The original purpose behind our ’97 Dodge project truck was to build a tow vehicle that virtually anyone could relate to. Older Dodges are stone reliable, and you can easily double their factory 160hp rating. When we last left Project Hot Rod RV, we had killed the killer dowel pin, and installed Power Driven Diesel’s Stage 1 fueling kit to pump up the power. We also went with PDD’s AFC Live in-cab tuner, which would allow us to dial anywhere from about 200 hp to 500 hp worth of fuel into the mix. Although we’d still be limited by our stock lift pump, turbocharger, and stock timing, we still saw a good gain.

We used a bumper-pull hitch in all our towing tests. Not only are most folks familiar with this type of arrangement, a Class V hitch is rated to tow a good amount of weight—up to 12,000 pounds.
Being stranded for various reasons is always a possibility, so we made sure to bring along a spare tire, jack, straps, and a bunch of other tools in case we needed to get out of a jam.
Without any gauges and with a stock turbo, we left the fuel on our AFC Live on “stock” so that we wouldn’t risk any EGT damage while climbing hills. We could still turn up the fuel with the flick of a switch when passing or when merging.
Our Dodge already had a beefed-up rear suspension with air springs and a heavy-duty sway bar, which kept it from having a nose-high stance for virtually all our tow tests.
Our Draw-Tite brake controller came in handy when it came time to stop. There was defi nitely a need for adjustment between loads, so we were glad we had one.
Our Dodge managed surprisingly good fuel economy when empty, partially in thanks to it being a low 2WD model (with 80psi in the tires). If you have a 4×4 with a lift, expect fuel economy to drop by at least 10 percent compared to ours.
Since we would be testing multiple trailers and a camper, we bypassed the whole tailgate up-ordown dilemma by just not running one. How much this actually affected our empty mileage is anyone’s guess.
With no tailgate, the fl atbed was a breeze to move around, and we could park, turn, and merge just about anywhere.
A large part of fuel mileage is aerodynamics-based, which is why we were able to break 20 mpg with an empty trailer, even with an extra four wheels and tires in tow.
Although the 1,600hp Nova drag car we used in our car-trailer test was a featherweight 2,800 pounds, the added weight plus aerodynamic drag meant a drop in mileage down to 16.8 mpg. That’s a 4mpg drop compared to empty, but nearly 17 mpg towing is still pretty good in our book.
Parking with the car on the trailer wasn’t bad, especially in residential neighborhoods where there was plenty of room.
The one big difference in our camper test was speed. Most of the time, we travelled at about 5 mph over the speed limit (60 mph) with the trailers, but with the camper we trucked along at 70 mph. This is part of the reason our fuel economy came in at only 15.3 mpg.
Visibility with the camper on was poor; backing up required relying mostly on guesswork or a spotter. A back-up camera would have been a very nice add-on for when we were running the camper.
Our least-aerodynamic test setup was also the one that was saddled with the worst fuel economy. Although we averaged just 14.4 mpg, pulling the big bumper pull trailer was still easy work for the Cummins-powered Dodge.

After a tractionless quarter-mile pass of 16.2 at 88 mph (up from 19.1 at 70 mph when stock), we decided to swing the pendulum back to towing, where we’d put our newfound power against a variety of campers and trailers in order to see where they ranged in terms of fuel economy, drivability, and dynamics. We also kept speed limited to about 5 mph over the posted limit, which in California (55 mph while towing a trailer) turns out to be kind of slow. Still, if you’re the kind of person that tows at 80 mph through the desert, you’re probably not worried about fuel economy.


After hauling three trailers and one camper, we can say with certainty that our mildly modified Dodge was well up to the task of towing anything we could bumper-pull. With 160 hp in stock form, towing is often a 35mph slow-lane affair, but it’s amazing what some light modifications can do. With our fuel turned up, acceleration and passing wasn’t an issue no matter the load, and throughout the test the Dodge rode nicely and remained comfortable. If you’re ever in the market for a tow/camper rig, a slightly modified 12-valve may be just what the doctor ordered.DW

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