Lightweight Travel Trailer Purchase

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kbfeip

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Discovery Bay, CA
Hey'all -- from a newbie!

We currently own a 1988 Fleetwood Pace Arrow 34L with 83k miles on the clock.  Beautiful rig, with installed options like headers, hydraulic jacks, Gear Vendor over/under drive, 7KW Kohler, new paint with custom graphics to match the boat....etc.  Problem is, I'm constantly fixin' things.  It was fun to tinker for awhile (several years actually) but now we're thing its time for a change.  We now tow a 20" boat which puts us at almost 60', so I have some experience with length.

We recently purchased a 2006 Dodge Ram 1500 Quad Cab Hemi with 20" OEM wheels, 3.92 axel, and short bed.  I originally bought it as simply a street truck, but am now considering it as a tow vehicle.  The thought of not having to maintain a separate power train in the motorhome is appealing, and it seems that we can get a whole lot of living space in a new lightweight travel trailer. 

Okay, now for the details:  The tow rating on the truck is 7600 lbs.  We're in negotiations at the moment for a 2006 Z 303 30" Zeppelin TT.  The only delay is that we're trying to determine how much the dealer will pay me to drive their new TT off the lot.  ;D

Dry weight on the trailer is 5125 lbs. with options installed.  This leaves 2475 for cargo and passengers.  The truck has a 12000 lb. hitch if used with weight distribution system, as well as a tow setting on the automatic transmission.

Is anyone familiar with this exact setup on the Dodge Ram, and does it provide enough reserve capacity for the more experienced here? 

Does anyone have any cautions to offer up on the Zeppelin brand?

Are there opinions as to what my towing experience might be like with the Dodge TV vs. my old rig and the boat?

When we go to the lake, (2hrs away) we'd just pull the boat up with a separate TV.
 

Lowell

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I have a 2005 Dodge 1500 set up just as yours and pull a Cherokee light 28 ft TT.  The loaded actual weight of my TT wet is 6120 lbs.  I have been very pleased with the trucks performance and get between 10 and 12 mpg pulling the TT in the tow/haul mode.  I have pulled the TT through mountain passes in Colorado over 11000 ft altitude and the truck handled the TT fine both uphill and downhill.  Others may tell you you will need a 3/4 ton but if you drive sensibly, stay within your truck's capability and weight ratings, you will do fine with your Dodge 1500.
 

Carl L

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Okay, now for the details:  The tow rating on the truck is 7600 lbs.  We're in negotiations at the moment for a 2006 Z 303 30" Zeppelin TT.  The only delay is that we're trying to determine how much the dealer will pay me to drive their new TT off the lot. 

Dry weight on the trailer is 5125 lbs. with options installed.  This leaves 2475 for cargo and passengers.  The truck has a 12000 lb. hitch if used with weight distribution system, as well as a tow setting on the automatic transmission.

OK the Hemi is the 5.7L V8.  I will assume that that you have a Quad Cab, and 2wd.  Trailer life gives a you a tow rating of  7,650 with the 20" wheels.
Your trailer evidently has a gross vehicle weight rating of 7600 lbs based on the numbers you give.

...does it provide enough reserve capacity for the more experienced here? 

Going by the numbers, no.  I like a bit of slack in evaluating tow capacity -- say 10%.  You have less than 1%.  Moreover, if you plan any towing in the mountain or Pacific west, you should definitely allow 20% for altitudes and long long up and down grades.  A normally aspirated engine loses 3% of its HP per 1000 foot elevation.  There are plenty of 7000 foot interstate passes with 6-8% grades in the west. 

So what does that mean in evaluating trailer for the west?  It means you should take a 20% discount on your tow rating, makiing it 6120 lbs.  Keep your trailer GVWR to a number of 6120 lbs. or less.  That is a trailer like Lowell seems to be pulling.  Go with his experience.  You will be a happier RVer.

 

kbfeip

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Two opinions, pretty much directly opposed.  I appreciate the perspective.

For further perspective, keep in mind that I'm use to going slow.  With a 34 foot Class A powered by a 454 chevy and towing 3000 lbs of boat, even with headers and the gear splitter ya gotta keep the RPM's in the power range and still you often drop to 40 mph, or even less.  This rig is likely right at or past its load capacity, as are almost all class A rigs of this vintage.

