Overloaded Ram 3500 Dually Results in Truck Camper Disaster

Michael Pavel, the proud owner of 2020 Ram 3500 dually and 2020 Eagle Cap 1165, was exploring Mexico’s Baja with his wife, when they noticed a loud, “creaking sound” coming from underneath the truck. According to thedrive.com, Pavel inspected the shocks and springs, but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, so the couple pressed on to their next destination. It wasn’t until several days later, near the small village of Puertecitos, that the actual problem manifested itself in the form of catastrophic breaks to the truck’s frame, damage that would cost a staggering $17,000 to repair. According to Pavel, Ram won’t warranty the repair because they believe that Pavel was at fault by overloading his truck.

How did Pavel get in this predicament? At the dealership, he explained that he needed a truck that could haul a 4,900-pound camper. Because he would be hauling full water tanks, food, bicycles, and other gear, he was well aware that he needed a truck with a payload rating in excess of the 4,900-pound figure. But with an advertised payload of 7,680 pounds for a Ram 3500 dually, he believed he would be okay and for two years and 25,000 miles he was.

Unfortunately for Pavel, neither of the above weights are accurate. For marketing purposes, manufacturers tout the “maximum payload” of their trucks in big, bold print, but that number is always accompanied by a footnote, which mandates a configuration that is rarely used by truck camper owners—in Ram’s case, a Ram 3500 DRW regular cab truck with a 6.4L HEMI V8 gasoline engine, 2WD, and an 8-foot bed. The same goes for the camper’s weight with only the dry weight usually listed. For a gargantuan, triple-slide camper like the Eagle Cap 1165, the actual, fully-loaded weight can range anywhere between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds more than the listed dry weight figure.

This disaster, of course, could have been avoided by simply looking at the Tire and Loading “Payload” Sticker on the door jamb of his truck, where the actual payload rating for his truck could be found. We’ve written about the subject countless times and even included the mistake in a popular truck camper article. Unfortunately, a good number of dealerships are either ignorant of the Tire and Loading Sticker, or overinflate the real number in order to make a sale. We aren’t sure what happened in Pavel’s case, but a quick look at a recent Ram 3500 Payload Chart shows a maximum payload rating of 7,680 pounds with a 14,000-pound GVWR and 2WD. Mike’s slightly older Ram 3500, however, is configured completely different and features a Cummins 6.7L turbo diesel with a crew cab, and 4WD. The aforementioned chart shows a maximum payload rating between 5,080 and 5,850 pounds for this configuration. The variance in the two numbers is due to options.

We don’t know how Pavel’s Ram 3500 was optioned out, but we can say that even a 5,800-pound payload isn’t high enough to haul the Eagle Cap 1165—judging from the severity of the damage, we suspect the actual payload rating is more like 5,100 pounds [Ed. note: Pavel confirmed after this story was published that the payload listed on his Tire and Loading Sticker is indeed only 5,178 pounds]. Yes, the dry weight of the Eagle Cap 1165 is 4,917 pounds, but a fully loaded camper of this size easily weighs 6,500 pounds with full holding tanks, batteries, food, and clothing and probably topped out at over 7,000 pounds with passengers, two fat tire bicycles at 72 pounds each, and gear. The only way to really tell is by visiting a CAT Scale. We always recommend taking your rig to a certified scale. Most people are shocked when they do, because most rigs are overweight.

Another factor, which appears to be in play, is how Pavel’s Ram 3500 was loaded. The Eagle Cap 1165 is a BIG camper with a massive overhang. He was also hauling two bicycles on a rear bicycle carrier. All of this weight behind the rear axle does two things. First, it takes weight off of the front axle, creating “driveability” issues with steering and braking. Second, tension is created in the center of the frame. Combined with the weight from the 1,100-pound diesel engine and a 300 pound aftermarket front bumper, this fulcrum affect created a “bowing” affect in the center of the frame, exactly where Pavel’s Ram 3500 frame failed. Couple this stress with an overloaded frame and rough roads and you have a recipe for disaster.

More About Payload

Exceeding the payload rating is probably the most common error made by truck camper owners. The payload rating tells you the maximum amount of weight that a truck can safely haul, in terms of passengers, cargo and gear. The rating is determined by subtracting the truck’s curb weight from the truck’s GVWR. For example, the GVWR of our 2013 Ram 3500 4WD truck is 11,700 pounds. Subtracting the 7,891-pound curb weight of the truck from this figure nets a figure of 3,809 pounds. This is the official payload rating of our truck. This rating, which is expressed in both kilograms and pounds, can be found on the Tire and Loading Sticker and is preceded by the statement, “the combined weight of occupants and cargo should never exceed…” Unfortunately, the payload rating cannot be raised officially by the owner, though there are several upgrades to the suspension that you can make to improve the ride of your rig.

Typical Tire and Loading “Payload” Sticker. In the case of this 2013 Ram 3500 SRW truck, the payload rating is 3,809 pounds.

