We all know (and sometimes dread) those emails or blog posts that are laced with questions, some of which warrant a reply or comment. The hard part is reading the entire post while remembering what you might want to write as a reply without taking notes. Well, this is one of those posts. I’ll apologize up front. If you’re inclined to comment, feel free to just go after anything that’s way out of line or invokes a strong opinion. I should also add I’ll not be commenting about the F450 truck.
I can’t recall it ever being such a challenge to buy the right vehicle. Perhaps knowing the truck purchase would be a “final” decision in terms of what we live with long-term, caused the decision to take on a new meaning. And of course, adding on the need to tow a huge fifth wheel safely, eventually over thousands of miles in all kinds of weather has a little bit to do with overthinking the purchase. After years of owning two vehicles, we are moving to just one to share as a tow vehicle and daily driver.
I had planned a couple times to post in detail about selecting a gear ratio but decided not to bore you with it. I parked those notes over on this truck page and included a few
brief comments below. If you know what a “gear ratio” is then some of what follows in this post might be elementary. For me, it’s been a learning curve for sure.
I’ve had quit the dialog via email with several readers that have been very helpful. Thank you!
As you may recall, I’ve already decided to look at 2017/2018 Ford F350 and Ram 3500 trucks. If I had an unlimited budget, selecting options would be easier. For this post I’ll cover the Ford truck options I’m considering. Should we decide on the Ford, I’ll let our budget dictate if we buy the very popular Lariat model or less popular XLT. If we can’t find a truck equipped with most of what we want, we may have to order it new. With the options I’d want, there is about a $6,000 difference between the XLT (cloth seats) and Lariat (leather seats) trim packages.
Before getting into the list of options to consider, here are a few Ford questions for the benefit of us soon to be new – first time diesel truck owners.
- Heavy Service Front Suspension Package? Yes or no when pulling trailers under 19,000 pounds? I understand the option is for heavy-service front springs that will degrade ride quality. I’ve read a few forum posts but still don’t understand when one might want this option. Seems like this option is geared towards snow plows and truck campers or when you expect to tow a trailer that is near the capacity the truck is rated to pull.
- Individual Trailer TPMS/Trailer Camera Prep Kit? At $750/$1375 this option adds tire pressure monitoring for your trailer tires. This option forces you to also add a high mounted camera option (if not already equipped) that has a view of the truck bed that could be handy for hitching up the fifth wheel. It also upgrades the screen display size on the center of the dash to Sync 3 (if not already equipped). I’m thinking it might be nice to limit the number of gadgets one has attached to the truck dashboard or wherever. This includes a standalone system for monitoring trailer tire pressure which is 100% something one needs to monitor. But, some of the aftermarket devises also monitor tire temperature so you know a problem is coming as the tires heat up. I jumped on Amazon to price out a system for the 10 tires a dually truck and double axle fifth wheel would need and generally found they start at $405 with temperature monitoring. Another confusing option. Just a quick reminder. Get metal valve stems that are more durable!
- Skid plates for fuel tank and transfer case protection? It’s only $100 but do you really need it if you are not figuring on any heavy off-road travel?
- Engine ideal shut down? Okay, what the heck is this all about. The option comes in three values ranging from five to 20 minutes. Is it okay to idle diesel engines for long periods? Does this option just turn the truck off in case you forget? And if so, when would you want it shut down in 5 minutes, 10, 15 or 20 minutes?
- Operator command regeneration? I added this question because it’s yet another diesel engine thingy for those of us who never owned a diesel can find confusing. I understand regeneration burns off soot in the particulate filter. I read this is button you can push if a warning light comes on. It also has a feature to prevent regeneration if you’re sitting on grass and you don’t want to burn your truck. The Ford website says contact the dealership for details. Okay.. I’ve read it’s a bad thing to allow the soot to build up. The filters are expensive and the truck limps along if there is a problem. Thank goodness for owner’s manuals, I for one am going to need to read it!
