Towing to Alaska: A rookie’s experience

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orin

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Disclaimer

As stated in the title, I’m a noob when it comes to towing. Before this move I’d probably towed 10 or 15 miles total in my life. So, this post isn’t about how you SHOULD do it, but rather how I DID do it. Hopefully it will be interesting to read, might help some people out, or might create a place where others can share their knowledge through comments.
The Mission
My wife and I decided to move to Alaska from southern Colorado. Instead of paying for a uHaul and all that we decided to buy a truck (something we’d been considering for some time) and a trailer and do it ourselves. Friends told us trailers sell pretty well in Alaska (mine did), so the hope was to recoup the trailer money and end up with a nice truck we can use for other adventures in the future.
The Truck
Budget
First, I had to find a truck and I faced what is probably every person’s biggest limiting factor; budget. I wanted to spend $10,000 (okay you can stop laughing now!), realized $15,000 was more realistic after a bit of research, and knew my max was $17,000, which was all I had saved up. As anyone who owns a full-size truck already knows, they are expensive! As with any purchase I knew there would be compromises to stay within my budget, but what did I really NEED to get the job done?
Half ton vs Three-quarter ton
This was the first real question. We didn’t really know how much weight we would end up with. A little research on the internet suggested 2,000 pounds per bedroom giving us 4,000 pounds for our two bed apartment. That seemed as good a guideline as anything else we could come up with, so that’s what we used. I started crunching numbers based on a trailer or trailer/truck combination that could handle at least 4,000 pounds of payload and it became clear I wanted a ¾ ton truck.

My number crunching went like this. I started with an enclosed trailer that could handle a 4,000 pound payload. To get there required a dual axle trailer, the majority of which have a gross vehicle weight rating of 7,000 pounds. They say tongue weight should be 10-15% of gross weight, so on the high side 15% of a 7,000 pound trailer is 1,000 pounds of tongue weight. Tongue weight gets added to truck payload, so 1,000 pounds for the trailer tongue weight, two passengers at 350 pounds total, and 100 pounds for travel clothes, food, etc. and that’s just shy of 1,450 pounds. And that would be with nothing loaded in the bed! Finding a ½ ton truck with the payload wasn’t proving too easy, most I saw were sub-1,400 pounds, sometimes by quite a lot. Things might have been different with a $40-50k budget buying new, but my chances of scoring just the right ½ ton truck in my price range seemed slim to nil.

Now, I’m not saying it can’t be done in a ½ ton, I’m sure it has been done, but I’m a towing rookie and I wanted things to be easy. I also didn’t want to arrive in Alaska only to realize I had completely hammered my new (to me) truck. The surest way to get my desired payload was ¾ ton, which would actually put me well over the mark and give me some extra flexibility.
Powerplant
Diesel vs. gas was the question. Really this isn’t even a question, if you are doing a lot of towing or aren’t dealing with a cold climate…diesel all the way! But, other than this tow to Alaska I don’t foresee a lot of towing in my future. And while south central AK is nowhere near cold enough to write off a diesel I just didn’t want to deal with the complexities or the cost. So, I decided to go gas.

