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Guide to Choosing the Best Truck to Tow a Fifth Wheel (Cover Image)

Guide to Choosing the Best Truck for 5th-Wheel Towing

Written by: Amber S
Last updated: 5/20/2024
Est. read time: 13 mins.
You dream of hitting the open highway with your fifth-wheel trailer in tow, but before you can embark on your outdoor adventures, you have to figure out the best way to get where you're going. If you want to jump straight to the top of the line with an all-powerful, up-for-anything truck, then a 1-ton dually with an 8-foot bed and diesel engine will certainly hit all the right marks. However, just because one truck type is up for anything doesn't mean it's one size fits all. Factors like daily driving comfort, cab size, and up-front costs are worth considering as well. Truck options are as many and varied as the people who use them, but this straightforward guide will help break down the most important specs to consider, which features you need, and which ones you can't live without.
5 Things to Think About Before You Buy:
Trucks with Various Bed Lengths

1. How long of a truck bed do you need for a 5th wheel?

The good news is you can tow a 5th wheel no matter your truck bed length. The bad news is that size does matter in this case. Longer beds generally allow for greater clearance on turns, while shorter beds risk the camper and cab colliding on those same turns. However, there are workarounds, so it doesn't have to be a deal breaker. Just kep in mind that the shorter your truck bed, the more expensive your towing setup will be as you work around this clearance issue.
Long Beds - 8 ft.
  • Best turning clearance
  • Most convenient for towing
  • Best traction/reduced sway
  • Most cost-effective setup
  • Large for a daily driver
Short Beds - Under 8 ft.
  • Easy to park & maneuver when not towing
  • Often include large cab
  • Excellent daily driver
  • Reduced turning clearance
  • Less convenient for towing
  • Less traction
  • Less cost-effective setup
Shorter Beds - Under 6 ft.
  • Lightweight and easiest to maneuver when not towing
  • Often include large cab
  • Excellent daily driver
  • Highly reduced turning clearance
  • Least convenient for towing
  • Least traction
  • Least cost-effective setup

5th-Wheel Setup for an 8-Foot Truck Bed

WHAT YOU NEED: a fixed hitchAn 8-foot bed, also referred to as a long bed, is ideal for towing a fifth-wheel trailer due to the exceptional amount of clearance it provides. With shorter trucks, the 5th wheel can sometimes hit your truck cab on sharp turns. There are ways around that, but it involves buying extra equipment. So if you go with a long-bed truck, you have tons of room for hauling AND a more economical 5th-wheel setup. If you choose a long-bed truck, you need a fixed hitch to tow your camper. A fixed hitch simply means it remains stationary and doesn't move to allow for greater clearance. These are generally more cost-effective than the sliding hitches required for short-bed trucks (often by several hundred dollars) in addition to being more convenient. Once it's installed, you don't have to worry about adjusting the hitch for turns or achieving cab clearance.
Fixed 5th Wheel Hitch in Truck Bed
Fixed hitch

5th-Wheel Setup for a 6-Foot Truck Bed

WHAT YOU NEED: a sliding hitchIf you want to tow a fifth wheel, but the truck of your dreams turns out to have a bed shorter than 8 feet long, don't despair: just grab a sliding hitch. These are designed to work with shorter beds. They work by sliding backward toward the truck tailgate during sharp turns, thus increasing the distance between the cab and trailer. There are two types of sliding hitches: manual and automatic. Manual sliding hitches must be physically adjusted from the "locked" to the "turn" position, so you will have to pull over and exit your vehicle each time you make a sharp turn. Automatic sliding hitches self-adjust during turns, allowing you to circumvent this pesky process, albeit at a higher price point. With an automatic sliding hitch, you never have to exit your vehicle to make a turn—the hitch slides smoothly toward the tailgate when you turn and back toward the cab when you straighten out.
Sliding 5th Wheel Hitch in Truck Bed
Sliding hitch

