When considering a truck you may be weighing up the options between a short bed vs long bed for towing.
As you might have guessed the internet has things to say on this subject!
But what you find is a minefield of myths and misleading statements. So stay tuned as we provide you with some real direction on this subject.
Short Bed vs Long Bed for 5th Wheel Towing
In this article we are not going to address 5th wheel towing and instead we will focus on a bumper tow.
However, let’s just note that there are dangers with towing a 5th wheel with a short bed truck. In a tight turning situation it is possible for the trailer overhang to smash into you truck’s rear window or side of the truck causing some very expensive damage.
Consequently, 5th wheel towing with a short bed truck is discouraged, but can be possible in certain situations. We won’t be addressing that in this article.
Myth 1 – Longer Bed Trucks Can Tow More
One statement you often see confidently stated is that long bed trucks have a higher tow rating and are therefore the better choice for a towing vehicle.
Yes, a bigger truck, with a longer bed, can tow more than a smaller truck (in general). That is obvious. A 3/4 ton truck can generally tow more than a 1/2 ton truck.
But that has nothing to do with the length of the bed, you are comparing apples and oranges.
If you keep the truck class the same – then what impact does bed length have on towing capacity?
The answer is – nothing.
What is the wheelbase?
Before we continue let’s quickly point out that we will usually be talking about the wheelbase, rather than the length of the truck bed.
The wheelbase is the distance from the front axle to the rear. It’s a more conventional and agreed-upon measurement than the truck bed length.
But longer wheelbase trucks generally have longer beds.
Example – bed length has no impact on towing capacity
Let’s look at the Ford F-150 trucks and see what impact bed length has on towing rating.
You can check out our article on the Ford F-150’s towing capacity. In it we have a searchable table providing the tow ratings of all the F-150 trucks. (Pretty neat huh? Much easier than that complicated Ford PDF).
In the table we can order all the trucks by tow rating and check out the first few trucks with the highest tow rating. In the snapshot below we have done just that.
You can see five trucks with the highest tow rating of 14,000 lbs.
They have a few things in common. There are all the 3.5L Ecoboost engines, they all have the max trailer tow package and they have relatively high axle ratios.
Do you know what they don’t have in common?
Right, the wheelbase.
In the five models below you can see they span trucks with a wheelbase of 145.4 to a wheelbase of 164.1
Wheelbase on its own has no impact on tow rating. The most impactful factor is the engine, axle ratio and whether it has a tow package.
Myth – Longer Bed Trucks are More Stable
Sounds pretty obvious and compelling, right? You will see plenty of confident assertions that “A longer bed truck is more stable and therefore provides a safer towing experience.”
However, we can find no evidence of this and it seems extremely suspect to take this at face value. Stick with us as we dig into this claim a bit more by looking at the factors that impact trailer sway….
What is trailer sway?
It’s almost pointless to try and describe trailer sway in words. If you’ve ever towed a trailer and experienced sway, then you know what is is!
The following video is very instructive in illustrating trailer sway. They look at the factors that impact trailer sway and find that the following factors have the largest impact.
- Tongue weight – too much, or too little tongue weight can increase trailer sway
- Distribution of weight – weights at the extremities can increase sway
- Weight of the towing vehicle – a lighter towing vehicle can increase sway
- Grade of slope – downhill can increase sway
- Speed – greater speed can increase sway
Do you know what they don’t bother looking at?
Yep – the length of the wheelbase. They don’t analyze whether a longer wheelbase can reduce sway and provide a more stable towing experience.
Trailer sway forces
In order to think about trailer sway and whether wheelbase might impact trailer sway we need to think about the forces at work.
The trailer can only act on the towing vehicle in one place. The hitch.
The trailer puts lateral forces on the towing vehicle and the towing vehicle resists that force with the frictional forces from the tires on the road.
Think about it. If you had 100% perfectly ‘grippy’ tires you would never have trailer sway!
The main force from the trailer is on the rear wheels. The front wheels are not too relevant.
You can see this by looking at the video above. Notice in their model how closely the front of the model car is tethered to front of the rotating belt. There is very little room for the front wheels to move laterally.
However, restricting the motion of the front wheels does not stop trailer sway. The video demonstrates many examples of catastrophic sway with the model, even when the front wheels very restricted.
So we can conclude that the front wheels, and the level of force from the front wheels, are not too influential on trailer sway.
Short bed vs long bed for towing and trailer sway
The longest wheelbase F-150 is 33% longer than the shortest wheelbase F-150 (illustrated right). This feels like a meaningful difference, but is it enough to impact towing stability?
