Finding the perfect vehicle for your Mopar truck camper is essential. But despite doing all the research, or so he thought, Mike Pavel’s found out the hard way in December 2022.
Maybe you’ve seen photos of the catastrophic failure online, with Pavel standing bewildered by his 2020 Ram 3500.
Join us while we look at the events that caused the disaster and ensure you don’t make the same mistakes.
Truck Camper Destroys Ram 3500 Frame
Like many of RVers, Mike Pavel bought the Mopar camper and a new truck at the same time. He talked to the dealership and the camper company before his purchase. Both said it was the perfect vehicle. But the pickup and camper disagreed on a mountain pass outside Baja, California.
After putting in 25,000 miles, Pavel felt like he was in good shape. One afternoon in December 2022, he headed out for what he thought was a routine trip. As he drove up the mountain pass, something gave way. He pulled over to the side of the highway and couldn’t believe what he saw. His camper tilted back, and his rig split in half.
Lucky for him, a nearby mechanic leveled the camper before towing it to his shop. When Pavel got the truck in for repairs, the bill came to $17,000. He thought he was in good shape with the policy, but he was wrong. Mopar denied the claim because they said the vehicle was overloaded.
Despite his best efforts, this unlucky guy is staring down the barrel at the cost of repairs out of pocket. Let’s look at the factors that caused this failure and what you can do to avoid it.
What Caused the Ram 3500 Frame to Bend?
Pavel bought a Mopar Eagle Cap for his Ram 3500 dualie, specifically for the camper. Several factors could’ve caused the failure, the most important being weight. Let’s look at the numbers.
Eagle Cap rates the camper at 5,000 pounds dry and 6,500 pounds fully loaded. A standard 2020 Ram 3500 with two-wheel drive and a regular-sized bed can handle 7,680 pounds. Pavel’s crew cab dualie had a shorter bed and could probably only take 5,850 pounds.
If these numbers are accurate, the truck’s capacity maxed out almost as soon as he put the camper on. The fact that it traveled 25,000 miles before the failure is a miracle.
What Is Payload Capacity?
Mopar refused Pavel’s claim because his truck was overloaded. On the surface, the numbers support the company’s point of view. Payload capacity is the sticking point in this case, so let’s dig in.
Put simply, payload capacity is the amount of weight your vehicle can hold and still operate safely. Dealers share this information in the purchasing process, but it’s easy to gloss over. GVWR (gross vehicular weight rating) tells you exactly how much your truck can handle. This includes passengers and anything you’ve got in the bed.
Overload your pickup, and you’ll find out the hard way what happens. Going significantly over the limit could result in mechanical failure, drivetrain failure, and frame buckling.
Pro Tip: We think these Best Dually Trucks for Towing are well worth the investment.
How to Find a Vehicle’s Payload Capacity
To determine your vehicle’s payload capacity, you’ve got to have some information.
Curb weight, empty with a full tank of gas, gives you the starting point. You should be able to find this from the dealer or in your owner’s manual.
Once you’ve got this number, look up the GVWR for your vehicle. Most manufacturers put this on the inside of the driver’s side door.
Payload capacity is the weight rating minus the mass of your truck. Let’s say you have a GVWR of 7,850 pounds and it runs 5,000 pounds. That means that you can only haul 2,850 pounds.
Dealers usually inflate numbers to increase sales, so you may have some wiggle room. But this doesn’t mean you can go crazy and overload your pickup.
Can You Increase a Vehicle’s Payload Capacity?
Dealers can’t legally increase the payload capacity of a vehicle. Manufacturers set that at the factory. It’s usually based on the weakest link. That said, there are a few ways to improve your capability. You can fix some of these issues if you own your rig outright and have money to burn.
According to the It Still Runs website, your truck’s weakest link is the springs, a common issue. In this case, you could replace the springs with some rated for a higher weight capacity. Moving down the line, you could improve the next vulnerable part, and so on.
While increasing your payload capacity is possible, other issues will likely pop up. You may need to soup up your transmission. You’ll also probably want to add airbags to reduce jolting and replace your driveshaft.
How to Avoid Exceeding Payload Capacity
If you don’t want to rebuild your truck at some point, we recommend staying within the payload capacity. In this case, information is your friend. Here are some best practices to avoid damaging your vehicle beyond repair.
Know Your Payload Capacity
This is a no-brainer. Take the time to locate the payload capacity of your vehicle. As we mentioned earlier, this is a pretty simple number to find. Using the information provided by your dealer, you should be able to figure out precisely how much you can haul.
Getting an accurate curb weight is vital. The best way to calculate this is to subtract the total load capacity from the GVWR. Most of the time, you’ll be well within the projected limits.
But if you’re loading a Mopar truck camper, you’d better be right!
Check Your Weight
You have a few other options if you can’t find the numbers in the truck. Checking the weight with the manufacturer is as easy as a phone call. Have the VIN handy, and they’ll be able to tell you everything you need to know about an unmodified vehicle.
Add in the weight of passengers and other in-cab cargo. We know it’s sensitive, but you’ve got to be accurate. Then, add in any large load, like a camper, and you’re all set!
Pro Tip: Our guide on How To Easily Weigh Your RV will make sure you never get stuck in a situation where you cannot safely tow your rig.
Cut Weight Where You Can
Reducing the weight of your vehicle is another way to avoid exceeding payload capacity. The easiest way is only to carry the necessities. If you’ve got a camper with water tanks, drive empty. If you’ve got all the bells and whistles, see if you can do without something.
Another, more extreme way to cut weight will put you in the shop. Replacing heavy components with lighter parts is the fastest way. You can also swap out tires for smaller versions, strip the interior, and empty the fast food wrappers. When you’re cutting poundage, nothing is too small.
It’s Tough To Get Paid After Voiding a Warranty
Truck campers are a convenient way to travel light. And while catastrophic failures like Pavel’s are uncommon, they do happen. As we’ve seen from his experience, Mopar isn’t messing around. If you void your warranty, you’ll be stuck with the bill.
Having the correct information is vital to ensure you can keep moving down the road. Hopefully, the tips we’ve shared will keep you from experiencing a bent frame or worse.
And if you’re worried you’re too close, it may be best to skip that cheeseburger.
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