Choosing a tow vehicle

So, wow, I bought an RV trailer!  That’s exciting!  But there was this one little problem .. how do I tow it?  I owned a Prius.  You know, one of those hybrid electric/gas cars.  I loved my Prius!  For those of you who have never driven one, they are much heavier and more powerful and roomier inside than you would imagine from just seeing one from afar.  As well, I was getting 56mpg and I liked that!  But my Prius was not rated to tow even a teeny tiny bit of tinsel around, much less a 4,000-pound RV trailer.  I needed a truck.

I’m a retired truck/car diesel/gas mechanic, so I know some things about trucks.  But still, research was needed so that’s what I did for a few weeks after buying the RV.  I checked out truck manufacturers’ websites, dealers’ offerings, tow ratings, maintenance requirements, visibility considerations, truck weight, brake size, engine ratings, preferred differential sizes when towing, ground clearance, owners’ forums, fuel capacity and range, etc, ad nauseam .. just like I did when shopping for the RV.  Except this time, it was for the truck.  With my experience, it was fairly easy to come up with a list of minimum requirements.  Then I started shopping for a used truck.

I love to make lists!

Number one, the truck had to be white.  Hey, these things are important!  Partly this was for esthetics, admittedly — I simply liked white pickup trucks.  But I also wanted the truck to match the trailer.  As well, white vehicles are more easily seen by other drivers and are less prone to being hit.  And I wanted the following:

  • Aluminum wheels (so they wouldn’t rust since the truck would be outside a lot and not parked in a garage all of the time).
  • Both the truck and the engine/drivetrain needed to be rated to tow more than twice the weight of the trailer.  For safety and for acceleration obviously, but also for transmission cooling and other mechanical considerations, and in case I wanted to buy a larger trailer at some point but would not want to buy a different truck as well.
  • The weight of the truck needed to be more than the weight of the trailer.  This isn’t always considered when tow ratings are determined, but it is exceptionally important when/if the trailer starts to tip.
  • The differential ratio had to be mid-range for a balance between towing power and fuel economy.
  • Oversized brakes.  Accelerating is one thing .. making an emergency stop with the trailer and truck fully loaded with camping gear when you’re heading down a steep hill is another thing.  (The RV that I had just purchased had its own electric brakes so that helped too.)
  • Four-wheel-drive, preferably with compound low ability, partly for off-roading with just the truck, but also for pulling the trailer out of ruts and holes in some of the back roads I might be traveling.
  • Permanent tow package (hitch receiver, wiring, etc) already installed.
  • Front and rear stabilizer bars, heavy duty shocks.
  • Tire pressure monitor system with in-dash monitor.
  • Backup camera with in-dash monitor.
  • Oversize fuel tank.
  • A relatively quiet diesel engine.
  • Oversize battery and oversize alternator.
  • Appropriately sized automatic transmission.
  • Full crew cab to carry passengers if desired and for the cleanliness and security of some of the camping gear (even a canopy over the back bed of the truck let’s in some dirt and dust, and canopies are fairly easy to break into, so I’ll use the back seat inside the cab of the truck to stow some things when I’m camping).
  • A short bed on the back of the truck so the overall length of the pickup is no longer than a standard pickup truck, and that’s where I’ll stow the less delicate and less expensive camping gear and combustible or caustic things like spare engine fluids.
  • A full-size canopy over the back bed of the truck.

There were lots of other details that I wanted or needed, but the items listed above were the most important.  Besides, most trucks even several years old already had all of the other bells and whistles that I wanted.  And, of course, price was a significant consideration.  In the end, I got almost everything I wanted in a white, 5-year-old, Dodge Ram 1500 truck for a very good price (and I then sold the Prius).  I couldn’t find a used diesel truck I liked so I compromised on gasoline-powered.  I ended up having to add a backup camera and an extra fuel tank, but that was easy.  I also added a full-size canopy over the pickup bed.  In the end, I got everything I wanted.  I have the perfect truck!

Although I compromised on the engine (gasoline instead of diesel), the nice thing about the gasoline engine is that it is SO quiet and free of vibration, and that makes towing and driving for a few hours a day just that much less stressful than with a diesel.

After I bought this truck, I realized that an extra benefit to having over-size brakes is that the wheels are larger and so the ground-clearance of the truck is higher, much better for exploring and off-roading.

But, as expected, my fuel mileage dropped from 56mpg with the Prius to about 15mpg/city and 20mpg/freeway with the Dodge Ram truck.  Of course that’s not counting fuel consumption when towing the RV.  Fuel consumption when towing has averaged around 15mpg with mostly freeway driving.  Oh, the gas stations like me, they surely do.

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