If only camping was always as easy as hooking up and going. It’s not, so these tips to prepare a truck for towing can get beginner RVers on the road faster, with more confidence and ability than ever before.
Nine Things to Know to Prepare a Truck for Towing Your Camper
Camping is always a learning experience, from highway driving to maneuvering the RV into tricky camping spots. When you leave knowing how to prepare your truck for towing, you’re already ahead of the game. Here’s what to know to minimize your learning curve.
9 – How much weight can the truck tow?
Do you know the best trucks for towing a trailer or truck camper? Do you know what camper your vehicle can tow? It’s important to check this before shopping for your RV. A truck that is underpowered for your RV will wear out your suspension, motor and transmission faster than one that is rated for your RV’s weight. Keep your vehicle at a prime state. Know the towing capacities for 5th Wheel towing, Goose Neck towing, and payload weight.
Conventional Truck Towing
This means bumper pulling an RV with a frame mounted hitch. It would be really unwise to tow from a ball mounted directly to your bumper as the mounts from the bumper to the frame are not that strong. With a frame mounted hitch, there’s a few other things you need to keep in mind but we’ll discuss that more in number 14. Conventional towing will be most common for most beginning campers as its the best way to start getting into camping. You’ll find this most common with Tent Trailers and your standard enclosed trailer.
Fifth Wheel Towing
When you mount an RV directly in the bed of your truck, that is fifth wheel towing. This provides a larger towing capacity. It provides more weight distribution over your rear wheels and suspension. You’ll start seeing this capability in 3/4 ton and 1 ton pickups. Fifth wheel towing can be superior over bumper pull trailer towing because it enables more comfort going down the roads and easier towing up and down hills. The 5th wheel hitches utilize a kingpin and pin receiver (you’ll find a wide variety of different receivers).
Goose Neck Towing
Generally, goose neck towing is used when hauling horse trailers. The hitch is a ball and coupler, with the mount in the center of the bed between the wheel wells. This helps to better distribute the weight of the trailer. This and the 5th wheel will generally be similar on towing capacities.
8 – What kind of Hitch should I have (Conventional Towing)?
Hitch Class 1
Towing capacity is up to 2,000 lbs and meant for small recreational vehicles, bike racks and cargo boxes. I’d really recommend not towing anything with these smaller hitches. Also, the hitch size will generally be smaller than your generic receiver.
Hitch Class 2
Towing capacity will be up to 3,500 lbs. You’ll generally find this in Van/SUV’s and Light Duty pickups. Hitch size will actually be more than the standard size you’re wanting but still would only recommend towing a featherweight trailer/hybrid or tent trailer. It’s also recommended not to exceed over 2 utility vehicles or a small boat.
Hitch Class 3
Towing capacity will be up to 8,000 lbs and more common in those 1/2 – 1 ton pickups. This will give you the ability to tow between a small to a medium-sized trailer.
Hitch Class 4/5
Towing capacity will be up to a staggering 18,000 lbs. This will be more common in the full size heavy duty and dully trucks. With this, your options are wide open for towing a large RV to even a space shuttle (if it’s in your cards).
7 – What do I need for wiring my trailer?
There are several different kinds of wiring harnesses and adapters. Before buying an adapter, check how many prongs your trailer connector has and compare it to the inlet connector on your truck.
The basic hookup of the three lighting functions (running, turn, and brake lights) plus one pin is provided for a ground wire. Most standard light duty trailers will use a 4-pole flat connector.
The basic hookup of the three lighting functions (running, turn, and brake) and, besides the ground, one pin is available to provide support for another function. Typically the 5-Way Flat is used for trailers with surge brakes or hydraulic brakes. The additional wire is tapped into the backup lights to disengage the hydraulic trailer coupler (actuator) when the vehicle is reversing, thus turning off the trailer’s brakes.
The basic hookup of the three lighting functions (running, turn, and brake). The ground and two extra pins are available to provide two additional functions, typically for electric brakes and 12 volt “hot” lead. The 6-way square connectors are more common on campers.
Aside from the three main lighting functions, additional pins for electric brakes, a 12 volt “hot” lead, and backup lights are available. There are two types of 7-way connectors. One has flat pins, which are often referred to as blades. The other has round pins. The round pin style is very rare. The RV style 7-way with flat pins (or blades) is very common. It is often found on newer trucks and SUVs that come equipped from the factory with a trailer hitch.
6 – Avoid wear on your tires and shocks (and increase performance)
The one thing I find makes the biggest difference in how you prepare a truck for towing is how it handles the ride. Taking on every bump and headwind can all be impacted with the shocks of your vehicle. There are several ways to combat the issue of the ‘squat’ or that non level truck look.
The least expensive and easiest install will be standard helper springs. They generally run about $80-$100 and should be installed in under 2 hours generally depending on your vehicle.
The second option and the one that probably will have the largest impact on your vehicle would be air bags. No, I’m not talking about dropping your truck on the rails and flipping switches, I’m talking about additional towing support with airbags. They assist with getting less weight off of your springs and shocks.