What kind of gas engine was just a function of my budget. In Colorado I couldn’t touch the newer Rams with the 6.4 L Hemi, so 5.7 L would have to do. I did look at Ford and I could swing the 6.2 L V8 or the older V10, but in the end I didn’t find anything I liked. I had some theories about efficiency and gas mileage, thinking maybe I’d do better with the smaller displacement engine, but I don’t think these held true in the end. How did I do? Read on (or scroll down) to find out!
My Truck
In the end I bought a 2009 Ram 2500 ST Quad Cab with the 5.7 L Hemi. It had been owned by a local county government and was in excellent condition with only 106,000 miles on it. I had to go to the top end of my price range, $17k, to get it. Being a totally stock ¾ ton with just a Quad Cab I had a big payload, 2,679 pounds. I knew that even after adding a camper shell and loading it with some of our stuff it would easily handle the weight of our trailer. And we’ll get to all the actual weights in a little bit…
The Trailer
Buying a trailer was simpler. I wanted an enclosed trailer and as stated above I wanted to have a 4,000 pound payload. Size wise, I looked at the volume of a 15’ U-Haul (recommended for 2 bedroom apartments) as a guideline. The U-Haul is 764 cu ft. and a 7x14 with a height of 6.5 feet is 637 cu ft. Add on the bed of the truck, plus space in the back row, and space in my wife’s Saturn Vue and I figured we’d be fine. I even considered trying to go smaller, 6x12 or 6x14, but in the end we found a good 7x14 and just went with that. Its 80 inch height wasn’t exactly ideal for towing, and we didn’t pack it to the hilt, but it all worked out. Actual payload for the trailer was 4,805 pounds, more than enough by our estimations.
Maintenance
The truck was in great shape but all the same I wanted to go through things a bit before making the 3,500 mile drive north. Going through the recommended maintenance I saw that there were two big items due right around the truck’s current age/mileage; coolant flush and transmission oil. Besides being due these seemed like pretty good things to have in tip top shape when thinking about towing long distance. So, I drained and refilled the coolant (didn’t flush since the coolant looked brand new and there was no rust or anything) and changed the transmission oil and filters. I also bought tow mirrors and installed those. Had to replace the brake controller as it no longer functioned. And finally, the truck needed new tires and an oil change just before leaving.

On the trailer I thought about jacking it up to adjust the brakes and check the wheel bearings. Kind of fell through the cracks and while I had no big issues I kind of wish I had gone ahead and done it as it would have been easy enough.
Loading the Trailer
Now we get down to the good stuff!! They say the general guideline for loading a trailer is that 60% of your weight goes ahead of the axle(s) centerline and 40% goes behind. This is presumably going to give you the proper 10-15% tongue weight. Since we didn’t really want to re-pack the trailer if things came out wonky we decided to weigh our boxes and track our packing in a simple spreadsheet. I know, crazy, but still less work than repacking an entire trailer! Some of the furniture we couldn’t really weigh, so we estimated it best we could. In the end this method worked pretty well, when we weighed the trailer (a process I’ll describe in detail below) we came out with a gross weight of 6,280 pounds (well shy of the 7,000 allowed) and a tongue weight of 920 pounds, or 14.6%.
Weight Distribution Hitch
This was another item I went back and forth on. I knew it would be mandatory with a ½ ton truck and initially I thought that I would go without it on a ¾ ton. And while I read that some owner’s manuals require one when over 5,000 pounds I didn’t see that anywhere in mine. All the same, I decided to go ahead and get one to make the towing experience safer and more enjoyable. I went with a friction style model without chains, the Fastway e2, which provides sway control and weigh distribution all in one unit. I have to say I was really pleased with the way it performed. Again, keep in mind I have little towing experience without one and can’t really compare the two options fairly, but all the same I think it was a good choice for me.

One issue I ran into was selecting the proper weight rating for the hitch. I ended up with a hitch rated to 8,000 pounds gross weight and 800 pounds tongue weight. Confusingly, the hitch manual stated that the tongue weight of the trailer should be, you guessed it, 10-15% of the gross weight. If you do the math you can see that at only 10% tongue weight the hitch seems to be pushed right up to its max. After carefully thinking about things I realized they must mean that the tongue weight of the trailer should be 10-15% WIHTOUT weight distribution, but when the trailer is on the truck WITH the weight distribution engaged tongue weight should be 800 pounds max. I wasn’t sure if that would actually work out, but in a moment when we do the numbers you’ll see it does.

