Can You Tow an RV With a Semi-Truck?

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Most semi trucks are designed to tow up to 80,000 pounds. So why would anyone need a semi-truck to tow an RV? Even though fifth wheels don’t weigh this much, the power and control of a semi-truck RV can make travel days safer and less stressful.

Today, we’re looking at towing capacity, which RVs might need a semi-truck and the drawbacks of towing with a semi-truck. Even though most RVers will never use a semi-truck, it’s important to understand how critical towing capacity is to safe driving. Let’s dive in!

How Do You Know How Much an RV Weighs?

When you decide to buy a towable RV — whether a pop-up camper, travel trailer, teardrop, fifth wheel, or truck camper — it’s essential to know how much it weighs. Why? Because you need a vehicle that can safely tow it to and from the campsite.

There’s a huge range of sizes in the RV world. You can have a small teardrop camper that weighs 1,500 pounds fully loaded or a massive 40-foot toy hauler fifth wheel that weighs 18,000 pounds fully loaded. The same vehicle can’t safely tow both. Plus, it would look funny to pull a teardrop with a dually.

To learn the weight of your RV, you’ll find a yellow sticker on the exterior of your trailer. Most of the time, it’s on the driver’s side near the propane tank on a fifth wheel or above the storage compartment of a travel trailer. This sticker will tell you how much the RV weighs empty, known as the dry weight, and the maximum capacity, known as the GVWR.

For example, a Grand Design Imagine XLS 22MLE travel trailer has a dry weight of 5,176 pounds and a GVWR of 6,995 pounds. This means you can safely load about 1,800 pounds before reaching capacity.

A Jayco North Point 377RLBH fifth wheel has a dry weight of 14,985 pounds and a GVWR of 17,500 pounds. You’ll need a much larger truck to haul this beast than a Grand Design Imagine travel trailer.

You can find a trailer’s weight on the manufacturer’s website, but it’s best to look at your specific RV’s yellow sticker. Although most models with the same floor plan will have approximately the same weight, it can vary slightly from camper to camper.

One dealer’s Forest River Flagstaff T21TBHW might have a GVWR of 3,100 pounds, while the same camper on another dealer’s lot might have a GVWR of 3,200 pounds.

How Do You Know How Much Your Truck Can Tow?

Another important number to know when you own a towable RV is the towing capacity of your vehicle. Towing capacity is the maximum amount of weight your vehicle can safely tow. The manufacturer sets this limit based on the engine, brake system, transmission, and other vehicle components.

Like RVs, vehicles vary in their capacities. Even the same make, model, and year won’t have the same towing capacity. You can get a general idea by searching the manufacturer’s website. But you’ll also find your vehicle’s towing capacity in the owner’s manual.

Not everyone has to tow their RV with a truck or a semi-truck. Lightweight pop-up campers, travel trailers, and teardrops don’t require a high towing capacity. Therefore, many owners use SUVs or minivans to tow these campers since they only weigh a couple thousand pounds.

However, if you’re towing a camper that’s 6,000 pounds or more, you’ll likely need at least a light-duty truck because you’ll need the increased towing capacity. The general rule of thumb is to keep your towing load at 80% of the total towing capacity.

What’s the Difference Between Towing Capacity and Payload Capacity?

It’s important to note the difference between towing capacity and payload capacity when pulling a camper. Towing capacity is the maximum amount of weight the vehicle can safely pull.

On the other hand, payload capacity is the maximum amount of weight that can sit on the vehicle. Payload capacity includes fuel, fluids, passengers, and cargo inside the vehicle.

RVers who tow fifth-wheel RVs need to pay close attention to both towing and payload capacity of their truck or semi-truck. Since a fifth-wheel RV sits in the bed of a truck, this adds to the overall weight placed on the truck itself.

Therefore, the payload capacity needs to be substantially higher in order to handle the 1,500 to 3,000 pounds of the fifth-wheel front cap.

Why Does Towing Capacity Matter?

If you buy a Winnebago Hike H1316SB travel trailer with a GVWR of 4,200 pounds, your Dodge Durango with a towing capacity of 6,500 pounds can safely handle the camper. You won’t put added stress on the brakes, engine, or transmission because the vehicle is built to tow more than 4,200 pounds.

However, if you buy a Winnebago Minnie 2801BHS travel trailer with a GVWR of 8,800 pounds, you’ll need a truck with at least a 10,000-pound towing capacity. Even a Durango with the highest towing capacity of 8,700 pounds isn’t equipped to pull that particular camper.

If you attempt to tow this size camper with a Dodge Durango (or another vehicle with a lower towing capacity than the GVWR), you risk serious damage to the vehicle. You’ll put severe stress on the engine, especially if towing along mountain roads. You also risk being unable to stop the trailer since the brake system is designed for lighter loads.

