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Guide to Choosing the Best Truck for 5th-Wheel Towing


Truck with Fifth Wheel

You dream of hitting the open highway with your fifth-wheel trailer in tow, but before you can embark on your outdoor adventures, you have to figure out the best way to get where you're going. If you want to jump straight to the top of the line with an all-powerful, up-for-anything truck, then a 1-ton dually with an 8-foot bed and diesel engine will certainly hit all the right marks. However, just because one truck type is up for anything doesn't mean it's one size fits all. Factors like daily driving comfort, cab size, and up-front costs are worth considering as well.


Truck options are as many and varied as the people who use them, but this straightforward guide will help break down the most important specs to consider, which features you need, and which ones you can't live without.


You can also check out our comparison of the top 2017 and 2018 trucks to discover which truck has the highest towing capacity, which has the most powerful engine, and which received the most accolades in the industry.



5 Things to Think About Before You Buy:


  1. Bed Length
  2. Gas vs. Diesel
  3. Payload Capacity
  4. Dually vs. SRW
  5. 5th-Wheel Packages




1. Do I Need a Short-Bed or Long-Bed Truck for a 5th Wheel?


With the rising popularity of Quad Cabs, Mega Cabs, and SuperCrew Cabs, many truck bed lengths have decreased from the standard 8 feet. However, when purchasing a truck intended for towing a fifth-wheel camper, you should be aware that your truck bed length will affect both the cost of your hitch setup and the simplicity of your towing experience once you're on the road.


Long Beds - 8 ft.
Long Bed Truck

Pros

  • Best turning clearance
  • Most convenient for towing
  • Best traction/reduced sway
  • Most cost-effective setup

Cons

  • Large for a daily driver
Long Beds - 8 ft.
Long Bed Truck

Pros

  • Best turning clearance
  • Most convenient for towing
  • Best traction/reduced sway
  • Most cost-effective setup

Cons

  • Large for a daily driver
Short Beds - Under 8 ft.
6-Foot Truck

Pros

  • Easy to park & maneuver when not towing
  • Often include large cab
  • Excellent daily driver

Cons

  • Reduced turning clearance
  • Less convenient for towing
  • Less traction
  • Less cost-effective setup
Short Beds - Under 8 ft.
6-Foot Truck

Pros

  • Easy to park & maneuver when not towing
  • Often include large cab
  • Excellent daily driver

Cons

  • Reduced turning clearance
  • Less convenient for towing
  • Less traction
  • Less cost-effective setup
Shorter Beds - Under 6 ft.
5-Foot Truck

Pros

  • Lightweight and easiest to maneuever when not towing
  • Often include large cab
  • Excellent daily driver

Cons

  • Highly reduced turning clearance
  • Least convenient for towing
  • Least traction
  • Least cost-effective setup
Shorter Beds - Under 6 ft.
5-Foot Truck

Pros

  • Lightweight and easiest to maneuever when not towing
  • Often include large cab
  • Excellent daily driver

Cons

  • Highly reduced turning clearance
  • Least convenient for towing
  • Least traction
  • Least cost-effective setup


Which Hitch Do I Need?


Short Bed Truck

Long-Bed Trucks: 8 Feet


An 8-foot bed, also referred to as a long bed, is ideal for towing a fifth-wheel trailer. Fifth-wheel hitches must remain in front of a truck's rear axle, so the camper sits close to the cab. This can cause clearance issues on shorter trucks, as the trailer will strike the cab during sharp turns if the proper towing equipment is not used. However, an 8-foot bed provides plenty of clearance for making sharp turns with no special hitches or pin boxes needed.


Fixed Hitch
Fixed Hitch

Which hitch do I need?


If you choose a long-bed truck, you can purchase a fixed hitch to tow your camper. Fixed hitches are generally more cost-effective than the sliding hitches required for short-bed trucks (often by several hundred dollars) in addition to being more convenient. Once it's installed, you don't have to worry about adjusting the hitch for turns or acheiving cab clearance. Fixed hitches are available with above-bed and below-bed rails.


