Have you just bought a new or used slide in a truck camper? Or maybe you are on the market but do not know exactly how much your truck can carry.
Perhaps it is exactly the opposite. Like many of us, the camper may already be on the driveway and you are ready to go to a newer tow vehicle.
After my last camper purchase, I discovered that my old 3/4 tonne Ford with a 460 cubic inch gas engine simply did not perform the job. Next stop, the local dealer for a much needed upgrade of the truck. Lucky me!
Is there a new truck in your budget? If that is so great. If not, there are some things that you could do with your existing vehicle to make it a bit “camper worthier”. But remember that you can never change the factory rating for your truck. You can only make it better to do the job for which it was built.
But do not be surprised if even a new truck needs help. I spent a few hundred dollars to get my two-wheeled pickup with diesel engine at a point that makes me feel comfortable. Then a few hundred more to prepare for the trailers that I usually take with me.
So now, what is the next step?
One of the first things I recommend is some homework and simple math to determine what your dream camper really weighs. NOT what the data plate says it weighs, but a real scale reading. Yes, I realize that this may not be an easy task, especially if you do not have the motorhome yet.
But my own personal experience tells me that the manufacturers and dealers “underestimate” the real weight of their campers. Sometimes a lot! If you really want to be safe and legal, do not take a word, do the homework.
A place to search for this information is RV forums on the internet. Maybe you should join a couple and ask what the weight may be for the camper you are looking at. Be specific here. You must know the total laden weight with water, propane and as much acceleration as you would normally take with you on an average trip.
Look for more than one opinion. Most people assume that they know the answer, but did they actually weigh their unit? Probably not. I weighed two of my campers on Federal DOT scales (do not ask me how) and they were both a few hundred pounds heavier than the manufacturer’s weight.
Be realistic too. Your camper will probably never be lighter. Most people tend to gather more services and the camper only gets heavier.
Trucks, Capacity Ratings and Power Train Combos
Some basic rules apply here when you’re shopping (sounds like you’ve bought that new camper, right?) For a new carrier. You already know the actual weight of your new slide. Make sure the truck has a load capacity that is at least equal to that number. Brakes, suspension, motor and shafts are all the right size to work within this assessment.
If you plan to tow a trailer, you also take that weight into account. The weight of the trailer tongue (towbar) must NOT place the truck above the nominal axle capacity for both front and rear and combined. Your truck also has a total weight in total, this is the total weight of the truck, all freight and all towed vehicles.
Recommendations for engines and gears are really the subject of another article and usually a matter of personal preference. My choice is a 6-cylinder diesel engine with a 6-speed gearbox. This gives me a great compromise between power, fuel consumption and driving characteristics. I also like the ability to use an exhaust brake with the diesel to help stop, especially if there is no trailer behind it.
Dancin & Down: The Down?
Does your truck and camper combine “rock and roll” while driving or when large oil rigs pass? This is very common and more pronounced among the newer campers who can be very long and top heavy. My new camper, with a raised floor and plenty of headroom, is a good foot higher than the 2003 motorhome I had before, which was certainly not a low-rider. Many of today’s 4×4 trucks are also several centimeters higher than the older trucks.
Combine this with the longer rear springs that are installed on most newer trucks and your camper can really swing in the wind. Even double pickups with rear wheel are not immune. The chassis of the truck rolls from one side to the other over the axle body so that the extra set of rear tires does not completely solve the problem. What must we do?
There are a number of possible solutions. Almost all trucks can benefit from the helper springs at the rear. If you are lucky enough to have a truck that can handle airbags outside the truck frame rails, they can significantly reduce the body and help the weight of the motorhome. Inboard-mounted air springs will be some help in rolling the body, but their main task will be to carry a portion of the weight.
Air springs can also help to level a motor home that is heavier on one side. Nowadays this is a very common situation with large refrigerators, generators and extendable parts. My personal camper has all three on the passenger side so he really leans forward. By doing about 20 PSI more on that side, the camper will come out.
Does your truck have rear springs with contact overload? Most 1 tonne trucks have these, as well as many new HD 3/4 ton trucks, these are the short factory load springs that only make contact when the truck is heavily loaded. Because they are short and stiff when they are brought to work faster, they really make a difference.
You should also take a look at the factory-installed rear anti-swinging head. Is it as big as some of the aftermarket bars available? Probably not. Or is it even there? When I took home my new 3500 heavy-duty dual pick-up, I discovered that it went backwards WITHOUT factory. Turns out that the manufacturer has not offered on that truck!
The last thing I want to mention here are shock absorbers. Although the truck manufacturers nowadays install much better shocks than in the “good old time”, there is a lot of room for improvement if you add a motorhome of 3000-5000 lb.
Do some homework about aftermarket shocks. My personal recommendation would be a shock with one tube. These have a larger surface on the piston, which really helps to regulate the movement of the hydraulic fluid. That is important to help stop the movement created by that weight. These are available at very reasonable prices from RV dealers and online shock retailers.
I do not believe that off-road shocks are the best choice in this application, unless you actually drive off-road once you arrive at your destination or are possible. Most of us stay almost on the sidewalk and in this situation it is best to stick to the shocks that were designed for the job.
So here it is short and sweet. A well-paired and prepared truck and camper will be safer and, hopefully, legal to drive on the road. It should bring you there and back, in comfort and safety.
Another last little safety tip. With all the talk about high trucks and high campers in mind, do not forget to check the overall level of your setup. Many can be more than 12-1 / 2 feet above the ground. Many viaducts are lower than this and you can imagine the massacre if you are not prepared!