Here at Bahn Camper Works we think all automobile manufactures make great trucks, but it can be frustrating shopping for a truck that you plan to put a slide-in truck camper on. You might want to buy a ½ ton truck because you don’t need a bigger truck, but that means you have to go with a smaller and lighter camper—something you might not want to do. On the flip side, you find the camper of your dreams, but then have to comprise with the truck and get a ¾ ton or 1 ton truck. Or you’re someone that really needs a crew cab truck, but that means a lower payload capacity, and yet you still want the bigger camper. Ugh! We truly feel your frustration and can offer great advice in this area. It’s definitely an art buying the right truck for a camper that meets your adventure needs. Ryan Bahn at Bahn Camper Works has spent a very long time becoming an expert on truck capabilities. We happily offer the service of finding and facilitating the purchase of the perfect truck for our customers.
In this blog post we’d like to give our customers a starting point to review trucks. First, let’s talk about payload capacity.
The technical definition of payload capacity is:
The difference between its curb weight and its gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). The curb weight of a truck is how much it weighs without anything in it- no people, no fuel, no gear. The GVWR is the maximum allowed weight of the vehicle, passengers, cargo and necessary fluids.
In other words:
GVWR – Curb Weight = a truck’s Payload Capacity
And what does this mean to someone buying a truck camper? The payload capacity number is the amount of pounds we can add to a truck and stay within the manufactures’ safety limits. This means all the gas or diesel put into the trucks tanks, all other truck fluids, the camper, water added to the tanks, people’s body weight that will sit in the truck, all clothes packed… every single thing added to the truck must weigh less than the truck’s payload capacity.
Now, why is it important to stay within a truck’s payload capacity? Here at Bahn Camper Works we think it is vitally important to stay within a truck’s payload capacity and this is the main reason why we set out to make the lightest hard shell truck camper. Manufacturers of trucks test and re-test axles, brakes, suspension, frame, wheels and tires to ensure how much added weight their trucks can take before these things fail. In other words, if you drive a truck that is loaded beyond it’s GVWR you risk that vehicle failing. The tires are usually the weakest link. Big deal right? Tires aren’t too expensive, right? How about when it blows out on a highway when you’re doing +65 mph? Chances are you’re going to end up in the ditch or worse. “But the salesman at the RV lot told me to add airbags and I’d be fine.” Do you think he’s going to pay for your truck, medical bills, lawyer bills, etc.? In the real world most trucks can handle more than their specified GVWR because manufacturers and engineers use something called a “safety factor”. A safety factor is just that, a way to make sure that everything is stronger than it needs to be. The problem is that no one really knows what the safety factor is. Are you willing to take the RV salesman’s word? At the end of the day are you willing to risk other peoples safety, including your family’s? At Bahn Camper Works we are not.
Regardless of whether you buy your camper from Bahn Camper Works or not, we urge you to never put your truck past its payload capacity. Truck manufacturers have come up with these standards for our safety and for the safety of everyone on the road. In addition, if you’re over your GVWR and you get in an accident, your insurance company can deny your claim and you would be liable for all damages.
Can you add airbags to your suspension and new wheels and tires to increase a truck’s payload capacity? No, you can’t. Upgrading your suspension, wheels, tires, axles, etc. will not change your trucks GVWR. Sure it can make the truck feel much better with a heavy load, but your GVWR is what it is. Short of going to the DMV and requesting a higher GVWR for you vehicle, it cannot be changed. We have only heard of one case where the DMV actually changed a GVWR. At Bahn Camper Works, we recommend adding airbags to a truck’s suspension when one is near their payload capacity, not past it! Don’t mess with payload capacity, pay attention to your GVWR. Get a camper that’s weight will not put your truck past your payload capacity when it’s fully loaded.
One thing that may seem counter intuitive when looking at trucks and their payloads is that the big diesel 4x4 may have 1000-1500 lbs. less payload than its gasoline brother—how can that be? Everyone knows diesels have way more power! Well the trucks have the same GVWR, but their curb weight is different. A diesel engine with 14 quarts of oil, a turbo, an intercooler, and all the other components can easily out weigh a big gas V8 by 1000 lbs. or more. This added weight is part of the curb weight and takes away from the available payload. Get the picture?
½ Ton Trucks
These trucks are light duty trucks. Their axles are smaller, frame is lighter, and brakes are smaller, so you really need to be conscious of how heavy your camper is if you choose a ½ ton truck. These trucks make a great platform for the weekend type camper or the minimalist traveling light.
Of all the ½ ton trucks available the F-150 is the only one we recommend for a complete camper build. The reason is simply the payload capacity. Depending on the options/package an F-150 can come with a whopping 3,270 lbs. capacity! That rivals many ¾ ton trucks out there. Click here for a link to Ford’s 2017 F-150 models and their payload capacities.
All of the other ½ ton trucks available have payload capacities in the 1000-1500 lbs. range. We can build a camper to fit these trucks but we have to limit water capacities, batteries, and all other heavier components. Even if we build an 1100 lbs. dry camper, with 2 passengers, food and water for a weekend, these trucks will be close to, if not over, their GVWR.
Here are links to spec’s and payloads for the other ½ ton trucks on the market:
3/4 Ton Trucks
All of these trucks are very capable of hauling one of our campers. We still need to keep the payload capacity in mind, but these trucks can handle a lot and we love them all!
Ford F250 – Payload: 3,390 – 4,200 lbs., click here for Ford’s chart.
Chevy 2500 – Payload: 3,094 – 3,409 lbs., click here for Chevy’s chart (within the site, click on capabilities and then trailing and payload capacity)
Dodge 2500 – Payload: 1,960 – 3,160 lbs., click here for Dodge’s chart.
All have pluses and minuses and come in different configurations (the different configurations change the amount of payload). In this category you will see people passionate about their truck brand. Some are true Ford people, others will never own anything but a Dodge, and then there are die hard Chevy people. Again, all great trucks and all have their strengths and weaknesses. As far as reliable engines and great interiors, they all have it. When pushed to admit it, we are a Dodge family. We love the Cummins engine. However we used to own a F350 and loved that truck too.
1 Ton Trucks
Watch out, these trucks are big and beefy! If you want it all, these are the trucks to start with. If you have 4,000-5,000 lbs. of payload available, we’d be hard pressed to max it out. Of course, there are quite a few slide-in truck campers made by other companies that will make these behemoths beg for mercy—so pay attention to loaded weight and GVWR!
Ford F350 – Payload: 3,141 – 7,630 lbs. Click here for Ford’s chart.
Chevy 3500 – Payload: 4,351 – 6,723 lbs. Click here for Chevy’s chart. (Within the site, click on the capabilities tab and then on trailing and payload capacity)
Dodge 3500 – Payload: 4,180 – 6,580. Click here for Dodge’s chart.
(Please note, always check the manufacturers websites for the most current information on payload capacity.)
Again, here at Bahn Camper Works we are happy to work with customers to help them find the best truck for their dream camper. Whether you want a weekend camper with just a bed and a few cabinets or a camper to take you all the way down to the tip of South America, we know we can help you find the right truck for your adventures.
Thanks for your time! Here’s to re-inventing the truck camper and making them light and safe.