Also, a note on the hitch’s adjustable shank. I bought my hitch used and it had the standard length adjustable shank which provides a 2.5 inch drop. I could see right away that it wasn’t enough for the empty trailer, but I thought maybe once the back end of the truck squatted with a heavier load it could be okay. However, when I read through the hitch instruction manual it recommended that as a starting point the truck’s hitch ball height should match the trailer’s coupler height with a level trailer. Doing the math I was amazed to see just how much drop I needed! I talked things through with Fastway and in the end I bought the biggest adjustable shank they make, an 8.5 inch drop. I was a little concerned that after loading some stuff in the bed the rear end of the truck might squat and change things, but that didn’t end up being an issue and I ran the hitch in its lowest position.
 
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orin

orin

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(Part 2)
The Weight

I’m not going to explain all the weight terminology, but you can find plenty of info on that elsewhere on the web if you need it. My goal with the weights was to ensure that I was within the gross weight limit of the truck, the gross weight limit of the trailer, the gross combined weight of the entire rig, and finally to see if the weight distribution hitch was doing its job of putting weight back on the trailer axle and front axle of the truck.

I used the Weigh My Truck app from CAT scales and here’s how I did my weights. First, I pulled on to the scales with my entire rig. This gave me a weight for the front truck axle, the rear truck axle, the trailer axles, and the entire rig. Next, I pulled forward and put the tongue jack on the first scale plate and the trailer axle on the second scale plate. I disconnected the truck from the trailer and pulled the truck clear of the scale. This weigh gave me the tongue weight and the gross weight of the trailer. Finally, I moved the trailer off the scales, disconnected it, and ran my truck through alone to get a baseline weight for the front and rear axles. I wish I could have done my empty truck too, but there were no scales near my home in Pagosa.

Here are the weights I got, hopefully organized in a way that makes sense. I’ve started with the limits, then given the truck or trailer alone, and finally the combined weights. All combined weights are with weight distribution engaged.

Truck Front Axle
Limit:
5200 lbs. Loaded Truck: 3640 lbs. Truck and Trailer: 3600 lbs.

Truck Rear Axle
Limit:
6000 lbs. Loaded Truck: 3440 lbs. Truck and Trailer: 4040 lbs.

Truck Gross Weight
Limit:
8800 lbs. Loaded Truck: 7080 lbs. Truck and Trailer: 7640 lbs.

Trailer
Limit:
7000 lbs. Trailer Axles Alone: 5360 lbs. Trailer Axles with Truck: 5740 lbs.
Tongue Weight: 920 lbs. Trailer Gross Weight: 6280 lbs. Tongue Percentage: 14.6%

Combined Gross Weight
Limit:
15,000 lbs. Actual: 13,380 lbs.

Now, I could really geek out on these numbers, but let me just point out what I consider the most important facts. First, note that everything is well within the limits. That’s nice! Second, note that with the weight distribution I’ve only “lost” 40 pounds off my front axle. I’ll explain the weight distribution in a bit more detail next.

With the trailer on the truck and the weight distribution engaged the rear axle of the truck was 600 pounds heavier. 40 pounds of that came from the front axle, which means 560 pounds came from the trailer tongue. The trailer axles gained 380 pounds, which also comes from the tongue weight. Now, if you add that up, 560 and 380, you’ll get to 940 pounds, 20 more than the actual tongue weight of trailer. Where does the extra 20 pounds come from? Wish I could say for sure, but I can only guess…regardless I was quite happy with the results. They confirmed that the trailer’s tongue weight was being distributed between the trailer axles and the rear axle of the truck and that I wasn’t loosing much on the front end.

Finally, remember my concern about the 800 pound tongue limit on the hitch? Well, note that the tongue weight with weight distribution engaged was only 560 pounds, even though the trailer’s tongue weight was 920 pounds. This confirms that even with a trailer tongue weight of 15% the hitch tongue weight was well within its 800 pound limit. I guess those engineers knew what they were doing!

