Do I Really Need A Dually For Hotshot Trucking?

For starters, I’m writing from experience. Hauling everything from 4,000 lb RVs to pulling 24,000 lbs of livestock, I’ve logged a lot of miles in the hotshot business. This experience includes gas and diesel engines, single and dual rear wheels and an occasional short bed or Mega-cab.

A dually certainly isn’t a requirement for hotshot trucking. Having used both, I highly recommend using a dually in most applications. Nearly every reason some hotshot truckers chose single rear wheels is based on false assumptions. This article is about helping you avoid the same mistakes.

Purchase Price, New And Used

If you’re buying new, a dual rear-wheeled pickup will definitely cost a bit more than it’s single rear-wheeled counterpart. How much more depends on how the truck is equipped. I used the manufacturer’s Build And Price feature to pin down the cost as best I could for this article.

Let’s look at what you’re paying more for.

  • 2 more wheels and tires.
  • Wider rear fenders, usually with marker lights (unless you buy a cab/chassis truck).
  • Rear axle and suspension built to handle a higher payload.

It’s your choice whether or not you spend the extra for that dually, and it’s definitely more, but read on before you decide.

Note: The 2020 Chevrolet 3500 dually in the picture has a sticker price of just over $80,000.

Buying Used

This 07 Dodge was one of my favorite livestock haulers. We flogged this thing for nearly 400,000 miles.

On the other hand, the gap closes when you’re looking at a truck that’s 3 years old or more. The price spread between these two trucks can be negligible. In the retail world, those single wheels are in demand for weekend RVers and sportsmen. A smart shopper should be able to find a dually without paying more.

A common mistake to avoid, don’t settle for the wrong gears. I’ve watched several hotshotters fall in love with a used truck. It was exactly the color and equipment they wanted, but had the wrong gear ratio for the job.

For RV haulers, the wrong gears were usually numerically too high, like 4.10s. Although they were great for towing, the deadhead mileage was about 3 mpg lower than the 3.56 or 3.72 gears the experienced hotshotters used.

On the other hand, if you’re hauling a 36-40 foot gooseneck trailer all the time, those same 3.56 gears could actually cost you a few well paying loads due to the lower GCWR, or gross combined weight rating.

Know the wheel and tire size, and the gear ratio of the truck you’re looking for before you start looking at vehicles. You can be flexible on color, trim and other options, but you need the truck that best performs the job.

Buyer’s Tip: Play down the dual rear wheels when shopping. Whether it’s a private party or dealer, act as if the dual rear wheels aren’t a plus, but you’re interested in the truck. You might take a dually, but you’re not willing to pay extra for it.

Tire Cost

Again, I speak from experience. Running the same all season Firestone Transforce tires, we rotated every 7500-10,000 miles. Both single wheel and duals, pulling like loads.

The single rear-wheeled trucks would get about 80,000 miles out of a set of 4 tires. The same tires on a dually would go an extra 40,000 miles before being replaced. They’d last about 120,000 miles.

Do your math. Either way, you’re buying 1 tire every 20,000 miles. As far as cost goes, it’s a wash. Granted, if you’re paying someone else to rotate, your labor rates would be slightly higher on the dually.

Avoid My Tire Mistake, Selection. When buying tires for my truck, I followed the process most of my friends used. The decision was based on 2 questions:

  1. How much will it cost to purchase, mount and balance the new tires?
  2. How long will the tires last if I maintain them properly? (air pressure and rotation)

Knowing what I know now, I would have chosen a different tire. Although I might not have the numbers to prove it, I’m pretty sure I could have bought a higher quality tire for about the same total cost.

Using a higher quality all-season tire would have produced better fuel economy and better service in inclimate weather. Although these tires may have cost more, the improved safety and handling on snow and ice when added to the milage gain, would have made the extra cost minimal.

Fuel Ecconomy

This is a tough one because I know how to get better mileage than most. Playing with going a bit slower when loaded, and making up the time when empty, I nearly always beat my friends and co-workers in the fuel economy department.

When you run trucks as hard as we did in the livestock business, you watch little things like air pressure, fuel filters and such. But all things being equal, I was hard pressed to find more than a few tenths of a mile difference in fuel economy between singles and duals.

One of my best ways to improve fuel economy, keep the left door closed. Opening the driver’s door means you’ve stopped, so stop less often. Plan your trip, get rolling and keep rolling.

These unscheduled stops also bring with them the opportunity to spend money on things you wouldn’t have purchased had you just kept rolling. And you probably spent that money in a store that overprices every single thing in the store.

Every stop requires leaving the road, parking and shutting the truck off. Worse yet, it could be too cold and you leave it idling. Either way, you’re throwing away fuel to pull off, park, start back up and get up to speed again.

Even when you’re doing everything else right, this tip will save you fuel and cash. When that left door is closed, you’re not spending money on stuff you really don’t need.

Payload And Stability

This is where a dually shines. Even with a light load or empty trailer in tow, it handles better. You have more tire on the ground, meaning the wind pushes you around less.

The considerably higher payload means that gooseneck trailer can be loaded properly, with more weight in the front of the trailer than the single wheeled axle. Your ride is smoother and more enjoyable, something you’re sure to notice.

Even bumper-pull trailers are more stable. Again, higher payloads and more rear tire contact make some of those otherwise beastly hauls a little easier.

Short Beds And Mega Cabs

These trucks come with some geometry issues when it comes to gooseneck trailers like hotshotters and livestock haulers use. With the shorter bed comes the decreased distance between the hitch and the back of the cab. This shortened distance is even shorter with the Ram Mega Cab.

A common way around this is to use a hitch converter that plugs into the gooseneck receiver in the bed of your truck. These converters actually move the ball a few inches back in the truck bed. Although they do deliver a few more inches between the cab and the trailer’s nose, they have drawbacks.

  1. In most cases, the few inches you gain is not enough to compensate for what you’ve lost.
  2. The highest rating I can find one of these is 20,000 lbs. This could limit your ability to haul some loads.
  3. Speaking from experience, your handling is greatly diminished. It’s simple geometry. When you move the hitch back a few inches, you move weight from the front axle to the rear axle. You will notice it.

As tempting as the short beds and Mega Cab trucks may be, I don’t recommend them for towing gooseneck trailers. Damaged cabs and broken back windows get expensive. Shifting the weight to the back wheels could also result in your rear axle being overloaded.  

When You Really Don’t Need The Dually

Although most hotshotters are definitely better off with a dually, there are times it’s not the best option. If you know you’re only going to be hauling light cargo, going into areas where even a 4-wheeled pickup is tight, you could be best served with a single rear wheeled pickup. Just do your homework first.

Conclusion

You don’t use a crescent wrench to change a head gasket or a sledgehammer to change a fuse. You use the right tool for the job. A hotshot truck is no different.

Pin down what you’re going to need the truck to do, and what kind of terrain, weather conditions and other variables you expect. Having done this, you can shop accordingly and find the truck that best fits your needs.