Do I Need a Dually to Tow a Fifth Wheel? Is It Necessary?

Do I need to get a dually pickup to tow my fifth-wheel trailer? That’s the question I had when preparing to upgrade to a large luxury fifth wheel. The dealer recommended diesel duallies for a trailer that big, but they seem like overkill – not to mention way more expensive! I mostly plan to tow just weekends and occasional vacations across relatively flat terrain. My budget doesn’t stretch for a $70k+ truck. The trailer is 18,000 pounds loaded – surely my crew cab 1500 can handle it fine for my needs, right?

The short answer is: it depends. In some scenarios, you will need a dually, and sometimes the single rear wheel can do the job for you.

I did more research to figure out if drivers truly require a dually for fifth wheels or if a regular heavy-duty truck has enough muscle. Here’s what I learned.

Do I Need a Dually to Tow a Fifth Wheel

Do You Really Need a Dually for Your Fifth Wheel?

Towing any sizable trailer comes with challenges, and fifth wheels are no exception. Their large size and weight put more strain on your truck. So how do you know if your pickup can handle the job? Should you upgrade to a heavy-duty dually? 

The short answer is – it depends! You may or may not need a dually for towing your fifth wheel. There are several factors at play when deciding between dually and SRW trucks.

Ultimately, the maximum towing capacity and payload capacity take priority. Fifth wheels can be quite heavy. You need a vehicle that can confidently pull the weight while maintaining stability, and braking capacity, and preventing wear and tear.

When You Should Choose Dually or Dual Rear Wheel Truck?

Drivers should strongly consider upgrading from a single rear wheel (SRW) to a dually configuration in these common fifth wheel towing scenarios:

Towing Fifth Wheels Over 17,500 lbs Loaded Weight

Most 3/4-ton trucks with a single rear wheel max out around 13,000-15,000 lbs tow rating. Attempting to pull a heavier 5er risks exceeding vehicle capacities. The upgraded towing of a dually better aligns with larger fifth-wheel weights.

Insufficient Payload Capacity

Payload refers to the combined passenger and cargo weight. Each application differs, but fifth wheels need 1,200-1,800 lbs minimum payload after hitch weight is factored in. If the payload reaches 5,000 lbs then Dually is needed! 

Trailer Sway Issues

A fifth wheel’s rearward weight distribution can decrease front-end grip and cause “tail wagging the dog” fishtailing at highway speeds. The stability of dual rear wheels provides greater sway control for safer towing.

Hauling Toys with Fifth Wheel

Luxury fifth wheels with garage storage for ATVs, motorcycles, or other gear have incredible carrying capacity. But all that cargo weighs your rig down. The right dually pickup offers the muscle to pull heavy toy haulers without struggling.

Steep/Mountainous Towing

Frequent extreme grades exacerbate trailer sway as momentum pushes the load downhill. Extended downhill grades also heat up brakes. The unmatched control and braking capacity of a dually provides more driver confidence and safety margin on steep routes.

Towing Long Distances

The stability and durability of dual-rear-wheel trucks make them ideal for frequent or full-time fifth-wheel towing over long distances. Their brute strength stands up to the demands of heavy usage towing and absorbs harsh road impacts with heavy loads better than SRW trucks.

In summary, dually pickups provide a smart upgrade if you plan to routinely tow larger, heavier fifth-wheel trailers, especially in challenging driving environments. Otherwise, a late model 3/4 ton SRW truck remains capable of mid-sized fifth wheels.

When You Should Choose Single Rear Wheel?

While duallies clearly excel for rigorous duty towing mammoth fifth wheels, single rear wheel (SRW) trucks still make sense in certain fifth wheel applications:

Towing Mid-Sized Fifth Wheels (Under 18,000 lbs)

Late model SRW trucks often tow 15,000-17,500 lbs reliably. This nicely fits lighter-duty fifth wheels for weekend use or extended camping. No need to incur the extra cost of a dually if your trailer stays within SRW capacities.

Maneuverability is a Top Priority

The extra width and rear overhang of duallies do inhibit the turning radius and ability to fit tight campsites. SRW trucks offer better drivability and parking ease.

Towing Primarily on Flat Ground

Gentle grades put less strain on drivetrains and do not amplify trailer sway compared to mountain passes. SRW trucks manage nicely on flat, straight routes.

Budget Concerns

Dually pickups carry a higher purchase price and operation costs like fuel, tires, and insurance versus SRW models. If money is tight, an SRW truck still enables fifth-wheel towing on a budget.

Towing Infrequently/Short Distances

Those who only tow a few trips yearly or need a flexible daily driver suited for light towing are better served by an SRW pickup. But for frequent fifth-wheel travelers and full-timers, a dually merits the extra investment.