The only other thing I wish I did was run the truck and trailer through without the weight distribution engaged. Could have added some more numbers to crunch for fun, however, I was pressed for time and I could see that I was well within all the limits I really cared about. The only adjustment I ended up making was moving a little weight from the front of the trailer to the back. I decided to do this to bring the trailer tongue weight closer to the middle of the 10-15% range and because I felt the trailer was riding a little nose low.
The Ride
Okay, we’ve explored the numbers and theories, but how did it ride? Well, again I have to admit my lack of experience, but I’d say it rode great. During the trip up we had all kinds of conditions; snow, ice, winds, windy roads, mountain driving, semis, etc. While I could certainly tell I was pulling a trailer I never felt like it was out of my control and that’s what I was looking for.
The Drive
Driving Style and Power
I suppose before talking gas mileage I should mention my driving style. I’m not a fast driver. That being said, there is no way I could even come close to the speed limits on the interstate anyway! Making my way north through Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana I might have passed one or two vehicles in total. Mostly I was happy if I could keep things moving between 55 and 65 and that was generally in the 2000 to 2500 RPM range. Definitely had my moments of going much slower on steep grades and occasionally I might even maintain 70 at about 2200 RPM on the flats.

In the end, I would say the 5.7 was a bit underpowered for my total combined weight and the driving environment (mountains). After my experience I think a more powerful (bigger) engine might have been more efficient at 60-65 MPH and probably would go faster too. I guess I could have revved it up quite a bit more to get 70 or 75 out of the truck, but I think that would have really killed the gas mileage and put extra stress on the engine.
Gas Mileage
So, what was the gas mileage? The best I got was 10.7, the worst was 7.8, and the average over the trip was 9.1 MPG. I had been hoping for 10 average, didn’t quite get there. I mentioned in Powerplant above that my original theory was that I would get better mileage with a smaller displacement V8 (5.7 vs 6.4 or 6.2 in a Ford). Now I’m pretty sure the 5.7 had to work so much harder, even at a moderate speed, that in the end it killed any efficiency gained from its small displacement.

This was loosely verified by a fella I talked to who has owned several of the 5.7 and 6.4 Rams for his company’s work trucks. He confirmed that the 6.4 gets slightly better mileage on average. Makes me wonder if Ford’s V10 (an option I had also considered) would have done comparably well even with the extra cylinders?
Tow/Haul Mode On vs Off?
Also relevant to gas mileage I suppose… After driving the first day with the Tow/Haul mode on I decided to try a day having it off. There it remained for the majority of the trip. Why? Well I simply liked the way it drove better. With Tow/Haul on it keeps the RPM high (presumably in the power band) and even going gently downhill it really liked to stay in lower gears. I personally liked having it drop into the O/D gear whenever possible. I had no issues with hunting or feeling like it was working harder with the Tow/Haul mode off either. The one place I did use it was for longer descents on steep grades. Other times I’d just manually shift down to 2nd gear.

How did it affect gas mileage? Seems like it should have been better with Tow/Haul off, but it didn’t seem to improve much. Wish I could give a better answer, but the conditions of the road and weather changed so much throughout the trip the mileage was never very predictable anyway. For this reason, I don’t think I can make a fair comparison.
One Snafu
If you made it this far…good for you! I thought I’d have some major takeaways but other than what is sprinkled throughout the text I really do not. I did have one major snafu that in reality could have been a hundred times worse. About an hour out of Fort Nelson I pulled over at a rest stop (which are really just pull offs for most of the route), got out of the truck, and immediately heard air coming from one of the trailer tires. Must have run something over pulling in…no worries, I have a spare.

The day was early, figured we’d have the spare on in 30 minutes, hit Fort Nelson early enough to get it repaired, and then be on the road in the morning as planned. All was going smooth until I went to mount the spare and realized the lug pattern on the wheel didn’t match the axle!! That was disappointing. It was a brand new spare that was purchased with the trailer from the dealer by the previous owner. They must have grabbed the wrong one and without holding it up to the axle or measuring you’d definitely never know it wasn’t a match.

