Choosing a Truck

I would like to engage the collective wisdom of the Internet towards choosing a truck.  The primary use for the truck is towing a large fifth-wheel trailer, something probably a little bit less than 40 feet long.  We expect a maximum tow weight of about 20000 pounds, with a hitch weight between 3000 and 5000 pounds.

This is a hypothetical purchase for a future date, we are not planning on jumping into this immediately.

Based on research done so far, I’ve come up with a list of elements that I believe are essential:

  • Diesel engine
  • Transmission with at least five forward gears
  • 1 ton suspension (3500 or 350)
  • Four doors
  • Four wheel drive
  • Dual rear wheels

While I believe that a 3/4 ton chassis and single rear wheels MIGHT be enough truck to just barely get the job done, I really think that a 1 ton would do the job better.  I suspect that a truck with dual rear wheels is more likely to have the towing-related improvements that I want, and may be able to handle a very large trailer better than single wheels, particularly if gear loaded in the trailer makes the hitch weight approach 5000 pounds.  I do not know how to determine whether a truck that I am investigating has desired towing-related improvements.

The *big* questions that I have are below.  Research indicates that all three of the US manufacturers have built trucks with the above attributes, and that 6 speeds are normal for the transmission, whether it’s manual or automatic.

  • Which of the big three manufacturers? (Dodge, Ford, or GM) If you have a strong opinion on this, I’d like to know your reasons, preferably backed by concrete facts.  Hopefully I can avoid a religious flamewar.
  • Dual rear wheels, or standard rear suspension?
  • If the price isn’t horrible, should I go larger than a 350/3500?
  • Are there any other viable options that I haven’t considered?
  • Are beds longer than 8 feet available?
  • Should I consider a flat-bed instead of a typical truck bed?
  • Should I entertain any outlandish ideas, like an 18-wheeler truck, or the kind of truck that gets sent to the scene of an accident to haul damaged vehicles away?

My original bias was to choose a Dodge 3500 with dual rear wheels and a manual transmission.  After the first round of feedback, I thought I’d do a Ford F-350 with dual rear wheels and an automatic transmission.

Then I got some feedback from somebody who made a living doing repair work on exactly the kind of vehicle that I’m looking at.  He didn’t even hesitate, said Dodge, and that he would take the manual transmission every time.  Apparently the straight-6 B-series Cummins diesel engine in the ’97 Dodge was a perfect storm, an ideal choice.  He said that his preference for manufacturers was Dodge, Ford, then GM.  Because he has spent a lot of years working on all these trucks, I trust this judgement.

The ’97 Dodge has another advantage — I think that even with a MASSIVE repair bill weighing in at five thousand dollars, I could probably obtain this 20 year old truck for quite a bit less than it would cost me for a 10 year old model from any manufacturer.

If there are particularly good reasons to make another choice in my truck, please let me know what those reasons are.

I’ve thought of some little questions to ask somebody who has extensive experience with trucks like this.  Here’s a sample:

  • Is an Anderson hitch a good plan, or should I plan on a traditional fifth-wheel hitch?  I like the low weight and small size of the Anderson hitch, and my research so far paints them in a positive light.  I *have* decided that I don’t want to go with a full fifth-wheel to gooseneck conversion, but the Anderson hitch is quite attractive.
  • Can the hitch be installed towards the rear of the truck bed so I can secure something three feet deep, five feet wide, and five feet tall between the crew cab and the hitch? It would be really nice if I can tow without putting the wheelchair inside the trailer.  The trailer models I am contemplating would easily accommodate the wheelchair, but if it can go in the truck instead, I save myself some cargo space.

2 responses to “Choosing a Truck”

  1. You say 10 years old, telling me you are comfortable with repairs and you can do some yourself. I am too, but prefer Toyota for reliability (daily driver is a nice 1996). Maybe they do not have dual rears, I am not sure. Reliability is key if you want to have a life.

    Did you say whether you will be on rough roads? That is a big factor.

    • I do love the Toyota trucks, but the Tundra trucks that I have seen on the road do not indicate what level of suspension they have, and I have NEVER seen one with dual rear wheels. I suspect that they are somewhere between a half-ton and three-quarter-ton, which just wouldn’t handle the hitch weight I am contemplating.

      I doubt I will pull a trailer on anything worse than a well-maintained dirt road. I may very well take the truck itself on roads that are less than ideal, but I won’t be doing any *serious* offroading.

      I’m about to edit the main post again, because I have new information from somebody who made a living doing repair work on vehicles big and small.

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