- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2001

Buyers have an amazing and often puzzling variety of choices when it comes to shopping for a tow rig to match an RV-style trailer. Making the right selection about some choices can make the difference between a good tow rig deal and a waste of money on a rig that won't give satisfactory service.

In many cases, such as when you shop for a vehicle like a midsized SUV, your choices may be limited and that can ease the buying job. You may have a couple of engines and maybe two-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive options, so selecting the best model to tow your smaller trailer would be easy.

Shop for a pickup, however, and your options are incredible. The truck sizes and engine and powertrain options are wide-ranging. Judging by reader input, there's a lot of confusion about two common light-truck options: 2WD or 4WD, and single rear wheels or dual rear wheels.

At first the question of 2WD or 4WD seems easy if you don't drive in a lot of places where 4WD is necessary, you choose 2WD. In some instances, though, 4WD can help you avoid getting stuck in a seemingly harmless location such as a campground with muddy roads or on a poor-quality road leading to an undeveloped camping area in a state or national forest. If you're caught in bad weather while driving on paved highways, having 4WD will increase the chances you can safely continue your drive under full control of the tow rig and trailer. The choice between 2WD and 4WD is best made based on experience.

As a rule, the most important technical consideration about 4WD concerns tow rating. The extra weight of the 4WD hardware tends to detract slightly from the tow rig's trailer-tow rating, usually by roughly 200 or 300 pounds. The details of this variation are spelled out in the manufacturer's towing guide.

Many buyers with large trailers automatically assume that a 3500-series, or "1 ton" truck with dual rear wheels, is the best choice for towing a large trailer. That's not necessarily so. A dual-wheel truck has several drawbacks as a vehicle that you'll be driving solo a good deal of the time, problems such as higher fuel consumption and a rougher ride due to the stronger suspension. There are also more tires to replace when they wear out, it's harder to park due to the extra width, and it costs more up front to buy the truck.

In addition, many dualie trucks are rated to tow less than single-rear-wheel trucks for the same reason a 4WD is rated lower the extra weight of the dual-wheel hardware and suspension parts is deducted from the tow rating. Truck chassis-related stability is not an issue when choosing between the models, as the 2500-series single-rear-wheel trucks have more than enough rear-axle suspension stability for safe towing. Other factors are more important.

A dualie truck has the advantage of having a higher Gross Vehicle Weight Rating and a higher Gross Axle Weight Rating, which means that in spite of the lower tow rating, there's more capacity for a higher percentage of the weight on the truck. In the example of the 2001 Chevrolet HD trucks, the 2500 series model has a maximum 6,900 pounds rear-axle GAWR and 9,200 pounds overall GVWR, and the 3500-series trucks are rated at 8,600 pounds rear-axle GAWR and 11,400 pounds overall GVWR.

On the plus side, a dualie pickup is the best choice if you plan to haul a fully equipped slide-in truck camper because the weight is on the truck, and the dualie's stiffer suspension and wider rear axle help keep the camper weight in check and provide stable driving manners. At the same time, a fifth-wheel trailer with an extra-heavy trailer hitch, which could potentially overload the rear-axle GAWR on a 2500-series truck, should also be hauled by a dualie truck.

Check the truck's rear-axle GAWR and compare it to the truck's actual rear-axle weight, which you can learn by taking the truck to a public scale. The difference is how much weight you can carry on the rear axle without overloading it. Weigh the entire truck and deduct that figure from its GVWR to learn the weight-carrying capacity for the total vehicle. Keep both figures, and your RV weight numbers, in mind when choosing the tow rig, and you can make a well-informed decision that will serve well for many towing miles.

MOTOR MATTERS


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