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I recently spent almost three months living in my travel trailer by myself while dealing with some family stuff, and through a record rainy winter no less. This is the first article in a six-part series based on lessons learned and geared toward the perspective of needing to use a travel trailer for bugging out. I’m doing a partner series on my Crossed Cannons Readiness video channel, linking the first installment here.

When I first bought this twenty-seven-foot travel trailer, I had a 2005 Dodge Ram 1500 (left pic). I made the mistake of simply looking at the truck’s tow capacity. It was something just south of 8000 pounds and I knew the trailer was only about 6000 pounds empty. Seeing just how much that pickup sank when the trailer was attached opened a Pandora’s box of issues I had to address. There are many facets to ensuring your vehicle is the correct one for towing the load behind it, including the fuel type, engine, transmission, suspension, and brakes. Ultimately, we replaced the truck with what we could afford based on other debt factors. If money had been no object and this truck’s only purpose was towing, I would have opted for a high-quality but well-used diesel. But I needed a daily driver, too, and this was the best used vehicle to serve both purposes.

I clued-in on one key factor when I found this 2014 Ram, which had just been traded in the same day. As a Laramie, it had a higher rear differential ratio than standard Rams, and I was able to confirm its tow capacity was north of 10,000 pounds. On a side-note, it is 4WD, and those tend to have slightly lower tow capacities than 2WD models. This 5.7L engine has plenty of horsepower to tow the weight and cargo, and I was okay with the reduced fuel mileage for the limited number of trips I would be taking.

 

 

So what is tow capacity? It is simply what a vehicle can safely pull behind it. You can find your vehicle’s tow capacity in the manual or online with a simple search. It may also be on the stickers near the inside of the driver’s door where you can find the vehicle’s weight, payload and optimum tire pressure. What many people fail to realize, though, is that the rated tow capacity is a best-case scenario number that misleads people into not considering other factors that they should. The gross weight of the trailer and any equipment, food, water, gear, etc. inside it should not exceed the tow capacity. But that isn’t all…

There is another extremely important consideration that this number doesn’t give you directly, and that is the Gross Axle Weight Rating. In the simplest terms, you can quite possibly exceed this number with a larger trailer like this one, even without exceeding the tow capacity. Proper hitch towing normally says to have a tongue weight of roughly ten to fifteen percent of the trailer’s total weight, again… including the gear, food, water, etc. For this trailer and accompanying load, that could easily be 700 to 1050 pounds for the tongue weight. That is force directly pushing down on the truck’s suspension and axle. That nearly wipes out most of the payload I can place in the actual truck, which for this Ram is 1182 pounds. Which technically means little else should be carried in the truck’s bed or cabin.

So, as I go into the upgrades I’ve made, understand that I have not technically added any axle capacity. That said, I’ve towed this trailer across Washington State twice with no issues to my axle, brakes or suspension.

I’ll start with tires, which I also mentioned in the vehicle preps video linked here. You definitely want LT series tires, not P, or Passenger, series tires. These Firestone tires are basically the equivalent of 10-ply and have a rated payload and towing capability of that exceeds the total weights of all vehicles and loads combined. If you have P series tires on your tow vehicle, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll be exceeding their capability towing a large trailer. On my longer trips, like to the coast or to Idaho, I monitor both air pressure and tire temperature on both truck and trailer. Knock on wood, but I have not had a blowout.

You may need to upgrade the tires on the trailer, too. The original trailer tires were Class C, capable of 1,850 pounds each. I upgraded to D, adding 300 pounds of rating to each of the four tires. This provides me some peace of mind regarding adding cargo weight to the trailer’s payload, which would increase heat on the tires. Trailer tires are not belted like normal car and truck tires. You will need to protect them from heavy UV light exposure and will probably need to replace them for age, regardless of the amount of traction they still have. Five to six years is a good service life for them. One other tip is that when I upgraded tires, I kept one of the old ones and bought another wheel in order to have two spares. That becomes just one more piece of load to factor in, but when I was a kid, my dad had to deal with four blow-outs on a family trip, three of them on the trailer.

I upgraded my suspension by replacing the Ram’s springs with Firestone Ride Rite air bags. Their lawyers make it clear that this doesn’t alter the payload capability of a truck. But, as long as I stay below the maximum 100 PSI, I can inflate these bags which allows for a level-connection between the truck and the trailer, versus the highly compressed sag on my OEM springs.

My hitch is a Class IV which can tow up to 10,000 pounds and allow a tongue weight up to 1200 pounds. In addition to the sway bars on the Ram itself, I use a weight distributing hitch. The bars provide the hitch the ability to attach to the trailer’s frame in two more spots, greatly increasing the handling. I believe this system kept me from jack-knifing the trailer during an emergency brake and evasive maneuver on one of our trips. And, when hooking up to tow any trailer, I always take the chocks and blocks with me, just in case unplanned events force me to disconnect somewhere.

I’ve never felt the need to upgrade the brakes. This Ram comes with trailer break capability, and an electronic transmission that allows me to select gears. I use this method to keep speed in check when traveling down hills or in traffic. Braking has never been an issue. One last thing to mention is to use your tow vehicle’s systems to monitor the oil, radiator, and transmission temperatures.

If I could have a mulligan in all of this, I would go back in time and convince myself to postpone the trailer until I could afford a larger diesel truck, or just buy a much shorter and lighter trailer.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and perhaps check out the video! Feel free to leave a comment and/or your own tips! In the next installment I’ll discuss specific tooling and equipment for towing off the bumper and leveling the trailer.