck style hitches, the use of a Reese Goose Box does not void the warranty on a Lippert fifth wheel frame. Like most fifth wheel trailers, our Genesis Supreme 28CRT toy hauler is built on a Lippert frame.
Obviously, many things can ultimately contribute to the failure of a fifth wheel frame, so I have no idea how that would play out in the event of the frame developing a crack. But it’s an impressive endorsement.
In our research, we came across some comments on the internet asserting that of course Lippert Components endorses the Reese Goose Box because they own Reese Products! However I looked into it, and that’s not true. Reese’s parent company, Horizon Global, was purchased by First Brands in early 2023, and neither Horizon Global nor First Brands is related to Lippert Components.
We decided to pair it with the B&W gooseneck ball designed for the Ram truck OEM puck system on our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually. This gooseneck ball is a very nifty piece of gear with a huge handle. You can easily latch the gooseneck ball into the gooseneck receiver in the truck bed and also pull it back out using that handle rather than grabbing the ball itself with your hands.
That may seem unimportant until you’ve actually lubed up the gooseneck ball and used it a few times! It’s much nicer to use a big handle to pull the gooseneck ball out of the truck bed rather than grab the greasy ball itself! We would have used this gooseneck ball with our Demco 21k Recon fifth wheel hitch, but the handle got in the way of the hitch.
REESE GOOSE BOX vs. FIFTH WHEEL HITCHING PROCEDURES
Hitching up a trailer using a fifth wheel hitch involves backing the truck (and its fifth wheel hitch) into the trailer’s king pin. It is a horizontal movement of the truck, and the connection locks in place once the truck has backed the hitch into the kingpin.
Hitching up a trailer using the Reese Goose Box involves lowering the trailer’s kingpin (the Goose Box) onto a gooseneck ball in the bed of the truck. It is a vertical movement of the trailer’s kingpin that is controled by the trailer’s landing jack leveling system. The connection locks in place once the Reese Goose Box is completely lowered onto the ball.
So, the hitching technique is quite different for each type of hitch.
ALIGNMENT: LEFT to RIGHT (DRIVER’S SIDE/PASSENGER’S SIDE)
With a fifth wheel hitch, we always found we had some room for error in aligning everything from right to left (driver’s side / passenger’s side) due to the shape of the fifth wheel hitch jaws.
If we backed the truck up so the fifth wheel hitch was slightly misaligned with the kingpin, the jaws of the hitch would catch the kingpin anyway and still make the connection and lock the two together.
However, with the Reese Goose Box, if the truck is slightly off, the kingpin will lower down and hit the top of the gooseneck ball and stop right there rather than slipping over the gooseneck ball as it is lowered into the locked position.
Amazingly, that little pole makes this process a cinch!
I place the magnetic pole directly in front of the gooseneck ball and then Mark uses the pole to align the truck and Reese Goose Box side to side as he backs up.
Put the magnetic telescoping pole directly in front of the gooseneck ball
This simple little device makes it possible to be precise when backing up the truck.
We have the two Ram OEM backup cameras in the truck, but Mark finds them inadequate for this job and he prefers to use the magnetic telescoping pole with the ball on top.
He then backs up the truck until the kingpin hits the magnetic telescoping pole and tilts it forward.
The magnetic pole helps the driver align the gooseneck ball and the Reese Goose Box left to right.
When the magnetic pole tips forward, Mark stops the truck for a moment so we can adjust the alignment from front to back by an inch or two.
ALIGNMENT: FRONT to BACK
The Reese Goose Box has to be aligned accurately from front to back as well as left to right. For this, Mark relies on me peering into the bed of the truck and guiding him verbally until the alignment is correct. For folks who hitch up solo, you’ll probably have to get in and out of the driver’s seat a few times to get the truck positioned correctly. If you have some tips and tricks for solo drivers, let us know in the comments!
At 5’4” I am just tall enough to see into the bed of our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually if I stand on my tiptoes.
When we were researching the Reese Goose Box, we saw reports that it is hard to hitch up. After learning how to do it ourselves, we suspect that those comment might have come from people who were either trying to eyeball the left/right alignment or were hitching up solo and struggling with the front to back alignment.
If you have a driver and a spotter, it’s a piece of cake.
