The truck that carries our camper is 2004, Ford F350 single rear wheel (SRW) with crew cab, 4WD, 8 ft. cargo bed and a 6.0l diesel engine. As I discuss how I arrived at this truck, I will begin with its initial selection and discuss how I optimized it for its role. In stock condition, it has a number of strengths and weaknesses.
Strengths & Weaknesses
- Rugged drivetrain with proven capability (as well as well known/avoidable problems).
- Lots of space in the cab and cargo area.
- Can burn high sulfur diesel (still found in some south/central American countries….when we get there).
- Is not encumbered with a Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF for 2008-2013) or the need to use Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF – 2014 and later). Both of these add expense and reliability problems.
- Load capacity (9,999 GVW – 6,405 curb weight =) 3,595lbs (does not consider the additional engine weight so practically, its around 3,000). This is less than some other trucks and less than I would ideally prefer.
- Stock wheels are 265/75R16 with a diameter of 31.4″. These are small in comparison with what I will want for off road travel.
- The ‘cargo body’ is a significant restriction to floor area and ‘low center of gravity’ camper storage access when compared to a flatbed. I would prefer a flatbed but few are available and used flatbed campers are fewer.
Some standard specifications for comparison
- Overall Length: 262″/21’10”
- Overall width (w/o mirrors): 79.9″/6’7.9″
- Wheelbase: 172.4″/14’4.4″
The F350 before any modifications were done to support the camper
Considerations / Trade offs
When considering the basic vehicle and its appropriateness to carry a camper and/or be modified to be adapted to a dedicated RV, I made the following considerations/tradeoffs;
Load capacity is directly decreased with most vehicle options.
4WD adds 424 lbs but I viewed it as essential for the intended use.
Crew cab adds 563lbs (and 35.4″ in length). Because traveling with a dog and needing access to frequently used items is an important criteria, having readily accessible cargo space seems necessary. I view commercial truck campers as having very little external cargo storage (most is consumed with utilities). In my own planning for an RV body, I intended not to provide much externally accessible storage for theft prevention and water penetration reasons. I therefore feel that having in-cab space for those ‘ready access’ needs is required. In my search for a used vehicle, crew cabs were far more plentiful than ‘Super’ cabs (the rear door only opens after the front door is open) and offered the increased accessibility of an independent door.
The diesel engine adds about 600 lbs. (have not been able to precisely quantify). The more powerful and efficient engine seemed like a prerequisite despite the weight. Diesel was also planned to be the fuel source for the air and water heating in the camper to reduce fuel variety.
Because I wanted a diesel engine that would accept low sulfur diesel (pre 2008) and I had settled on Ford as a brand, that meant 7.3l (pre 2003) or 6.0l (2003-2007). The 7.3 has a very good reliability reputation but is weak(er) in power and efficiency. The 6.0l has a great reputation for power and efficiency but lesser in reliability. After some in-depth investigation, I decided that a 6.0l would be the most preferred option with several modifications and greater attention to performance monitoring and maintenance. See the list of the Rig’s monitoring tools HERE: The Rig’s Reliability and Maintenance.
I intend to focus on recovering (some) needed cargo capacity by concentrating on weight savings of the RV body and deletion of the cargo box.
I considered ‘upgrading’ to and F350 dual rear wheel (DRW) or F450 (only DRW) with increased carrying capacity. Because I want a vehicle with a single track for off-road trails, this also meant I would also need/want to convert back to SRW at considerable expense (special wheels and new tires). Since I was seeking a used, pre 2007 vehicle, many of the vehicles with DRW were commercial vehicles with austere cab trims and 2WD which I did not want (the many miles I intended to put on the truck meant creature comforts were important). In retrospect, I will say this is the one option I regret that I did not pursue. In particular, I feel the need for added braking capacity with a tow vehile. The DRW rear axle has not only greater load capacity but higher capacity brakes. The small diameter dual wheels also GREATLY improve the turning radius.
I intend to accommodate the camper weight by adding air bags (not a method to increase load capacity but useful in handling a fully loaded vehicle better). I will also potentially upgrade the rear sway bar to a larger, aftermarket model.
The specific truck I purchased was a ‘theft recovery’ vehicle I found it at a rebuilder who specializes in resale of repaired trucks. As such, I refer to it as a ‘Franken Truck’, meaning it has significant parts derived from other trucks. Specifically, the engine is the second engine from a different truck that was wrecked when it had less than 100k miles. The precise engine mileage is not known. It was tested and confirmed to have in excess of 400 psi of cylinder compression in all cylinders at the time it was installed. This is a measurement of a new engine so I am going to assume the engine to have less than 30k (when it was installed in my 151k vehicle). Since the vehicle was heavily damaged in the (supposed) ‘theft’, in addition to replacement of the engine, it also received a new, aftermarket all aluminum radiator, Ford charge air cooler, batteries (2) and starter.
In addition to the engine, there was a new windshield, front bumper, grill and headlights. The seats were replaced with those from a 2008 truck. The passenger front door was replaced and the entire vehicle was repainted the factory dark blue color.
Leveraging the F350 for the customer camper
With the upgrades, repairs and setup already poured into our Franken truck it made sense to continue using it. The F350 will be our truck for the custom camper build and there’s a list of truck changes needed to complete the new rig including: remove the cargo box, add a pass through from the cab to the camper, and we need all terrain tires to handle wet and muddy areas.