Top 10 Truck Camper Mistakes and Pitfalls

Cringeworthy Gaffes Made by Novices and Pros

An enlightened man once said that, “only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” This is a great proverb, especially when it comes to owning a truck camper. Without its own chassis and running gear, the truck camper is unique in the RV marketplace and must be hauled by a truck like regular cargo. This difference brings with it numerous benefits, but also some disadvantages. Because of this, there are several mistakes and pitfalls that truck camper owners make on a regular basis. These errors can be caused by a lack of knowledge, a careless moment, inattention, or a simple case of driver’s fatigue. Fortunately, you don’t have to follow in the footsteps of others. By reading this article on our top 10 truck camper mistakes and pitfalls, you can avoid the most common gaffes, thereby saving you aggravation, time, money, and embarrassment.

Speaking of embarrassment, I remember watching a YouTube video of a guy who tried to take his fifth wheel through a small tunnel on the Needles Highway in South Dakota. It wasn’t pretty. He underestimated the height of his rig and lost his air conditioner, among other things. Not only did this error in judgement cause thousands of dollars in damage to his fifth wheel, but also stopped traffic, both ways, on the busy two-lane highway for several hours. Sure, his rig was a lot larger than a truck camper, but this should’ve given him even more reason to pause. Truck camper owners can also get into trouble as well. What causes truck camper owners and truck camper newbies the most trouble? Here’s our top 10 list:

1. Exceeding Your Truck’s GVWR and Payload

A truck camper pitfall too many truck camper owners are guilty of. The common refrain we hear is that most truck camper owners are overweight, meaning they’re over their truck’s payload rating and GVWR. Doing this is neither safe nor smart. Why not just buy the right truck to begin with? Yes, we know all of the tricks to “raise” the GVWR/Payload of a truck, like buying larger wheels and tires with higher load ratings and installing helper springs to support the rear suspension, but none of these things will technically increase your truck’s GVWR/payload. Only the manufacturer and a few select shops can do that. That’s what the GVWR/payload sticker located on the door jamb is for. If you’re way overweight and you get in an accident and injure or kill somebody, you’ll be screwed by the insurance companies. If you need to, and you have the means, buy a better truck with a higher GVWR/payload. Even if that means having to buy a F450/4500 or F550/5500 truck.

2. Buying Suspension Mods That Aren’t Needed

Firestone Ride Rite Air Bag - Truck Camper Adventure

A truck camper mistake we see all of the time. Test drive your truck and camper to see how it handles first before rushing out to spend money on suspension modifications. Otherwise, you may waste a lot of money and time on hardware that you don’t really need. We’ve lost count how many times we’ve seen this happen on the truck camper forums. Prospective truck camper owners will rush out and install things like new shocks, air bags, and sway bars before even buying a truck camper or before taking their camper out on a test drive. This is like putting the cart before the horse. See how your truck handles with your truck camper first before spending money on any mods. If you’re truck is experiencing porpoising, rear sag, or sway with your camper mounted, then you can address each particular issue with the appropriate suspension modification.

3. Over Tightening Turnbuckles

Wolf Creek 850 anchor bolt tie down issue - Truck Camper Adventure

Without a doubt one of the top 10 truck camper mistakes and pitfalls. We don’t know why, but some truck camper owners feel like they need to go “medieval” on their turnbuckles when tightening them. Don’t do that! Overtightening them can rip the anchor bolts and the mounting plate out from underneath the wings of your camper. Instead, tighten your turnbuckles using the manufacturer’s instructions. A good example of this are the Torklift FastGuns, which have a patented, built-in feature called the tension indicator to help get things right. This indicator consists of a rubber “O” ring that you cinch up to the bottom of the FastGun’s housing before locking the lever down. A gap of 1/4-inch between the “O” ring and housing after clamping the lever down indicates the correct amount of tension. Oh, and make sure the turnbuckles you use are spring-loaded. Otherwise, you could end up with damage when you hit a pothole or a bump as shown in this photo.

4. Buying a Diesel-Equipped 3/4-Ton Truck

Another major truck camper gaffe made by both newbies and pros alike. Hey, we get it. Diesels are cool. The fuel economy, resale value, and torque are terrific. But if you want a diesel engine, buy a one-ton truck instead. Why? Because most diesel-powered pickups weigh about 800 pounds more than a gasser. The payload capacity of most 3/4-ton trucks is limited enough. When you buy a diesel the weight of that engine is subtracted from the payload capacity of your truck. This can reduce your truck’s payload rating from 3,000 pounds to 2,200 pounds or from 2,000 pounds to 1,200 pounds. Ouch! If you’re interested in putting a pop-up truck camper on a diesel-powered 3/4-ton, you should be okay, but putting a large hard-side truck camper on it will leave you both overweight and unsafe.