Shop Fixed Hitches


Short Bed Truck

Short-Bed Trucks: Under 8 Feet


If you want to tow a fifth wheel, but the truck of your dreams turns out to have a bed shorter than 8 feet long, don't despair—you can have your cake and eat it, too (preferably while sitting in your fifth-wheel trailer in the camping location of your choice). Although truck beds under 8 feet run into clearance issues due to the camper being so close to the cab, there are hitches available that give you the option of towing with a short-bed truck.


Sliding Hitch Clearance
Short-bed trucks cause clearance issues on sharp turns, though this issue can be avoided with a sliding hitch or Sidewinder.

Which hitch do I need?


While fixed hitches aren't usually a viable option for short beds, sliding hitches are designed to work with beds shorter than 8 feet long.Sliding hitches provide greater turning clearance by sliding backward toward the truck tailgate during sharp turns, thus increasing the distance between the cab and the trailer.



Sliding Hitch
Sliding Hitch

There are two types of sliding hitches: manual and automatic. Manual sliding hitches must be physically adjusted from the "locked" to the "turn" position, so you will have to pull over and exit your vehicle each time you make a sharp turn. Automatic sliding hitches self-adjust during turns, allowing you to circumvent this pesky process, albeit at a higher price point. With an automatic sliding hitch, you never have to exit your vehicle to make a turn—the hitch slides smoothly toward the tailgate when you turn and back toward the cab when you straighten out.


Shop Sliding Hitches




Truck Bed - Under 6 Feet

Even Shorter-Bed Trucks: Under 6 Feet


With truck beds under 6 feet long, even sliding hitches don't provide enough clearance to make sharp turns. Instead, you'll need to use a Sidewinder pin box replacement (or the OEM version, the Revolution). With Sidewinders and Revolutions, the pivot point is located 22 inches behind the king pin, close to the tailgate, creating much more space in between the truck cab and trailer on sharp turns.


Truck with Fifth Wheel and Sidewinder
A truck pulls a 5th-wheel trailer with a Sidewinder

Sidewinders are pin box specific, so you will need your current pin box model number in order to find the correct replacement box. If you know your pin box model number, you can select it to see Sidewinder options that will fit. If you don't know your pin box model number and can't locate it on the pin box, you can measure to find the correct replacement.


Sidewinder and Fixed Hitch
Sidewinder and Fixed Hitch

Which hitch do I need?


Fixed hitches are highly recommended with Sidewinder and Revolution pin boxes. You will also need a wedge to prevent the king pin from rotating in your hitch. If you use a sliding hitch with a Sidewinder or Revolution, the hitch should always be kept in the "locked" position. Certain hitches are incompatible with Sidewinder and Revolution pin boxes.

Shop Sidewinder Pin Boxes

Shop Wedges


★ Our Recommendation: If that Crew Cab is a must-have, but it comes with a short bed, the good news is that towing a fifth wheel is possible with the proper equipment. However, hitch and pin box upgrades will have a higher out-of-pocket cost and aren't as convenient as fixed hitch setups. For these reasons, trucks with 8-foot beds are the preferred vehicles for towing fifth wheels.




2. Gas vs. Diesel: Which is Best for Towing?


Infographic - Gas vs Diesel

It's no secret that gas tends to cost less at almost every point: gas engines cost less upfront, fuel costs less at the pump, and maintenance costs are generally lower for gas engines.


However, over time, the superior fuel economy of a diesel engine can actually save you money. Diesel engines usually have a greater towing capacity because of their large torque outputs, which makes them ideal for hauling around massive fifth-wheel trailers. Diesel engines also tend to last longer than gas engines.




★ Our Recommendation: Bottom line, if you're going to be towing a hefty fifth-wheel trailer, particularly over long distances, a diesel engine will be beneficial if you can swing the initially higher costs. However, gas engines are also perfectly capable of towing a fifth wheel, so a diesel engine is a recommendation, not a requirement.




3. Payload Capacity: Do I Need a 1/2 Ton, 3/4 Ton, or 1-Ton Truck?


Average Fifth Wheel Weights
Figures are based on average 5th wheel ratings and truck capacities; always check weight rating information on any trailer and truck prior to towing.

