You’ve got what you’ve deemed the perfect truck for towing a camper. You know your truck’s towing capacity more than suffices for the camper, but you still want to be extra prepared. How can you ready your truck for towing a camper?
Here are 9 important things to prepare your truck for towing a camper:
- Keep your truck in good shape
- Get the right hitch
- Consider a tire upgrade
- Add some towing mirrors
- Learn about wiring
- Use a transmission cooler
- Pick a brake controller
- Fortify your suspension
- Practice makes perfect
In today’s guide, we’ll go over each of these 9 points in detail, so you’re adequately prepared to tow a camper with your truck, even if it’s the first time. You definitely won’t want to miss it!
9 Considerations Ahead of Towing a Camper with a Truck
Keep Your Truck in Good Shape
You don’t always need a brand-new pickup truck for pulling a trailer. The reason that so many people upgrade is that towing can be tough on your vehicle.
To give your truck a fighting chance at long-term survival, you want it to be in tip-top condition.
Even if the truck is older, it’s a good idea to retrofit it with new and improved parts, many of which we’ll discuss throughout this guide.
Once you’ve got your truck kitted out to be the best version of itself that it can be, know that your truck won’t stay in perfect shape forever.
You need to keep the vehicle maintained. This might be something that you decide to do yourself, or you might rely on your mechanic to top off fluid levels, pump air into the tires, and give your car a wax and shine.
Maintenance is not a one-and-done thing. You’ll have to follow a maintenance schedule. Be aware that if you were getting your truck serviced every X miles before, you might have to shorten the time between servicing now that you’re towing a camper so often.
Get the Right Hitch
There are so many types of hitches out there that you might wonder which is the best for your truck and trailer setup?
There are some we recommend, so let’s go over them now
The first is the fifth-wheel hitch, which slots onto your truck’s bed.
If you have a car hauler, travel trailer, or another sizable camper, then a fifth-wheel hitch is an especially good choice. The hitch’s weight limit is around 24,000 pounds.
In the same vein is the gooseneck hitch, which goes in your truck bed as well.
The towing capacity of a gooseneck hitch is even greater than a fifth-wheel, as goosenecks are typically rated for pulling around 30,000 pounds of weight.
A rear receiver trailer hitch is another good hitch option to consider for your rig.
A common choice in hitches, especially for truck drivers, a rear receiver hitch is named since it fits into a square receiver tube.
Rear receiver trailer hitches are the only type of hitch available in several classes. Classes 1 through 2 are for smaller vehicles such as minivans, crossovers, and cars. You can skip those.
A Class 3 rear receiver hitch is suitable for trucks (as well as SUVs, vans, and crossovers). Its towing capacity is limited to only 8,000 pounds, which is just fine for smaller and lightweight trailers.
Next is the Class 4 rear receiver hitch, which is exclusive to SUVs and trucks. The towing capacity is a generous 10,000 pounds and, in some cases, up to 12,000 pounds.
The Class 5 Xtra Duty rear receiver hitch is the heaviest-duty class besides the commercial-only Class 5 hitch.
A Class 5 Xtra Duty hitch is made for SUVs and trucks. The towing capacity is anywhere from 16,000 to 17,000 pounds.
Consider a Tire Upgrade
When was the last time you changed your truck’s tires?
The answer is ideally within the last six years, as that’s how often you’re supposed to upgrade truck tires.
Even if you changed your tires only three years ago, the period before you begin pulling a trailer is an ideal time to consider a tire replacement.
The tires should have an excellent tread, so you don’t have to worry about skidding or losing traction.
You’re probably only going to drive on concrete and asphalt roads when pulling your rig, but at some campgrounds, you might come across nothing but dirt or forest floors as well as dusty trails. This is when you need good traction the most.
What about that spare tire? Wait, you do have a spare tire, don’t you? If you answered negatively, then do yourself a favor and purchase a spare tire for your truck.
You hopefully won’t have to use it, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. If your truck blows a tire and you’re hundreds of miles from the nearest gas station, you’re going to have to get towed.
Tow services more than likely won’t be able to carry your trailer when it’s still attached to your pickup truck, so you’ll have to leave your trailer behind or wait for another tow truck to arrive to pull it.
The fees you’d rack up would be exorbitant!
Once you’ve got a fresh set of wheels on your truck, do make sure that you’re keeping the tire pressure at the proper levels.
You should get into the habit of checking your tire pressure before you set out on your adventures and every time you arrive somewhere new.
Add Some Towing Mirrors
Have you ever driven a large vehicle such as a school bus or a commercial truck? If not, then you’re in for quite the surprise when you hop behind the driver’s seat of your pickup truck with your trailer attached.
You won’t be able to see out of any of your mirrors! The trailer is blocking them all.
You can adjust your mirrors until the cows come home, but it’s not likely to make all that much difference.
For your safety and the safety of the other motorists you’ll encounter during your time on the road, it’s a good idea to buy towing mirrors.
