The day has finally come, we have upgraded our towing vehicle. It took some serious physical exertion, but I have finally been able to pull Chris off of the ceiling, and it’s time to give you, dear reader, the full story on how and why we chose a different towing truck for a fifthwheel. We went from a 2006 Dodge Ram 2500 Diesel to a 2015 GMC Sierra 2500 Gas. Let’s explore the pros and cons of each, and go over our reasoning for deciding which truck for a fifthwheel.
Not sure if a fifthwheel is for you? Trying to decide on the best type of RV? We make the decision simple with our Three Simple Steps to Choose a RV.
We had zero experience with RVing when we first set out three years ago. Our very first night in a RV was our first night as fulltime RVers, after we had sold our house, quit our jobs and basically put ourselves in a no-turning-back position. We knew we could figure out the RVing lifestyle on the road, but there was one important decision we had to make prior to leaving, that was crucial to making fulltime RVing a success…it was which RV to choose. Once we settled on a fifthwheel, we knew that an equally important decision to get us on the road was which truck for a fifthwheel.
Our truck would make us or break us. It was crucial to get it right.
I will admit, we agonized over it. Our only experience with a truck was Chris’ work truck that was a Toyota Tacoma. We knew nothing about heavier trucks or diesel options. Doing some truck research and wading through our options was a necessary part for us to move forward with RVing, and we only had a few weeks to do it. We did not want to let the logistics slow us down, or get in our way of becoming fulltime RVers, and we don’t want that for you either. So, let’s go over the factors that proved most important to us with our truck, and why we made our decisions; so you can have something to start your research with.
If you are new to RVing, or to choosing a towing vehicle, then we have the perfect place to start: How to Pick a Truck for Towing.
2006 Dodge Ram 2500 Diesel for Towing a Fifthwheel
Our first truck for towing, which proved to be a great decision as fulltimers just starting out was our Dodge Ram. You can watch a video tour & us explaining the pros and cons here: Our Dodge Ram 2500 Diesel Video
Our main considerations in choosing our Dodge…
#1 We could afford it. We chose to buy a year that we could afford outright. We did not want any truck payments on the road. We had quit our jobs, and we were leaning on side work that Chris did to see us through our travels. We did not have a set income, so we knew that it was in our best interest to not have a set debt or set payments that we would be responsible for.
#2 Reliability. We wanted a truck we could rely on, especially since we would be fulltimers. We knew we would be putting a lot of towing miles on the truck, and we would be in all parts of the country, with all sorts of terrains. We (mainly Chris) read a lot about the 5.9 Liter Cummins engine and its dependability, so Dodge jumped up our list for the year range we were looking in.
#3 Safety. We only looked at trucks that were safe for pulling our fifthwheel, which meant that we needed to know what the tow rating needed to be for our fifthwheel. This is a crucial step, and you MUST understand this, before you buy a truck. Good news is that it is easy to determine. Take your Gross Trailer Weight Rating (the maximum weight for your trailer/fifthwheel when it is loaded with items) and add a 20% buffer to it. That gives you the number you want for a tow rating in a truck. Let’s break it down with Aunt Glady’s numbers…
Aunt Glady’s dry weight (just Aunt Glady, no added items like our clothes, food, etc.) = 7,200 lbs.
Aunt Glady’s Gross Trailer Weight Rating (her dry weight + maximum allowable load) = 9,900 lbs.
Take the Gross Trailer Weight Rating (9,900 lbs.) and add a 20% buffer (1,980 lbs.) = 11,880 lbs.
So, we needed a truck with a tow rating of at least 11,880 lbs. Our Dodge had a tow rating of 12,000 lbs. Boom! Done!
#4 Diesel vs. Gas. We were hesitant to purchase a diesel, but the factors of cost and safety were what settled the decision. Since we would be towing so much, we wanted the better gas mileage of a diesel. Also, we wanted the torque of a diesel to help us get up mountains safely, without having to crawl.
#5 Bed Size. Bed size is another important decision, and we did not want a long bed. Our fifthwheel is 26 feet in length, that was long enough for us, especially as beginners. A long bed is recommended by some, because it allows for sharper turns with the fifthwheel attached. On a sharp turn, the front nose of the fifthwheel may hit the back window of the truck, and can supposedly shatter the window if you are not paying attention. If you go with a regular bed truck, then most recommend using a sliding hitch – meaning that you can manually slide it when needed to give you more of a turning radius without the fifthwheel hitting the truck window. We went that route. Having our three years of fulltime experience, I can honestly say that I can not see an advantage to a long bed. We never needed one, and we were grateful for the shortened length. We did have a sliding hitch installed, and we used it ZERO TIMES.