The Hemi has 345 HP @ 4400 rpm, and 375 lb. ft. of torque at 3500 rpm, and the truck locks out OD in Tow/Haul as Lowell refers to.  I'm more concerned with stopping power than pulling power, and the trailer has 4) 10" brakes.  All of our trips over the past several years havel been within 4 hours driving time from home.  Either out to the coast of Northern California, or up to Lake Berryessa, maybe down to Pismo beach on rare occasion, and the Cuesta Grade is the only real challenge on that trip.

I do appreciate the conservative perspective though...I really do.  But given the experience I've got driving 60 ft. of overloaded (and somewhat antiquated) Class A rig and boat, and the fact that I can steal this trailer at wholesale cost, I'm probably gonna gamble a bit with the 20% margin.  Another way to look at it is that I've only got a trailer with about 1000 lbs. of cargo capacity.  So I dump tanks before the drive home...which I always do anyway.

In checking the trailer brochure more closely, the listed dry weight is 4800 lbs., cargo capacity is 2200 lbs., and hitch weight is 630 lbs.  Seems this gives me a margin of 9.2%...feels okay for the driving we do.

After I try out the trailer and tow rig package, If it feels underpowered, well then...I guess the only thing to do is to trade up to a 3/4 ton Cummins!   ;)





 

Carl L

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Two opinions, pretty much directly opposed.  I appreciate the perspective

Actually not opposed at all.  Lowell is towing a trailer with a weight quite appropriate to the calculations I gave.  His experience with the actual hemi confirms the approach I took.  An actual as loaded for travel scaled weight always trumps a GVWR.  The GVWR is useful as a way to estimate the towability of a given trailer prior to owning it.  If you own it, weigh it and work with the actual numbers.

Take Lowell's advice and go lighter.
 

kbfeip

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Okay...Okay...UNCLE!

The remedy might be to step down two sizes to the model Z 291.  Z 291 has a dry wt @ 4520 lbs & cargo cap @ 1920, Hitch @ 440lbs.  We like this floor plan, but I can only locate a 2007 model vs. the Z 303 in a 2006 model at $17,700 OTD!  I'll see what I can negotiate on the 07  292.

I'm price motivated, and it drives my decisions.  I'm searching for a 2006 model Z 291, but if I can't locate at the right price point, I may consider the larger unit still. 

 

kbfeip

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Discovery Bay, CA
Another thought:

Without discounting the 20% margin, and resulting calculations, I wonder if Lowell has some perspective that he can add as to how much margin he "feels" exists over and above his 6120 wet weight measurement?
 

Gary RV_Wizard

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With your 7600 lb tow capacity, and a 5125 dry weight on the trailer you like, the question becomes one of the actual load you will add.  You could quite likely come in around the same 6100 lbs that Lowell tows, apparently quite successfully. And by Carl's estimate (which I agree with), the truck should tow 6100 lbs nicely because it is in the desired 10-20% under the max.  So the issue for you is to accurately estimate the loaded weight of that trailer. It's all too easy to convince yourself that you will never get up to the full 7600 lb trailer GVWR, so be cautious in your estimates and be honest with yourself.  Drag out the gear you will carry and weigh as much of it as you can. Figure it out as best you can and add 30-50% fudge factor, cause you don't want to be wrong! And don't forget the stuff you load into the truck, including passengers, trailer hitch, water sports gear, etc. It all has to be counted somewhere, cause the tow rating assumes an empty truck (driver and fuel only).

Given that you appear to be [mostly? always?] weekending, you likely will stay below the max, so the question is how far?

 

kbfeip

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Discovery Bay, CA
Thanks for your perspective...this sounds very reasonable. 

In addition to careful loading, it seems that I can reduce the required 20% margin advised if towing on relatively flat terrain as opposed to a mountain destination.  Since we're usually weekenders as you point out, I think that we can accomplish this.  If we go to the lake for a week, we'll be taking along a separate tow vehicle anyway, so more cargo can be loaded into that vehicle if needed, as well as division of passengers.  I understand that in the real world, a rushed schedule can cause us to be careless.  We'll just have to monitor the issue carefully.

Help me understand the margin issue better though.  Is it just engine output we're discussing here?  Is the end result just a few more minutes to arrive at our desination due to slower climbing speeds, or are we concerned specifically about braking power, hitch weight, suspension, or other?  None of these items seem to be a concern with even the largest model I've described above.  It it just means we slow down a bit...I'm okay with that.

I'd love to hear from any others pulling heavy loads with the 5.7 Hemi.