5th-Wheel Setup for a Truck Bed UNDER 6 Feet

WHAT YOU NEED: a fixed hitch + sidewinderWith truck beds under 6 feet long, even sliding hitches don't provide enough clearance to make sharp turns. Instead, you'll need to pair a fixed hitch with a Sidewinder pin box replacement. Sidewinders move your pivot point a full 22" closer to the tailgate, creating much more space in between the truck cab and trailer on sharp turns. No smashed cab windows here.Read more about Sidewinders and how to choose one here.
Fixed Hitch with Sidewinder Pin Box Replacement
90-Degree Turn Achieved with Sidewinder
A Sidewinder moves the point of contact away from the cab of your truck so you can make turns like this.
Which Hitch Do I Need
Our Recommendation: If that Crew Cab is a must-have, but it comes with a short bed, the good news is that towing a fifth wheel is possible with the proper equipment. However, hitch and pin box upgrades will have a higher out-of-pocket cost and aren't as convenient as fixed hitch setups. For these reasons, trucks with 8-foot beds are the preferred vehicles for towing fifth wheels.

2. Gas vs. Diesel: Which is Best for Towing?

It's no secret that gas tends to cost less at almost every point: gas engines cost less upfront, fuel costs less at the pump, and maintenance costs are generally lower for gas engines.However, over time, the superior fuel economy of a diesel engine can actually save you money. Diesel engines usually have a greater towing capacity because of their large torque outputs, which makes them ideal for hauling around massive fifth-wheel trailers. Diesel engines also tend to last longer than gas engines.
Gas vs Diesel Chart
Our Recommendation: Bottom line, if you're going to be towing a hefty fifth-wheel trailer, particularly over long distances, a diesel engine will be beneficial if you can swing the initially higher costs. However, gas engines are also perfectly capable of towing a fifth wheel, so a diesel engine is a recommendation, not a requirement.

3. What Size Truck Do I Need to Tow a 5th Wheel?

You may have come across phrases like "weight capacity," "payload," and "GCWR" in your truck research, but what do all these ratings mean?Towing capacity is, as the name suggests, the maximum weight you can tow. Truck manufacturers differentiate between bumper-pull towing capacities and fifth-wheel towing capacities, with the latter being greater. Check for the specific fifth-wheel tow rating of your truck's year, make, model, and options (this information can generally be found online). It's good to have some wiggle room of a few thousand lbs when choosing a truck to tow your fifth wheel. For instance, if your fifth wheel is 14,000 lbs, you should aim for a truck that can tow at least 16,000 or 17,000 lbs.
Payload is defined as the load weight a vehicle can carry, including people, cargo, and vehicle options. Payload is the downward force of your cargo in your vehicle, or how much it can hold rather than pull. (This is the rating that usually gets exceeded first, so you want to be careful.) You can generally find a given truck's payload online. Most also list payload capacity on the yellow sticker inside the door jamb. Always make sure your payload capacity is enough to support your cargo, vehicle options, driver and passengers, and loaded trailer.
Payload weight = driver + passengers + cargo
GCWR is your Gross Combined Weight Rating, which is the maximum combined weight of your loaded truck plus your fully loaded trailer. The truck's specifications and towing capabilities should be listed on the sticker inside the driver's side door or displayed online. (Owner's manuals and manufacturer's websites are a great resource to check for these numbers.)Check for the Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) and subtract your Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW), which is the combined weight of your truck, fuel, passengers, and cargo when your vehicle is loaded and ready for towing. The difference between the GCWR and the GVW is the maximum loaded trailer weight the truck can tow.
Gross Combined Weight Rating Minus Gross Vehicle Weight Ratings = Max Loaded Trailer Weight
You'll need to make sure that your loaded fifth wheel doesn't exceed any of your truck's weight ratings. It logically follows that a larger truck will offer a larger tow capacity and payload. In most cases you'll want to go with at least a ¾-ton truck like the Ford F-250, Chevrolet Silverado 2500, or Ram 2500, or—even better—a 1-ton truck. These are heavy-duty trucks like the Ford F-350, Chevrolet Silverado 3500, and Ram 3500. If you tow with a smaller truck, or if you tow a trailer close to your truck's maximum weight capacity, you may need suspension enhancements to help stabilize and level your vehicle. With these larger vehicles, there will be less strain on the suspension and drivetrain components than with a smaller truck. That said, towing a small fifth wheel with a ½-ton truck like the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado 1500, or Ram 1500 (to name a few) is not impossible as long as the truck is rated sufficiently for your trailer. Check out our sizing chart to get an idea of which truck type you might need to pull your fifth wheel.
1/2-ton trucks for 5th wheels under 10k lbs,; 3/4-ton truck for fifth wheels between 10k and 16k lbs; full ton trucks for fifth wheels over 16k lbs
Figures are based on average 5th wheel ratings and truck capacities; always check weight rating information on any trailer and truck prior to towing.
Our Recommendation: Always stay within all weight ratings and specifications required by your vehicle. If you're going to be towing a large fifth wheel trailer, or if you know you'll be looking at a fifth-wheel upgrade down the road, a 1-ton truck will allow this and will hold up the best under a sizeable trailer. However, if you plan on sticking with a smaller fifth wheel, a ¾-ton or even a ½-ton truck is likely all you need, provided its weight ratings are sufficient.