Pros for the Dodge Ram 2500 Diesel
We loved not having a truck payment, and definitely think that is the right decision. In our around 26,000 miles of towing, our truck’s engine was reliable, and we had few maintenance issues. The Diesel allowed us to zoom up mountains no problem, passing all the gas trucks going 30 mph while towing. Very powerful and safe for towing. The diesel had two more advantages that we had not anticipated: 1. diesel was less expensive than gas for the majority of our travels, 2. you can use the large truck lanes at gas stations for pumping diesel when towing. Our mpg when towing was 15, and when not towing we averaged 22 mpg, and even had some trips that were 25 mpg. When it came time to sell the Dodge, it kept its value well, even with us putting an average of 20,000 miles per year on it over our three three years of use. It is a truck that loves towing – great truck for a fifthwheel, especially if fulltiming.
Cons for the Dodge Ram 2500 Diesel
It was a 2006, which meant it had a much older look, and it also did not have any of the new features like a back up camera that are helpful for RVing. It also had a version of suspension that was not conducive to a smooth ride – in other words, it was a bumpy ride and we avoided dirt roads which was a bummer in places like Big Bend National Park. While we saved a lot on gas, owning a diesel is more expensive for maintenance and not everyone works on diesels either. The problem with diesel is that it is a real pain at the pump, it is much messier and harder to remove from your hands than gas.
2015 GMC Sierra 2500 Gas
We are entering a new phase of RVing. After a few years as fulltimers, we have decided that we are ready for a home base again. We are hoping to spend about 6 months each year in the RV, and 6 months at Wanderer’s Rest in Pennsylvania. We think that having this balance will help us to maintain our RV lifestyle through the years ahead. With that change in mind, we decided it was time for a different truck for a fifthwheel, and we chose the GMC Sierra. You can watch a video tour & us explaining the pros and cons here: Our GMC Sierra 2500 Video
Our main considerations in choosing the GMC Sierra…
#1 We could afford it. We were ready for a newer truck, but we still wanted a used truck that we could afford. This time, we do have a small truck payment, since we are also just finishing building our own home. But, Chris’ income is much more stable now, so we know what we have to work with, and we plan to pay the truck off quickly.
#2 Pennsylvania. We know we are going to be spending about half the year in PA, and that factored in to our decision. Diesel is much more expensive than gas in PA, and diesel pumps are harder to come by. In PA, it is definitely an advantage to have a gas truck.
#3 Non-towing. Since we will not be towing as much, it is important to us to have nicer, smoother ride. We wanted a more comfortable truck that would also better represent Chris’ business, Nittany Design.
#4 Safety. The GMC Sierra has a higher tow rating than the Dodge, at 14,000 lbs., so we are good to go.
#5 Better features. We were ready for some of the newer features, like a back up camera. It also came with a remote starter as a bonus!
Pros for the GMC Sierra 2500
First, can I just say that it is sweet looking?! The truck too, not just Chris! Looks is not the main reason we choose our truck, or we would have had a Silverado by now, which we both prefer the looks of; but the GMC is very nice looking. We already love how much we are saving on gas here in Pennsylvania. It is great not having to search for diesel, and not having to deal with the mess at the pump. It is a much smoother, enjoyable ride and not as obnoxiously loud. The special features are a luxury that is all the sweeter due to our jump from the plain 2006 Dodge. While we have not had any maintenance yet, we know that parts and service will be much cheaper.
Cons for the GMC Sierra 2500
Since it is a gas truck, the mpg rate has dropped to about 8 when towing and about 16 not towing. We have not towed big mountains yet, but we know that we will be at a snail’s pace.
I think that the moral of the story here is that the truck you choose needs to be based on what you anticipate your RV lifestyle to be. If you are spending more time towing, then a diesel is a good consideration. If you want lower cost, then a used truck may be a good option. There will always be trade offs, but there are also certain aspects of the truck search process that you can not get around, such as making sure the tow rating of the truck is suitable for the fifthwheel. Use our steps to figure out your required tow rating, and stick by it.
I hope our reasoning has given you some things to contemplate as you do your own searching. Chris and I are looking forward to a lot more miles on the road together in our “newer” truck.