What’s the Best Truck for Towing a Travel Trailer?

Everything you need to know about towing capacity, engine type, drivetrain, and more

Introduction

Beast of burden.

You dream of adventure. That’s why you bought a travel trailer or a fifth-wheel. Now, you just need to figure out the right truck to tow the darn thing.

There are plenty of trucks to choose from, with tons of differences (literally) in their capabilities. You’ve got all kinds of things to consider, like towing capacity, torque, fuel economy and cab type. Do you need a heavy-duty pickup? Should you get four-wheel drive? Regular or extended cab? Not to mention your existing opinions about which automakers build the best trucks.

In short, it can feel overwhelming. That’s why we’re going to explore each of these considerations one by one—so you can get where you’re going in style, with just the right brute force to tow your rig.

Brand Loyalty

Brand-spankin’ stubborn?

Before we get too deep into the details, we want to acknowledge that some people have strong opinions when it comes to automotive brands. Shocking, we know.

If that’s you, own up to that bias from the outset. You may want to take that brand loyalty into account when you choose your travel trailer, because limiting your truck options can affect the type of trailer you can tow behind it.

Our advice is to keep an open mind. Automaker quality changes over time, and they’re constantly developing new features like towing safety technologies. You might be surprised at what you find if you give yourself permission to compare all the available options.

Towing Capacity

Don’t get caught in the undertow.

Towing capacity is an essential consideration in choosing your towing vehicle. However, it can be confusing to compare truck models. Automakers duke it out each year in torque and toughness, all trying to offer greater towing capacity without crushing the fuel economy.

While the rankings change from year to year, it’s important to spend some time comparing the towing capacity of the different models. After all, you don’t want your truck squatting as you speed down the highway because it’s hauling too much weight.

Automakers including Ford, Ram, General Motors, Toyota and Nissan adopted a uniform method for testing and rating the towing capacity of their pickup trucks, beginning with their 2015 models. This makes it easier to compare.

Keep in mind how often you’ll pull your rig. If you’re only going to tow it a few times a year, it’s okay to pick a truck with a capacity just above your trailer’s weight. But if you plan to tow it more regularly, you want a truck with a higher weight rating.

Considerations for a fifth wheel

Since fifth wheels are usually much heavier than comparable trailers, make sure your towing vehicle can support the bed weight and the tow weight of a fifth wheel. If you’re towing a fifth wheel, you’ll likely need a truck with a higher towing capacity than if you have a bumper pull or more traditional travel trailer.

Whichever truck you pick, make sure you know the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). Your towing vehicle must have a GVWR that’s greater than the weight you’re towing, so you need to know the weight of your trailer or fifth wheel, fully loaded (that means with all of your gear, food, etc., inside). Keep in mind that weight added to your towing vehicle, such as passengers and cargo, increases your gross vehicle weight (GVW) which factors into your vehicle’s GVWR. Head to a truck scale to get an accurate measurement of your GVW and then compare that to your GVWR.

Warning: Overloading your trailer or vehicle can cause a crash.

Truck Types

All the 2019 trucks in tow.

Towing like a boss takes raw power, a transmission that’s built to distribute that power, axles to carry the weight and a suspension that keeps you from bouncing all the way home.

It’s crucial to carefully check the specifications of a truck. Why? The engine, gearing, length, cab style, bed style, axles and towing packages all affect the truck’s towing capacity. While a properly configured Ram 3500 can tow upwards of 30,000 pounds, that capacity drops to about 11,000 pounds without the right features and options.

Never assume that a pickup can tow like a beast just because it looks like one, cautions Consumer Reports. Looks can sometimes be just downright deceiving.

With that in mind, here are the 2019 trucks available in the U.S. ranked by towing capacity in their respective segments, according to MSN Autos.

Mid-size/compact

Weekend warriors love compact trucks. They’re great for hauling small campers, boats and motorcycles with maximum towing capacities ranging from 5,000 to 7,700 pounds.

Honda Ridgeline

Base towing capacity: 3,500
Max. towing capacity: 5,000

Nissan Frontier

Base towing capacity: 3,760
Max. towing capacity: 6,710

Toyota Tacoma

Base towing capacity: 3,500
Max. towing capacity: 6,800

Ford Ranger

Max. towing capacity: 7,500

Chevrolet Colorado

Base towing capacity: 3,500
Max. towing capacity: 7,700

GMC Canyon

Base towing capacity: 3,500
Max. towing capacity: 7,700

Full-size

Full-size trucks, also known as half-ton trucks, are incredibly popular. These rugged pickups are designed with plenty of torque for pulling power. Maximum towing capacities in this segment range from 9,740 to 13,200 pounds.