(Warning opinions ahead)
2018 Ford Options: (If we were to buy a Ford)
- Crew cab vs shorter super cab: (Yes – crew cab) We decided as it’s our only vehicle and we have pets to transport we will go with the longer crew cab with increased back seat space. Also, with the crew cab and 8’ truck bed you can get the 48-gallon fuel tank capacity. That should cut down on the chances of having to find a fuel stop with the trailer attached. And, perhaps avoiding the need to add an aftermarket auxiliary tank in the truck bed. The Ram equivalent truck comes with a 31-gallon capacity. Fuel tank size is a major selling point for the Ford in my opinion.
- Diesel engine, dual rear wheels with 4×4: (Yes) The 4×4 decision is highly debated in the forums. What sold me was having always purchased a truck with 4×4 and knowing already how often I’ve used it in the past. A theme Karen and I have maintained when considering which trailer we want has been to not limit where we stay any more than necessary such as when choosing trailer length. We don’t want to limit where we drive or park either any more than necessary. I’ve read that even slick grass can sometimes be an issue when parking the trailer. Yes, a 4×4 truck weighs more than a 4×2 and cuts down on it’s cargo capacity. With best in class cargo capacity that’s not an issue for the Ford. And for that matter, given the pin weights we are looking at, not an issue with the Ram either.
- Camper Package: (No) This is not an option I’m thinking about selecting. My understanding is the package is intended for a slide in truck camper and adds heavy duty springs on the trucks front end while degrading the ride quality.
- FX4 Off-Road Package: (Maybe) I understand this option comes with hill descent control, Rancho brand shocks, transfer case and fuel tank skid plates. Ford says you want this option if you travel off road in earnest. So far, I don’t see a need for it at $600 but would not pass on a truck that’s on the lot equipped with the option. If I’m reading about options correctly, hill descent control has to do with braking at lower speeds going down a hill in off-road conditions compared to diesel engine braking (comes standard) which is for descending mountains in normal traffic. Boondocking in remote areas will require a road capable of handing the fifth wheel anyway.
- Power adjustable pedals with memory: (Yes) Had this on a past Ford Lariat we owned and was useful for shorter drivers (Karen). And another setting to adjust for comfort otherwise. Remember – as a full timer we will be driving a lot. Along with telescoping/tilt steering wheel/column controls. Maybe a reason to order a Lariat with the ultimate package over the XLT. Although the adjustable pedals are available otherwise in both the Lariat and XLT.
- Folding and telescoping mirrors: (Yes) XLT’s are manual but there is an option for power. Lariats come standard with power. Ford has awesome towing mirrors and is one of several reasons this truck might be preferred over the Ram. Although the rumor is Ram is changing their mirrors in the new designed 2020 heavy duty truck.
- Navigation System: (Maybe) If it’s a Lariat for resale purposes, (No) if it’s an XLT truck. I’m planning to purchase the best RV specific GPS unit I can find but could see the in-truck navigation system being usable for driving around in town after the fifth wheel is parked while leaving the GPS unit at home.
- Heated and/or cooled seats: (Maybe) We have this in our family car now and truly appreciate the feature even though the car is parked inside the garage most of the time. But when left out in the cold and heat (like the truck will be) the feature makes a huge difference. Another reason for the Lariat is the available cooled and heated front leather seats. The XLT is available with heated front cloth seats.
- Tow Technology Package: (No way) The feature bundle includes adaptive steering which adjusts steering controls based on the trucks speed, automatic high beams with rain-sensing windshield wipers, lane-keeping alert and a bunch of cameras that help you back up a travel trailer. At $2,150 that’s a third of the difference between the Lariat truck and XLT truck we would want.
- 5th Wheel/Gooseneck Hitch Prep Package: (Yes – Absolutely) This is among the features that make up the super tow ratings of up to a 27,500-pound fifth wheel. This is a puck system where more modern hitches can be removed from the truck bed with relative ease in case you want to haul something flat. And, avoids having to pay for expensive hitch installation without it.
