For the uninitiated, the term "5th wheel" refers to the U-shaped hitch coupling fitted to the back of the towing vehicle that connects to the trailer or RV, and more loosely refers to the actual unit that's being towed. Investing in a "5th wheel" recreational vehicle can be lifechanging, giving you the freedom to explore the country and camp in remote locations without worrying about accommodations. A 5th wheel can be especially handy nowadays as COVID-19 has restricted air travel. Whether you're the proud new owner of a 5th wheel RV, or you've had one for years and are in the market for a new truck to tow it, it's crucial that your vehicle can safely handle the load. To help you prepare for your next big trip, we'll cover how to choose the best pickup truck for the job, and share our top 4 picks for towing a full-size 5th wheel.
How to Choose the Best Truck for Towing a 5th Wheel
According to etrailer.com, the criteria to consider when purchasing a truck for towing a 5th wheel include towing and payload capacity, fuel type, and bed length. 5th wheels come in a wide range of sizes and weights, from a lightweight 2,500 lbs, up to a full-size 20,000 lbs. The most important factor to evaluate is the truck's towing and payload capacity to make sure it's sufficient for your RV. You'll need to be aware of the Gross Combined Vehicle Weight (GCVW) which is the maximum weight of the truck and the loaded trailer (including cargo and passengers) that the vehicle can safely handle. For towing a luxury full-size trailer, the best choice is a one-ton HD truck. However, if you have a lightweight 5th wheel, you may be able to tow it with the half-ton counterpart for each of our choices below.
The length of your truck bed and the type of fuel it takes will also have an impact on your ability to tow safely. An 8-foot truck bed will be the best option for towing a 5th wheel because it offers the best traction and reduces sway as you tow your load. Truck beds under 8 feet will reduce your turning clearance and traction, while any bed under 6-feet will be the lease capable option.
When choosing between a gas or diesel engine, both can be up to the task, but keep in mind that diesels produce higher torque output and they tend to last longer than gas engines. This makes them a more reliable choice for towing large 5th wheels. The following 4 pickup trucks are our top picks for towing larger 5th wheel campers.
2020 Ram HD
The award-winning Ram HD will serve you well as both a daily driver and a towing machine when it's time to escape the daily grind. The Ram 2500 is available with a 6.4-liter Hemi V8 that produces a healthy 410 horsepower and 429 lb-ft of torque, but our choice for towing power is the optional 6.7 Turbo Diesel which gives you a max towing capacity of over 19,000 lbs depending on the model configuration.
The one-ton Ram 3500 will accommodate the largest 5th wheel RVs with a max towing capacity of 35,100 lbs depending on the configuration. You'll want to opt for the higher output turbodiesel engine good for 400 horsepower and 1,000 lb-ft of torque to take advantage of the highest towing numbers. Both the Ram 2500 and 3500 are built for the long haul thanks to their upscale and comfortable interiors with ample room in both rows of seats and their civilized driving manners.
2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD/GMC Sierra HD
If you're looking for a capable truck to lug your family and your new RV across the country safely, the Chevy Silverado 2500 and 3500 rise to the challenge. The 3/4-ton Silverado 2500 and the one-ton 3500 are available with two engine options including a 401-horsepower, 464-lb-ft of torque gas engine, and a 445-horsepower, 910-lb-ft turbo diesel V8. Going with the higher-torque turbo diesel in the 2500 offers a max trailering capacity of 18,500, while the one-ton 3500 lets you tow up to 35,500 lbs.
Although the interiors of the Chevy Silverado HDs can't match the luxuries of Ram, there is still plentiful space and storage for the whole family. There is also no shortage of safety tech to make towing a 5th wheel easier. 8 available cameras allow for an overhead view of the truck's surroundings, the side view cameras turn on automatically when activating the turn signal, and adjust the view as you turn the wheel. Last but not least, the innovative transparent trailer tech allows you to see the road behind the truck even with the 5th wheel attached.
The 2020 GMC Sierra HD is nearly identical to the Silverado HD when looking at the engine options and towing capacity. The GMC Sierra 3500 can handle 5th wheels as heavy as 35,500 lbs just like its one-ton Silverado cousin. If you're looking for a more upscale interior than the Silverado offers, with the same towing prowess, the Sierra Denali HD gives you more creature comforts like plentiful storage space, wireless phone charging, and an easy to use infotainment system. Pebble-grain leather seats and real open-pore wood trim add a touch of sophistication and luxury to your road trip.
2020 Ford F-Series Super Duty
The Ford F-Series holds the title of the best-selling truck in the U.S., and the Super Duty lineup also boasts a best-in-class towing capacity. This combination means you can trust the F-250 and F-350 to get you and your 5th wheel to your next camping spot safely. The F-250 offers a choice of three engines including a 6.2-liter V8, a 7.3-liter V8, or a Power Stroke Turbo Diesel V8 shared with the F-350 which makes 475 horsepower and 1,050 lb-ft of torque for a max towing capacity of 20,000 lbs.
Equipped with the Power Stroke Turbo Diesel, the F-350 crushes the competition for 5th wheel towing capacity of 35,750 lbs and a maximum payload of 7,850 lbs. Towing safety features outlined in Ford's handy trailer and towing guide include the Ultimate Trailer Tow Camera system, trailer reverse guidance, and the trailer brake control. These advanced technologies will help 5th wheel newbies learn the ropes and gain confidence while towing.