 

Lowell

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kbfeip,

When pulling my TT I generally drive about 60 MPH. At that speed in tow/haul mode the engine turns about 1900 RPM on flat terrain.  When climbing a 6% grade I like to keep the RPMs under 3500, so I take it easy and at that may slow down to 40-45 MPH or less.  My actual combined gross weight, (loaded trailer and truck) is 12,100 lbs.  Some maintenance considerations to keep in mind is to change the front(4x4) and rear  end lubricant every 15,000 miles and the transmission fluid every 30,000 miles per the owners manual.  I may change my transission fluid earlier just to be on the safe side. I live in Arizona and some of my towing has occured at ambient temperatures above 100 degrees. When ambient temperatures are high, I try to slow down a bit more on climbs and watch my gauges closely.  I have 17,000+ miles on my 2005 Dodge 1500 quad cab 4X4 hemi, 3.92, 20 ' tires. 4,940 miles of the 17,000 have been towing the TT.  About the only thing I would do different on this truck is to get tougher tires.  I had two tires puncture on a back road in the national forest at the same time.  The tires I have are good pavement tires, not good off road tires.
As Carl and others have said, it's best not to take your tow vehicle up to its maximum rating.  I suspect the towing pleasure is directly proportional to the towing margin one has between the tow vehicles capability and the trailer weight.  Good Luck.
Lowell
 

Carl L

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Help me understand the margin issue better though.  Is it just engine output we're discussing here?  Is the end result just a few more minutes to arrive at our desination due to slower climbing speeds, or are we concerned specifically about braking power, hitch weight, suspension, or other?  None of these items seem to be a concern with even the largest model I've described above.  It it just means we slow down a bit...I'm okay with that.

No, not just engine output.  Brakes are in there too.   Tho trailers have their own electric brakes, your truck's brakes will take a beating towing.  That is especially true in the West.   Lookout Pass in Idaho on I-90 has some 15 miles of 6-8% descent going west.  The Grape Vine on I-5 north of LA has about 5 miles of 6% going north.   Gearing down and using engine brake eases the situation but you really do want good chasiss brakes too.

Transmissions are in there too.  Towing strains the hell out of them.   Lowell changes his fluid on a 15K basis.  I have it changed by power flush annually at the start of each towing season -- regardless of mileage.   Finally there is the matter of suspensions.   If your truck cannot handle the tongue/pin weight of the trailer and the lateral forces it places on the tow vehicle, you will have an unstable truck-trailer combination.
 

kbfeip

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Sooo...as long as I avoid these steep grades, or load up with a maximum of about 1100 lbs cargo & fluids, I'm within the margin the conservatives like to see.  ;)

Here's a few more thoughts:  The Dodge website lists a maximum tow capacity on the 2006 1500 Quad Cab Hemi 4X2 with 3.92:1 axel ratio at 8750 lbs.  When you add the OEM 20" wheels such as I have, it derates towing to 7650, a reduction of 1100 lbs.  I can understand the concept of effective gear ratio, or the torque multiplication of the engine output factored by axel ratio and tire diameter.  In other words, the larger tire diameter has the same effect of a taller gear ratio (lower numerically) which multiplies the engine torque fewer times.

What I don't get is whether the Diemler Chrysler folks are calculating that tow rating due to limitations in the engine output, or the rear axel.  I've emailed them to see what I can learn.

Even more perspective:  I have two trailer choices, and I've located both at the same dealer, both are 2006 closeouts, both are an absolute steal at wholesale dealer cost less factory rebates.  The 303 model and the 291 model, both are acceptable.  The smaller of the two weighs 280 lbs. dry weight less than the larger, and is 2.5 ft. shorter.

Perspective is everything:  From the experienced out there, will I notice the difference in the drivers seat between the two?  If so, in what way?

 

Carl L

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Sooo...as long as I avoid these steep grades, or load up with a maximum of about 1100 lbs cargo & fluids, I'm within the margin the conservatives like to see.   

Actually if you never come west of the Mississippi, who cares.  However, if you do be very careful about leaving I-10 because that is the only low altitude, flat land route west.  Kiss off I-15, 17, 40, 5, 80, 90, and ....  have I forgotten anything folks?
 

Gary RV_Wizard

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What I don't get is whether the Diemler Chrysler folks are calculating that tow rating due to limitations in the engine output, or the rear axel.  I've emailed them to see what I can learn.