- Alternator Options: (No) I’m just sticking with the standard alternator setup that come standard with the Ford F350 super duty truck rather than adding dual extra heavy-duty alternators. Someone I trust breaks the decision down. I’m copying most of what he said here because it’s an involved decision. “Unless you run additional heavy (like 2/0) cable to the trailer battery bank the charge rate through the 7-pin standard connector is only about 8 amps. That’s all the OEM wiring in the truck can take. Now, if you were planning on installing a true trailer battery charging system from the truck then naturally the dual alternator with much higher capacity would be needed and appropriate. Or if in the truck itself one needed a lot of 12-volt amps due to inverters in the truck, etc. But that’s not something most would undertake nor, in most situations, is it necessary. Solar is actually more functionally easier except in the most unusual circumstances where one would need to fully recharge a trailer battery bank during a day of travel after a large overnight depletion… So the short version is: no.”
- Bed liner – Tough Bed spray-in: (Yes) At $540 from the factory I’m doubting you can find it done any less expensively for a long bed truck and for sure it looks perfect from the factory. Why hassle with getting it done later if you’re already ordering the truck. I read where a guy called around for a short bed truck application. Average cost for Line -X installation was $481.77 and a Rino bed installed was on average $470.41. I’m doubting Karen is reading this blog post, at least not this far along. Wish she was, because the guy that put together the cost comparisons for bed liners I read about is way more ate-up with the research bug then she has ever accused me of.
- Blind Spot Information System: (Heck Yes): Another reason to buy a Ford over a Ram. Although rumor has it the 2020 Ram heavy duty is adding the option. I’ve read it works with a standard 8’ wide trailer. Although a blog reader says he has it and it does not work with his fifth wheel. I’m wondering if he has a wide-body fifth wheel? Anyway, the system warns you if someone is in your truck AND trailers blind spot, extending 35’ down the side of the trailer. In other words, before you change lanes you will have more than just your truck mirrors to warn you a car is beside you. And the systems cross-traffic alert for the truck only detects a vehicle passing behind when you’re slowly backing out of a driveway or parking place. These heavy-duty trucks are monsters in size. Why not have an additional warning device. Karen has it on her Ford Fusion car and it’s wonderful. A small yellow light displays on her outside mirrors when a car is in the lane next to her on either side.
- Engine block heater: (Yes) If I’m reading this correctly, I don’t see how you can get away without having one on a diesel engine. Here is what Ford says: To ensure optimum cold weather starting performance, and improve cabin heating, the 120-volt engine block heater should be used during any cold weather operation. The engine block heater is required when the vehicle is to be started at temperatures below -10F. Although 10 below is an extreme you might never find yourself in. I’d hate to think you could not drive the truck should you find yourself in that kind of weather.
- Exterior backup and front alarms (Ford does not offer front alarms): (Yes) I’d also want the backup camera. Again, these trucks are huge and every edge we can get to avoid hitting something would be nice. I also noticed where the switch is in the truck to shut off the backup alarm when towing a trailer.
- Rear window power sliding: (No) Had it on my last truck and rarely used it. I could see if you optioned in a sunroof this rear window would add air flow through the truck. I’m not planning on a sunroof either as the budget is tight. However, I’d think going with the optional rear window defrost is something usable.
- Remote start system: (Yes) At $250 I understand this option is keyless entry. And turns on outside lights. It appears to have a security system that locks out the starter. I had to read the manual to figure this option out and don’t know why they include “remote start” in the option because it does not remotely start the truck which fortunately is not a feature I’m interested in anyway. True remote starting could be handy if one ever intended to leave the truck unattended to heat up. Although I’ve read it’s not a good idea to idle diesel engines for too long.
- Tailgate step: (Yes) At $350 it’s a great option especially for us old folks. Of course, it’s useless with a fifth wheel hitched. Chevy has a better option – maybe – which is a step built into the corner of the rear bumper. The tailgate step on the Ford is built into the tailgate. When I tried it out I did not think it added that much weight to an already light tailgate.