You may have come across these weight categories in your truck research, but it's not always clear which truck class you'll need to tow your fifth wheel. If you plan to tow a large trailer, a large tow vehicle is more likely to be up to the challenge for obvious reasons. In most cases you'll want to go with at least a ¾-ton truck like the Ford F-250, Chevrolet Silverado 2500, or Ram 2500, or—even better—a 1-ton truck, which will certainly offer the towing capacity you need. These are heavy-duty trucks like the Ford F-350, Chevrolet Silverado 3500, and Ram 3500. If you tow with a smaller truck, or if you tow a trailer close to your truck's maximum weight capacity, you may need suspension enhancements to help stabilize and level your vehicle.


With these larger vehicles, there will be less strain on the suspension and drivetrain components than with a smaller truck. That said, towing a small fifth wheel with a ½-ton truck like the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado 1500, or Ram 1500 (to name a few) is not impossible as long as the truck is rated at the sufficient weight capacity for your trailer. Check out our sizing chart to get an idea of which truck type you might need to pull your fifth wheel.


How Much Can I Tow?


The best way to determine if a particular truck will meet your towing needs is to check the sticker on the truck's driver's side door to determine the vehicle's weight specifications and towing capabilities. On the sticker, check for the Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR), which is the maximum combined weight of the loaded truck plus the fully loaded trailer. Then, subtract your Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW), which is the combined weight of your truck, fuel, passengers, and cargo when your vehicle is loaded and ready for towing. The difference between the GCWR and the GVW is the maximum loaded trailer weight the truck can tow.


Your Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR)—the maximum amount your loaded vehicle can weigh—will be included on the ratings sticker near the GCWR, so you can use this number to make a conservative estimate of how heavy a trailer you can tow. For the most accurate measurement of your vehicle's weight, load up your truck with all the gear and passengers you plan to take with you while towing and visit a commercial scale.


Infographic - GVWR


★ Our Recommendation: If you're going to be towing a large fifth wheel trailer, or if you know you'll be looking at a fifth-wheel upgrade down the road, a 1-ton truck will allow this and will hold up the best under a sizeable trailer. However, if you plan on sticking with a smaller fifth wheel, a ¾-ton or even a ½-ton truck is likely all you need, provided its weight rating is sufficient.




4. Do I Need a Dually?


Dually Truck
The dual rear wheels on this Ford F-350 result in a higher weight capacity and greater stability, although they may affect daily driving comfort.

In short, the answer is no—you don't necessarily need a dually (dual rear wheel) truck to tow a fifth-wheel trailer, but that doesn't mean you won't want one.


On one hand, single rear wheel trucks enjoy slightly greater fuel efficiency and offer greater visibility than dually trucks. It's also more economical to replace four tires than it is to replace six. Additionally, keep in mind that you won't always be using your truck for towing, so while it's important to choose a truck that can safely and efficiently tow your trailer, it's also important not to overlook everyday driving comfort. It's considerably easier to navigate through a drive-through or pull into a tight parking space with a single rear wheel truck than it is with a larger dually.


On the other hand, a major benefit of dually trucks is that they provide greater stability when towing a large fifth wheel, such as a toy hauler. A dually truck will typically have a higher weight capacity—again, an important consideration when towing something as large as a fifth wheel—and will cause less stress on the vehicle. Also, in the event of a rear tire blowout, you'll have backups already built in. You may not need a dually, but the extra set of wheels will certainly make for a steadier ride that in many cases will be worth the trade-offs, particularly if you plan on frequent towing.



★ Our Recommendation: If you plan on frequently towing a large fifth-wheel trailer, a dually is an excellent choice for a more stable ride. However, if you plan on towing a smaller fifth wheel, or if you'll only be towing your trailer on occasion, then sticking with a single rear wheel truck will provide more day-to-day driving comfort.







5. What Factory Prep Packages and Fifth-Wheel Rails are Available?


Typically, to install a fifth-wheel hitch, you also have to purchase and install hitch rails in your truck bed. However, many manufacturers are now saving you the hassle of purchasing and installing aftermarket rails (or paying to have them installed for you) by offering fifth wheel factory prep packages with their trucks.


