The Half-Ton Kerfuffle and Fixing the Bed Hinges

Victoria’s Dad seemed a little worried about little old her driving this big old rig. I guess we won’t tell him what happened when Victoria set the cruise control (yeah I know, bad idea towing a trailer) and we got to Spencer, ID driving Northbound on I-15. A storm was blowing in, and it’s always windy there anyway. Rounding one of those curves, a gust of wind pushed the back end of the truck around enough for the traction control to kick on, which made a startling noise. To her credit, she handled slowing down and pulling over like a pro – she let off the gas, gradually slowed down and calmly pulled over to the shoulder.

I drove the rest of the way to Missoula, Montana in the rain and wind going about 65 most of the way, and we didn’t have any more incidents like that, but the wind was definitely pushing the trailer around a lot.

We’re part of a FaceBook group Living the RV Dream so we decided to post a question there for input.

Input requested from the hubby on towing the 2019 Outback 330ML with the 2019 Tundra 4WD short box with towing package. The truck has an Andersen weight distribution hitch and independent Firestone air bags filled at about 60 PSI when connected to the trailer. The factory tires are P275/65/R18 Michelens. The truck is rated to tow 9,800 lbs and the trailer dry weight is 8,300 lbs. We went over a scale yesterday and total GVW was 16,400. Back axle of the truck was 5280 lbs and trailer axles 8140. Concerns are GVW is right at the limit (truck manual says 16,000 limit and we weighed in at 16,420) and the back axle of the truck (MFR sticker says 4,150 lbs limit on back axle, and the scales said 5280). Questions are, does the weight distribution hitch help at all with the weight on the back axle? Would a heavier duty truck tire on the back help? Are we just overloaded and need to look for a new truck? Or are there things we can do with our current setup to make it safe and make it work?

Facebook post

Comments ranged from ‘you’re going to kill people and they’ll burn and die’ (paraphrasing only a little) to ‘yeah you’re at the top end of the truck’s capacity and you will probably want to look for a bigger truck’ to ‘buy American’ to ‘we loved our Tundra and pulled a trailer all over but eventually got something bigger’ but the consensus basically was “more truck is needed.” Someone broke out the ‘oh no here come the tow police,’ but hey, I asked.

Victoria actually suggested we rearrange the things in the back of the truck such as moving the generator to the front of the bed closer to the front axle and move some of them to the trailer storage over the trailer axle. I went to Les Schwab and bought 10-ply Open Range LT275/65R18/10 tires with weight rating of 3,400 lbs each, tightened up the weight distribution hitch a bit more, and went over the scale and the back axle weight was 4,960 lbs. We drove up to Kalispell, across to Shelby and Havre, and down to Great Falls, and it definitely was a lot more stable with better tires.

I must admit, all I saw when I was researching trucks was a 10,200 lb towing capacity, and that F250 Lariat Diesels were about $20K more. I did not know enough about towing GVW, axle weights, etc. and I didn’t ask enough questions up front. I got a good hitch, air bags, and now better tires, but I still have a Tundra. We’re pushing it. So, part of the learning experience here is continually finding out the kinds of questions it would have been good to ask had you known to ask them. It seems like common sense in hindsight, because now I know that:

  • Truck user manual has towing weights and capacities
  • Truck manufacturer sticker in the driver’s side door has axle weight capacities
  • Any weigh station will weigh your rig and give you your axle weights

And I would suppose it’s true that if you ask RV service managers, Les Schwab guys, or anyone who’s towed a big travel trailer, after you get past any male bluster and inevitable comparisons of truck sizes etc., you’ll get down to brass tacks and find out the real deal. Live and learn.

UPDATE

After driving back from the Montana Highline with the wind blowing the back end of the half ton around despite better tires, we looked for a beefier truck, and got a great deal at Middlekauff on a trade and a ‘gently used’ 2019 F350 with just over 2,000 miles. Welcome to the family! We couldn’t think of a name, but this thing is a brute. It floats along like a dream whether you’re towing or not. Last time we took off Victoria actually forgot we had a trailer behind us.

The Bed Storage is Broken

Another thing you learn in Travel Trailer School is that you might have to fix some things yourself. Granted, the trailer is under warranty, and Xtreme RV in Eden, Idaho is great about doing service work, but things are going to happen, and Murphy’s Law is they’re going to happen a long way from home.

Like the bed storage hinge, which broke in Havre, MT, only 2 1/2 weeks into our first trip. I would guess we had lifted the bed to get access to the storage probably about 20 times total since the trailer was new. We’ll be back home next week and could take our trailer in for some service work but we’re living in it so that’s not convenient.

When I took a look at the bed storage lid, the light duty hinge had pulled away from the plywood. The 1/2″ wood screws were placed pretty close to the edge of the plywood, and the 80-lb pneumatic springs put a lot of strain on those hinges, not to mention the weight of the mattress, topper, bedding, etc. But I could see that the pneumatic gas springs were attached to a 1×2 which was attached to the plywood with longer screws and washers.

I scratched my head wondering why the smaller hinges and screws were used for the lid attachment, and why they didn’t use a 1×2 similarly there. Drove to town, spent about $12 on some wood, heavy-duty door hinges, 1 1/4″ wood screws, and washers. Took a few minutes with the Craftsman cordless impact driver which had been recommended on another travel blog, and after a brief moment of confusion when the gas springs wouldn’t close (I just had to press harder, they have 80 lbs each of resistance and when they open completely they can be a bit hard to push closed), I was pretty happy with the results.

Of course, 20 minutes of repair work did take two trips to town on two separate days and some head scratching while consulting the Internet (about the gas springs), but all in all I was happy to have fixed a small issue myself.

If your trailer has under-bed storage, you may want to beef up those hinges before something breaks. And if you are Keystone RV, you may want to replace those cheap hinges with something more appropriate for such a large door. Everything else on the Outback 330ML seems to be very high quality, but these hinges aren’t so great.

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