2wd or 4wd for Towing 5th Wheel (MUST READ)

So if someone sent you into the wilderness alone and made you choose between a single blade jack knife vs a Swiss Army knife, what would you take? This is possibly one of the most hotly debated topics online is since, well, the inception of 4-wheel drives and Fivers (5th wheelers). Do you really need a 4WD for towing a 5th wheel or will a 2WD suffice? The age-old debate still rages on and has reached new levels with lifted 4” and 6” trucks being thrown into the equation. So, if you want to know the pros and cons of each, continue reading.  

If you never intend on “boon-docking” or venturing off-roading with your 5th wheeler then a 2WD will do just fine. A 2WD has a higher towing capacity and returns better MPG. The initial purchase price of a 2WD is cheaper vs a 4WD. A 4WD will be advantages when maneuvering you 5th wheeler on low traction surfaces like wet grass and dirt tracks and offers more control up steep inclines and declines.

So instead of asking which is better, it would be more important to determine what type of terrain you’ll mainly be driving on and that will determine if there is a need for a 4WD when towing your 5th-wheeler.  Only you as the owner can determine that and based on that, you’ll be able to make an informed decision.

Let’s look at 5-wheeler towing and other factors in more detail which will separate the 2WD from the 4WD.


2wd or 4wd for Towing 5th Wheel

So you’re in the market for a truck to tow your “fiver” but can’t decide if the 2WD will meet your needs. Many owners have admitted to towing a “fiver” for many years and only needing to use the 4WD system a hand full of times. With that in mind, does it really justify the extra layout for the off-road functionality?

In all fairness, nobody will take their 5th-wheeler deep into really challenging off-road conditions. Most owners, even when boon docking don’t ever venture beyond dirt roads, grass camping patches and a few remote back-roads.

Let’s look at a few differentiating factors.

Weight Capacity

If you compare two identical trucks, one with 4WD and the other 2WD, the first thing that stands out, after the price difference is the tare weight. A 2WD will be significantly lighter since it exempt of a few heavy drivetrain components allowing it to haul a few hundred pounds heavier.

Apart from the difference in weight capacity and off-road capability, everything else is pretty similar. Some struggle to justify the extra cost layout.

Terrain

When it comes to terrain the 4WD is a clear winner, no matter what angle you take. This is the strength and appeal of owning the 4WD, that confidence knowing you have backup functionality when things get a bit tricky.

However, if your travels almost always only take you on the black top and paved roads, with no low traction surfaces like grass or dirt roads of any kind, your 4WD will be obsolete and will probably end up costing you money in the long run, since your fuel and services will all be more just because you’re lugging around a 4WD system that never gets used.

The flip side again is, if you regularly travel up north and frequent dirt tracks, by all means, I would say 4WD is mandatory. It’s a no-brainer in that instance. The 4WD system also makes for a better ride on a dirt road. It allows for a more sure-footed, confident feel. And then there’s the added benefit of low-range which allows you to back up into challenging camping spots wet grass or that might have a few loose rocks, allowing you to confidently crawl the “fiver” into position without any strain on your transmission, drivetrain and clutch.

So having that 4WD functionality, simply allows you to continue traveling on and forward instead of having to turn around and take the long way around.  

What about control? Does a 4WD have any advantage over a 2WD? Let’s see

Control

The most obvious advantage of a 4WD over a 2WD is when backing up a steep incline with a “Fiver” since you have full control with 4WD lo-range functionality.

Sure you might never find yourself in such a compromising situation, however one never knows where the road will take you. If you decide to try out a new spot or just go exploring and the road takes you up an old fire road or power line track, will your 4×2 have the guts to continue or will you have to make the dreaded U-turn?

Sure, there might be months that go by and maybe even a year that you never have the need to use 4WD, but it only takes that one time to make you have an instant case of “buyer’s remorse”.

 What about your driveway? Is it so steep that your 2WD will struggle? You might only need 4WD to get in and out of your driveway? Will that be enough to justify the price difference?

Then we have the case of mileage. This is a big case to win for many so let’s see if the 2WD can claw its way back into this battle.

Mileage (MPG)

When it comes to MPG the 2WD is a clear winner. Being a lighter vehicle with less drivetrain components to weigh it down, it returns better mileage and towing performance over the 4WD. It might be marginal depending on the truck, but it’s a factor to consider.
2WD trucks also allow you to carry more with a higher payload capacity. There’s also fewer mechanical components that can break. Now it gets interesting. Yes, there are so many factors to consider and it’s never a straightforward win-win situation.

Resale Value

A 4Wheel drive truck is easier for a salesman to sell over its 2WD equivalent since it offers more features and functionality they can use as selling points. Salesman can inflate the price a bit and catch an unsuspecting buyer off-guard by convincing you, that 4WD is the way to go, even though you might never use it. This is one reason dealers love stocking 4WD trucks as they hold their value better and move quicker. The truck can sell itself.

There is a lot more engineering and technology built into a 4WD vs a 2Wd with more sophisticated components making it more expensive to produce.

The flip side to the coin is, if you ever decide to sell your truck, if it’s a 4WD it will sell easier and you should get most of your money back. Toyota’s in particular are well known for good resale value even with high mileage.

Why Is 2wd Better Than 4wd for Towing

We’ve covered quite a few pros and cons of owning both and which will do better when towing your 5th-wheeler so let’s summaries it.

4×24×4
Better fuel consumptionX
Cheaper initial layout CostsX
Better load carrying capacityX
Higher Tow RatingX
XBetter resale value
XMore capable off-road
XBetter control backing up steep inclines
XSure-footed on dirt roads

If I missed something here, I do apologies, however it appears there is a strong argument to be made for both. Very interesting indeed!

Can a Truck with a 6” Lift Pull a Fifth Wheel

If you own a truck with a big 6” lift and over-sized 37” tires, your truck will have a very high center of gravity. This does complicate matters somewhat, making it slightly more top-heavy than a standard truck. The good news is, there is a workaround so continue reading.

So the question isn’t if you can tow, sure you can. The question is more about towing safety with a 5th wheel behind you. Will you be limited to only a bumper pull? Will you still be able to pull a larger 30” 5th wheel? Will the trailers overhang height be a limitation and what about bedrail clearance?

Let’s find out!

If you are limited in terms of adjustability on your 5th wheel suspension, you might have to fabricate a sub frame that bolts directly below the existing sub frame which will attach to your suspension. This modification will give the 5ver the additional few inches to match that of your lifted truck. Make sure you use the services of a qualified and experience trailer Fabrication Company to handle the construction and installation of such a sub frame.

Bottom line, lifted trucks can tow 5th-wheelers, however it’s not ideal with the additional height, higher center of gravity and stability concerns.

Resources

16000lbs 5th wheel Hitch

5th Wheel Goosneck Adaptor

5th Wheel Hitch

Replacement 5th Wheel Pins and Clips

5Th Wheel Quick Release Pull Pin

Conclusion

You may never use it, BUT, there may be a situation in which you wish you had it…it only take one time!

There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying a 2WD 4×2 truck to tow your 5th-wheel. However, if I was buying for my use, I’d opt for the 4WD, without a doubt. If higher payload was a concern because of the 4WD weight penalty, then 2WD should be your choice.

It all depends on where you intend driving.

Jade C.

4-Wheel drives and off-road driving techniques has been my passion for over 20 years. Here we strive to provide the most accurate, up-to-date, information about the functionality, common faults and latest technology built into most 4 Wheel Drives.

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