LOWERING & LOCKING THE REESE GOOSE BOX – TRUCK IN NEUTRAL
Once the truck is positioned correctly, I use the landing jack leveling buttons to lower the Reese Goose Box onto the gooseneck ball. We’ve found it helps to put the truck in neutral at this point. That way, if the positioning isn’t 100%, the truck can shift a little bit as the Goose Box is lowered.
Our truck has an auto leveling option, so as soon as the truck senses the weight of the trailer in the truck bed, it inflates its airbags and raises the truck bed up. This effectively pushes the gooseneck ball up into the Reese Goose Box. At that point I generally don’t need to lower the trailer much further to complete the connection.
Just like a fifth wheel hitch, the Reese Goose Box automatically locks its connection to the gooseneck ball.
It’s easy to know when the Goose Box/gooseneck ball connection has locked. First, as the Goose Box slides over the gooseneck ball, the locking lever on the driver’s side of the Reese Goose Box moves slowly from the Locked position (green label) to the Unlocked Position (red label). Then, once it has locked in place, it snaps back to the Locked position (green label).
Before the Reese Goose Box slides over the gooseneck ball, the locking lever (blue arrow) is in the Locked position (green label)
As the Reese Goose Box slides down onto the gooseneck ball, the locking lever (blue arrow) slowly moves into the Unlocked position (red label)
As soon as the Reese Goose Box locks onto the gooseneck ball, the locking lever (blue arrow) snaps back into the Locked position (green label)
At this point I can finish raising the landing jacks up all the way into their fully raised position for towing.
SAFETY CHAINS and POWER CORD
The final steps to hitch up with the Reese Goose Box are to latch the two safety chains to the B&W safety chain anchors in the truck bed and plug in the power cord.
Next step is to connect the safety chains to the B&W safety chain anchors in the truck bed.
Connecting the safety chains.
Last of all, connect the power cord.
Like all kingpins, the Reese Goose Box has a trailer breakaway cable that engages the trailer’s brakes if the trailer accidentally disconnects from the truck. With our fifth wheel hitches, we always looped this cable around the hitch handle. With the Reese Goose Box, we loop it through the hook on one of the safety chains.
Ready to tow. Note that the trailer breakaway cable is connected to the safety chain hook on the left side.
The trailer breakaway cable is shorter than the safety chains. So, if the trailer were to become detached from the truck, the breakaway cable would snap and engage the trailer brakes before the safety chains were fully extended. At that point, the drag of the trailer brakes would keep the safety chains taut, and the driver would slow the truck and trailer to a stop.
The Reese Goose Box is equipped with internal air bags that use the same technology as the Trail Air fifth wheel hitches. They are inflated using the Schrader valve on the top of the Goose Box. We used a pancake air compressor to inflate them.
That pancake compressor is too big to bring with with us in our RV travels, so we bought a Ryobi cordless power inflator to use on the road if needed.
Unfortunately, there isn’t enough room in the Goose Box’s Schrader valve compartment to attach the cordless power inflator’s locking valve to it. So, we purchased a 135 degree valve extender to use with it. Luckily, we haven’t needed to use that setup at all yet.
The Gen 3 Reese Goose Box has the Schrader valve for inflating the air bags on top in the center. Previous generation Reese Goose Boxes had this valve on the underside and it was hard to reach.
The Reese Goose Box 20k Gen 3 has a gauge on the driver’s side that allows you to see the level of inflation of the air bags. This is another new feature with the Gen 3 that wasn’t on the previous generation Reese Goose Boxes.
When the air bags have no air in them, the viewing window is a black circle. Once they begin to fill with air, a silver bar appears in the top left part of the window.
The air bag inflation window lets you see the status of the air bags. Here the bags are barely inflated.
As the air bags become more and more inflated, this bar moves lower and lower in the window.
When the air bags are inflated to the ideal amount (somewhere between 40 and 50 lbs. of pressure), the bar crosses the middle of the window at a slight angle.
As the air bags inflate, the silver bar moves down from the top. When the bar is in the middle, as it is here, the air bags are properly inflated.
We have not had to change the inflation of the air bags at all in the two months we’ve been traveling with our trailer, despite being in altitudes ranging from 3,000’ to over 11,000’ and being in temperatures ranging from 30 degrees to 95 degrees.
HOW TO UNHITCH A TRAILER WITH A REESE GOOSE BOX
UNHITCHING CAN BE DONE SOLO (WITH AN EASY-TO-MAKE MODIFICATION!)