- Front wheel liner: (Yes) But am I missing something here. Why don’t they offer the option for the rear wheels also? I’ll have to check it out at the dealership. Maybe the liner is standard on the rear wheels? Maybe because dually tires are under fenders? I’d not want mud flung up into the engine area. I watched some Youtube videos where you can install aftermarket rear liners. Not as big a problem with the Ford as the truck bed is aluminum and will not rust.
- Tire Options: (No – I think) The standard is an all season. Other’s are all terrain. If you have ever had off road or hard tires on a truck, then you know the road noise is terrible.
- Limited slip differential: (Yes) Compared to non-limited slip. A $350 option. I’ve always understood this feature improves tire rotation, so you don’t get stuck or slide as often. For lack of better words.
- Rapid heat supplemental cab heater: (Yes) Seems to be a popular option for trucks I’ve looked up parked on dealer’s lots. This feature allows the cab heater to work until the diesel engine heats up enough to provide the heat. Hmm.. Another diesel engine idiosyncrasy I suppose.
- Upfitter switches: (Yes) Upfitter is not even a real word according to my spell checker. These switches are what you can wire aftermarket features into such as supplemental lighting, a dash cam or whatever. I’d have to think they are important for resale.
3.55 or 4.10 gear ratio: I’ve got a chart that shows the max tow rating depending on which ratio you have. Technically speaking, the Ford F350 dually diesel has a max fifth wheel rating of 27,500 pounds. The 3.55 geared trucks are rated at 27,300 and the 4.10 gets you the 27,500. Their advertised 31,800-pound max is for a goose neck trailer/hitch.
For the sake of saving time on the next post regarding Ram options I’ll include my combined notes. You read this far so I assume you’re interested. In the Ram, the transmission you select makes a difference. Fact is, you can’t get the highest capacity version of the Cummins engine (the high-output) without the Aisin transmission option. And the Ram has three gear ratio options. Get a chart and look because the gear ratio and engine combinations span max towing weights between 16,600 and 30,320 pounds with the automatic transmissions. You could easily buy the wrong combination in a Ram. When asked about gear ratios many refer back to the effects on miles per gallon and ability to climb hills. Not to get off topic much, but when you add Ram’s Aisin transmission then the debate moves further into transmission heat. The Aisin runs cool up mountains but has better than twice the costs for transmission maintenance.
To oversimplify the gear ratio effects on fuel mileage I’ll just say folks are suggesting, when averaged, there is not much difference when you tow heavy trailers a lot. Or some folks say the following about gear ratio selection:
- Some say just don’t exceed the trucks capacity as the truck is already designed to safely tow up to a specific weight.
- Or, some say you want the extra 20% for times you are in the mountains. – Get the 4.10 gears.
- Or, some say the increased capacity makes for a more pleasurable drive such as for those times you need to merge into traffic by accelerating. Get the 4.10.
- Or, some say get a truck that can handle more in case you upgrade your trailer.
- Or, some say get 50% more truck than you need.
- Or, some say when you drive into high winds, especially with a full profile fifth wheel, you will appreciate having the extra tow capacity. Get a 4.10
- And finally, some say set the truck up for towing with the best engine, transmission and the 4.10 gear ratio.
I suppose in the end, I could live with the Fords 3.55 or 4.10 gearing. And maybe the 3.73 in the Ram is a happy medium as it can handle trailers weights up to 25,020 pounds. But most of all, if the truck comes standard with a certain gear ratio that can handle 20 percent more trailer weight than I’d want to pull, then why not just take the stock gear ratio which the engineers put in the truck on purpose. Get a copy of the trailer tow capacity charts for whatever truck you are considering so you make an informed decision.
I’ll write about the options that are different in the Ram 3500 truck compared to the Ford in a future post. This should be a shorter post as many of the Ram options would be the same as those found in the Ford.