Most people know how critical wheels and tires are to truck handling and safety, but the truck’s suspension system is important, too. The suspension system consists of coil springs and leaf springs as well as shock absorbers and linkages that connects the chassis to the axles and wheels. All combined these components directly contribute to a truck’s handling and braking and play a major role in driving pleasure and comfort. This article will take a closer look at these components and will discuss the hardware used to modify these in order to improve performance and handling for those hauling a truck camper.
For those buying a new truck and truck camper, our philosophy on suspension upgrades is simple. It’s best to first drive your truck with your camper mounted to see how the truck handles before spending any money on upgrades. Otherwise, you may waste a lot of money on hardware you really didn’t need. We see this happen all the time. Based upon the opinion of friends and what they’ve read on Internet forums, new truck owners will immediately shell out big bucks on new shocks, air bags, sway bars, and Stableloads before even buying or taking a test drive with their truck camper. This is like putting the cart before the horse. It’s best to first see how your truck handles under load and treat each symptom that you encounter with the correct suspension modification. Moreover, only one modification should be made at a time to determine its true effectiveness.
If you find that your truck sags too much in the rear with your camper mounted you’ll need to correct that. The most common remedies for rear sag include leaf springs, Torklift Stableloads, and air bags. Of these, adding another leaf spring is probably your best bet as they provide a much better ride and much improved spring travel compared to a truck with Stableloads or a large overload spring. Stableloads, however, are an effective modification, too. By engaging the overload spring sooner, they not only prevent sag, but they also prevent sway and improve control. If you do decide on Stableloads, I recommend the quick disconnect version as they can be engaged or disengaged in a matter of seconds. The last viable option to correct rear sag are Air bags. They’re easy to use, adjustable, and are great for side-to-side loading when one side is lower than the other. If you aren’t careful, however, they can also can create too much roll if they are overfilled and aren’t particularly suitable for off-road use.
The shocks that came with your truck may or may not be up to the task of carrying the extra weight of a truck camper. The dampening effect of your shocks is important in how well your truck and camper rides when going over rough and uneven roads and terrain. Shock absorbers comes in two basic forms: self-adjusting or manual. Self-adjusting shocks, like Bilsteins or KYBs, do exactly that, they adjust based upon the force asserted each time they’re depressed. Manually adjusted shocks, such as the Rancho 9000, allow you to change how much dampening is applied based upon the weight you are carrying. The adjustment can be made either on the shocks themselves, the cheaper option, or within the cab with a spendy remote unit. The pros and cons of each are pretty obvious, it comes down to personal preference and cost.
For those who are experiencing excessive sway or excessive lean on turns you can try the aforementioned Stableloads or a anti-sway bar like the Hellwig Big Wig. Both are excellent products, but work differently. Stableloads work with the leaf springs to engage the overload springs sooner while the anti-sway bar works with the axle and frame of the truck to keep the truck even keeled. Most of the 3/4- and one-ton trucks coming off of today’s assembly lines come with a front sway bar, but many find that a rear sway bar is also needed for added stability when hauling a truck camper. Some truck owners have even replaced the front OEM sway bar with a beefier aftermarket sway bar.
Your pickup truck will be bearing all of the weight of your truck camper, so you’ll want to make sure your tires are up to the job. If you plan on hauling a truck camper, you’ll generally want tires with at least a Load Range rating of E. However, not all Load Range E tires are created equal. Sizes and weight ratings differ so you’ll want to ensure that the tires you’re looking at can handle not only the weight of your truck, but also the weight of your truck camper. And if you’re upgrading your tires, you should also seek additional load capacity over the OEM ratings. Keep in mind that the weight on the rear axle is evenly divided by each tire, so an axle rated at 6,200 pounds will come with tires rated for 3,100 pounds. The maximum inflation value for Load Range E tires is 80 psi.
Proper inflation of your tires is vital–check them regularly. Refer to the tire inflation placard located on your truck’s door jamb to determine the correct inflation values for your tires. For example, the placard for my 2013 Ram 3500 truck with LT275/70R18E tires calls for 60 psi for the front tires and 80 psi for the rear. These values are for hauling the maximum payload of the truck, so the tire pressure in the rear can be lowered if you’re hauling less that the maximum payload or nothing at all. Make sure you check your tires regularly for abnormal wear and proper inflation, especially before leaving on each trip. As for the size of the tires, that’s a personal choice. Those who haul around long-bed truck campers, the heaviest campers on the market, swear by 19.5 inch tires (Load Range H) because of the stiffer side walls and how well they handle with the extra weight.
As for the type of tires to put on your pickup truck, it depends on where you live, the kind of roads on which you travel, and where you like to camp. If you live in an area where winter ice and snow are the norm, you’ll want to have a good set of stud-less snow tires to provide the traction you’ll need. However, if you live in a temperate climate and plan on doing primarily highway driving, then a good set of all-season (AS) highway tires will be more than sufficient. Another great option is a quality set of all-terrain (AT) tires. These work well for both highway driving in all conditions as well as off-road travel and are an excellent alternative for those who don’t want to bother with a specialized tire. As for our favorite brands, we really don’t have one. Over the years we have purchased all-terrain tires from several manufacturers, including BF Goodrich, Firestone, Toyo, and Michelin, and have liked them all and got excellent service out of each.