Unhitching a trailer with a Reese Goose Box is as easy as pulling on a cord and extending the landing jack legs! I love it because one person can easily do it solo.
Unhitching with a Reese Goose Box (as opposed to a fifth wheel) is particularly handy in situations where you won’t be driving the truck by itself but still want to raise the nose of the trailer to make it level.
For instance, when you stop for a quickie overnight in a rest area on unlevel ground, you might want to level the trailer from front to back by raising up the front end.
All you need to do is raise the trailer off the gooseneck ball to the point where the trailer is level from front to back and leave it there. When you are ready to continue driving, simply lower the trailer back down onto the gooseneck ball and away you go!
With a traditional fifth wheel hitch, the truck and trailer must be completely unhitched, i.e., the truck must be driven out from the hitch in order to level the trailer from front to back.
All this is truly awesome, but we did have to make one minor modification to the Reese Goose Box to make it possible to unhitch so easily, as explained below.
RELEASING the GOOSENECK BALL EASILY — With a SIMPLE MODIFICATION!
The Reese Goose Box is locked onto the gooseneck ball by a lever, as shown in the three hitching up photos above. While hitching up, the lever moves from the Locked position to the Unlocked position and back to the Locked position automatically as the socket on the Reese Goose Box slides onto the gooseneck ball.
For unhitching, however, this lever must be held open in the Unlocked position to allow the Reese Goose Box to slide up off the gooseneck ball. You do that manually by pulling back on a long cable that connects to the locking lever.
The cable rests on a hook on the side of the Reese Goose Box. It has a nub on it that can be secured in front of the hook, forcing the lock to remain open while you extend the landing jack legs.
The hitch locking mechanism is automatic when hitching up. When unhitching, a long cable (above the arrows) must be pulled back to unlock the hitch and allow the Reese Goose Box to rise off the gooseneck ball. The white arrow shows the nub that can be secured in front of the hook (blue arrow) to keep the Goose Box unlocked.
We’ve found it very difficult to reach the cable’s handle from the back of the truck when the truck’s tailgate is open.
Ironically, the truck’s tailgate is always open at this stage of the unhitching process because you are disconnecting the safety chains and power cord. Also, you can’t drive the truck out with the tailgate closed.
When we did successfully maneuver ourselves to reach the handle, we found it extremely difficult to pull the cable back far enough to place the nub in front of the hook!
I’m sure Reese will address this issue since it has been raised by many people. However, in the interim, we found a super easy solution.
We tied a strong cord onto the latch cable’s handle and then used a short dowel to create a mini handle at the other end of the cord.
We tied a strong cord onto the handle of the hitch latching cable. Again, the white arrow is the nub that can be secured in front of the hook (blue arrow) to force the lock to stay open, but we found it tricky to do.
We made a handle at the other end of the cord with a short dowel.
Now, all we have to do to get the Reese Goose Box off the gooseneck ball is to pull this cord to open the lock and extend the trailer’s landing jacks. Then the Goose Box rises off the gooseneck ball very easily.
One person can simultaneously pull the hitch lock open and extend the trailer’s landing jacks!
The beauty is that one person can do this job alone by holding the Goose Box’s locking cord in their left hand and pressing the trailer’s landing jack control buttons with their right hand.
Once the Reese Goose Box is clear of the gooseneck ball, the Goose Box’s locking cord can be released and the truck can be driven out from under the trailer and parked elsewhere.
To tidy things up, just snap the safety chains onto the back of the Reese Goose Box and stow the power cord inside. Be careful, though, because there’s 12 volts coming from the trailer batteries on one of the pins.
There are two holes in the back of the Reese Goose Box to hold the hooks for the safety chains.
Chains and power cord are out of the way.
TOWING WITH THE REESE GOOSE BOX
As I mentioned, we have used the Reese Goose Box to tow our 15,000 lb. trailer all over Arizona and Colorado for two months on all kinds of crazy roads. Not only has the towing been smooth but we’ve been super happy with how easy it is to hitch and unhitch.
The airbags inside the Reese Goose Box make the ride super smooth. There is no chucking and no bouncing, and best of all, no noise! The trailer kind of floats along behind us.