As the name implies, towing mirrors are mirrors designed for towing rigs. You’ll have fewer blind spots as you drive, allowing you to make safer and more educated driving decisions. This will reduce your risk of accidents as well.
You can select from clip-on mirrors, wide-angle mirrors, or extended towing mirrors. The latter two are more permanent installations that we’d recommend for the serious truck driver who enjoys towing often.
If you’re not sure how often you’ll pull a trailer around, then start with the clip-on mirrors. They’re easily detachable when you’re not using them. Before purchasing, make sure whatever you are buying is compatible with your truck.
Learn About Wiring
You need to connect your trailer’s electrical system to your truck’s, and that involves familiarizing yourself with wiring.
The wiring allows your camper to reflect that you’ve got your truck’s turn signal on or that you’re braking, so this is not something you can skip if you want to be a safe driver.
You can select from a four-way, five-way, six-way, or seven-way connector, but you only need one. Let’s talk about your options more now.
A four-way connector will enable your camper’s lights to illuminate when you brake, turn, or when your towing vehicle is on and running. If yours is a smaller or lighter camper, then a four-way connector is suitable.
A five-way connector is different from a four-way connector, thanks to the additional wire. The wire goes to your brake system and allows the trailer’s brake lights to stop illuminating when you reverse.
Next, a six-way connector adds the option for a battery connection. You’re most likely to see six-way connections for boat trailers and gooseneck trailers.
Finally, there’s the seven-way connector, which provides auxiliary power as well as power for reversing, camper braking, truck braking, and turning.
Get a Transmission Cooler
As fun and exciting as towing a camper can be, we hope we’ve made it clear by now that it’s strenuous on your vehicle. With a transmission cooler, you can preserve your truck’s transmission system, so it’s definitely worth having.
What is a transmission cooler exactly? A transmission cooler maintains the temperature of transmission fluid, so it never gets too hot. In turn, the transmission doesn’t overheat, so your rig can keep on rollin’.
You can select from three types of transmission coolers, stacked plate, plate, and fin, or tube and fin coolers.
A stacked plate cooler features turbulators that send air to the transmission fluid, so it never reaches high temperatures. Simple to install and quickly efficient, stacked plate transmission coolers are the top pick for many motorists.
Plate and fin coolers feature parallel plates on either side of the cooler. This is a bigger type of transmission cooler, but it’s efficient due to its increased surface area for cooling.
The last type of transmission cooler is the tube and fin cooler. This older cooler design features an interweaving tube that sends transmission fluid throughout. Fins around the tubs will absorb heat so the transmission fluid cools.
Pick a Brake Controller
Although you wired your brakes per the recommendations above, we’d still advise you to use a brake controller.
A brake controller allows you to stop your camper by braking your truck. How exactly the braking works depends on which type of brake controller you select.
A proportional brake controller is one of your options. With a proportional brake controller, when you apply brake pressure on your truck’s brakes, the same amount of pressure is applied to your trailer brakes.
If you want to stop lightly or on a dime, you have that freedom with a proportional brake controller.
Of course, the amount of force depending on how much stoppage you want is something you’ll have to get used to via trial and error. Once you figure out the right pressure, though, you’ll be in the clear.
The responsiveness of a proportional brake controller is one of its biggest selling points. This braking system also provides less wear and tear on your truck brakes, which is another plus.
All this comes at a cost, though, as a proportional brake controller is rather expensive.
If not a proportional brake controller, then you can use a time-controlled brake controller. Rather than rely on your stopping pressure to determine when the camper brake will stop, a time-controlled brake controller uses pre-set settings that you input.
You’d use the sync switch to adjust pressure based on factors like cargo weight and trailer weight.
A time-controlled brake controller requires a lot more trial and error to get right. If the settings aren’t configured properly, then either your truck is doing most of the stopping, or the camper is.
Fortify Your Suspension
You also have to take special care of your pickup truck’s suspension system as you prepare for towing a camper.
One of the best ways you can do that is with the addition of helper springs. The springs will put less strain and pressure on your suspension system, prolonging its life.
The less wear and tear your suspension experiences, the happier your truck will be. Your wallet will also be happy, as you won’t have to spend money on a pricy new transmission.
Practice Makes Perfect
Our last tip for preparing to tow a camper is this. Practice as much as you can.
As we alluded to earlier, it is not easy to adjust to pulling around a camper, especially if you’ve never done anything like it before.
Even if you’re driving the same ol’ pickup truck that you always do, you now have several hundred to several thousand pounds behind you. That’s going to affect everything you do.
You’ll have to drive slower to feel safe (but not too slow; you should still stay within the recommended speed limit). Your turns will become a lot wider, so your trailer can turn with your truck.
You’ll stop far sooner than you ever used to. You’ll have to forego some driving maneuvers like tight turns or narrow parallel parking.
A lot of this will come more naturally to you the longer that you pull a camper. For everything that doesn’t, practicing will help you feel more comfortable behind the wheel.
There you have it, nine critical considerations as you prepare to pull a camper, possibly for the first time. We hope these tips, tactics, and suggestions make towing your camper that much easier!