Half-Ton Towing: Fact or Fiction?

The 2015 Chevy Silverado is available with a gvwr of up to 7,600 pounds, a gawr of 4,300 pounds and a tow rating of up to 12,000 pounds. based on the SAE J2807 standard.
The 2015 Chevy Silverado is available with a gvwr of up to 7,600 pounds, a gawr of 4,300 pounds and a tow rating of up to 12,000 pounds. based on the SAE J2807 standard.

It depends on the fifth-wheel and how the truck is equipped

So-called half-ton-towable fifth-wheels are becoming increasingly popular for a variety of reasons. The most obvious, of course, is that a half-ton (150 or 1500 series) pickup is less expensive than a comparably equipped HD truck and consumes less fuel. A lighter duty truck is also smaller and usually rides better as well, which becomes important when driving solo. And while a lot of folks like the towing stability a fifth-wheel provides, they don’t necessarily want a big trailer, so a bigger truck just doesn’t make sense.

Grey shiny truck
Owing in part to its new aluminum body that has reduced weight by 700 pounds, the 2015 Ford F-150 can tow up to 12,200 pounds and has a payload of up to 3,300 pounds.

But is this new breed of lightweight fifth-wheel really towable by half-ton trucks? We’ve had quite a few of our readers debate that point in recent months, and a few have felt that we are helping to perpetuate the half-ton fifth-wheel myth. Their concern is that, while a 150/1500-series truck may be capable of pulling a 9,000- to 10,000-pound fifth-wheel, the truck’s payload, or more importantly, the gross axle weight rating (gawr) and/or gross vehicle weight rating (gvwr) could be violated by the trailer’s pin weight, which is typically 15 to 20 percent of the total weight.

It’s a good point, though not necessarily a valid one. Trailer weights and truck capabilities don’t live in a world of black and white, and there are always a number of variables to consider. For example, while light-duty trucks may be lumped into the same class, their capabilities vary widely, depending on how they are configured and equipped. To wit, gvwr in this category can range from 6,300 pounds all the way up to 8,200 pounds when a heavy-duty payload or towing package is specified.

Then there’s the matter of intended use. The Grand Design 27RL tested in this issue had a wet weight of 8,780 pounds but a gvwr of 9,995 pounds. Is it likely that the average user is going to pack more than 1,000 pounds of belongings in a fifth-wheel that isn’t designed for full-time use? Not very.

Is the average RVer going to fill the freshwater tank when they’re going to stay at an RV park with full hookups? Probably not.  

And what about payload? Remember, payload is the total weight of all supplies, passengers and hitch weight allowed in the tow vehicle before exceeding the gvwr. So, will the truck be carrying two people averaging 150 pounds each (the federal standard for payload capacity), or a family of four averaging 200 pounds each?

Even if you crunch the numbers, there’s no way of knowing for sure that you’re not facing an overload situation, unless you weigh your truck-and-trailer combination — and this is particularly true if you plan to tow a fifth-wheel with a half-ton pickup.

For example, when we ordered the Grand Design 27RL for our test, we paired it with what was the most robust half-ton tow vehicle in GM’s media fleet, a 2014 Chevy Silverado High Country with a brutish 6.2-liter, 420-horsepower V-8 and a 9,500-pound tow rating. It seemed like this truck would be OK if the trailer wasn’t loaded to capacity, and the truck’s gvwr of 7,200 pounds and 1,957-pound payload suggested that we had a suitable match on our hands. However, when the trailer was filled with water and propane but no supplies, it weighed 8,780 pounds and had a pin weight of 1,640 pounds — leaving us with only 317 pounds of payload capacity — without passengers in the truck. So we traveled with no water in the tank, packed lightly and squeaked by for this test.

“Aha!” our detractors exclaim. “So you’re admitting that the trailer isn’t towable by a half-ton!” Not so fast. Note that the test vehicle was the best truck in GM’s media fleet but not the highest capacity half-ton it builds. That honor goes to the Double Cab standard-box 4WD with a 5.3-liter V-8 and Max Trailering Package, which has a maximum payload of 2,270 pounds, but more importantly, a gvwr of 7,600 pounds and a rear gawr of 4,300 pounds.  

We wanted to get hold of this particular truck and weigh it to find out how much weight it carried over the rear wheels, and therefore how much capacity was left over, but this exact model was not available. So, we turned to our friends at Paradise Chevrolet in Ventura, California, to help us find the next best thing: that same model but without the Max Trailering Package. Running it across the scales, the truck weighed 5,500 pounds with a full gas tank, and the weight on the rear axle was 2,200 pounds. After making the assumption that the truck will transport two people at 150 pounds each, the realistic payload was reduced from 1,676 pounds (the figure on the data tag in the doorjamb) to 1,300. Using this scenario and subtracting the actual weight on the rear axle from its 3,950-pound gawr and estimating that 100 pounds of passenger weight will end up on the rear axle, we calculated that the rear axle could handle 1,650 pounds before exceeding capacity. Based on that number alone, it would look like the truck can just handle the 1,640-pound hitch weight for our example above.