We’ve taken some very sharp turns and haven’t had a problem with the Reese Goose Box touching the bed rails of the truck, and we’ve gone over some serious bumps and sharp inclines and declines and haven’t had the overhang of the fifth wheel come too close to the top of the bed rails either.
We are delighted with the Reese Goose Box and the B&W gooseneck ball. Best of all, when we get home in the Fall, we’ll be able to haul anything we want in the truck bed. All we’ll have to do is remove the B&W gooseneck ball, clean it up and put it away in its little suitcase. Then the whole bed of the truck will be available to use!
We’ve owned two fifth wheel hitches over the years. The first was a Pullrite traditional fifth wheel hitch that was installed permanently on rails mounted under the bed of our 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 single rear wheel truck. This rail-mounted hitch design had been an industry standard for fifth wheel hitches for many years. We used it for 7 years.
Our second hitch was a B&W Ram OEM fifth wheel hitch. This new style hitch used the Dodge Ram OEM factory installed pucks that came with our 2016 Ram 3500 dually to mount the hitch to the truck bed. The four corners of the hitch base were secured into the four pucks by turning each puck handle a quarter turn. The hitch could be removed from the truck just as easily simply by turning the four puck handles, a game changer! We used that hitch for 5 years.
We loved being able to install and remove the B&W hitch at a moment’s notice, even though it had a big, beefy base that was a little bit of a challenge for one person to manage alone. So, when we went hitch shopping, we wanted our new hitch to be equally mobile but a bit lighter, if at all possible.
Our first stop on our 16 week maiden voyage!
One of the shortcomings of any OEM puck system fifth wheel hitch is that the three diesel pickup manufacturers, Ford, GM and Dodge, have all designed their own unique footprints for the placement of their pucks in their pickup beds. This means that an OEM hitch designed for a Ram truck will not work in a Chevy or Ford and vice versa.
As we contemplated which hitch to get for our new toy hauler, we knew that there might come a day fairly soon when we would want to replace our current truck. Of course, that may never happen, especially given the weird state of the car and truck market today, but it has been on our minds for a while.
So, our hitch requirements boiled down to these two:
Could be easily installed in or removed from the bed of any brand or age of truck
Would be comprised of components light and small enough for one person to maneuver alone
We discovered that the Demco 21k Recon fifth wheel hitch is mounted on a gooseneck ball in a gooseneck receiver in the truck bed. Gooseneck receivers come standard with all OEM puck systems and can also be installed as an after-market addition in any truck that doesn’t have an OEM puck system.
The beauty of this hitch design is that the Demco 21k Recon fifth wheel hitch can be used in any brand or age of truck. This took care of Requirement #1 in our new hitch wish list!
Like the OEM puck system fifth wheel hitches, the Demco 21k Recon fifth wheel hitch is installed in two basic parts: a base that installs onto a gooseneck ball mounted in the gooseneck receiver in the pickup bed, and a hitch head which mounts onto the base and latches onto the kingpin of the fifth wheel trailer.
The Base unit for the Demco 21k Recon Fifth Wheel Hitch
The hitch head can be further broken down into two parts: the actual hitch head itself and a center column that inserts into the base. These two parts can be installed and removed separately, which adds a step to the process but keeps each individual part quite lightweight. Or they can be handled as a single and slightly heavier unit.
The Center Column (or “Upright”) that supports the hitch head.
The hitch head for the Demco 21k Recon Fifth Wheel
I called Demco to talk to a salesperson about the hitch and get some details about the sizes and weights of the individual components.
And I was absolutely floored when an operator answered the phone on the second ring and immediately transferred me to a salesman who picked right up and greeted me warmly.
How often does THAT happen nowadays?
We were delighted to find that the total weight of the hitch and the weights and physical dimensions of the individual components were slightly less than other manufacturers’ OEM puck based hitches. That took care of Requirement #2 in our hitch wish list!
But back to that phone call… In a fifth wheel towing setup, the fifth wheel hitch is one of the most important pieces of equipment to ensure you get down the road safely. For us, it is reassuring to have the company behind the product be easy to reach by phone without having to listen to endless lists of menu selections, punch in endless numbers and wind up leaving a voicemail in some unmonitored voicemail box anyway. In the RV industry today, most brands are owned by massive umbrella corporations. It is rare to find an independent manufacturer that is not a subsidiary of a massive corporation.
