Do I need diesel to pull a 5th wheel?

In this article, we will answer the following question: Do I need diesel to pull a 5th wheel? We will explain what are the best vehicles for pulling a 5th wheel trailer and give you a few essential tips for easy towing no matter the type of engine your vehicle has. 

Do I need diesel to pull a 5th wheel?

You do not need a diesel engine to pull a 5th wheel trailer, gas engines are absolutely capable of towing as well. It is true that the diesel engine remains the favoured choice for towing and hauling loads. This is due not only to the low fuel consumption of a diesel engine but also to its ability to deliver higher torque at low revs. Whether it’s towing a caravan, trailer or boat, it’s hard to imagine anything better suited to the task than a diesel engine.

Why are diesel engines recommended for towing a 5th wheel trailer?

Whatever the type of trailer is towed, it causes additional weight and drag for the load transporter, which needs more engine power to move the vehicle and the object forward, especially uphill. The higher cylinder pressure of a diesel engine reduces fuel consumption, making it the most popular choice for many commercial uses, such as vans, buses and heavy trucks.

This higher cylinder pressure also allows diesel engines to produce more power at lower speeds than their gasoline counterparts. This provides the “low end torque” and a more relaxed driving experience that load carriers want.

When towing, a diesel engine equates to one person carrying five bricks at a time rather than one moving each brick individually; while a diesel engine does no more and no less work than a gasoline engine, it does the same job more efficiently.

So, is a gas or diesel engine better for pulling a 5th wheel trailer?

In principle, diesel vehicles consume less than gasoline, about 15% less. But for it to be meaningful, you have to see it in the long term. In addition, gasoline models have made real progress, it may well be that in a few years the difference in consumption will not be so great.

On the other hand, the fuel consumption of a vehicle depends a lot on its “good use”. Diesel and gasoline heat engines work differently: they are therefore suitable for different uses:

  • Gasoline is recommended for drivers who mainly cover short distances. Indeed, gasoline models consume less in town than diesel engines. Gasoline is perfect for short trips.
  • Diesel is recommended for drivers who travel every day and mostly over long distances. It is often said that 20,000 km must be covered per year with a diesel engine to make it profitable.
  • If you use a diesel vehicle in town for short trips, the engine will not have time to heat up, so it will not run optimally, consume more than expected and deteriorate more quickly.

7 tips for towing a fifth-wheel trailer with a gas engine

Fifth-wheel trailers are famous for their unique appearance, which incorporates a projecting front. However, they are a bit oddly shaped, many of these trailers have two-stage plans, so you have too much space to transport your friends and family on your RV adventures.

Here are our seven useful tips for towing a fifth-wheel trailer so that no matter what type of engine you have, the trip can be fun and hassle-free:

  1. Do not exceed the weight limit: After hitting the road, you will quickly discover the weight of your car when your truck cannot pull the trailer and the fifth wheel may break thanks to your efforts.

This is why you need to understand the official weights of your trailer before setting off. There are two weights to consider: the weight of the empty trailer and the weight of the car after connecting it to the truck.

  1.  Understanding the effects of the higher altitude: Do you travel in the mountains? The higher the altitude you drive, the more energy the vehicle must consume. However, this will only happen if it is a gasoline engine. If you have a diesel engine, you can skip this section. 

The formula is: Wherever you go 1000 feet high, the performance of your truck’s gasoline engine drops by three to four per cent. The less power the engine has, the more difficult it is for sure to get the full load off the trailer, even if the trailer hitch is just adjusted.

  1.  Be prepared to redirect your tailpipe: Many pickups have straight tubes inside the back. Exhaust locations depend on the make and model of your vehicle. Some truck owners will redirect their tailpipes. The steps to do this depend on your truck model!
  1. Do not configure for overdrive: When towing a 5th wheel, you may be tempted to use overdrive. After all, it reduces wear and tears on your truck on long trips. You also get less noise and better fuel economy.

Automatic overdrive is suitable if you are only driving your truck. However, if you add the weight and size of the trailer and then overload the car, this can overload the power train. It will work in research mode, which will eventually cause overheating.

  1. Keep an eye on the screws: The wheel bolts hold the fifth wheel together. They have the possibility of loosening over time and with use, so you must constantly check the condition of the wheel bolts. How often you do this is up to you. There is almost nothing very constant. If your car is parked and you yearn to watch your wheel nuts grip, this is great. Otherwise, prioritize this review on a 100-mile basis.
  1. Check your tires: Fifth-wheel trailer tires are huge and usually resistant, but they don’t last forever. You must be aware of road hazards such as nails, stones, sticks and some other foreign objects. These affect the truck and the fifth-wheel tires.
  1.  Learn to use your mirrors (one more time): Your pick-up truck has side mirrors and a rearview mirror that you probably trust a lot, right? Now when towing a fifth-wheel trailer, don’t use your mirrors to see what’s on the side and rear of your truck. You should also rethink your trailer and make sure you have more than enough room to rotate and do other manoeuvres.

It is neither wise nor safe to rely precisely on the inside of the side mirror and rear view mirror to tow a trailer. These mirrors were not designed to capture the length and width of a trailer other than your truck.

The bottom line

Towing a 5th wheel trailer is not an easy task, no matter the type of engine you have. Of course, it is going to be easier with a diesel engine, you will manage to save fuel and perhaps have a better driving experience overall. Still, remember that gas engines can do a great job as well. Just follow our tips for a safer journey! 

If you have any questions or comments on the content, please let us know. 

FAQ on Do I need diesel to pull a 5th wheel?

Can you put a 5th wheel hitch on a flatbed truck?

Yes, you can put a 5th wheel hitch on a flatbed truck. It would be a custom install, however, and we recommend that a qualified professional help you with the installation process. 

Can a 1/2 ton truck pull a 5th wheel camper?

Yes, a ½ ton truck could pull a 5th wheel camper, but for this type of motorhome, we would suggest going higher. Still, the most popular ½ ton trucks that can pull a 5th wheel camper are:

  • Ford F150 – 13,200 lbs/ 6000 kg
  • Ram 1500 – 12,750 lbs/ 5780 kg
  • GMC Sierra 1500 – 12,500 lbs/ 5670 kg
  • Chevy Silverado 1500 – 12,200 lbs/ 5530 kg
  • Toyota Tundra – 10,200 lbs/ 4626 kg
  • Nissan Titan – 9,660 lbs/ 4380 kg.

Is gas or diesel better for towing?

When considering if gas or diesel is better for towing, we will go ahead and say that we prefer diesel. Why? Because, first of all, diesel engines are more fuel-efficient and are easier to resell when the time comes.

Which motorization to avoid?

When it comes to motorization, avoid choosing an engine of less than 130 hp. It will very often be far too small for a vehicle of this weight (often close to 3.5T for example for an integral).

How can you save gas on your trip?

To save gas on your trip, follow these simple rules:

  1. Travel light – By reducing the weight of your RV to a minimum, you could save money at the pump. For example, 100 pounds of additional baggage could represent a 2% fuel increase. 
  1.  Add a baffle – In this way, your vehicle’s engine will “strain” less and at the same time consume less fuel. Finally, this deflector could protect your vehicle from small stones and other debris that you will come across on the road!
  1.  Drive responsibly –  By limiting acceleration-braking (as much as possible), by maintaining a constant speed and by respecting the speed limits, you could achieve great fuel savings, while adopting a safer driving style!

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