Nissan Titan

Base towing capacity: 9,250
Max. towing capacity: 9,740

Toyota Tundra

Base towing capacity: 6,800
Max. towing capacity: 10,200

Chevrolet Silverado 1500

Base towing capacity: 7,200
Max. towing capacity: 12,200

GMC Sierra 1500

Base towing capacity: 7,200
Max. towing capacity: 12,200

Ram 1500

Base towing capacity: 6,280
Max. towing capacity: 12,750

Ford F-150

Base towing capacity: 7,700
Max. towing capacity: 13,200

Heavy-duty

Heavy-duty trucks are also referred to as three-quarter-ton trucks. If you’ve got a large fifth-wheel trailer, you’ll want to take a look at these hogs. They come with gooseneck and fifth-wheel hitch options that place your load directly over the axle for greater towing capacities in this segment.

Nissan Titan XD

Base towing capacity: 11,590
Max. towing capacity, conventional: 12,640
Max. towing capacity, gooseneck: 12,760

Ram 2500

Base towing capacity: 11,390
Max. towing capacity, conventional: 14,500
Max. towing capacity, fifth wheel: 17,980

GMC Sierra 2500HD

Base towing capacity: 13,000
Max. towing capacity, conventional: 14,500
Max. towing capacity, fifth wheel: 15,400

Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD

Base towing capacity: 13,000
Max. towing capacity, conventional: 14,500
Max. towing capacity, fifth wheel: 18,100

Ford Super Duty F-250

Base towing capacity: 13,000
Max. towing capacity, conventional: 18,000
Max. towing capacity, fifth wheel: 18,500

Ultra-duty

These trucks are the heroes of hauling. If you’ve got an extra-large fifth wheel, check out these monsters. Their maximum towing capacity ranges from 20,000 to 32,000 pounds. While they’re powerful, they probably won’t ride as well as lighter trucks.

GMC Sierra 3500HD

Base towing capacity: 13,000
Max. towing capacity, conventional: 20,000
Max. towing capacity, fifth wheel/gooseneck: 23,100

Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD

Base towing capacity: 13,000
Max. towing capacity, conventional: 20,000
Max. towing capacity, fifth wheel/gooseneck: 23,300

Ram 3500

Base towing capacity: 10,880
Max. towing capacity, conventional: 21,440
Max. towing capacity, gooseneck: 31,210

Ford Super Duty F-350

Base towing capacity: 14,500
Max. towing capacity, conventional: 21,000
Max. towing capacity, fifth wheel/gooseneck: 32,000

Hello, comparison shopper

For even more brand-specific towing information, check out these links:

Domestic

Ford RV trailer and towing guide
GMC trailering and towing guide
Chevy trucks trailering and towing guide
Ram trucks towing and payload capacity guide

Foreign

Nissan Titan towing
2019 Honda Ridgeline specs
2019 Toyota Tacoma towing specs

Gas vs. Diesel Engine

Should you pay the turbo tax?

Now that we’ve introduced all the 2019 trucks in terms of towing capacity, it’s time for another important consideration. Do you want a model with a gas engine? Or do you need to upgrade to the diesel?

Diesel engines are great for towing because they give you high-end torque. That’s why they’re so popular with commercial towing businesses. Back in the day, diesel engines were limited to heavy-duty trucks, but now you can find lightweight trucks with high-performance diesel engines.

While diesel engines have their benefits, they can add thousands of dollars to the purchase price. For example, you can get the 2019 Chevrolet Colorado (base price $21,300) with a Duramax 2.8L turbo-diesel engine that gives you a 7,700-pound towing capacity. However, the engine upgrade will cost you nearly $4,000.

Similarly, the GMC Canyon (base price $21,500) comes with the Duramax 2.8L turbo-diesel engine that lets you tow up to 7,700 pounds. But it will set you back about the same amount as the diesel engine in the Chevrolet Colorado.

In the full-size category, you can get the Silverado 1500 (base price $28,300) with a 3.0L Duramax turbo-diesel engine.

So do you really need a diesel? Consider how often you’re going to tow your RV. While diesel engines can tow more and may have better fuel economy, you might be better off with a gas engine if you aren’t towing very often.

Four-wheel Drive

Regular or rugged?

You’ll also want to consider if you need four-wheel drive, or if two-wheel drive will suffice. Nearly all pickups are based on rear-wheel-drive platforms. Rear-wheel drive is designed to move heavy loads.