Demco Recon 21k Fifth Wheel Hitch Specifications:
Rated to tow a 21,000 lb. trailer. Our toy hauler has a GVWR of 15,000 lbs which is well within the limit.
Mounts onto a standard 4″ tall 2 5/16 gooseneck ball.
Total Hitch Weight: 134 lbs.
The component weights are:
Head Weight: 35.75 lbs.
Center Column Weight: 20 lbs.
Base Weight: 78.25 lbs.
If the Center Column and Base remain connected as a single unit, the weights of the two components are:
Head Weight: 35.75 lbs.
Center Column + Base Weight: 98.25 lbs
Demco 21k Recon Fifth Wheel Hitch Installation
The installation proved to be straight forward. As mentioned above, the hitch has three main components:
The Base which is installed on a gooseneck ball in the truck bed
The Center Column which slides into the Base and sets the overall height of the hitch
The Head which mounts on the Center Column and whose jaw latches onto the trailer’s kingpin.
The parts included the following:
The Base, the Center Column Upright and some pins.
The Head, hitch handle and bolt, and a blue urethane pivot bumper.
The gooseneck coupler (or socket) on the underside of the Base slips over the gooseneck ball in the bed of the truck.
If you flip over the Base, you can see that the coupler is slilghtly offest from the center of the Base. The coupler location is offset to accommodate the Center Column which stands directly in the center of the Base (for balanced support) and holds the Hitch Head.
On the underside of the Base you can see the gooseneck ball socket is offset from center.
When the hitch is installed in the truck bed, the gooseneck ball coupler is positioned towards the cab of the truck.
The Base is secured to the gooseneck ball in the truck bed by sliding the Coupler Pin through the hole in the square column at the bottom of the Base. By tightening the Top Coupler Bolt nut on the top of the Base to 30 ft-lbs, the Coupler Pin is cinched up against the Base, clamping the Base and gooseneck ball together into the bed of the truck. A very clever design!
Before getting to that step, however, the Top Coupler Bolt on the Base was loosened so the gooseneck ball coupler would slide over the gooseneck ball easily. We did this before placing the hitch in the truck bed.
The Bolt Retainer Assembly was removed and the Top Coupler Bolt was loosened so the hitch Base could slip over the gooseneck ball in the truck bed.
The Bolt Lock Plate was removed.
The Top Coupler Bolt was loosened.
Then the Base was placed in the bed of the truck with the Gooseneck Ball Coupler sliding over the Gooseneck ball. As you can see, when the hitch is removed from the truck, the entire bed of the truck is open except for the small bump of the gooseneck ball. You can haul things in the truck or just drive around peacefully without a fifth wheel hitch clanking around in the back (especially helpful when driving on rutted dirt roads)!
The gooseneck ball was ready and waiting in the pickup bed.
The hitch Base was mounted onto the gooseneck ball. The footprint of the Base is contained well inside the four OEM pucks which makes it both lighter and less awkward to maneuver than a larger OEM fifth wheel hitch base.
In order to secure the Base into the bed of the truck, the Coupler Pin was inserted into the Coupler Hole on the Base below the round head of the gooseneck ball. Then the nut on the Top Coupler Bolt was tightened to 30 ft-lbs using a torque wrench and 15/16 socket.
The Top Coupler Bolt cinches the Coupler Pin under the Gooseneck Ball up against the Base frame, securing the hitch Base onto the ball.
The Top Coupler Bolt is tightened to 30 ft-lbs.
The Bolt Lock Plate was placed over the Top Coupler Bolt head and then tightened the adjacent 1/4″ bolt with a 7/16 socket. The Bolt Retainer assembly blocks the Top Coupler Bolt from turning.
The Bolt Lock Plate slides over the Top Coupler Bolt and is held in place with a 1/4 inch bolt to prevent the Top Coupler Bolt from unscrewing.
The Bolt Lock Plate goes over the Top Coupler Bolt.
The Bolt Retainer Assembly was secured using a 7/16 socket on the 1/4 inch bolt.
Installing the Center Column
Next, the Center Column was placed into the square opening in the Base.
The Center Column was placed in the square opening in the Base.
The Center Column can be positioned at one of three different heights that are 1 1/4 inches apart. The height of the Center Column determines the vertical distance between the bottom of the fifth wheel overhang and the top of the truck box. Demco recommends that this distance should be about 6 inches.
