Truck Camper Setup
August 9, 2011
Filed under Feature Stories
There are many good reasons to choose a truck camper. Top of the list would have to be that your new home-away-from-home on wheels can go just about anywhere your pickup can go. It can go places that few other RVs can reach, especially if you have a four-wheel-drive pickup. And the camper has most of the comforts of home, without giving up all of the truck’s towing ability. You also don’t have to give up the truck’s cargo-bed flexibility. As long as you have a good set of corner jacks (electric or manual), sliding the camper on or off your truck can be done in less than an hour.
KNOW YOUR TRUCK
First, make sure you know the exact weight ratings and capacities of your specific truck. Rex Willet, vice president of Northstar Campers, tells us, “Every pickup truck sold has two tags that give you all the information you need to know about your rig: GVWR, axle ratings and how much weight your pickup with its specific tires can carry.” These tags are commonly found on the driver’s door jam. One of the most important is GVWR, or the gross vehicle weight rating, of your pickup, the maximum that specific platform can weigh, combining the weight of that particular truck, any passengers and everything it’s carrying.
“Be very careful about your target weight,” says Willet. “You can’t just take the dry weight of the truck camper when calculating how much your truck can carry. You also have to include the weight of the driver and passengers, full water tanks, any extra fuel, dealer or factory accessories and options and all your camping gear and cargo.” Advertised dry weights for campers often don’t include the optional equipment on the camper, but some manufacturers individually weigh each model as it comes off the assembly line. The bottom line here is once you calculate how much weight your truck can carry, be sure to build in a good safety buffer or some wiggle room.
Of course, it all depends on your exact configuration, but generally speaking, if you have a new half-ton truck, you’ll likely be able to carry between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds; if you own a ¾-ton truck, between 1,500 and 3,000 pounds; and if you have a 1-ton dually, payloads could range between 2,500 and 5,000 pounds.
The best practice is to weigh your rig at the local truck scales, subtracting that weight from the factory GVWR number to get your specific truck’s real and actual payload number.
Be sure to know what types of option packages are included on your truck. You want the extra suspension and cooling equipment that comes with towing and camper option packages and is often standard in many late-model pickups, especially heavy-duty pickups. It should be easy to determine if towing or heavy-duty cooling option packages are included by checking the window sticker or sales information. If you have purchased a used truck, you may have to slide underneath your rig and take a quick inventory of the cooling and suspension systems. You can always bring the VIN (vehicle identification number), usually located on a metal tag at the bottom of the windshield on the driver’s side, to your local dealer and it should be able to track down your options list using its computer system. It’s worth noting that, depending on the year of your vehicle, there may have been a specific camper option package. Today, Ford (in the Super Duty configuration) is the only one to offer a Camper Package for its late-model trucks, but that doesn’t mean the other players didn’t seriously consider the truck camper buyer when redesigning their latest HD lineups.
KNOW YOUR CAMPER
An important detail to keep in mind, says Norm Jacobson, marketing manager of Lance Campers, is that the camper and pickup truck have to be perfectly matched. “We see it all the time — a truck that’s too small sitting underneath a camper that’s too big. That doesn’t serve anyone — not the new owners, when they’re sweating every time they take their rig on the road, and not the industry, when others look at it swaying down the road, bordering on unsafe.”
Simply understanding how extra weight placed in your bed can affect your truck and camper combination could save a life. “Some companies include information in their new trucks to discuss this issue, but you would be surprised how many owners and truck camper dealerships aren’t as familiar as they should be with this very important concept,” he warns.
Knowing about your camper’s center of gravity is important, too, as well as how much of that weight sits on top of or just in front of the rear axle. Jacobson adds that the best place on any pickup to carry the majority of the load is just in front of the rear axle for vehicle handling and axle-loading purposes. While it’s required that manufacturers provide new pickup truck buyers with the information on how to calculate or find the truck’s longitudinal center of gravity, most OEMs offer it in the printed or online owner’s manual, or direct buyers to their dealer to obtain this information, and some provide it in a separate certificate in the vehicle. When loading extra cargo into your camper, the majority of it (and certainly all the heavy cargo) should be placed low, ahead of the rear axle in the truck’s bed (camper’s floor) and secured so it can’t shift while the truck is in motion.
Although it may be an obvious point, it is also worth mentioning that a taller cargo load (the new truck camper) will, of course, also change the driving dynamics of your pickup truck. Additional weight alone adds stress to the brakes, tires, suspension and propulsion system of the truck; but the extra weight up high can impact handling so you must adjust your driving style accordingly.
That higher center of gravity and higher load means you must think ahead and drive farther ahead. You should turn corners slow with this high heavy load and you should make slow and easy lane changes and other maneuvers with your camper. It will take longer for you to stop, and you are more vulnerable to wind now also. You must drive more cautiously now. And, you now have an overhead you have to look out for!
KNOW YOUR PARTS
“It’s pretty rare we see a new customer pull into our lot and have his truck ready for a camper to slide right in,” says David Yavelak, owner of Galaxy Campers in Ontario, Calif. “Aside from the anchoring systems to hold the camper in the bed, wider mirrors if the truck didn’t already have them, and the wiring systems all campers need, one of the first things we typically suggest if the customer is looking at a larger camper that brings their truck up near the GVW is a pair of good air bags for the rear suspension.”
Depending on the size of the truck and the camper, many of the vehicles we’ve seen successfully carrying larger campers have air bags, overload springs, longer bump stops or thicker sway bars.
Air Lift, Firestone RideRite and SuperSprings all make products for a truck’s suspension in anticipation of a camper. Hellwig and Roadmaster offer a variety of aftermarket heavy-duty sway bar kits.
We would probably add to that list a set of heavy-duty shocks such as Bilstein (some shocks, such as Rancho, offer in-cab adjustability through air systems to give you even more flexibility) and because of the higher loads, all of these upgrades should be checked often and thoroughly after each outing.
As simple as it might sound, there are many important issues to consider when contemplating the purchase of a truck camper. Most important is to never overload or exceed the vehicle’s GVWR or axle weight ratings. All the aftermarket air bags, shock absorbers, sway bars, wheels and tires in the world won’t increase your truck’s ability to carry weight beyond the factory ratings.
Quick Expert Advice
1. Just because it fits doesn’t mean it’s the right camper.
2. Pickup capacity and camper weight have to be matched.
3. Make the effort to find a good dealer (and don’t be shy about asking questions).
4. Constantly monitor your tire pressures.
5. After each outing, be sure to check all vital parts we’ve addressed.
What Ford, GM and Dodge Trucks Are Doing for You
GM and Dodge offer specific wiring and payload options that will serve those interested in putting in a slide-in camper, but Ford is the only OE to still offer a dedicated camper option package and Ford even offers a factory spray-on bed liner. For more information about any HD pickups, each manufacturer offers a detailed website with just about every measurement and calculation you could possibly want.
Ram Truck, www.dodge.com/bodybuilder/year.pdf.