But wait. You can’t put 1,640 pounds on the rear axle without exceeding the gvwr. As determined above, the effective hitch weight that can be carried by this truck is limited to 1,300 pounds, after accounting for the realistic payload, without putting anything else in the bed, including the hitch. Therefore, hitch weight here is limited by gvwr.

The same truck with the 7,600-pound gvwr and 4,300-pound gawr — assuming that the truck will not weigh that much more — will be able to handle a hitch weight of approximately 1,800 pounds, using the same formula as above. How did we get there? We subtracted the actual weight of the truck (5,500 pounds) from the gvwr (7,600 pounds) and ended up with 2,100 pounds. From here we accounted for 300 pounds’ worth of passengers and ended up with 1,800 pounds. Again, while the rear axle can actually handle around 2,000 pounds, the realistic capacity is limited by gvwr. Nevertheless, even though the actual weight of the truck with the 7,600-pound gvwr will likely be a little higher, this truck can get by with limited loading.

Better yet, a 2014 Ford F-150 regular cab 2WD longbed with the heavy-duty payload package and EcoBoost engine has 3,100 pounds of payload capacity and a gvwr of 8,200 pounds, and the 2015 F-150, with its new aluminum body, can tow up to 12,200 pounds and has a payload of up to 3,300 pounds.

While the Ram touts superior towing muscle for its heavy-duty pickups, the numbers for its 1500-series models are actually on the weak side. Fifth-wheel towing is possible, but owners will have to equip their Ram 1500s carefully and likely have to look at shorter, lighter fifth-wheels.

As with any truck-and-trailer combination, doing your homework and choosing the right combination is important to safe towing. If you don’t exceed the gvwr, gawr, gross combined weight rating (gcwr) or tire capacity of the tow vehicle, you can successfully tow a fifth-wheel with a half-ton pickup. But one final note: Dial in a margin of safety because you’re likely to be heavier than you think.


Trailer Life contributor Chris Hemer

A frequent contributor to Trailer Life, Chris Hemer is the former technical editor of Trailer Life and MotorHome, and has been an RV and automotive journalist for more than 20 years. An outdoor enthusiast who now makes his home in Portland, Oregon, he enjoys camping, motorcycle riding, mountain biking and hiking.


 

24 COMMENTS

  1. Great article – but only one problem. There’s no way your 2014 High Country has 1,957 pounds of payload. Not with the 6.2, and not with the High Country trim weighing a lot – and especially not combined with the 7200 GVWR. When Car and Driver tested the High Country with the 6.2, theirs weighed 5,672 pounds, so I’m guessing yours weighed something similar. Subtracting the 5,672 pounds from the 7,200-pound GVWR gives 1,528 pounds of payload. So if you put that fifth-wheel with the pin weight of 1,640 on the High Country, you were overloaded from the get-go.

    Moreover, the reason you couldn’t find a truck with the 7,600-pound GVWR is because they’re not available yet. Only the 2015’s with the NHT Max Towing package have the 7,600-pound rating – and my understanding is that GM is not building any of the 2015’s with the NHT until January of next year. And the 7600 gvwr is specific to the 2015’s – the 2014’s with the NHT still only have a 7200 gvwr (not sure where the extra 400 lbs is coming from on the 2015’s since they’re the same truck). In other words, no GM 2014 half tons have anything higher than a 7200 gvwr; it’s only the (as of yet unavailable) 2015’s with the NHT that have the 7600 rating.

    So bottom line – I think you were over your payload if you put that 1,640 pin weight fifth wheel on your High Country.

  2. Very good article, and you reveal some overlooked weighting problems associated with the ratings. If dealers and half-ton owners don’t pay attention to these issues, I anticipate an increase of accidents or mechanical failures with these lightweight vehicles. The simplest and most realistic calculator currently available to know what one’s tow vehicle can really tow, without exceeding the certification ratings, is free RV Tow Check app at http://RVtowCheck.com.

  3. In all of your examples of 1/2 ton towing a 5th wheel you are at or just under the limits of the truck. How many two people are just 150 lbs. Not in todays world.

    Further, although it may be doable within the ratings, no one will be happy with the towing performance unless only towing in the flatlands.

    You are doing all a disservice to promote this FICTION!

    • You should be doing your tests and evaluations based on real world conditions and not on bare trailers with little or no contents and using unrealistic 150 lbs. per person and nothing in the bed of the truck.

      Your write up is more like what a dealer would tell a customer that has a 1/2 ton just to make a sale, not a real evaluation! This article puts in question the credibility of all in TL!