The middle height looked like it would be the best choice, so we placed the Cross Pin through the center hole in the Center Column. The Cross Pin was secured with an R-clip.
The Cross Pin is inserted in the middle hole in the Center Column
The Set Screws were tightened to 100 ft-lbs with a torque wrench.
Installing the Head
Flipping the head over, the blue Urethane Pivot Bumper was placed on the bottom of the Head. This quiets the hitch when you aren’t towing.
To minimize noise when not towing, a urethane pivot bumper dampens the movement of the hitch head.
Then the Head was placed onto the Base, and a 1 inch Pin was slid through it to hold it in place. The 1″ Pin was secured with a Lynch Pin.
The hitch Head was set onto the Base.
A 1″ pin held it in place.
The 1″ pin was secured by a Lynch Pin.
Then the Hitch Handle was assembled. A Safety Lock Pin held the handle in place while the bolt was tightened. A light coat of White Lithium Grease was applied between the Safety Lock Pin hole and the handle housing.
The Safety Lock Pin held the handle open so the bolt on the handle could be tightened.
There are many different mechanisms used for locking a fifth wheel hitch’s jaws around a kingpin. The jaws of the Demco Recon hitch wrap completely around the kingpin. This 360 degree wrap makes a very tight seal around the kingpin and helps reduce chucking when towing, which we loved.
The Demco 21K Recon fifth wheel hitch has a very tight wrap-around jaw that minimizes chucking.
However, the hitch’s tight wrap-around jaw also makes the process of hitching and unhitching a little bit more finicky.
Demco provides two brief videos that show the process of hitching up and unhitching (“coupling and uncoupling”) in action (click here and here).
These are well worth watching to get a feeling for the relative positions of the hitch head and the king pin. The videos are for Demco’s rail mounted fifth wheel hitch, but the positioning of the components is identical to the Demco 21k Recon gooseneck ball hitch.
Demco also recommends using wheel chocks for both hitching and unhitching operations. We weren’t accustomed to using wheel chocks, but we found they made a huge difference in easing the fifth wheel’s king pin into and out of the Demco hitch while preventing the trailer from rolling slightly.
Wheel chocks are recommended when hitching and unhitching with this hitch.
The Demco 21K Recon hitch also requires that the fifth wheel’s landing jacks be lowered slightly below where they would be with other hitches.
We found that as we were hitching up, the trailer king pin’s lube plate needed to be positioned slightly lower than the hitch plate. The truck would squat a bit once the trailer was hitched up. Eyeballing across the lube plate and hitch head, the lube plate needed to be coming at the hitch about halfway up the little lip on the edge of the hitch head.
When unhitching, there needed to be just a slight hairline crack of light showing between the king pin’s lube plate and the hitch plate. Since our truck has a factory installed auto-leveling system, we’ve found we need to wait until the truck bed has completely stopped raising or lowering and then see if a hairline crack of light is visible betwen the lube plate and the hitch plate.
For unhitching, Demco provides a Safety Lock Pin to hold the hitch handle open until the truck has pulled out completely. We found we needed to use this Lock Pin whenever we unhitched or the handle would close on its own before the truck had pulled out completely.
The Safety Lock Pin holds the hitch handle open while unhitching.
We also stabilized our Rota-Flex pin box with an Andersen Rota-Flex lockout kit as Demco recommended. Because both the Rota-Flex pin box and the Demco hitch are mobile in multiple directions, the two can end up working against each other. One will move in one direction and then the other will compensate for that motion in a counterproductive way. The Anderson Rota-Flex lockout kit prevents the pin box from moving at all, allowing the Demco hitch to make all the movements necessary to hitch up or unhitch.
After using the Anderson Rota-Flex lockout kit for a few thousands miles during our trip, we removed it and found that we didn’t really need it. So, if your trailer has a Rota-Flex king pin, you might try using the Demco hitch without the lockout kit first and purchase the lockout kit only if you are having trouble hitch and unhitching.
Underway, we have found that when suddenly accelerating or braking hard, or turning a sharp corner or starting a steep climb or descent, the hitch sometimes clunks loudly as it adjusts to the change in motion.
However, although we’ve taken the trailer over some very rough terrain and deeply pot-holed dirt roads, we’ve found the motion of the trailer has been surprisingly smooth. This absence of chucking is due to the very tight fit of the wraparound jaws encircling the king pin and is a wonderful feature.