5. Failure to Swing-Out “Dually” Front Jacks

The first of two mistakes relating to your lift jacks. If you don’t have a “dually” or dual rear wheel (DRW) truck, this isn’t applicable, of course, but if you drive one then this is something that you’ll need to be careful about. These special, extendable jacks provide the needed clearance between the jacks and the wheel flares of your truck. As you know, dually wheel flares extend several inches beyond the sides of the truck. Forgetting to swing out your jacks can ultimately cause damage to the jack mounting brackets and to the frame of your camper, to say nothing about the damage to the wheel flares. If you need to do so, get a checklist so that this vital step isn’t overlooked.

6. “Bad” Center of Gravity

Overloading your truck is bad enough. Couple that truck camper mistake with a “bad” center of gravity and you have a recipe for disaster. What is the center of gravity (COG)? It’s simply the balance point or where most of the truck camper’s weight sits. Typically, the COG is marked with a sticker that has been affixed to both the driver and passenger sides of the camper. Ideally, the camper’s COG of gravity should be located in front of your truck’s rear axle—in most cases 10 to 20 percent of the weight will be on the front axle and 80-90 percent on the rear axle. Doing this ensures a safer driving experience and less wear and tear on the frame of your truck. Furthermore, placing the COG behind the rear axle should be avoided at all costs because it does two things. First, it takes weight off of the front axle, creating “drivability” issues with steering and braking. Second, tension is created in the center of the frame that can result in a catastrophic frame failure like the Ram 3500 shown in the photo above. For more about how to correct a “bad” COG, click here.

7. Taking Turns Too Fast

Without a doubt one of the top 10 truck camper mistakes and pitfalls. You’d be surprised how often this happens even in urban areas. By their very nature, hard-side truck campers have a higher center of gravity. Put a hard-side camper on a lifted truck and this higher center of gravity is amplified even more. Lifted or not, sharp turns must be taken slower when hauling a hard-side truck camper. Failure to do so can result in a flip-over like the unfortunate driver pictured here. Sure a heavy-duty rear sway bar like the Hellwig Big Wig can help alleviate this issue, but it can’t correct it entirely. Better to be safe than sorry and take all turns slowly. Failure to do so can result in a very bad day.

8. Driving Excessively Fast on Freeways

“I feel the need, the need for speed!” This is fine if you’re Tom Cruise flying an F-14 Tomcat or Craig Breedlove setting a world speed record on the Bonneville Salt Flats, but doing this in a truck camper on today’s freeways is just plain stupid. Exceeding the speed limit is dangerous not only for yourself, but also for others who are sharing the road with you. It doesn’t matter if you’re hauling a pop-up or hard-side, driving the same speed you normally would without a truck camper isn’t wise. Think about it. What if you need to stop in an emergency? All of that extra weight will make stopping your 12,000 pound rig harder and take valuable seconds of response time. It also makes emergency maneuvers that much harder without flipping over (see number 8 above).

9. Failure to Observe Low Overhangs and Low Bridges

truck camper accident bridge - Truck Camper Adventure

One of the most devastating mistakes that you can make with your truck camper. Tunnels, bridges, low hanging branches, and roof overhangs are just a few of the hazards to your truck camper rig. Know how tall your rig is before you take it out on the highway and on country roads. If you’re not sure how tall your rig is, measure it with a tape measure. And don’t forget to take into account fixtures like the air conditioner and any vent covers you might have mounted on the roof. When traveling under such obstacles, don’t forget to give yourself some leeway and don’t cut things too close. Avoid distractions when driving and pay attention to what you’re doing and where you’re going. It’s for this reason that we never drive when we’re tired or fatigued. Doing so can create a recipe for disaster. It’s for this reason that we usually limit our travels to six hours a day.

10. Lax Propane Safety

Propane must ALWAYS be used with caution and respect. Fortunately, propane companies add a harmless chemical called mercaptan to give propane gas a distinctive, “rotten egg” smell to allow easy detection in the event of a leak. NEVER ignite an appliance or use an open flame with the smell of propane in the air. Doing so can result is a catastrophic explosion. If you suspect a propane leak anywhere in your RV’s propane system, close the valve to your propane tank, vacate the RV, and have a qualified technician perform a propane leak test. Of course, an important part of propane safety either at home or in an RV is to have a working gas and CO alarm. The Department of Transportation (DOT) also requires that propane cylinders used in RVs be recertified for use every 12 years? However, very few RV owners do it let alone even know that this requirement exists. What do technicians look for during the recertification process? That the valve guards are in place and in proper working order and that the container hasn’t been subjected to physical damage, such as scraping, denting, and gouging. Dents in containers are allowed, but must be limited in size and must not exceed the sizes specified in the propane recertification charts. The tank’s fittings are also checked to make sure they are in proper working order and do not leak. Failure to recertify can result in a nasty surprise on your next outing as many propane stations will not refill “expired” propane tanks.

About Mello Mike 868 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 (KK7TCA), 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.