After a few cuss words we loaded the tire in my wife’s Saturn and drove it to Fort Nelson to be patched. Then we drove it back out to the truck and trailer, mounted it up, and went back to town. Cost us a couple hours, but could have been much worse. I hoped they would have a spare to swap with me, but no luck. From Fort Nelson the route gets much more remote, not something I really wanted to tackle with no spare. The tire guys had a good suggestion though, just pick up a small 12V air compressor and tire patch kit from Napa. So that became the backup and thankfully it wasn’t needed for the rest of the trip.

Well, that was my trip. Thanks to all those that gave me advice and I’m happy to say other than my flat it was pretty uneventful. Safe travels out there!
 

MADDOG

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Great writeup. Thanks for taking the time to put it together.
 

Smokeybear01

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Thanks for that. I've been hauling stuff all my life (grew up in a farm community) and just when you think you're prepared for anything, the unusual and unexpected happens. Glad you had a safe trip.
 

KalboKalbs

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Wow! Thanks for sharing all of the details.

After I post this reply, heading out to verify the spare on my trailer, fits correctly.
 

JohnnyMac

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Sounds like quite the adventure. Nice write up. I've towed up and down the Alcan a few times. The least entertaining trip was with my 2000 QC Dodge 1500 5.9 Magnum 4x4. I towed a 23' Duckworth Magnum jetboat that was loaded full of stuff and also acted as my camper on my trip up.... I averaged about 6 mpg and between the elevation and grade, I was down into 2nd gear quite a bit just to keep moving forward.... It was a long trip to say the least.
 

aces-n-eights

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Great write-up! We've done the Alaska Highway several times some with a trailer, some without. Well done approaching the trip from an analytical standpoint. Enjoy Alaska! We spent 11 years on the Kenai Peninsula - loved our time there.

I thought the borders were closed. How did border crossings work out?
 

NorthStar1

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Having been a lifelong Alaskan who has made the trip several times in my life, I strongly recommend picking up a copy of the Alaska Milepost you can see the gas stations, hours, etc., along the way. They can be few and far between on some of the stretches and I can't tell you the number of times I've stopped to help a "lower 48er" out who ran out of fuel.

https://www.amazon.com/MILEPOST-2020-Alaska-Travel-Planner/dp/1892154390
 

dhay13

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Great write up and very informative. My son had minimal towing experience and due to work had to stay in camper for extended periods. The first few sites were only a few hours away and he wasn't allowed to tow with a company truck so i towed it for him. His boss called him one day and told him he had to be in Watford City, ND the following week for a few months. He asked about getting his camper there and was told to figure it out. So I went and found him a 2018 2500 6.4 with 4.10's identical to mine. He bought it on a Saturday night then towed his 25' 8000lb camper home the following Saturday then left Sunday morning for the1500 mile trip to ND. He had only towed a few times prior to that so all new to him too. He made the trip in 2.5 days sleeping in the camper on the way. Truck performed flawlessly and he averaged about 9MPG overall.

I have a theory about your tongue weight discrepancy. You weighed it with the weight on the jack. The jack is about 1' or so behind the tongue so would be slightly less weight than the actual tongue. When I weighed my boat I weighed the truck itself then hooked the trailer back up and weighed the truck again with the trailer tires off the scale. The difference between the 2 was my tongue weight. FWIW my 2018 2500 6.4 CC 4x4 (pretty well loaded) weighed 7200 with me in it and 1/2 tank of fuel (I weigh about 270). The boat/trailer combo with empty tanks was about 8700lbs. (I have a 75 gallon fuel tank, 30 gallon fresh water tank and 30 gallon black tank). My tongue weight was about 850 (boats have less tongue weight due to engine location). My hitch was set as low as it could go and was a little to high so I bought a new 4" drop this spring. It's about 2-3" lower than the old one so I would have slightly more tongue weight now. Plan to re-weigh when I get a chance but both my boat and my son's camper tow like a dream with these 2500's.
 