After about 1,000 miles of towing, the shaft of the Center Column began to wobblie slightly. Interestingly, the set screws hadn’t come loose by unscrewing themselves because the two jam nuts were still tight. Probably the set screws had worn away a little metal on the shaft from all the jiggling as we went down the road. We didn’t have our torque wrench with us, so Mark tightened the two set screws as hard as he could and they never loosened again.
After 4,000 miles of towing, we noticed that the hitch base had twisted very slightly in the truck bed, about 5 degrees of rotation. This was due to the hitch being secured to the truck in just one location in the center, by compression on the gooseneck ball, rather than being connected in four corners like an OEM or traditional hitch. With the hitch slightly twisted in the truck bed, it was harder to slide the king pin in and out of the jaws while hitching and unhitching. We straightened the hitch and tightened it down again and it hasn’t twisted since.
One of our readers left a comment below suggesting that we try putting a rubber horse mat (sold at farm and feed stores) in the bed of the truck under the hitch with a hole in it for the gooseneck ball. This would provide some friction that might prevent rotation and would also protect the bed of the truck.
After 4,000 miles of towing we noticed the hitch had rotated slightly in the truck bed. We realigned and retightened the hitch and it hasn’t rotated again.
The three components of this hitch are slightly lighter than some of the OEM puck system hitch counterparts, and the Base has a smaller footprint too, so it is less awkward to load into and unload from the truck bed than other hitch bases.
Mark can lift the Base in and out of the truck easily by himself. Of course, it is even easier with a second pair of hands and I happily jump in to help! The other two components, the Center Column and Head, are easily lifted and maneuvered by one person, even me.
That said, if you choose to keep the Center Column attached to the Base after the initial installation, which saves you from loosening and re-tightening the two set screw bolts on the Base to torque spec, then two people may be required to lift that Base/Center Column combined unit in and out of the truck.
The three great benefits of the Demco 21k Recon fifth wheel hitch are that it is:
Compatible with any pickup truck
Easily installed and removed by one person
Almost free of chucking when towing
The process of hitching and unhitching is a little different than with other fifth wheel hitches but is easily mastered (it took us a while to realize we had been doing it wrong!). The hitch also required two small adjustments after we had used it for a few thousand miles, but our adjustments have held since we made them.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
The coupler is flipped upside down here to reveal the broken pieces inside.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 rear axle of the truck by pumping the bottle jack handle.
Collect the lug nuts in the hubcap so they don’t roll away.
Then he pulled off the outer wheel.
Pull the wheel off.
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.
Slide the inner wheel off.
And there was the culprit — a big fat self-tapping bolt!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Bracket and spring under the spare tire.
Then he mounted the spare tire on the truck to replace the flat tire.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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??
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.
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!)
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!
Repairs aside, this is why we RV!
2015 was a phenomenal year of travel for us, but it could have been a financial disaster.
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:
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.
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!!
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!
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.
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.
My pinky finger can squeeze only partway in between the tires!
The spacing was down to less than 1/4 inch.
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.
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!
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.
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 the old trailer leaf spring hangers are cut off
The mechanics 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 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.
The eye of the American made leaf springs looks clean and well made.
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 and the spring is flat — no curvature left! (compare to above pics!)
The mechanics 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 hangers
The bar was then welded onto the underside of the trailer frame.
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.
Then the leaf springs were bolted onto the outer hangers.
Springs and equalizers in place — all set to reinstall the axles.
The axles were installed using new U-bolts. The mechanics also made a brace to span the width of the trailer between the two hanger bars to add some rigidity to the suspension system.
A brace running across the width of the trailer makes the system stronger and more sturdy.
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.
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 the mechanics were 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.
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.
For folks who want to get work done on their trailer in the Arizona area, we had our trailer suspension further upgraded with a MORryde SRE 4000 equalizer that was installed by the excellent mechanics at Rucker Trailer Works in Mesa, Arizona. Their workmanship was top notch and the MORryde has made a huge difference. Read our blog post about that installation here.
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.
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:
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!
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!
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!
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.
A sticker for the trailer’s weight capacities is usually on the driver’s side up by the hitch.
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).
In 2013 we began to worry about the battle of the bulge.
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.
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.
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).
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.
The Rough Rider – How Adorable!!
