Why a 1/2 ton truck won't tow my ATC toyhauler!

The 1/2 ton truck will pull the ATC Toyhauler just fine if you stay closer to home.

The Toyhauler by definition will be difficult to tow correctly. Towing rules say that the TW (Tongue Weight) should be 10-20%. This is hard to achieve for any engineer designing a Toyhauler, with and without toys, with tanks full and empty. For this reason it is very common to use a Weight Distribution Hitch (WDH) to compensate for a heavy Tongue Weight (TW) and most will control trailer sway as a bonus. When towing any enclosed trailer, one can feel like a big kite on a windy day. Also, when passing semis, the trailer has a tendency to get sucked closer to the semi this is referred to as “trailer suck”. ATC owners are lucky because ATC has more room between the axles than most trailer manufacturers and it makes a huge difference when towing in a straight line.


I brought home my 2018 28’ FB (Front Bedroom) with my 2017 F150 with 3.5 EcoBoost and Max Tow package (>11,500#; this is the highest rated towing ½ ton truck on paper) and a Blue Ox WDH. The ride home was not pleasant as the hitch was not set up correctly. But the truck had plenty of power on mostly level ground and I just kept both hands on the wheel and therefore, turned my knuckles white. Over the next few months I made several adjustments with the trailer empty (except for water) to get the TW at 13%. I put better shocks on the rear of the truck to compensate for the “bounce” (you will know it when you get it). I had TW, hitch height and the weight distribution bars correctly tensioned, but I still had a little wiggle, and sometimes a bigger wiggle. Even with good conditions (sunny day, no traffic, no hills, no animals in the road and not 8 hrs into the road trip), this was not acceptable in my mind since the plan was to fulltime in this RV.


I could have installed E rated tires, and airbags which would have helped with night driving. With a properly set up WDH, the headlights will naturally be aimed higher and one can expect to get “brighted” by oncoming drivers. I firmly believe the addition of a Pro Pride or Hensley hitch (same phenomenal concept by two different companies) would have fixed all towing issues. So I did the math… E rated tires cost $1000, airbags cost $400 and the ProPride hitch cost $3000. This totals $4400 worth of upgrades to make the ½ ton comfortable for my use. The next issue with the ½ ton truck idea was my truck had 2367# of payload, which is pretty good for the ½ ton truck. Empty TW of my 2018 ATC FB came in at 1050#, WDH at 100#, topper, mudflaps, floor mats at 400#, 36 gallon tank 275#, two people #300 (good thing my wife is thin!), a cat (cat litter & canned food is heavy!) at 60#. This left me with 202# of payload capacity. Then I start wondering how much a good rain or mud would add to my weight. My wife had not even started stuffing the huge space under the bed in the bedroom! How much stuff would I want to put in the back of the truck?

I figured I need to spend $4400 to make the Ford safe for me with an empty truck bed. This situation might look a little different for your use. I do not have heavy toys so I did add an extra 800# of water to offset not having any toys. When you boondock long enough to empty the fresh water tank and fill the gray and black tanks the TW will change for the worse. Now I am not the weight police, but I think it is important to be close to the published capability of the truck. I have heard that the insurance company is relieved of obligation if someone gets into an accident involving a fatality and it is determined that the truck was overloaded. This could be folk lore but I choose to be more comfortable for the 8-11hr moving days.

I started looking at what $4400 plus my truck would purchase. I did a lot of research, spent many hours emailing dealers and surfed the truck websites. I chose a 2012 Chevy Duramax diesel 3500 with airbags. What a difference! It is a much faster process hooking up the trailer without the WDH. No more planning when I am going to stop or start accelerating before I get to a hill. I just set the cruise and it will go up or down most mountains at the set speed. When I travel the mountain passes the speed has only changed up to 3-4 mph. I still have the Blue Ox WDH and I have actually used it a few times with the 1 ton truck… I call them my training wheels. I do not use it even though it does make a difference when it’s windy. I am ready to sell the Blue Ox WDH to free up some room in the trailer.

The advice I would have for anyone looking at the 25’ or 28’ ATC Toy Hauler is, if you already have a ½ ton truck and you think you will be happy towing with it, then give it a try. You have nothing to lose and worst case scenario, you can always get a bigger truck. For those of you that do not have a truck yet, I can’t think of a single reason to purchase a ½ ton truck instead of a ¾ ton or bigger. When comparing the ½ ton to the ¾ ton, the ¾ ton will have E rated tires, better brakes (the stock brake controller is better than any aftermarket one), a stiffer frame, more payload and therefore some will not feel the need for a WDH. You didn’t buy the cheapest trailer, so don’t cut corners on your truck!

Leave a comment