When ordering a truck, options can either make or break it when it comes to payload. First, the diesel option should be “weighed” carefully. Do you really need it? Yes, having a diesel engine is great for climbing mountains and raising your testosterone, but it’s also heavier, nearly twice as much as a gasoline V8 (the 6.7L Cummins turbo diesel at 1,060 pounds outweighs the 6.4L V8 HEMI by 490 pounds). This means less payload for you (not to mention more emission hassles). Ditto for 4WD. That feature, while great for driving on rough roads, sand, and snow, isn’t so great for your payload rating—300 to 400 pounds extra over 2WD is typical. The same applies to the cab size. A crew cab or mega cab outweighs a standard cab by around 600 pounds, so weigh your options carefully before you buy. The lone exception to the “more options is bad for payload” rule is the dual rear wheel (DRW) truck. When it comes to payload, the dually is king and it isn’t even close.

Manufacturing sticker for a 2013 Ram 3500 SRW listing the GVWR, the GAWRs, tire size and inflation information.

In order to accurately assess where you stand when it comes to your rig’s overall weight, we recommend a visit to the nearest Certified Automated Truck (CAT) Scale. The cost is only $13.50. The CAT Scale printout will provide three weights: the front and rear axle weights plus the total weight of your rig. You should take your truck to the scale first without the camper, then have your truck and camper weighed together later to determine the actual weight of each. Be mindful to duplicate important fluid levels like fresh water and diesel/gas when obtaining these numbers. That way, you’ll get an accurate picture where you stand with respect to not only the GVWR, but also to the front and rear axles of your truck. You’ll be glad you did it.

What’s the bottom line?

If you are a regular reader of Truck Camper Adventure you already know where we stand on this issue. Staying below the payload rating of your truck is important. Surprisingly, we still get push back from some readers who argue that the payload can be “raised” by simply getting better-rated wheels and tires. As long as the axles, wheels, and tires can handle the extra weight, they argue, you’ll be okay. This latest incident proves that this is simply not true. The frame plays a major role in the payload calculation too. Yes, getting higher-rated wheels and tires can improve your safety margin to a degree, but other components on the truck—like the frame—are rated to handle the GVWR/payload and that’s about it—the lone exception to this rule is the 3/4-ton truck that often uses the same frame as one-ton truck models.

So what truck would we have recommended to haul Pavel’s monstrous, hotel on wheels? Either a class 4 or class 5 truck. In Pavel’s case either a Ram 4500 chassis (7,850 pound payload) or a Ram 5500 chassis (10,700-pound payload) outfitted with custom truck bed with extra storage. Either truck would’ve prevented this disaster from occurring.

Check-out our follow-up story on how Michael Pavel and his wife got back home, the results of their insurance claim, and the couple’s plans for the future.

About Mello Mike 748 Articles
Mello Mike is an Arizona native, author, and the founder of Truck Camper Adventure. He's been RV'ing since 2002, is a certified RVIA Level 1 RV Technician, and has restored several Airstream travel trailers. A communications expert and licensed ham radio operator, he retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a CWO3 after 24 years, holds a BS degree, and now runs Truck Camper Adventure full-time. He also does some RV consulting, repairs, and inspections on the side. He currently rolls in a 4WD Ram 3500 outfitted with a SherpTek truck bed with a Bundutec Roadrunner mounted on top. - KK7TCA

8 Comments

  1. By your own admission, most truck camper owners are “overweight” by the door sticker. In reality, THE EXCEPTION PROVES THE RULE that GVWR is just a number. Tens of thousands of TC’s are on the road every day without catastrophic frame failure. No one is getting cited or sued in any State. Get off GVWR.

    • If nothing else, it’s a liability issue. Having worked in the insurance industry for some years, their insurance claim, if they make one, would most likely be denied. If the frame had not broken and he had run into another vehicle for example, injuring or killing the occupants, an overloaded vehicle, especially one that is thousands overweight, is almost a guaranteed civil judgement against the TC’s owner, probably in the millions.

      We are probably the only country on the planet that does not police overloaded non-commercial vehicles but I suspect that day is coming. Having driven in Africa and Australia, private vehicles like this are never allowed to operate on public roads. Allowing complete amateurs to operate a 45 foot Class A or tow a 40 foot travel trailer without a CDL and additional training is absurd.

      And before you say this is America and we are free to do as we please, remember we are the most litigious country anywhere and as these cases become more and more common, regulations will follow.

      • Cite ONE case anywhere in America where the owner of an overloaded TC was found liable for even ONE dollar in civil court due to negligence related to overloading or GVWR.

        • I’m not aware of a database I have access to that could produce that information. But juries have awarded damages to commercial trucks that were overloaded and involved in accidents and there’s no reason to believe those same juries wouldn’t do the same for an overloaded truck camper.

          I wouldn’t want to be the first to find out.

  2. There is probably something else going on here. Maybe the frame was corroded or possibly the camper hold down brackets were welded to the frame, weakening it at these points. I can’t believe that the frame just broke. At any rate, the weight police are probably loving this. (and I am not a mopar fanatic)

  3. What a disaster. Even more so since it happened in Mexico. It’s such a shame that you can’t trust the salesmen. You can’t even trust the truck camper stickers. My Palomino sticker says “Camper Weight is 788 kg (1737 lbs) maximum when it contains standard equipment”. It weighed in at 2262 lbs with freshwater about 1/3 full. A very large discrepancy even after adding the weight of the non-standard equipment (air conditioner and jacks). As stated ad nauseam around the truck camper community, you must check the payload sticker of your actual truck and you must weigh your camper. Camper stickers and salesman claims are useless.

    Having said all that, it’s still hard to believe that the frame failed in such a spectacular fashion. Would be interesting to know the actual camper weight and truck payload.

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