MikeT

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great write up and quite an adventure. I don't think you would have done better on mileage with the Ford v10. I had one in a 40' motor-home that I drove when we moved from Minnesota to Arizona back in 2006. I pulled a Jeep wrangler with the motor-home and it averaged about 6mpg for the entire trip. The motor-home itself rarely got more than 8mpg the entire time we owned it. Thanks for the write up.

Mike
 

rule18

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@orin Really great write-up. I spent years pulling all kinds of loads all over the place and have seen some people doing crazy stuff, good on you for putting in the time to do it right!

Now the big question, are you an Engineer, Architect, Pilot, Educator??
 

pajeepman

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Good write up.

As said I also don't think you would have done better MPG wise with a Ford V10. We have 2 F-450 with v10's. Empty weight is 8,000. I once got 10 MPG empty, usually 8. They are geared lower than a 250 would be but I think you would have gotten worse, certainly no better.
You had a pretty uneventful trip, that's a good thing.
I went on a trip with a guy and his camper, got a flat, he couldn't figure out why the spare wouldn't fit. Took me a few seconds to figure out it had the wrong bolt pattern also. Stuff happens.
Did you break even (or better)selling the trailer?


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orin

orin

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Great write-up! We've done the Alaska Highway several times some with a trailer, some without. Well done approaching the trip from an analytical standpoint. Enjoy Alaska! We spent 11 years on the Kenai Peninsula - loved our time there.

I thought the borders were closed. How did border crossings work out?

The borders are closed for "non-essential" traffic and we were also concerned about crossing. Our move had been set in motion well before the whole COVID thing started. We had lined up our place in Anchorage in February (for an April move-in) and already committed to moving out of our place in Colorado by the end of March. The border shutdown occurred right before our planned departure from Colorado, not great timing! Nonetheless, we figured that our move to our new home would be considered "essential" and thankfully there was no issue crossing the border.
 
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orin

orin

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Having been a lifelong Alaskan who has made the trip several times in my life, I strongly recommend picking up a copy of the Alaska Milepost you can see the gas stations, hours, etc., along the way. They can be few and far between on some of the stretches and I can't tell you the number of times I've stopped to help a "lower 48er" out who ran out of fuel.

https://www.amazon.com/MILEPOST-2020-Alaska-Travel-Planner/dp/1892154390


Yes, the Milepost is a great resource! We brought a few gas jerrys "just in case," especially considering the low gas mileage while towing. Thankfully we didn't need them, but it feels good knowing you've got the option.
 
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orin

orin

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I have a theory about your tongue weight discrepancy. You weighed it with the weight on the jack. The jack is about 1' or so behind the tongue so would be slightly less weight than the actual tongue.

Yes, this seems plausible to me too. Thank you for the insight!! Glad you enjoyed the post.
 
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orin

orin

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Good write up.
Did you break even (or better)selling the trailer?

We made a bit selling the trailer and true to the assertions of many it did sell quick. Interestingly to a fellow moving back down to Texas, which is where the trailer was originally purchased!

I was happy to see we were able to cover all the costs of the trailer; purchase, registration, the weight distribution hitch, the new brake controller, etc. and even had a bit left over. Not a real money maker, but in the end we accomplished exactly what we wanted; spending money buying a truck instead of renting a uHaul.
 

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(Part 2)
The Weight

I’m not going to explain all the weight terminology, but you can find plenty of info on that elsewhere on the web if you need it. My goal with the weights was to ensure that I was within the gross weight limit of the truck, the gross weight limit of the trailer, the gross combined weight of the entire rig, and finally to see if the weight distribution hitch was doing its job of putting weight back on the trailer axle and front axle of the truck.

