Frugal RVing In South States - Ebooks

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thoughts on Trucks

We have been dealing with ongoing issues with hauling our rather large fifth wheel rig. Being a 36 foot rig with 4 slides, and being full-time, and carrying everything that make home what it is, we are a heavy load.

Originally we were towing with a 07 Dodge 4X4 3500 single axle. It was a very strong truck, but not quite up to the task. As a whole it was powerful, and it handled a sudden stop (let's just say, not on a dime) very admirably. (We were still very green and instead of increasing the brake grip on the electronic control for the trailer, we wound up disengaging it altogether, and the brakes were smoking on the truck, but holding. - That was on the Creston-Salmo Summit, and we weren't yet fully loaded, but I digress...)

We then upgraded to an 01 Dodge Duelly 3500 2 wheel drive long box.

Unfortunately, it only came stock with a 235 horsepower engine. We were advised by many people in the RVing community we were with at the time that all we had to do was "chip it" and put a big breather on it.

We also added an engine exhaust break to the exhaust to increase our braking power.

Well, we have discovered that this is not a good plan after all. Let me clarify:

The breather was a good idea. It is like increasing your lung capacity, and as long as you increase the intake in proportion to the output, it can only improve your performance. Also, the engine exhaust brake was a good idea.

However, ours has a vacuum assist mechanism, and it is fickle at best, running only part of the time. It is better to get one with an air compressor so that when the braking is required, it is instantly and unquestionably engaged.

As for the chipping, it sounds like a great way to increase power at a comparably cheaper rate, but after all we have experienced, and having spoken to several people who have done the same, and a couple mechanics who have handled the aftermath of such choices, I would say that it is not the best option.

Here is why. When a truck engine is built, the system is constructed in harmony with all its components. Therefore, if you increase the amount of power (horsepower) that the truck can produce, you have to be very careful not to overtax the rest of the system.

In our case, the new weak link in the chain is no longer the power, but the transmission. It was built to work with 235 horsepower, so is overburdened by being asked to pull at the higher horses (our chip does 20, 60, and 90 extra horses)

This has led to transmission shuttering and the torque converter, although still working, is - shall we say, shortened in its lifespan. We are only going to use it at the 20 horse boost as there is no shut off option.

One mechanic we spoke to went through 4 transmissions because of chipping his truck.

The better option is therefore to get a truck that is truly up to the task at stock level. It is our opinion that for a rig as big and heavy as ours, it should not be hauled by any truck under the 5500 for safety. The trouble is that few dealers of either trucks or trailers will be honest with you, or to be fair, are truly ignorant of the danger. (We were told when we bought the trailer that we should even be fine towing with our 2500!!! - fine for the flatlands of Alberta and the deeper prairie, but tell that to the Rogers Pass, or Kicking Horse Pass!)

We have been told by some people that you just go slow when you climb, and if you have to run traffic lights because you can't stop in time, then go ahead and run the light. That is all well and good, but what if the vehicle in front doesn't choose that option....

I accept that some climbs just mean slow traveling, and comes with being heavy, and if that is what big commercial truck deals with it, there is no matter if we do too. Fair enough, but you really can't argue that if you have to stop now, you should know that within reason, you can. Period.

And so the hunt continues for a truly appropriate tow vehicle.

With these thoughts expressed, I bid you



  1. My comments section is still troubled, and no help from Google, so here is an emailed comment from the gal who started me blogging, RAE:

    I think it's time for you guys to start considering a HDT (heavy duty truck). The Escapees forum dedicated to HDTs is a good place to start doing research. If I were to one day decide to go to a fiver, I would only do so with a HDT. That forum will probably convince you of the same.

    Rae: It is sound advise to be sure, and we are indeed exploring our options. Stay Tuned.

  2. The Hdt is a good route to go if your fulltiming and doing alot of travelling. Many people are doing that with excellent results but its not for everyone. Licensing and air brake endorsement are two things to consider as well as driving the big truck as a grocery getter.
    You will have to convert the big truck into a rv with a list of items. This will enable you to insure it as a rv and not as a commercial truck. Advantages over a 550 series truck is that the heavy duty truck market has alot of value right now. It will actually be cheaper to go with the hdt rather than a 550. Expect around 30 grand for a decent used Hdt, and converted to rv pulling status.

    Problem with a 550 series truck, is that they have the same engine/trans combo found in the 350 series, only frame brakes and suspension and tires are upgraded. So you are back to driving slow up the hills.
    I was seriously thinking of doing the Hdt route too. But I don't travel enough to warrant the expense. The truck that I have now is a 95 powerstroke with 225 hp and it does the job. I am halfway through a rework on the truck to drop some weight and legally carry my pin wieght. I have a Jayco Legacy 38 rdqs much likes yours and fulltime as well, so heavy she is. Loosing the 1000 pounds off the truck is what I needed.

    Many are pulling fivers our size with one ton trucks and making out okay. If braking is a problem, I would look into your trailer braking system. Make sure all the wiring is done proper, your brake controller is a good one. Faiiling that, you still have options with electric over hydraulic systems that can be installed on the trailer. Much better system, but costs.

    Having a chip installed in the tow vehicle and set at the lowest level will help with power, if your transmission is having problems have a custom built unit installed, 5 grand. Manual is better and will do a better job.

    Proper air intake and exhaust is a cheaper horsepower improvement too. That and the chip is about as far as I would go with that size engine tranny combo, I know I am in the same boat.

    I just ordered a chip, to give me a extra 60 hp, needed for those hills on the highways. I had the transmission rebuilt last year and beefed up. I am hoping with the chip, I will not have problems with the transmission.

    Braking on my unit is good, I redid the brakes last year and the trailer brakes work excellent with the Prodigy brake controller, prior to the Prodigy, I had a cheap brake controller and found brakes lacking. If you smoked your brakes, chances are that they need to be replaced including drums and discs.
    You should also have your rig weighed, get a idea of your axle weights.

    I have converted heavy trucks to rv pullers and if you have questions email me at

    my blog shows some trucks that I have done too.

  3. (Sorry I took so long getting back to you Coal)

    That is a whole lot of good advice. Thank you for your input. It is always a balancing act when you have to go big for living but the tow vehicle has to also play town shuttle.

    We will keep you posted as to how we proceed.

    BTW, Merry Christmas. I see the Toronto area is hovering around the freezing point. May it stay in the higher climes for the season where you are!!