18 Comments

  1. Wow ! Thanks for the info. I just lost all interest in owning a slide in camper. The speed limit doesn’t apply in too many areas. Stay with the flow or cause an accident. Most slide ins just seem too heavy to be safe.

  2. For those of you who do use your jacks when parked as I do some times, I tie a red handkerchief to my steering wheel when I park to remind me of what ever questionable thing I have left behind on my rig. It has saved me more than once.

  3. Here’s a good one the FOOL himself admits to. Remember to retract the slide before embarking through a parking lot of semi trailers. That one cost me over 5K. I guess the best thing to remember is do NOT imbibe in adult beverages prior to moving your T/C.

  4. When I went shopping for a truck that was a better tow vehicle for our vacation rental business, the first truck I found that met the requirements happened to be a 2014 F-450. This seemed like overkill (just “daddy’s little toy”) until late last year when I started converting the F-450 into an off-road camper. 14,000 GVWR gives me a lot of cargo capacity to work with, which was very helpful once bumpers, winches, fuel tanks, super single wheels and tires, etc. start piling up on top of the 9000lb empty weight.

    It’s still possible to overload the F-450 with a big truck camper, but with the oversize tires and 4″ lift to handle them, I find that my comfort level is exceeded long before the truck is.

  5. Thanks for helping me to understand that exceeding the speed limit with a camper shell on your truck can be dangerous. I am thinking of getting a camper shell installed onto the back of my truck so that my wife and I can take weekend camping trips together when we want to get away from our home. If we do end up getting one, I’ll be sure to drive carefully on the highways.

  6. #10… A little late to the party here, but still an article worth commenting on. Spend a while on Youtube watching Eleven foot Eight videos and you will see how many stupid people drive trucks, buses and RV’s. This very week they raised the 11’8″ bridge in Durham NC to 12’4″ so hopefully there will be a few less trucks damaged.

    #5…. I bought a ’03 RAM 2500 single cab/long bed with a Cummins and 6 speed manual (in Feb 2018 with 86K mi on it). Its a tradesman model so its as light weight as possible, with crank windows and manual door locks, mirrors, etc. I bought it to tow a travel trailer (which I am repairing undiscovered rot in and plan to sell eventually). The diesel advantage is no struggling at all, especially at altitude, due to the turbo charging. As far as weight, it currently has a LEER topper and a rubber bed mat and with myself and a full tank it scales 4060lb on the front with a Front axle max of 4630lb and the rear axle is 2860lb with a max of 6000lb. It has a total empty weight of 6920lb with a GVWR of 9000. Knock off 250 or more for the LEER and the tailgate and I can carry a decent truck camper which I think I will eventually go to (and probably be a little overweight doing so). Still looking for a Bigfoot or Northern Lite, or a Bigfoot 21 ft travel trailer.

  7. I recently bought a 2017 F-150 with a payload rating of 2929 lbs.

    I think it will do well with my pop-up. It has a wet weight rating of 1600+ lbs.

    With camping gear and a small trailer, it should be great.

    Just looking for tie-down options. other than Torklift, not seeing anything else out there.

  8. After measuring the truck with the camper on and off; we made a sticker for the top of the driver side front window where I can see it when I’m driving that lists the dimensions (length x width x height). This way I don’t have to remember the numbers. They are always readily available within eye site for reference.

  9. Hi Alex,
    I agree that 3/4-ton payloads have generally gone up over time, but lately Ram has been producing 3/4-ton trucks with coil springs that have horribly low payload ratings. A guy came over to my house a year ago who was upset that his 2015 Ram 2500 only have a 1,410 pound payload. I was shocked (See https://www.ramtrucks.com/assets/towing_guide/pdf/2015_ram_2500_towing_charts.pdf). The figures I put in the article was simply illustrating how much a diesel engine weighs and how it impacts payload. It can be the difference between being under your GVWR or over it.

    • I stand corrected, those are really low payload ratings for Dodge 3/4 ton even with a gas engine.

  10. Mike ,
    Overtime the payload rating of 3/4 diesel power truck have gone up. As an example my first F250/6.0 PSD (2002) had a GVWR of 8800#’s fast forward my 2007 F250/6.0PSD has a GVWR of 10000#’s, your article don’t reflect those changes and don’t believe I’ve seen a 3/4 ton with a diesel with a 1200# payload in over 15 years.
    #10 is something I almost did myself, my wife was saying “isn’t that bridge a little low” I stopped and pulled out my tape and sure enough I was 4 inches too high ! The roof AC would have been left on the roadway!

    • I know you said above that you stand corrected, but just wanted to share. I had a 2017 RAM 2500 Crew cab long box 4×4 with the 6.7L diesel, even with 10k GVWR the payload was only 2,100 lbs. Once you factor in passengers, you can only justify the lightest of the lightest truck campers.

      I’ve since traded it in for a 2015 Ford F-350 Crew cab long box 4×4 also with a 6.7L diesel, SRW so not a dually, and got about 1,200lbs more payload. The 11,500lb GVWR helps immensely.

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