How to Make Sure a Truck Can Safely Carry a Camper

Updated on April 26, 2017
TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

I have traveled extensively throughout the US for many years and enjoy helping people to make the most of their RV vacations.

If you are thinking of purchasing a slide-in camper you need to make sure the one you buy is not too heavy for the truck that will carry it. To do otherwise can endanger your safety when you are on the road.

While it may appear that all campers are more or less the same, this is not true.

Dry weights can vary by thousands of pounds depending on brand, construction, amenities and add-ons, and if your truck is not properly weight rated for the unit it will be carrying, you are asking for trouble.

It's important to match your pickup truck to the camper that will be loaded onto it.
It's important to match your pickup truck to the camper that will be loaded onto it. | Source

Camper Weights Vary

If you already own a pickup truck and want to buy a camper for it, its size, bed length, number of tires, type of tires and weight rating will determine the type of camper that will be safe to use.

Since some slide-ins have dry weights as high as 3900 pounds, you cannot expect a half-ton truck to be able to carry one of them safely, and you certainly will not be able to load one onto a truck with a short bed.

However, if you don’t own any equipment yet, you have much greater leeway when it comes to the type of truck and camper you may purchase.

The trick is to do plenty of research before you make your decision.

Do You Need a Dually?

Opinions vary about whether you need a pickup with dual rear wheels when you use a camper.

Vehicles like these are more expensive to own than standard pickup trucks and can be problematic due to their large size.

For example, if you live in a condo, you may not be able to keep a dually on the grounds, because unlike an ordinary pickup it can't meet their definition of an "automobile"—a vehicle that weighs less than 6,000 pounds, has four wheels, and has no commercial signs on it.

Therefore owners may have to keep duallys in storage facilities along with their campers. This is both inconvenient and costly to do.

But the truth is that if you plan to purchase a heavy camper loaded with amenities, the only way you can carry one safely is if you drive a dually. Once you view the attached video, you'll understand why this is important to do.

Some people disagree with this thinking, but it is important to remember that campers are top-heavy, and the larger ones put extra strain on tires.

The last thing you want is a blow-out caused by overloading your truck!

Dual rear tires can safely support more weight than singletons and thus are safer to use for carrying heavier campers.
Dual rear tires can safely support more weight than singletons and thus are safer to use for carrying heavier campers. | Source

Amenities That Can Cause Problems

It is important to remember that the more things you add to your coach, the heavier it becomes and the less safe it can be to drive.

Furthermore, manufacturers tend to underestimate the weights of their units, so you would be smart to add an extra 10% to 20% to the total weights they provide.

Also, not all manufacturers include the same items in their “dry weight” estimates, but many add items to the basic stated weights, so you need to read the stats carefully before you decide to add extras such as generators and other types of equipment.

When estimating weights you need to know some basics such as the weights of these items:

  • One gallon of water = 8.34 lbs
  • One battery = 65 pounds
  • Personal Items = 500 pounds
  • One slide room = 400 pounds
  • Truck diesel engine = 600 pounds more than gas engine

Always bear in mind that anything that adds weight to your travel unit is carried on those tires and that chassis!

Check out the video below to see what a fully decked out slide-in looks like. Then think "weight"!

Lightweight Options

Fortunately, if you are willing to make do with less, there are a few lightweight hard-sided campers with bathrooms on the market that can be safely used with standard ½ ton pickup trucks.

They are manufactured by Lance, Northstar, Livin Lite, Alp, and Palomino and you can read about them in this article from Truck Camper Adventure.

How to Decide

As stated earlier, if you already own a pickup, your decision will have to be based on its stats. If you don't, you may want to research campers, choose one you like, and then buy a truck that will be weight-rated for it.

All manufacturers can supply you with the information you need in order to be able to do this, so be sure to get this information in writing before you make a final decision.

Unfortunately, few sellers offer both trucks and campers, so you’ll have to purchase them separately. For this reason, it’s best to buy locally, because once you buy the truck you can load the camper onto it, take it to a truck stop and weigh it on a certified scale.

Another good reason to buy both units locally and test-drive them is that if the center of gravity is not correct, you’ll have problems driving your unit.

Buying a Truck-Camper Combo Is Tricky

No matter what type of RV/tow vehicle combination you purchase, you have to make sure that your weight ratings are correct.

However, because a camper is loaded onto the bed of a pick up truck rather than being a unit that is towed or tows, ratings become much more important.

Campers and trucks are the only vehicles that travel as one, so they are more dependent upon each other than other types of RVs.

As with all recreational vehicles, they have their pros and cons. They work well for some travelers, but not so much for others.

Thus, before you decide to make a purchase, it might be a good idea to rent one and take a short trip to see how you like this form of transportation.

If you do decide that it is for you and as long as you take the time to do your research, you’ll be able to make sure that any truck you use will be rated to carry a camper of your choosing.

Good Luck.

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Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Sondra Rochelle

    Comments

    Submit a Comment

    • TIMETRAVELER2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Sondra Rochelle 

      17 months ago from USA

      Janda Raker: You did exactly what every camper shopper should do, but unfortunately often doesn't. Great advice!

    • Janda Raker profile image

      Janda Raker 

      17 months ago from Amarillo, Texas

      And as you say, it's very important to be sure the camper and truck match. We chose the camper we wanted and then shopped for the truck to go with it. We actually drove three different trucks to the RV dealer who was selling us the camper, had them check out the trucks to see if they were appropriate for our camper. The third one we tried was the best match, and we've been very happy with it. We were able to find a nearly new truck that had very few miles, let the original owner lose the depreciation on it, so it was a very good deal for us! I recommend that method for buyers of campers.

    • TIMETRAVELER2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Sondra Rochelle 

      17 months ago from USA

      Janda Raker: Yep, properly configured and packed, slide ins are great for travel. Glad you're enjoying yours!

    • Janda Raker profile image

      Janda Raker 

      17 months ago from Amarillo, Texas

      I really enjoyed this article. We already have a light-weight truck camper on our 3/4-ton, 4-wheel-drive, crew-cab truck. It makes a great rig for us, and we've traveled all over North America in it! We think we made the right choice, but thanks for all these suggestions, TimeTraveler2!

    • TIMETRAVELER2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Sondra Rochelle 

      17 months ago from USA

      Glad you liked it.

    • profile image

      Janiel Mbofana 

      17 months ago

      Cool, very helpful

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