I have never been a truck guy. Truth is, I have never had a reason to be. I never needed it for work, and haven’t had use for the bed of the pickup or towing capacity. That is, until we made this decision. You can read about our decision to buy a 5th wheel here, but in all sense of the phrase, we put the cart before the horse.
Our first 5th wheel tour was in Las Vegas over Christmas of 2015. It is right around the time that we started talking about full-time rving. We went to a dealer, and he showed us this gorgeous coach with a center island, full-size stainless steel refrigerator, 3 slide outs, and automatic leveling jacks. I wanted it, until he brought up the tow vehicle. He told us that we would need a 3/4 ton pickup to tow this 14,000 lb monstrosity. We didn’t have that vehicle, nor did we want to shell out $60,000 to buy one. This abruptly ended our interest in 5th wheels.
Fast forward to February when we found out that there is a class of 5th wheels that are labeled as 1/2 ton towable. Yes, I had to first Google what a 1/2 ton pickup is. I didn’t know, and needed to understand our options. Essentially, the 1/2 ton class are Chevy Silverado 1500, Ford F-150, Dodge Ram 1500, and Toyota Tundra. Every truck brand has one, and the 3/4 ton class is the F-250 and Silverado 2500. The 1/2 tons are the every day trucks that you see around town. They are functional, capable, but not all created equally.
Our coach is roughly 8,300 lbs dry. Add 672 lbs of water, all of our belongings, and pets, and you can easily surpass 10,000 lbs while driving on the road. I believe that Ford has the best-in-class towing for the F-150 with an 12,200 lb capacity. That affords you a buffer to keep from maxing out on weight. However, not all F-150s have this capability. Same with Chevy, and the other brands too. It takes a specific package to achieve the highest towing capacity, and finding one was harder than we thought.
Immediately after making our 5th wheel decision, we were directed to the Chevy dealership down the road. We walked in and told them that we had one criteria for the truck; it must be able to tow 11,000 lbs. It can be any color, and have any features and options. The new sales associate started showing us this and that until we had a few choices to consider. We left to do more research from home, and that is when we discovered how much time we had just wasted. On the Chevy website they have a downloadable spec sheet for their trucks which highlights towing capacity. There is a grid-like page that has each model of truck with the available configurations. Evidently it makes a difference if you have a crew cab versus double cab, or a short box versus a long box. I located the Silverado 1500 King Ranch edition that we liked, and then got to a question that I didn’t have the answer to: what is the rear-axle ratio. I looked up the dealer website, and to my dismay, this truck did not have the ratio needed. If I remember correctly, the rear-axle ratio of 3.42 on this truck only allowed it to tow around 9,100 lbs. I looked up every other truck that we had just viewed, and they were all the same. We had not seen one truck that fit our only criteria. I called the dealership and they confirmed it. What we needed was the correct rear axle ratio, combined with the max trailering package.
Next was Ford. We walked in and said the same thing. This time I had done my homework, and knew exactly what I was looking for. The salesman gave us the pitch about Ford’s best-in-class towing, and then proceeded to show us truck after truck that did not suit our needs. It wasn’t until he showed us a $55,000 F-150 Lariat that we finally had the capability that we required. The price point didn’t work for us, so we passed. Another waste of a day.
We were a bit discouraged. We couldn’t buy the 5th wheel until we had a truck, but the salesmen at the dealerships were unable to put us in a vehicle that matched our budget and towing needs. I started sending emails to all of the Chevy and Ford dealers in the area, and told them what we needed. Many of them had options for us, until I pointed out that they were wrong about the towing capacity. It surprised us how little the sales people knew on the subject.
For 2015 Chevy Silverado 5.3L V-8, the max trailering package is on trucks with the 3.73 rear axle ratio, and includes a transmission cooler, integrated brake controller, heavy duty rear shocks, telescopic side mirrors, and a locking rear differential. With a standard box and 4-wheel drive, the truck can tow 10,800 lbs.
Finally, the first Chevy dealer that we went to with the enthusiastic young salesman, emailed me back and said that they had two options of Silverado 1500s on the entire lot. I didn’t believe him at first, and asked him to send photos of the window sticker so that I could confirm for myself. The first was a heavily discounted 2015 Silverado that had been on the lot for 310 days. The 2nd was a 2016 model at full msrp. I confirmed that they were both eligible, and then all we had to do was decide between the two. The 2015 model had enough of the features that we wanted like navigation and heated seats, although it didn’t have the crew cab with the large back seat and some others options on our wish list. I called Kym to discuss. We were both happy with getting a new truck at a great price, so I called the dealer back and said we’d take the 2015. That night, they drove the truck from Ventura, CA to our home in Encino. I signed paperwork, and they drove back in the Jeep that I traded in.
The time between deciding on a 5th wheel, and finding a truck that could tow it, was around 10 days. I bought the truck on a Wednesday night, and Kym put the deposit down on the coach Thursday morning. Our rig was complete. Our cart finally had a horse.
I am writing this after one month on the road. To date, I have yet to see another 5th wheel of our size at 31′ being towed by a 1/2 ton pickup. Everyone else seems to spring for the bigger truck. That said, the performance of our vehicle has met all of our expectations. We are currently boondocking at 8,500ft in Colorado, and have very few issues climbing these mountains. We do drive in the right lane heading uphill, and the truck travels at 55mph on these ascents. On flat roads, and at lower elevations, we have no problem driving 70mph. Towing a 5th wheel is much easier than I thought. Most of the time I forget that it is back there.
The tow vehicle is equally, or even more important than the coach itself. Under-powered trucks will create safety issues resulting in harm to you or others. For those considering a 5th wheel without committing to a heavy-duty truck, look for a coach under 9,000 lbs, and then locate a truck with the right criteria. It is your homework to do, as it seems the salespeople are not interested in verifying a trucks capabilities. We wanted an every day truck for trips in to town, and that’s what we got. It just also happens to be a beast in the towing department.
Our truck is a 2015 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT EcoTec3 5.3L V8 with Max Trailering Package.