The most common RV used by full timers is a fifth wheel. Since your tow vehicle will also be your transportation vehicle, there are several factors that can affect your decision.
If you already have a tow vehicle, its towing capabilities can determine how much trailer you can tow. If you have picked out your dream fifth wheel, its loaded weight will determine how much truck you need. Truck and trailer placards are full of rating numbers next to very similar acronyms.
There are two acronyms that are the most important.
GCWR is gross combination weight rating. Translated to English, this is total weight of your truck and the total loaded weight of your trailer. While you can estimate the actual weight of your fifth wheel by taking the manufacturer’s empty weight and estimating how much your contents weigh, the only way to get a true number is take it to a public scale and weigh it.
GVWR is gross vehicle weight rating. The manufacturer of your truck and RV will provide this number and it includes everything on a single vehicle, including you.
Your tow vehicle will need a fifth wheel hitch that exceeds the GVWR of the trailer. Your truck and RV together will need to weigh less than the GCWR.
In reality, nearly any new diesel 3/4 ton or 1 ton truck will tow most fifth wheels made. Using the weight placards you will need to determine if you need a 3/4 ton or 1 ton model. If in doubt, it is always better to have more truck than you need than not enough . When performing your calculations, include a 20% margin of safety. For really big trailers, you may want to take a look at the semi truck tractors that are modified for fifth wheel trailers. Unfortunately, the starting price for any of the new trucks is around $50,000.
The hefty price tag of new trucks will make you want to look in to used trucks. The used truck market further complicates your decision. All of the manufacturers have been engaged in a horsepower and torque war for years, so the farther back you go, the trucks are less capable. Remember that horsepower makes you go fast, but torque is what moves weight. Axles, springs, and shocks manage the weight. When towing fifth wheels, torque is far more important than horsepower. Be sure to research the GVWR and GCWR on any prospective purchase.
In addition to a quality brake controller needed by every tow vehicle, I also recommend an air ride system for the rear axle. The air cushion allows you to get the trailer towing angle completely level and significantly reduces jarring motions over rough roads. You can always add after market parts to get more power, but ride control and braking are more critical for safety.
For the person who has chosen to full-time in a fifth wheel, your choice of a tow vehicle is just as significant as your choice of residential RV.
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