Each vehicle will vary but they can either go in between your rear springs or attach to your leaf springs and mount to the side of the frame. Air lines will be running to the rear of the vehicle and you can either inflate them manually with an air compressor or for even more convenience, have an on board air compressor. It’s truly amazing the difference air bags can make and with having an on board air compressor, you’re able to press a remote from the inside/outside of your cab and watch the back end raise up to become level.
Either option will be great but you’ve gotta weight cost vs time. Air bags will cost you more but the overall hassle of adjustment is sooo much easier. Yes, you can mount helper springs on and set up the adjustment and never leave it, but when you’re truck isn’t under load – not always best to have it setup in that same position. You’ll notice a much stiffer ride while not having your trailer attached.
Overall, installing one of these will make for a better ride, your vehicle will love you for it and you wont wear out your tires or shocks as fast. The other thing too is if your truck isn’t level, you’ll be shining your lights in everyone’s eyes and your vehicle is less aerodynamic so this will equate to terrible fuel economy.
5 – Performance upgrades for your truck to help with towing
There are so many things you’re able to do to your vehicle regardless if you have a gas or diesel engine. I personally have always stayed away from aftermarket tuning or deletes for diesel. But there are some great items to look at to help your vehicle perform better – especially for towing!
First thing I’d recommend would be a Cold Air intake. These are fairly inexpensive, for a decent one like K&N or Spectre; you’re looking between $100-$300 depending on the vehicle. This is going to create more air flow directly to your motor, pick up colder air because of where the filter sits down lower in the engine bay, create a meaner engine noise (always love this), and most importantly better HP and MPG.
The second thing would be looking at an aftermarket exhaust system. I’d still recommend keeping within Emission standards from your state’s requirements. However, having less back pressure from the engine to allow it to breathe better will help immensely. Especially if you’ve installed a cold air intake, you’ll want that extra air to breathe easier as it releases from the motor.
I’d highly recommend checking out local exhaust shops to find the best diameter for your motor/vehicle. Never go too big or too small for the fitting of your vehicle. This is really going to add a nice touch to the appearance and again the sound of your vehicle. You’re going to see an increase in performance and MPG with a few simple changes.
Cost wise, you’re going to be looking between $300-$700. This will really depend on muffler, if you go dual pipe and diameter of pipe and bends. I’ve always been a huge fan of Magnaflow and FlowMaster for exhaust mufflers, they’re also not going to break the bank.
4 – How to avoid trailer sway
The larger the trailer you’re towing the more you’ll notice those windy days! When you’re out on the open road going down a busy interstate, the largest percentage of accidents from campers are due to swaying trailers. You’ll get this largely from bumper pull trailers but will often see that typical 5th wheel or semi truck creeping over in your lane. To help combat this, Sway bars connect to your trailers front frame and to your tow hitch. I’ll also help provide more support and more level comfort for the ride.
Preparing a truck for towing so it can avoid trailer sway takes a little setup for the first time. But after you’ve installed and setup, pretty easy to connect each time you connect. Depending on the size of your trailer and weight, these will run you anywhere from $200-$600. Here, you can find an article I wrote talking about how to keep your fifth wheel from swaying, and how to reduce rolling hazards.
3 – Why is my trailer bouncing while driving?
There are several things that could be occurring, I’d first check to make sure the trailer tires are properly inflated. Second, check to make sure the load is even and distributed correctly in/out of the trailer. Third, check the leaf springs on the trailer to make sure they aren’t worn. Fourth, may want to visit number 4 of this article as we reviewed options with making a better ride.
2 – Always maintain your vehicle and trailer
I know this may seem like a duh type of comment, but it’s the little things that are often forgotten. Keeping up with routine maintenance especially before a long road trip is key to a headache free trip. Oil and oil filter, check your tires and ensure proper inflation, spark plugs and never hurts to have a little fuel additive or cleaner for improved mpg.
Never hurts to take a quick walk around at all of your tires, including your trailer. Making sure there aren’t any cracks in the side walls or screws wedged in the tires.
1 – Keep an inventory list or checklist of your supplies for camping
I always laugh at my wife when we’re preparing for a camping trip, she’s making a list a week before the trip. Matches… Lighter… Sleeping bags… Pots… Pans… You know, a lot of the basic items. I can actually really appreciate this for the fact that I always forget something and usually doesn’t hit me until I really need out in the woods. If you have a camper, it might be a good idea to keep inventory of the things you have and when you’re getting low on something, add it to your shopping list. You really can’t be too prepared for a weekend adventure, so don’t be afraid to pack that extra roll of toilet paper.
The more you know about preparing your truck for towing a trailer, the better prepared you’ll be.Camping and towing is always a learning experience. From setting up your truck, going down the road and maneuvering it into tricky camping spots. Nothing like a terrible experience on the road to ruin your entire camping weekend.