RV Tow Vehicles and buying a travel trailer

There are all sorts of RV formats - RVs made from modified vans to RVs made from modified buses. Then there are travel trailers (sometimes called bumper pulls) and fifth wheels (where the hitch actually goes into the bed of your truck). Within the major categories are also subcategories. 

If you’re getting something you’re going to pull with a vehicle, it’s best to determine what your tow vehicle can easily tow first. Some people buy a specific tow vehicle for a specific need, and that’s what we did. 

We chose a Nissan Frontier four-door as our tow vehicle because it’s a vehicle that is capable of towing up to 6500 pounds but isn’t so large that parking it is a challenge. It’s also big enough for the two of us regularly and has enough cargo space for what we normally haul around. 

Even though the Nissan can reportedly tow 6500lb, we didn’t want to tow at capacity so I set a maximum empty weight of the trailer at between 3,000-4,000 pounds. Remember that, in that trailer, you’ll potentially be carrying a bunch of camping gear as well as water, propane, batteries and more. That 3,000 pound trailer can soon easily bulk up to 4,000 pounds. 

So, by that logic, if you get a trailer that’s close to the cargo capacity of your vehicle and then start adding water and all the junk you’ll get for camping, you could easily exceed that capacity and cause damage to the tow vehicle or, even worse, create unsafe handling. 

There are other calculations as well including frontal area of the trailer, tongue weight and more. And don’t expect an RV dealer to be of any assistance - they will gladly tell you that your Ford Pinto can easily tow that 12,000lb fifth wheel. Easily. 

Written by Anthony B. Barthel