Should you drive in windy conditions or heavy rain, you risk losing control of the camper if you don’t have a vehicle with a towing capacity higher than the GVWR. So, towing capacity is extremely important to safe traveling.

Pro Tip: If you’ve never used a CAT scale before, this article is for you. Learn How to Weigh Your RV at a CAT Scale!

What Are the Best Trucks For Towing?

There really isn’t a “best” truck for towing. It comes down to towing capacity and GVWR. Some SUVs have higher towing capacities than others. Besides the Dodge Durango, other good SUVs for towing smaller campers are the Ford Expedition, GMC Yukon, and Chevy Tahoe.

Once you get into the heavier towable RVs, you’ll need to have a ½-ton truck. Then when you reach 10,000 pounds or more, you’ll want to upgrade to a ¾-ton truck. One-ton trucks and duallies usually tow trailers of 12,000 pounds or more. So, the best truck for towing an RV is the one that isn’t maxed out.

As you walk around campgrounds, you’ll see trucks of all brands — Ford, RAM, Chevrolet, and Dodge — sitting at campsites. Most ½-ton trucks have a towing capacity of 13,000 to 14,000 pounds. Most ¾-ton trucks have a towing capacity of 18,00 to 22,000 pounds. The particular brand and trim level really come down to personal preference.

Can You Tow an RV With a Semi-Truck?

But as you’ve walked around campgrounds, you might have also seen semi-trucks parked in front of large towables. Owners of Luxe or DRV fifth wheels often choose a semi-truck to haul their RVs. These specific brands are high-end luxury manufacturers.

Thus, their fifth wheels are much heavier than the normal fifth wheel. The Luxe Gold 41GMD and the DRV Full House JX450 have a GVWR of 24,000 pounds.

Semi-truck RVs require more power to climb and more power to stop. By choosing a semi-truck to tow longer, heavier fifth wheels and toy haulers, owners are choosing safety over convenience. They never have to worry about damaging their tow vehicle by overloading it.

Another pro to towing with a semi-truck is the comfortable cab space. These cabs are designed for long travel days, so you’ll have features like air suspension and a roomy interior. The cab may have bunk beds, a dinette, or even a refrigerator.

What Types of RVs Should Be Towed With A Semi Truck?

The Luxe and DRV models are often towed with a semi-truck. New Horizons has a Majestic line with seven fifth wheels 45 feet or longer. SpaceCraft Mfg has a semi-truck line that includes fifth wheels up to 57 feet long! These two manufacturers build custom RVs, so the weights vary based on features and upgrades. But they’re certainly semi-truck RVs.

But it’s not just longer, heavier RVs that need the power of a semi-truck. Some owners want to bring their smaller vehicles as a second car to get around once they arrive at a campsite.

The space between the semi-truck and the trailer can be filled by a smart car. Other owners use that space to haul an ATV, golf cart, motorcycle, or motorbike.

Keep in Mind: Can a Truck Camper Break Your Truck in Half? Let’s dive in and see!

What Are the Disadvantages of a Semi-Truck RV?

However, there are a few things to consider before purchasing a semi-truck RV. First, since semi trucks have different wiring than standard trucks, you may have to do some work upfront to connect your RV properly.

Hooking up can also be challenging since semi trucks jerk around more than traditional trucks. You certainly don’t want to damage your fifth wheel when backing up to the hitch.

Second, if you thought getting in and out of fuel stations, rest stops, campgrounds, and other places was difficult with a traditional truck towing an RV, imagine how hard it is with a semi-truck RV. You’ll need to pay close attention to clearances, weight limits, and turning radius.

If you don’t bring a smaller vehicle, getting around in a semi-truck after arriving at a campground isn’t practical. No one wants to go to the grocery store in a semi-truck. Plus, the fuel economy is terrible. You won’t get more than 6 mpg on average.

Finally, you might need a CDL to drive a semi-truck RV. This depends on your state’s laws. The insurance and registration will probably be exceedingly more expensive. So keep these added costs in mind (in addition to maintenance and repairs) when deciding whether or not to own a semi-truck RV.

Semi Truck RVs: Are They Necessary?

Semi-truck RVs come down to personal preference, just like the brand of truck or SUV.

But if you’ve paid $200,000 to $300,000 for a luxury fifth wheel, you want to transport it from campground to campground safely. For full-time travelers, owning a semi-truck RV just makes sense to have the amenities and features they want for constant travel.

You won’t find many semi-truck RVs at campgrounds. Sometimes, they’re not even allowed because of the added length. So, your choices will be slimmer if you choose to use a semi-truck to tow your heavy trailer. But if safety is your top priority, consider this option for fifth wheels over 20,000 pounds.

Have you ever seen a semi-truck RV?

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