4. Do I Need a Dually?

In short, the answer is no—you don't necessarily need a dually (dual rear wheel) truck to tow a fifth-wheel trailer, but that doesn't mean you won't want one.On one hand, single rear wheel trucks enjoy slightly greater fuel efficiency and offer greater visibility than dually trucks. It's also more economical to replace four tires than it is to replace six. Additionally, keep in mind that you won't always be using your truck for towing, so while it's important to choose a truck that can safely and efficiently tow your trailer, it's also important not to overlook everyday driving comfort. It's considerably easier to navigate through a drive-through or pull into a tight parking space with a single rear wheel truck than it is with a larger dually. On the other hand, a major benefit of dually trucks is that they provide greater stability when towing a large fifth wheel, such as a toy hauler. A dually truck will typically have a higher weight capacity—again, an important consideration when towing something as large as a fifth wheel—and will cause less stress on the vehicle. Also, in the event of a rear tire blowout, you'll have backups already built in. You may not need a dually, but the extra set of wheels will certainly make for a steadier ride that in many cases will be worth the trade-offs, particularly if you plan on frequent towing.
Our Recommendation: If you plan on frequently towing a large fifth-wheel trailer, a dually is an excellent choice for a more stable ride. However, if you plan on towing a smaller fifth wheel, or if you'll only be towing your trailer on occasion, then sticking with a single rear wheel truck will provide more day-to-day driving comfort.
White dually pickup truck
The dual rear wheels on this Ford F-350 result in a higher weight capacity and greater stability, although they may affect daily driving comfort.

5. What is a 5th-Wheel Prep Package?

Typically, to install a fifth-wheel hitch, you also have to purchase and install hitch rails in your truck bed. However, many manufacturers are now saving you the hassle of purchasing and installing aftermarket rails (or paying to have them installed for you) by offering fifth wheel factory prep packages with their trucks. There are two types of installation rails: those that install above the truck bed, and those that install below it. Factory prep kits come pre-installed below the bed and are visible as a series of small pucks that sit flush with your truck bed, where the hitch is installed.
Five factory prep package pucks in red truck bed
Above-bed fifth wheel rail system in pickup truck bed
Pictured: an underbed rail system and an above-bed rail system.

