RV Tech Q&A: Trailer Too Small?

Q I have a 1996 one-ton GMC Sierra that I use to pull a 30-foot Alfa fifth-wheel. I was planning to leave the trailer in Arizona, where I winter, and buy a small 22- or 24-foot lightweight trailer to use here in the mountains and for traveling back and forth to Arizona. A dealer informed me that my truck would beat a small trailer to pieces because it’s too big and the suspension is too stiff. I wonder if this is true, or is the dealer just trying to sell me a bigger trailer?

– R.C., Fruit Heights, Utah

A In theory, if you hitch a lightweight fifth-wheel (I’m assuming you’re considering a fifth-wheel) to a heavy-duty truck, the hitch weight may not be enough to get the springs flexing. Thus, the front of the trailer would be subject to a rougher ride than if it were hitched to a lighter truck. This situation is worse among some of the medium-duty trucks used for hauling big fifth-wheel trailers when the trucks are still equipped with their original leaf springs. Many aftermarket converters now use air springs on the rear suspension of such trucks to avoid this harsh ride situation as well as to make the ride smoother for the occupants.

The dealer is taking the approach that your one-ton truck may have a suspension that’s too much for a smaller trailer. Years ago this would probably have been true. In reality, due to advances in spring-pack design, most late-model one-ton trucks ride a lot smoother than they used to, so chances are good that your truck will be fine for even the smaller-size trailer you have in mind. If anything, you may need to consider the height of your truck bed as a more important buying concern. The truck bed rail may be too high to clear the bottom of the front section of a smaller, lighter-weight fifth-wheel. If you don’t have 5 to 6 inches between the bed rail and the underside of the trailer, you could be risking structural damage under certain driving conditions. Do some measuring beforehand to make sure the fifth-wheel you have in mind will fit.

— J.J.

Tundra 45-mph Towing?

Q I recently bought a new 2000 Toyota Tundra V-8 Access Cab pickup. I was really happy with the purchase until I read the owner’s manual. On page 196, in the section on trailer towing, it says, “Do not exceed 72 km/hr (45 mph) or the posted speed limit, whichever is lower, because instability (swaying) of a towing vehicle-trailer combination usually increases. Exceeding 72 km/hr (45 mph) may cause loss of control.”

One of the reasons I bought this vehicle was your article that brags about what a great tow vehicle it is. However, I need a vehicle that can tow a trailer at freeway speeds. What good is the Tundra as a tow vehicle if it can’t tow at speeds over 45 mph?
— I.B., Gardnerville, Nevada

A A tow rig that can’t exceed 45 mph would be mostly useless for RV travel in the United States. Fortunately, that 45-mph speed restriction in the Toyota Tundra owner’s manual is a mistake. The 45-mph restriction is something of a historic dinosaur as far as the owner’s manual is concerned, and is currently being changed.

More than 20 years ago, when Toyota was first getting its feet wet in the RV towing arena, the company engineers consulted U-Haul, a well-known company familiar with trailer towing, for general advice. U-Haul conservatively recommended 45 mph as the maximum speed limit for safely towing a trailer, so Toyota likewise adopted 45 mph as its recommended maximum towing speed. Ever since day one, most Toyota drivers and U-Haul trailer users have routinely ignored that less-than-practical and less-than-safe 45 mph limit. A vehicle traveling at 45 mph on today’s highways would be a major traffic hazard as those who drive at the safe posted speed limit attempt to maneuver around such a roadblock. As long as your truck and trailer are a safely matched and loaded pair, with the trailer weight not exceeding the Tundra’s tow rating, there’s no reason you can’t travel along with the rest of the crowd. — Jeff Johnston


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