What a fun little trailer! It even has a cute saying on the back…
“I Go Where I’m Towed To” — Funny, that’s what Mark says!!
We also really liked a big Redwood fifth wheel.
A beautiful Redwood fifth wheel trailer caught our attention.
It was a monster with two exterior doors and five slides. Wow!!
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:
The weights capacity sticker for the teardrop trailer: Cargo Carrying Capacity of 1,925
Weights capacity sticker for the big beautiful fifth wheel trailer: Cargo Carrying Capacity of 1,876 lbs.
Reeling from this sticker shock, we wandered around the RV dealership lot a little more and found a wonderful big fifth wheel toy hauler.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
The Dodge Ram has the DEF filler hole next to the diesel filler hole under the gas cap
We use this handy magnetic gas cap.
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. Just stick it on the side of the truck. 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.
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 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.
The SuperTech DEF jug comes with a flexible pour spout wrapped around the handle
Screw the flexible pour spout on tightly
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
First, crank up the roof all the way.
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.
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.
Attach the supports for the bed slide.
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.
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.
Fold down the entry step.
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.
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.
Prop up the canvas over each bed with the support rod You can hang things from the loop – a lantern, fruit basket, whatever.
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.
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!
Set up the gray water tank (this popup camper doesn’t have a toilet).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 sponsored a float in the Biblesta parade in their hometown of Humboldt, Kansas
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 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.
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.
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!
B&W recycles all the metal shavings from their production lines
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!
There is a base and a head (or coupler) and assorted parts. We laid them all out to get a look at them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Use a socket and ratchet to tighten the bolts.
The bolts screw into a threaded block plate on the back side.
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.
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 spring into place with a small hammer
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.
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.
The coupler (top of the hitch), seen upside down here, is next.
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.
The gooseneck / fifth wheel hitch tow prep package puck system in our Ram 3500 dually truck was ready for the hitch installation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hitch latch handle in the open position.
Hitch latch handle in the closed position.
The B&W Companion hitch base was now installed in the bed of the truck.
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.
The B&W Companion OEM 5th wheel hitch is completely installed! This view (above photo) is looking towards the tailgate.
This view is looking towards the truck cab.
Great job, guys. Thanks!!
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.
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:
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):
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.
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.
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
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:
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?
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!
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.
The weight ratings for trucks and trailers are an alphabet soup of confusion that takes a little imagination to grasp. Here’s a synopsis:
Unloaded Vehicle Weight
The weight of the vehicle without fuel, people and stuff
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating
The heaviest weight the vehicle can safely be when it is loaded up with fuel, people and stuff
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
The GVWR less the UVW
The amount of weight the truck can safely carry. Compare to the trailer’s 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.
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
* LOADED with passengers, fuel and cargo but not towing
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).
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.
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:
0 – 6,000 lbs
6,001 – 10,000 lbs
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.
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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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)
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?
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.
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..
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.
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.
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).
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:
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.
Best in Show
Here are the towing and payload capacities of the many models of Dodge Ram trucks:
As mentioned above, the Ram trucks are sold with two options for the transmission. After our troubles with the old 68RFE automatic transmission in our ’07 Dodge Ram 3500, we wanted the new and better one, the AISIN AS69RC automatic transmission. 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.
“High Output” engines on Ram Trucks pair the Cummins 6.7 liter engine with the Aisin AS69RC transmission
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.
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.
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.
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.
Peering under the front end of the truck, the frame has been strengthened for heavy towing
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 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. However, GM trucks now have the puck system as well.
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.
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.
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!):
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!
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).
It’s nice to have a backup camera when backing the truck in next to the trailer!
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.
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.
The Laramie comes with a beautiful interior that includes all the fancy stuff.
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:
Max Trailer Weight
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:
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:
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.:
Current Ram Trucks Model Specific Weight Ratings – Choose Heavy Duty / Crew / 8′ Box / 6.7 Liter Cummins / Auto / 4×4 / Premium Axle Ratio. The truck like ours is the first Laramie in the list. If you know a VIN number, click the red button “Look Up My Vehicle” to get the specs for that truck.
Note (July 2018): Folks have asked us if we like our truck now that we’ve driven it for two and a half years. We LOVE our truck. It now has about 40,000 miles on it, about half of that towing, and we couldn’t be happier with it.
Below are some of our most POPULAR POSTS(also in the MENUS above)