It's difficult to know and they probably won't tell you their entire engineering assessment. It may have been done very scientifically for your specific model, but more likelyit has been derived from their "corporate experience" with other, similar, models over the years. Generally there will be one weak link somewhere in the system and this will dictate the max number. Sometimes it's the tranny, sometimes the brakes, or cooling or whatever. You may not run afoul of the weak link in your particular usage, but Chrysler has no way to predict where or how you will drive, so they have to go with the worst case scenario.  And chances are excellent that you will change your usage over time, perhaps deciding to take the family to Yellowstone now that you have that shiny new truck & trailer that drives so nice. 

As far as our conservative margins are concerned, I would say that brakes and transmissions are the primary reason for staying under the max limits.  Engines are not really the issue, since you can always go slower. However, an underpowered rig will work its transmission and colling system harder to make up for it and also may tempt the driver into running faster downhill to help get up that next grade. That may be OK in rolling hills but is a recipe for disaster in the mountains, east or west.

From my perspective, the fact that you are obviously very concerned about this question and are doing your homework on the numbers tells me you probably will not exceed the limits of the truck and will be cautious when you come to the inevitable long downgrade or twisty road. As long as you remain aware of the limits and the fact that you may be nearing them, you will probably do fine. It's the folks who are oblivious that get into trouble.
 

kbfeip

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Discovery Bay, CA
Thanks!

More perspective:  Maybe I should try to determine exactly what the difference is between a 2006 Dodge Ram 1500 and 2500 with a Hemi engine?  I suspect that the transmissions are the same.  I do recall that one differnece is that the 1500 has independent front suspension, and the 2500 has a straight axel.

Hmmm.....  Gotta be someone out there that knows this....
 

kbfeip

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More perspective:

We just returned home after our maiden voyage.  I have to admit that I was a bit concerned about the handling of the tow vehicle and trailer pulling from French Camp Ca. to Lodi.  We had very heavy winds, and the side gusts translated motion to the truck which could be felt.  Not excessive, but enough to know I didn't like it.  I kept thinking, Oh my God, Carl was right!  :D

Well today was a different story altogether.  We pulled to about 2500 ft. level just outside of Plymouth.  Across Hwy 12, Up Hwy 88 to Ione, up 49, etc.  There are a couple of pretty good grades, and boy was I impressed with the power of the Dodge Hemi engine!  Not once did I exceed 3000 rpm, and the rig stayed at 55 mph without strain.  I still has one lower gear to go that never got used, and the truck would accelerate uphill easily. 

Brakes are great too.  With the trailer brakes, we felt absolutely confident.

The only adjustments I may make is in terms of the Equalizer hitch settings.  I'm curious about what transferring weight on the axles of the truck might do for ride quality.

Coming from a 1988 Class A 34 L, we couldn't be happier.  We now sit back in a cushy leather trimmed cabin, with plenty of climate control, good tunes, and comfort, and I don't have another separate powertrain to maintain.  In addition, the amount of room in our TT is incredible.

We're happy campers.

 

Gary RV_Wizard

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We had very heavy winds, and the side gusts translated motion to the truck which could be felt.  Not excessive, but enough to know I didn't like it.

That's where the essential difference between a travel trailer (tagalong or bumper hitch) and a fifth wheel shows up. The increased leverage the trailer has because of the hitch position is a strain on the tow vehicle and the driver.
 

Carl L

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The only adjustments I may make is in terms of the Equalizer hitch settings.  I'm curious about what transferring weight on the axles of the truck might do for ride quality.

Overtightening the spring bars will transfer more weight to the front axles, which is what WD hitches do.    Too much and your truck will tend to too much understeer and will plow on turns.  Some understeer is desirable for stability and cruising.  A properly adjusted WD hitch returns your truck's balance to the mfr's original ideas for its operation.  Go with your hitch manufacturer's recommended procedure -- oddly enuf it is probably the best.

We had very heavy winds, and the side gusts translated motion to the truck which could be felt.  Not excessive, but enough to know I didn't like it.  I kept thinking, Oh my God, Carl was right! 
 

I do not believe we got into the matter of cross winds.  They are always uncomfortable -- period.  Even in 5ers.  Every 70 mph gusting Santa Ana wind on I-15 thru the Cajon Pass seems to topple one or two semi-trailers which have the same hitching system as 5ers.  There are only two known cures: 

    1.  Slow down; 
    2.  Park, preferably in shelter, till things die down. 

Front loading the trailer helps, which is why I like to travel with a full water tank in windy weather.
 
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