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Under the Hood: Picking the right pickup for trailer hauling

Brad Bergholdt, Tribune News Service on

Published in Automotive News

Q: I'm hoping that you can help me on researching a truck to tow a travel trailer. My wife and I are interested in at most a 24-foot trailer of no more than 4,000 lbs. We have checked Consumer Reports, Edmunds, KBB and a few others for truck recommendations and find it almost impossible to figure out what our best option is. We're looking for a 1- to 5-year-old used extended or dual cab.

--Grant B.

A: It's probably best if I steer clear of recommending a truck brand, as any of the big three 1500 series (half-ton) trucks along with the Nissan Titan, will have perhaps double the towing capacity you'll need. How the truck is optioned makes a difference, of course. Engine torque is more useful to look at than horsepower for towing, and the smaller turbocharged gas engines such as Ford's 3.5L deliver impressive torque.

Diesel engines have just recently been made available in 1500 series trucks, they're perhaps half the specs of the ones found in traditional 2500 series (3/4-ton) trucks, still pretty good! These six-cylinder 3.0L engines develop respectable torque, somewhat above 400 pound-feet, more than plenty for a trailer that you're considering. The Nissan Titan employs a Cummins 5.0L V-8 with even more muscle. Diesel engines pack a large up-front cost but make up for it over time with better fuel economy, towing grunt and durability.

A lower axle ratio (higher number, such as 3.73) is helpful for towing as well. A 4.10 ratio would be overkill for a moderate size trailer and waste fuel during non-towing use.

If you're new to trailering, you may be surprised at how much extra weight you'll actually be dealing with beyond a typical 24-foot travel trailer's advertised unladen weight (about 4,400 pounds). With the water tank full, holding tanks perhaps half full, propane, groceries and recreational gear, you should figure on an extra 1,000 pounds, at least. Assuming a 15% tongue weight, two truck occupants, fuel, the dog and a few things in the bed, you may be nearing perhaps 1,500 pounds of payload. This could become a closer call to stay within a 1500 series truck's rated load capacity. LT rated tires, properly inflated, are a must.

One possible consideration might be whether you may outgrow your intended trailer some day in the future and seek a larger one. This would possibly require a 2500 series truck or even a 3500 series for a full-size fifth wheel. The beefiness of a 2500 series truck is fairly significant (stronger frame, full floating rear axle, larger brakes) and available diesel engines ranging back many years, but you'd pay a fuel economy penalty due to added weight with a gasoline engine.

 

If it were me, I'd go for a 2- to 3-year-old 2500 series diesel-- more than enough muscle with good fuel economy (I average 19-21 mpg unloaded/60 mph with my Denali 3500 Dually; 11 mpg towing a 14,000 trailer). I'd avoid a 2011-2016 GM Duramax diesel, which can have costly issues with its Bosch CP4 injection pump. The CP4 is also used in 2011-present Ford Power Strokes and Ram Ecodiesels, with fewer issues.

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Brad Bergholdt is an automotive technology instructor at Monterey Peninsula College in Monterey, Calif. Readers can contact him by email at bradbergholdt@gmail.com. Personal replies are attempted. An archive of past columns and additional consumer automotive information can be found at www.bradsautoadvice.com.

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