Factory 5th-Wheel Prep Packages

One important thing to note is that these prep kits are custom-designed, so you will need to purchase a hitch compatible with your manufacturer's kit. For instance, this B&W Companion Hitch is custom-designed to work with new Ford Super Duty trucks with the prep package, while this B&W Companion Hitch is compatible with new Ram prep packages. These custom hitches will drop directly into the pucks in your truck bed, making for a quick and painless installation. With a prep package, dropping a hitch into the truck bed takes an average of 30 minutes, compared to the 4 or more hours it usually takes to install a hitch and aftermarket rails on a truck without a prep package. If you already have a hitch you want to use with your fifth wheel, but the hitch is not compatible with your factory prep kit, you don't have to throw out your perfectly good hitch. Instead, you'll just need an above-bed adapter like this Reese adapter for Ram trucks. Adapters behave like standard, above-bed rails and mount into the factory pucks in your truck bed, allowing you to use a standard, above-bed hitch. Whenever possible, it's best to use a compatible hitch designed for your under-bed rails for the best fit and minimal contact with your truck bed, but adapters are a good solution if you do end up with an incompatible hitch and rail system.The best way to find a hitch compatible with your factory prep package is to use our fitguide and select your year, make, model, and vehicle options. From there, you can select above-bed or below-bed rails to filter your options. If you choose below-bed rails, you will be presented with options that fit your OEM prep package. If you select above-bed rails, all of your hitch options will include the rail adapter that will allow you to use the hitch with your OEM prep kit.
Aftermarket 5th-wheel rails in red pickup truck bed

Aftermarket 5th-Wheel Rails

Although purchasing a truck with the factory prep package is more convenient, if you are purchasing a used truck or a truck from an individual rather than a dealership, a prep kit might not be an option. If your truck does not have a factory prep kit, you can still install the rails yourself. Aftermarket options are generally more budget-friendly than factory prep kits, and with the variety of custom-fit options available, you can often still achieve a factory look and feel. You can choose between above-bed and below-bed rails as well as between custom, semi-custom, and universal install kits. If you prefer to retain full use of your truck bed when the hitch is removed, below-bed rails are the ideal choice. Custom install kits built for your vehicle are always the best option, as they typically require little to no drilling into your truck frame, and they are much easier to install.
5th-Wheel Wiring Harness
Are fifth-wheel wiring harnesses available?In addition to aftermarket rails, aftermarket fifth-wheel wiring harnesses are available to simplify trailer hookup. These in-bed wiring harnesses will plug into your vehicle's factory wiring and allow you to mount a 7-way connector right in your truck bed. Many also feature 90-degree angled connectors to fit into tight spaces, so they can be installed almost anywhere in the bed. These harnesses are a custom-fit item, so you can use our wiring fitguide to find the right harness for your truck. When you use our fitguide to search for a hitch and rails, you can also find a wiring harness recommendation on the right-hand side of the product list page.
Our Recommendation: A fifth-wheel hitch can be installed regardless of whether or not the truck has a factory prep package, so if you don't have the option or don't wish to pay for the factory upgrade upfront, you can always find a hitch, installation rails, and wiring harness later on. If you do have the option, however, we highly recommend sparing yourself the time and hassle of purchasing aftermarket rails and installing them yourself.
Amber S
About Amber SAs a content writer for etrailer, I might spend my morning loading and unloading a bike on five different bike racks to figure out which is easiest to use. I might be in the parking lot, taking pictures of an impressive RV battery setup our techs came across in the shop and discussing the benefits of the setup with the owner. I might spend an afternoon in a manufacturer training class for some hands-on experience with new products, and then sit down to assemble all this information into a coherent article. At etrailer, one of our core values is that we are always learning, and I learn something new every day. I start each morning with the goal in mind of taking all of this information and figuring out the best way to answer the questions people ask us (and the ones they don’t know to ask yet), and helping people get the solutions they need to make their lives easier, safer, and more fun. I’m a DIYer at heart, so it brings me great joy to help a fellow DIYer find what they’re looking for, whether that’s a product, an answer, or a community.
Related ProductsRelated ArticlesWritten by: Amber S.Updated by: Jacob JUpdated on: 5/20/2024



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