  4. I confir with you on the last sentance in this article. “Dial in a margin of safety…” This is an important point that many, seemingly most, owners ignore. A good rule of thumb is to allow a 20% margin of safety in gross weight. This also includes a 20% margin of comfort. It is considerably safer and considerably more comfortable to be driving a combination vehicle with a margin between actual weight and maximum gross weight rating. I pull travel trailers as well as car hauler trailers. If I am going to pull a car hauler trailer for a few or several hundred miles, I observe my 20% margin. If I have a car broken down 20 miles from its destination, I can observe the gross weight rating and adjust my speed and my attention to a much higher degree for a few minutes that the short drive would require. It would be considerable additional wear and tear on me as the driver and on the truck to embark on an extended drive loaded to the maximum allowable weight. If the readers would realize this, it would make their trips and their comfort making the trips considerably better. Maximum weight should only be considered for occasional hauling at reduced speed and increased attention. A travel trailer fully loaded ready to embark on a trip should have a 20% weight margin.

  5. In 2014 Chevy went to a great effort to build a capable tow vehicle. One major thing they forgot were the “camper mirrors” as the would be called in 2015. I know because a couple of months ago I bought a 2014 Silverado equipped with the tow package so I could pull a 2013 Cougar 24′. When I got home I tried to extend the mirrors in order to legally see around the trailer. I called the dealer right back an asked why there weren’t tow mirrors on the vehicle that I specifically bought for towing. They said the mirrors would cost an additional $750!!! What? Is this some kind of racket? As it turns out, if you go to: http://www.chevrolet.com/2014-silverado-1500-pickup-truck/build-your-own.html , and try to order a 2014 Silverado with “camper mirrors”, they were not an option. It was corrected with the 2015 edition as a $300 option… Also of note the mirror would get 4 mounting bolts and the door would now have an additional backing plate to compensate for the larger mirror. Bottom line, if you plan to haul a 5th wheel or other large trailer make sure the mirrors on your new vehicle conform to your state’s towing requirements.

  6. Thanks for the information. I had no idea that trucks could have so much towing capability. I’ve been thinking that I’d like to get a large boat, and I want to make sure that my truck can handle it. Do you think that a regular truck could carry a large boat? Or will I need to hire a professional?

  7. These number are all based around manufacture claims of capacities. The manufactures aren’t using the sane standards to determine their numbers. It looks attractive to advertise your half ton can handle 12k+ pounds for towing. That is a heavy duty load and alot come into play. It’s important to remember that it’s not about fast you can pull the heaviest load. It’s about can you stop it? Can you take a slight curve with it? Are you going to be a meteor coming down a grade because your brakes and more importantly transmission can’t manage the load? These are all things HD trucks are designed to handle, which is part of the reason they handle and ride like HD trucks.

  8. As a consumer I can only tell you that all of this makes my head spin. I have an F150 with the max tow package and am picking up a new half ton towable fifth wheel two days from now. I have convinced myself that I am fine and I have convinced myself that I need a HD truck. I guess I will find out after I hook up.

  9. Look at the Automated Tralier hitch system……takes all the load off of the rear axle and leaves nothing for the truck to do but pull. Also increases braking capacity by 50 %….it also increases the towing ability of the truck up to 50% !!!

  10. Thank you for the info on the weight of the towing vehicle. I have a 2010 Dodge pick up with a short box. In order to pull a 5th wheel I need what they call a slide hitch and it takes up my whole bed. It works fine until I want to use my pickup for other uses. The hitch weights about 250 to 300 pounds. I cannot lift it out myself. Therefore my pickup is useless for any other use. My question is, if I trade pickups what size bed do I need to get away from a slide hitch? I,m thinking a Chevy or GMC. Thank You !

    Loel Kugler
    Eagle NE

  11. I am curious what size and weight trailer (bumper pull) a 2015 Chevy 1500, 5.3l Silverado High Country pick up can pull. It has the standard tow package, not the Maximum tow package. What is the maximum tongue weight can it handle.

    Thanks for your help,

    Michael P.

  12. I actually really appreciated this post about towing. I tow trailers fairly often, so this was good information for me to be aware of. It makes sense that even if you crunch the numbers, there’s no way of knowing for sure that you’re not facing an overload situation, unless you weigh your truck-and-trailer combination. Thanks for sharing!

  13. I have a 2015 Silverado max Trailering Package as described above. I am pulling a 2018 cougar 5th wheel 7400 lbs 8100 lbs loaded with no problem if you do your homework and don’t max out your truck shouldn’t be a problem. I did add air bags for stability but did it more for piece of mind also pulled ok before. I don’t plan on pulling this rig up the Rockies this setup works well here on the east Coast area

  14. It’s real simple. If the trailer and all gear and passengers are over 8,000 pounds, get a three-quarter-ton or larger. I don’t care what the manufacturer says. You can put the biggest engine in the world in a half-ton truck, and its still a half-ton truck. Hell, you can pull 10,000 pounds with a Volkswagen. Won’t last long, but it would do it. Remember, half-ton trucks have weak brakes and rear axles. A powerful engine won’t change that.
    Fuel economy is another factor. An F-150 with an EcoBoost 6-liter towing a 10,000-pound trailer will get maybe 8 mpg. An F-250 with a 6.2-liter V8 will get 12 mpg, and it will stop better. DO NOT believe trailer or truck manufacturers when they tell you a half-ton truck will “safely” pull 10,000 pounds.

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