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What do I need to haul a truck camper?
Truck Camper Tie Downs and Turnbuckles
Well, the first thing would be a pickup truck! But seriously, we receive several calls every week from customers new to the slide in camper world wondering what type of equipment they need to purchase in order to tote their new (or new to them) slide in camper unit.
The most common situation is the person who already owns a pickup and has purchased a pre-owned camper to see if they like this type of RV camping. Very often they have made the deal and need to go pick up the unit but have no hardware to attach the camper once loaded. If purchasing from a dealer they may be able to make recommendations based on the camper and truck combination in question.
get ahead of the game and make the camper purchase before
determining if their existing truck is up to the task! Check
the GVWR and cargo load capacity of your pickup to determine if
you're on the right path. Almost all RVs, including slide in
campers, have a data plate attached from the manufacturer with
the weight listed. A good rule of thumb is to add at least 20%
to the weight listed on the tag for the "real" weight.
Can your truck handle this legally and safely? Take a look at this picture. Would you guess this heavy duty dually pickup loaded with a 9-1/2' camper is legal. Well, you might be surprised. This truck/camper combo actually weighs around 1,600 lbs. more than the GVWR for the truck. Now imagine this same camper sitting on a 3/4 ton truck. We see that situation practically every day!
There is an
almost limitless variety of aftermarket accessories to help
your truck carry the camper you choose. Keep in mind though,
the specifications listed on the data plate of your tow vehicle
will never change, no matter how many suspension upgrades you
add. And even the heavy duty "dually" pickups available can
still be made to do the job better. Modern campers are
typically heavy due to all the amenities available. Most cab
over truck campers are tall, making them top heavy so the truck
wants to "rock-n-roll" traveling down the road. Some suspension
enhancements can help with this situation.
High quality tie downs are important to keep the camper firmly in place. This includes the anchor points on the truck AND camper, as well as the turnbuckles you choose. The whole system needs to be up to the task. And DO NOT be tempted to use only front tie downs. The camper needs to be held firmly at all four corners to prevent movement, or in the worst case, tipping forward.
shopping for used campers, the corner mounting brackets for the
loading jacks and also the turnbuckle anchor points are often
overlooked. Check these out to be certain no damage has taken
place here. Most camper frames, especially older units, are
made of wood. Over time the lag bolts used to attach the
brackets can become loose. Because the camper is outside most
(or all) of the time, loose bolts will allow water to penetrate
causing the wood to rot. Loose camper jack brackets or tie down
anchor points can be extremely difficult and expensive to fix,
and a deal breaker if you aren't prepared to spend some extra
cash or do some major surgery yourself. This is the first thing
I would look at before even opening the camper door! Remember,
you will be lifting all the weight of the camper with the
corner brackets and holding all that mass in your truck with
the anchor points.
All of the images below can be clicked to enlarge.
determined that your truck is within the capacity range needed
and you have a camper lined up you'll need the tie downs on the
pickup and turnbuckles to attach the two together. The size
camper will be a factor in the type of tie downs you want.
These can range from the old standard "stake pocket" mount
style up to the frame mounted style.
If your truck is older, meaning pre 80s era, the sheet metal and pockets will be a little stronger than the newer trucks and may be able to handle the stresses involved with the pocket mount hold downs. For very light campers it can sometimes do the job. If you choose this type be sure to look for a design that either bolts or clamps solidly the the truck, otherwise they have been known to pull out. Remember, since these mount in the truck's stake pockets, there's always a risk of damaging the truck bed.
Bed and bumper mount style tie downs are step up for small to medium size campers. These have been around for many years and have proven to work better than the pocket mount type for a little heavier campers. The front (bed mount) is a plate that attaches to the front of the pickup box, between the cab and bed, a few inches down from the bed rail. The plate protrudes out from the side of the truck and has an anchor hole for the turnbuckle. Too much tension on the turnbuckle can bend this plate back into the box, damaging the bodywork so be careful!
The rear (bumper mount) anchors include a bumper bolt or "button" and an anchor plate which slips slips on to the bolt for attaching the rear turnbuckle. As with the front bed mounts care must be taken to not bend the truck bumper when tightening the turnbuckles.
"Direct to frame" mounts are the same principle as the bed and bumper mount but with the added strength of extra brackets that attach to the truck frame in the front along with a stabilizer bar to tie the two sides together. For many applications there are also rear bumper braces available.
"Universal" belly bar and receiver hitch mounted tie downs are available also. The belly bar usually clamps crosswise under the truck frame, with arms that protrude out for the turnbuckle attachment. Since the bar goes under the truck frame it may need to be removed for some type of repair or maintenance to the vehicle. In the rear there would be "receiver" tubes that slide in to the open ends of the receiver hitch. These will accept the attaching arms. The actual tie down arms in both front and rear applications are normally held in place by a pin and can be easily removed. These might be a good choice for someone planning to trade in their truck soon, as they can be removed for use on the new vehicle.
"True Frame Mounted" tie downs utilize 4 independent units bolted to the frame and or receiver hitch for a solid connection between the truck frame and camper. There is a separate tied down "receiver" for each corner with removable inserts for turnbuckle attachment. This system is very similar to the design of a receiver hitch and slide in ball mount. These tie downs are designed to fit specific vehicle makes and models to allow the best fit and strongest attachment to the truck. In most cases they bolt on to the truck with no drilling required. No belly bar is needed, allowing full access to the underside of the truck. Many dual rear wheel trucks have running boards extending back on the box to the dually fenders. A special adjustable version of the front tie downs is available with longer inserts that can extend out far enough to accommodate this situation.
Once the truck is outfitted you will need attaching hardware
from the camper anchor points to the truck tie downs. This
needs to be substantial enough to handle the loads encountered.
A basic chain and turnbuckle with hooks of some type is the
entry level setup.
There are several turnbuckle systems available that eliminate the need for chain. These generally have a hook on each end, and a threaded rod that screws in or out of a threaded center section for tightening. Basically just a fancy turnbuckle, usually with some type of spring load or cushioning, that connects directly to each anchor point with enough length to eliminate the need for chain or separate hooks. Different lengths and styles are available for use with bed & bumper mount or frame mount
Some tighten down using a lever action design that speeds up installation and removal.
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