I used the Weigh My Truck app from CAT scales and here’s how I did my weights. First, I pulled on to the scales with my entire rig. This gave me a weight for the front truck axle, the rear truck axle, the trailer axles, and the entire rig. Next, I pulled forward and put the tongue jack on the first scale plate and the trailer axle on the second scale plate. I disconnected the truck from the trailer and pulled the truck clear of the scale. This weigh gave me the tongue weight and the gross weight of the trailer. Finally, I moved the trailer off the scales, disconnected it, and ran my truck through alone to get a baseline weight for the front and rear axles. I wish I could have done my empty truck too, but there were no scales near my home in Pagosa.

Here are the weights I got, hopefully organized in a way that makes sense. I’ve started with the limits, then given the truck or trailer alone, and finally the combined weights. All combined weights are with weight distribution engaged.

Truck Front Axle
Limit:
5200 lbs. Loaded Truck: 3640 lbs. Truck and Trailer: 3600 lbs.

Truck Rear Axle
Limit:
6000 lbs. Loaded Truck: 3440 lbs. Truck and Trailer: 4040 lbs.

Truck Gross Weight
Limit:
8800 lbs. Loaded Truck: 7080 lbs. Truck and Trailer: 7640 lbs.

Trailer
Limit:
7000 lbs. Trailer Axles Alone: 5360 lbs. Trailer Axles with Truck: 5740 lbs.
Tongue Weight: 920 lbs. Trailer Gross Weight: 6280 lbs. Tongue Percentage: 14.6%

Combined Gross Weight
Limit:
15,000 lbs. Actual: 13,380 lbs.

Now, I could really geek out on these numbers, but let me just point out what I consider the most important facts. First, note that everything is well within the limits. That’s nice! Second, note that with the weight distribution I’ve only “lost” 40 pounds off my front axle. I’ll explain the weight distribution in a bit more detail next.

With the trailer on the truck and the weight distribution engaged the rear axle of the truck was 600 pounds heavier. 40 pounds of that came from the front axle, which means 560 pounds came from the trailer tongue. The trailer axles gained 380 pounds, which also comes from the tongue weight. Now, if you add that up, 560 and 380, you’ll get to 940 pounds, 20 more than the actual tongue weight of trailer. Where does the extra 20 pounds come from? Wish I could say for sure, but I can only guess…regardless I was quite happy with the results. They confirmed that the trailer’s tongue weight was being distributed between the trailer axles and the rear axle of the truck and that I wasn’t loosing much on the front end.

Finally, remember my concern about the 800 pound tongue limit on the hitch? Well, note that the tongue weight with weight distribution engaged was only 560 pounds, even though the trailer’s tongue weight was 920 pounds. This confirms that even with a trailer tongue weight of 15% the hitch tongue weight was well within its 800 pound limit. I guess those engineers knew what they were doing!

The only other thing I wish I did was run the truck and trailer through without the weight distribution engaged. Could have added some more numbers to crunch for fun, however, I was pressed for time and I could see that I was well within all the limits I really cared about. The only adjustment I ended up making was moving a little weight from the front of the trailer to the back. I decided to do this to bring the trailer tongue weight closer to the middle of the 10-15% range and because I felt the trailer was riding a little nose low.
The Ride
Okay, we’ve explored the numbers and theories, but how did it ride? Well, again I have to admit my lack of experience, but I’d say it rode great. During the trip up we had all kinds of conditions; snow, ice, winds, windy roads, mountain driving, semis, etc. While I could certainly tell I was pulling a trailer I never felt like it was out of my control and that’s what I was looking for.
The Drive
Driving Style and Power
I suppose before talking gas mileage I should mention my driving style. I’m not a fast driver. That being said, there is no way I could even come close to the speed limits on the interstate anyway! Making my way north through Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana I might have passed one or two vehicles in total. Mostly I was happy if I could keep things moving between 55 and 65 and that was generally in the 2000 to 2500 RPM range. Definitely had my moments of going much slower on steep grades and occasionally I might even maintain 70 at about 2200 RPM on the flats.