There are two types of installation rails: those that install above the truck bed, and those that install below it. Factory prep kits come pre-installed below the bed and are visible as a series of small pucks that sit flush with your truck bed, where the hitch is installed.


Below-Bed Rails Above-Bed Rails

Pictured: an underbed rail system and an above-bed rail system.


Factory Prep Packages


One important thing to note is that these prep kits are custom-designed, so you will need to purchase a hitch compatible with your manufacturer's kit. For instance, this B&W Companion Hitch is custom-designed to work with new Ford Super Duty trucks with the prep package, while this B&W Companion Hitch is compatible with new Ram prep packages. These custom hitches will drop directly into the pucks in your truck bed, making for a quick and painless installation. With a prep package, dropping a hitch into the truck bed takes an average of 30 minutes, compared to the 4 or more hours it usually takes to install a hitch and aftermarket rails on a truck without a prep package.


If you already have a hitch you want to use with your fifth wheel, but the hitch is not compatible with your factory prep kit, you don't have to throw out your perfectly good hitch. Instead, you'll just need an above-bed adapter like this Reese adapter for Ram trucks. Adapters behave like standard, above-bed rails and mount into the factory pucks in your truck bed, allowing you to use a standard, above-bed hitch. Whenever possible, it's best to use a compatible hitch designed for your under-bed rails for the best fit and minimal contact with your truck bed, but adapters are a good solution if you do end up with an incompatible hitch and rail system.


The best way to find a hitch compatible with your factory prep package is to use our fitguide and select your year, make, model, and vehicle options. From there, you can select above-bed or below-bed rails to filter your options. If you choose below-bed rails, you will be presented with options that fit your OEM prep package. If you select above-bed rails, all of your hitch options will include the rail adapter that will allow you to use the hitch with your OEM prep kit.


Shop Rail Adapters

Above-Bed Rails

Aftermarket Rails


Although purchasing a truck with the factory prep package is more convenient, if you are purchasing a used truck or a truck from an individual rather than a dealership, a prep kit might not be an option. If your truck does not have a factory prep kit, you can still install the rails yourself. Aftermarket options are generally more budget-friendly than factory prep kits, and with the variety of custom-fit options available, you can often still achieve a factory look and feel.


You can choose between above-bed and below-bed rails as well as between custom, semi-custom, and universal install kits. If you prefer to retain full use of your truck bed when the hitch is removed, below-bed rails are the ideal choice. Custom install kits built for your vehicle are always the best option, as they typically require little to no drilling into your truck frame, and they are much easier to install.

Shop 5th-Wheel Hitches

Are fifth-wheel wiring harnesses available?


In-Bed 5th Wheel Wiring Harness

In addition to aftermarket rails, aftermarket fifth-wheel wiring harnesses are available to simplify trailer hookup. These in-bed wiring harnesses will plug into your vehicle's factory wiring and allow you to mount a 7-way connector right in your truck bed. Many also feature 90-degree angled connectors to fit into tight spaces, so they can be installed almost anywhere in the bed. These harnesses are a custom-fit item, so you can use our wiring fitguide to find the right harness for your truck. When you use our fitguide to search for a hitch and rails, you can also find a wiring harness recommendation on the right-hand side of the product list page.


Shop Wiring

★ Our Recommendation: A fifth-wheel hitch can be installed regardless of whether or not the truck has a factory prep package, so if you don't have the option or don't wish to pay for the factory upgrade upfront, you can always find a hitch, installation rails, and wiring harness later on. If you do have the option, however, we highly recommend sparing yourself the time and hassle of purchasing aftermarket rails and installing them yourself.




Related Products




Related Articles


Fifth-Wheel Trailer Hitch Information and Installation Tips

Measuring to Determine the Correct Replacement Pin Box for a 5th-Wheel Trailer

Sidewinder with Rotating Turret for Short Bed Pickups

More 5th Wheel Help Articles

Pickup Truck Cab Styles



Written by: Amber S.


Updated on: 9/21/2018







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