What Size Truck Do I Need to Tow My RV?

Have you ever seen a truck towing a trailer down the road and you just KNOW the truck is towing more weight than it should?  This is immediately evident if the bed of the truck and the tongue of the trailer are lower to the ground than everything else.  But weight issues may not be quite so obvious so it’s important to know what size truck you need to tow your RV.

Does Weight Matter?

Why does this matter?  Towing above your truck’s capacity can cause major safety concerns when driving down the road and it puts significant strain on your vehicle.  This strain impacts the health of your truck in almost every way.

truck towing fifth wheel
This Dodge Ram 3500 has plenty of towing capacity for the large fifth wheel trailer it is towing.

I live in CO and we do a lot of mountain driving. When driving in the mountains, it is especially important to consider the weight and towing capacity of your truck.  If you don’t, you could be driving down an 8% grade when your brakes start burning up. But even driving on a highway through the plains, towing the right weight for your size keeps everyone safe on the road.

GVWR and other towing terms

With so many terms and ratings when it comes to weight, it’s important to know exactly what you are looking for when determining what size truck you need.

You may hear trucks referred to as half-ton, three-quarter ton, or one-ton trucks.  This doesn’t actually have anything to do with how much these trucks weigh or how much they can tow.  These terms are shorthand used to refer to the different size of truck. You can use this table to see which trucks fall into each category.

Older Ram 3500 Dually

Half Ton Pickup Trucks Ford F-150

Dodge Ram 1500

GMC Sierra 1500

Chevy Silverado 1500

Nissan Titan

Toyota Tundra

Three-Quarter Ton Pickup Trucks Ford F-250

Dodge Ram 2500

GMC Sierra 2500

Chevy Silverado 2500

One Ton Pickup Trucks Ford F-350

Dodge Ram 3500

GMC Sierra 3500

Chevy  Silverado 3500

newer truck towing a toy hauler
This one-ton pickup truck is towing a Toy Hauler.  Toy Haulers are generally the heaviest of trailers as they are built to carry OHVs and other heavy toys.

There are plenty of other terms that get used to refer to the trucks size and towing capacity and it’s important to know what they mean.   Each truck is going to have it’s own specific numbers, and you can look up these numbers on Camping World’s Towing Guide.

Curb Weight/Dry Weight:  The curb weight is the weight of your truck or vehicle without any cargo, passengers or fuel.  The Dry Weight is the same, just for RVs.

Gross Vehicle Weight:  This is the weight of the vehicle (curb weight/dry weight) PLUS all the cargo, fuel, liquids and passengers.  This is the actual weight of the vehicle. When towing an RV, the Gross Vehicle Weight of the truck includes the truck’s weight AND the RV’s tongue weight.  The Gross Vehicle Weight of the RV does not include the weight of the tow vehicle.

Tongue Weight:  This is the weight of the RV on the hitch of your truck and is usually 10-15% of the overall weight of the RV.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating:  This is the manufacturers limit for the total weight of the vehicle (either truck or RV).  Your Gross Vehicle Weight cannot exceed this number.

Gross Combination Weight Rating:  This is the manufacturers limit for the truck’s total weight PLUS the total weight of the RV.

Tow Rating and Payload:  Tow rating is the manufacturers limit for the total amount a truck can tow.  Don’t confuse the tow rating with payload! Payload is the amount of weight a truck can carry inside the truck and truck bed.

ford truck for towing
When choosing the right size truck for you, consider how you will be using the truck.  If you are traveling full-time and putting many miles on your vehicle, your needs will be different than someone who takes short trips on the weekends. 

Gas or Diesel?

Probably one of the most hotly debated topics in towing vehicles is whether your truck should have a gas or diesel engine.  There are benefits to each, as outlined here.

Type Pros Cons
  • Truck price less expensive
  • Engine runs quieter
  • More efficient when driving in-town
  • Engines don’t last as long (most max out at 300,000 miles)
  • Not as efficient over all
  • More efficient over the long run
  • Engines last much longer (up to 800,000 miles!)
  • Engines are better for towing
  • Poor in-town fuel economy
  • Truck price more expensive

As you can see, there are pros and cons to each type of engine.  To make the best decision for you, consider how you are going to be using the truck.  If you are a full-time RVer, and your truck is frequently towing long distances, you may find that diesel is a better choice for you in the long run.  But if you are a “weekend warrior” without plans to take many cross-country trips, gas may be a more affordable truck option for you.

Note: while diesel engines are more fuel efficient, it generally takes around 150,000 miles on the truck before the fuel efficiency makes up for the additional upfront cost of the vehicle.

To Dually or Not to Dually

Another debate is whether to go with a “dually” (four rear wheels) or a single rear wheel truck.

Duallys will provide more stability for your towing, especially when faced with winds on the highway.  Dually’s are often longer (8-foot beds) and wider (13 inches per side) than their single rear wheel counterparts.  This helps reduce sway while on the road, making it a good choice for towing fifth wheels and travel trailers alike.

Duallys also sit lower to the ground, making it easier to hitch up a fifth wheel or gooseneck trailer.  Dually’s are also going to have a higher payload capacity than a single rear wheel truck. However, the towing capacity is usually close to the same between the two.

It’s easy to see why a dually would provide advantages for towing versus a single rear wheel truck.  Even so, single rear wheel trucks have great towing capacity and many RVers choose to go that route. Consider your planned use for the truck when making your decision.

dually truck towing fifth wheel
We love having a diesel and a dually for towing our large fifth wheel.  This 2003 Dodge Ram 3500 is coming up on 400,000 miles! 

Safety on the Road

Staying safe while towing an RV is a huge priority.  The size of your truck and your RV must be compatible to keep you and your family safe on the road.  Before choosing a truck, be sure to keep in mind the following:

  1. The type of rig you plan to tow.  A 20-foot travel trailer is going to tow very differently than a 42-foot fifth wheel.  If you choose a smaller truck and decide to upgrade to a larger RV, you may end up having to buy a new truck as well.
  2. How you plan to use your truck and your RV.  The needs of a full-time traveler are much different than the needs of an occasional road-tripper.  Consider your planned use when deciding which size truck you need.
  3. The strain on your truck.  A truck pulling it’s max weight is going to experience much more strain and wear than a truck that isn’t maxed out.  When choosing a truck, it’s always better to have “more truck” than you think you’ll need.