Bonus Tips – In the 1980s through mid-2000s, single rear wheel (SRW) trucks were often equipped with P235/85 R16 tires mounted on narrow 16×6.5-inch rims. This combination proved problematic – the tall tire sidewalls and slim rims compromised stability and handling.

In contrast, dual rear wheel (DRW) trucks of the era used superior 225/75 R16 tires, providing better steering response and less sidewall roll versus the SRW setup. This performance gap contributed to perceptions of superior DRW handling.

Recognizing the SRW tire limitations, manufacturers transitioned to more robust 245/75 R16 tires on wider 16×7 rims. This markedly improved SRW stability and handling, though still short of the DRW benchmark.

Today, SRW trucks continue advancing with application-specific tires and wheels tailored for stability, handling, and driving experience. As technology progresses, we can expect further SRW truck enhancements across metrics.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Choosing Dually for Towing

Dually trucks are a popular choice for towing heavy loads, such as fifth wheels and RVs. They offer several benefits over single rear wheel (SRW) trucks, but there are also some drawbacks to consider.

Benefits of Dually Trucks

Greater stability: Dually trucks have a wider stance, which provides more stability when towing a heavy trailer. This is especially important in windy conditions or when making sharp turns.

Higher payload capacity: Dually trucks typically have a higher payload capacity than SRW trucks. This means that they can tow heavier trailers without exceeding the vehicle’s weight limit.

Less stress on the vehicle: Dually trucks distribute the weight of the trailer more evenly, which puts less stress on the vehicle’s suspension and drivetrain. This can help to extend the life of the vehicle.

Backups in case of a tire blowout: If you have a tire blowout on an SRW truck, you could lose control of the vehicle. With a dually truck, you have two backup tires that can help you maintain control and safely stop the vehicle.

Drawbacks of Dually Trucks:

Lower fuel economy: Dually trucks are heavier and have more wind resistance than SRW trucks, which can result in lower fuel economy.

Reduced visibility: The extra set of wheels on a dually truck can obscure your rearview, making it more difficult to see other vehicles.

More expensive to maintain: Dually trucks have more tires to maintain, which can be more expensive.

More difficult to maneuver: Dually trucks are wider than SRW trucks, which can make them more difficult to maneuver in tight spaces

Things to Think About Before You Buy a Truck for Your Fifth Wheel

Matching your tow rig to a fifth-wheel trailer goes beyond just gross weight ratings. Several key factors impact real-world performance and must be evaluated.

When selecting a tow vehicle for fifth-wheel trailers, bed length is an important consideration. Long-bed trucks with 8-foot beds provide ample space for fifth-wheel hitches to be mounted and supply ideal clearance between the truck cab and the front of the trailer. This prevents collision interference during tight turns. Short-bed trucks under 8 feet can pose occasional cab-trailer contact since less space exists upfront. To remedy such clearance problems, short-bed trucks require using sliding hitch systems or pivot point pin box replacements like Sidewinders.

Another choice drivers face is gas versus diesel engines for their trucks. Diesel generally carries higher initial purchase and maintenance costs but provides tremendous torque output for pulling heavy fifth-wheel loads. Diesel engines also deliver superior fuel efficiency benefits while towing large trailers long distances compared to gasoline power. This improved economy offsets some of the higher diesel costs over an ownership period. Gas engines remain a viable, more affordable option for fifth-wheel towing that saves on upfront price and fuel. But diesels merit consideration for anyone planning to log serious miles with larger RVs.

Payload capacity is a crucial but sometimes overlooked specification. Payload refers to the combined weight of all passengers, gear, and cargo the truck itself carries, excluding the hitched trailer behind it. When figuring payload, the tongue weight of the fifth wheel hitch pressing down on the truck bed must be deducted from the advertised payload rating. This leaves the remaining allowance for occupants and possessions. Most manufacturers recommend maintaining at least 1,200 pounds of payload after hitch weight for stability and safe handling. Carefully calculating payload ensures against exceeding gross vehicle weight ratings while towing.

Final Thoughts

Towing heavy fifth-wheel trailers demands trucks with muscle, payload, and advanced handling capabilities. While SRW pickups tow lighter 5ers adequately, dually rear ends truly shine for managing larger trailers. Their brute strength, larger footprint, and sophisticated suspensions supply unmatched control over king-sized RVs on the most demanding routes. Drivers who routinely haul fifth wheels, especially luxury models weighing 15-20K pounds loaded, are wise to choose a sturdy dually chassis for peace of mind on the road.

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