As we saw from the video above, the front wheels are pretty much irrelevant to sway. In theory increasing the distance from the front to the back, by increasing the wheelbase should provide a longer lever, and hence more force to counter-act the sway. However, as shown above this is not a big effect, and really it’s the rear wheels that are key.
The Biggest Impact on Trailer Sway
It’s not the lever distance from the front wheels to the back that is important.
It’s the lever distance from the hitch to the rear wheels.
Remember the trailer can only act on the towing vehicle through the hitch. If the hitch is a long distance from the rear wheels then that will be a big turning force (torque) on the towing vehicle. And if the trailer is a short distance from the towing vehicle then it will be a much smaller turning force.
This is effectively demonstrated in the following video that shows the Hensley Hitch, or ProPride hitch.
Impact of projecting the pivot point
The Hensley Hitch is effective as it projects the pivot point forward to be closer to the rear wheels.
This dramatically reduces the turning force from the trailer on the towing vehicle. For example, if you can halve the distance from the pivot point to the rear wheels, then you halve the turning force of the trailer on the towing vehicle.
That is a much more meaningful effect than increasing the wheelbase length by 33%, and moving the front wheels further out.
See below for a schematic showing how the pivot point on the Hensley Hitch is projected forward.
Is a long bed truck more stable for towing?
What we’ve argued above is that the front wheels are almost irrelevant for towing stability. Yes, they provide some friction against the road to prevent the truck from turning, but it is not nearly as important as the rear wheels.
You can see that from the video where they have the front wheels tethered. Despite the front wheels from being tightly tethered it does not reduce or eliminate sway.
Therefore moving the wheelbase longer and gaining some turning force from the front wheels is unlikely to have a large impact on trailer sway.
Instead it is much more effective to follow the advice in the video, or simply reduce your hitch length – which is essentially what a Hensley Hitch does.
However there are other issues to take into account when deciding between a short bed and a long bed truck…..
Utility of a short bed vs long bed
A long bed truck has more room in the back for loading stuff. If you use you truck for work, or regularly need to transport large loads then clearly a larger bed is going to be more useful for you.
But don’t forget just because you have the room, you may not have the weight capacity, and you should check your truck’s gross weight rating (GWR).
Convenience of a short bed vs long bed
There can be no doubt that a short bed is more convenient as a daily-driver. If you are driving around town, or going to the supermarket then a short bed truck is more maneuverable.
Check out the following diagram. The difference in turning circle between the shortest wheelbase F-150 and the longest wheelbase F-150 is 11.3 ft. That’s quite a long distance and can have a large impact on maneuverability.
You should also consider whether you can get a long bed truck into your garage. The difference in length between the shortest wheelbase F-150 and the longest wheelbase F-150 is 41.3 inches, or over three feet. That’s the difference between being able to garage your truck or not.
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Off-road performance of a short bed vs long bed
One consideration is that a short bed truck can be more effective if you off-road. A long wheelbase can “ground” the truck where you crest a sharp hill and the underside of the truck hits the ground. That could be an expensive mistake!
5th Wheel towing for a short bed vs long bed
As discussed above towing a 5th wheel with a short bed truck can be dangerous. The overhang from the trailer can swing around when maneuvering and hit the side, or rear window of your truck.
It’s possible to find configurations of trucks, trailers and hitches that could make 5th wheel towing work, but take care!
So as you can see there are other considerations to take into account when choosing a short or long bed truck.
Frequently asked questions
What is better for towing short or long bed?
If you look at trucks in the same class then we’ve shown above that a longer bed truck does not generally have a higher tow rating. We’ve also shown that the claim that a longer bed provides a more stable towing experience is dubious at best.
Is a longer truck better for towing?
No, not necessarily. We do not believe a longer truck is “safer” or “better” for towing. If you want to look at trucks from a higher class (eg 3/4 ton trucks compared to 1/2 ton trucks) then that is a different question.
Do you need a long bed to tow a 5th wheel?
In general yes, you need a long bed for towing a 5th wheel. This is to ensure that in a tight turning circle, or reversing the trailer overhang does not hit the towing vehicle. However there are some configurations of short beds, trailers and hitches that can work.
There are two big myths when comparing short bed vs long bed for towing. A longer bed does not necessarily mean a higher tow rating, and a longer bed is not more stable or reduce trailer sway. If you are bumper towing then simply choose the best bed length on other non-towing factors to suit your lifestyle and requirements.
If you have remaining questions please contact us.
Please refer to the disclaimer for important notes and limitations on this article