In the end, I would say the 5.7 was a bit underpowered for my total combined weight and the driving environment (mountains). After my experience I think a more powerful (bigger) engine might have been more efficient at 60-65 MPH and probably would go faster too. I guess I could have revved it up quite a bit more to get 70 or 75 out of the truck, but I think that would have really killed the gas mileage and put extra stress on the engine.
Gas Mileage
So, what was the gas mileage? The best I got was 10.7, the worst was 7.8, and the average over the trip was 9.1 MPG. I had been hoping for 10 average, didn’t quite get there. I mentioned in Powerplant above that my original theory was that I would get better mileage with a smaller displacement V8 (5.7 vs 6.4 or 6.2 in a Ford). Now I’m pretty sure the 5.7 had to work so much harder, even at a moderate speed, that in the end it killed any efficiency gained from its small displacement.

This was loosely verified by a fella I talked to who has owned several of the 5.7 and 6.4 Rams for his company’s work trucks. He confirmed that the 6.4 gets slightly better mileage on average. Makes me wonder if Ford’s V10 (an option I had also considered) would have done comparably well even with the extra cylinders?
Tow/Haul Mode On vs Off?
Also relevant to gas mileage I suppose… After driving the first day with the Tow/Haul mode on I decided to try a day having it off. There it remained for the majority of the trip. Why? Well I simply liked the way it drove better. With Tow/Haul on it keeps the RPM high (presumably in the power band) and even going gently downhill it really liked to stay in lower gears. I personally liked having it drop into the O/D gear whenever possible. I had no issues with hunting or feeling like it was working harder with the Tow/Haul mode off either. The one place I did use it was for longer descents on steep grades. Other times I’d just manually shift down to 2nd gear.

How did it affect gas mileage? Seems like it should have been better with Tow/Haul off, but it didn’t seem to improve much. Wish I could give a better answer, but the conditions of the road and weather changed so much throughout the trip the mileage was never very predictable anyway. For this reason, I don’t think I can make a fair comparison.
One Snafu
If you made it this far…good for you! I thought I’d have some major takeaways but other than what is sprinkled throughout the text I really do not. I did have one major snafu that in reality could have been a hundred times worse. About an hour out of Fort Nelson I pulled over at a rest stop (which are really just pull offs for most of the route), got out of the truck, and immediately heard air coming from one of the trailer tires. Must have run something over pulling in…no worries, I have a spare.

The day was early, figured we’d have the spare on in 30 minutes, hit Fort Nelson early enough to get it repaired, and then be on the road in the morning as planned. All was going smooth until I went to mount the spare and realized the lug pattern on the wheel didn’t match the axle!! That was disappointing. It was a brand new spare that was purchased with the trailer from the dealer by the previous owner. They must have grabbed the wrong one and without holding it up to the axle or measuring you’d definitely never know it wasn’t a match.

After a few cuss words we loaded the tire in my wife’s Saturn and drove it to Fort Nelson to be patched. Then we drove it back out to the truck and trailer, mounted it up, and went back to town. Cost us a couple hours, but could have been much worse. I hoped they would have a spare to swap with me, but no luck. From Fort Nelson the route gets much more remote, not something I really wanted to tackle with no spare. The tire guys had a good suggestion though, just pick up a small 12V air compressor and tire patch kit from Napa. So that became the backup and thankfully it wasn’t needed for the rest of the trip.

Well, that was my trip. Thanks to all those that gave me advice and I’m happy to say other than my flat it was pretty uneventful. Safe travels out there!
Always wanted to move to Alaska, but never happened. What are you going to be doing there?
 

Smokeybear01

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Ram Year
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Always wanted to move to Alaska, but never happened. What are you going to be doing there?
Maybe you should be asking what he 'did' there? Just pulling your leg. Did you notice the date of the last posting?
 
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