Here’s the trade-off: Four-wheel drive vehicles are typically a bit heavier because of the weight of the four-wheel drive components. They also usually have a slightly lower towing rating and less fuel efficiency than the same vehicle with two-wheel drive.

But if you’re planning to tackle tough terrain, go off-roading or travel in the winter, you might need the extra grip of four-wheel drive. You don’t want to get stuck on soft ground or a hill with loose gravel wishing you’d gone with the more aggressive powertrain.

Traditional four-wheel drive (often called 4x4 or 4WD) is a part-time system that you turn on with a rotary switch, button or lever when you need it. You can also select a low-range setting for challenging off-road conditions.

Full-time four-wheel-drive is more versatile and is optional on some pickups. It kicks in as needed to enhance your traction, and your truck can run indefinitely in that mode without harming the drivetrain.

Cab Types

Cab club.

When looking for a pickup, you need to consider the three different types of cabs: regular cab (two-door), extended cab (three-door) or crew cab (four-door).

Regular two-door cabs offer some advantages. They’re typically less expensive and are shorter and lighter, giving you an increase in payload. But if you need room for more passengers, consider the extended and crew cabs.

Extended cabs give you additional interior storage. The rear seats may make adults feel cramped, but they’re fine for kids, according to Consumer Reports.

Crew cabs with four regular doors give you ample room for seating or cargo, similar to full-sized SUVs. However, these large cabs usually come with a smaller cargo bed.

Truck Beds

Bed time.

Here’s another truck decision you’ll need to make: long- or short-bed pickup? If you choose a short-bed pickup, it will be easier to drive and park when you’re not towing. Also, parking your trailer at the campground should be easier, too. But you could lose some stability when towing.

On the other hand, a long-bed truck will give you more space—and more options. Also, long bed trucks are more in demand, so they typically command a higher resale price.

The standard cargo bed length is 8 feet for a full-sized pickup, 6 feet for an extended cab and 5 feet for a crew cab. Cargo beds for compact pickups usually range from 5 to 6 feet. Fold-out bed extenders are widely available as well. These extenders flip over from within the bed, fencing off the open tailgate to allow you to secure bulkier or longer cargo, according to Consumer Reports.

Towing Features

Alert: You have blind spots when it comes to features.

Automakers continue to add advanced safety technologies to their lineups, including electronic braking, stability control, traction control, tire pressure monitoring (TPM), lane departure warnings and crash avoidance. Automakers have made similar advancements in towing. Some of these features come standard and others are optional, so you’ll want to do some research to decide what’s necessary for your rig.

Advanced trailering system infotainment app
Some trucks have an app that allows you to track the mileage, fuel economy and transmission temperature of your truck while you’re towing. The app also has a trailer theft alert.

Braking control
This feature avoids vehicle movement after you line up your truck. It automatically sets the parking brake when you put the vehicle into Hitch View, the hitch guidance system. Some trucks come with a brake controller that allows you to adjust your brake bias based on your load.

Blind spot information system
This system alerts you when something is detected in your rig’s blind spot. Some trucks monitor blind spots on each side of your truck, and can automatically sense and account for the length of your trailer.

Hitch assist/guidance
Most automakers incorporate hitch guidance technologies in their new truck models. This feature makes it easier to hitch your trailer, by enhancing the rear camera to help you line up the truck with the trailer. That way, you’re less likely to need a spotter, and you may not need to get out of the vehicle to check your position.

Remote trailer light check
Some models allow you to check your trailer lights by cycling through the lights with a smart key fob.

Trailer backup assist
Backup assist technologies increase your confidence in backing up your trailer. While the feature varies slightly by automaker, the concept remains the same.

Trailer sway control
This feature gives you confidence that you’re in complete control of your trailer. Some trucks offer a stability system and software to automatically respond to sway.

Trailer tire pressure monitoring system
This feature monitors the pressure of your trailer tires. It also allows you to monitor the temperature of these tires to help prevent blowouts caused by overheating.

Each automaker provides all kinds of information in online towing guides about their towing packages and specifications. You can learn about the strength, capabilities and technologies of each truck, as well as the available options and accessories.

Conclusion

Pulling for you.

Adventure beckons. Hopefully after reviewing factors like towing capacity, bed length, cab type and drivetrain you’ve gotten a better idea of the type of truck you want to pull your RV. Heck, maybe you’re even looking at a different brand than you’d anticipated!

Regardless, we hope you’ve found this e-book helpful. If so, please share it with your friends in high—and low—places. Be sure to tell them you found the perfect pickup to pull your rig because Togo RV is pulling for you.

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