When shopping for a new RV, many people make decisions on looks, features, and layouts. One often overlooked component of the RVing buying process – and RVing in general – is RV weight.
Understanding the importance of RV weight is critical for not only knowing how much stuff you can bring on your RV adventures. It is also important for insurance coverage purposes in case of an accident, and for your safety. Let’s dive in!
Why Is RV Weight Important?
There are several reasons why RV weight is such an important topic to understand for both drivable RVs and towable RVs. If your RV is overweight, or your tow vehicle is overloaded, there can be real and serious consequences.
General Wear & Tear On Your RV
An overweight RV is going to have increased wear and tear on everything from suspension, brakes, and axles, to engine and drivetrain. This means a shorter life for your vehicle components and more repairs.
Knowing your RV weight for your tires is so important that it gets its own section! Make sure you have tires rated for the weight of your RV. Underrated or overloaded tires will wear faster and have a much higher likelihood of a blowout that can cause an accident.
Additionally, you need to inflate your tires to properly handle the weight of your RV. We highly recommend checking out this free RV Tire Pressure eBook from RV experts The RV Geeks.
Increase In The Likelihood of Major Vehicle Problems
If RV components are constantly being maxed out, when a failure happens it can be worse than under normal conditions. It may also happen at a time when you least expect it and without warning.
Driving Through Mountains
If your RV weight is too much, the engine of your motorhome or tow vehicle may not be able to handle driving mountain grades like it was designed. This can lead to engine overheating, damage, and leave you stuck on the side of the road on a mountain pass.
Additionally, heavier RV weight means more to stop. You really don’t want your brakes to overheat going down the backside of the mountain and fail.
We have heard horror stories of RV accidents caused by some of the problems above. If you are found to have been negligent in loading your RV and are overweight, your camper insurance may not cover accident damages. If you are at fault, you may be held fully liable.
Cargo & Water Carrying Capacity
Your RV has to carry you, all your stuff, and your water (including wastewater). RVers often forget about just how heavy stuff is, particularly water! At about 8.3lbs/gallon, a 50-gallon full freshwater tank means you’ve added 400+ more pounds to your RV.
Understanding your RV’s weight and carrying capacity allows you to plan and fill water accordingly.
Pro Tip: Before you hit the road, make sure you know Do RVs Have to Obey Road Weight Limits?
How Do I Figure Out My RV’s Weight?
RV manufacturers are required to provide an “RV Weight Information” sticker somewhere on the RV. Some places to look would be inside kitchen cabinets, behind the driver’s seat in a drivable RV, near the pinbox, or on the side of the RV. You can also typically find weight ratings in the owner’s manual.
On this sticker, you should have an RV Cargo Carrying Capacity (CCC) computation. It has a few acronyms on it that you should be familiar with:
GVWR = Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is the maximum permissible weight of your RV when fully loaded. It includes all weight tat the axle(s) and tongue or pin (if applicable).
UVW = Unloaded Vehicle Weight is the weight of the RV as manufactured at the factory. It includes all weight at the axle(s) and tongue or pin. If applicable, it also includes full generator fluids, including fuel, engine oil, and coolants.
CCC = Cargo Carrying Capacity is equal to GVWR minus each of the following: UVW, Full Fresh (Potable) Water Weight (including water heater), and Full Propane Weight. Note: dealer-installed equipment is not included and will reduce this number.
In mathematical terms:
CCC = GVWR – UVW – 8.3lbs/gal*(Fresh water tank size) – 4.2lbs/gal*(propane size in gallons)
You should also be able to find your RV axle rating.
GAWR = Gross Axle Weight Rating is the maximum weight that can be placed on the vehicle’s axles. This is important to know for weight distribution in your RV.
Tow Vehicle Weight Limitations
Your tow vehicle has weight limitations of its own. These can be found typically can be found inside the driver’s door jam. Like your RV, it has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, but it also has a few more that pertain to towing a trailer safely:
Curb Weight is the weight of your truck sitting empty. You’ll want to estimate or weigh your loaded truck separately to calculate RV weight without unhitching at the CAT Scale.
GAWR = Gross Axle Weight Ratings are the maximum weight that can be placed on the vehicle’s front or rear axles. The vehicle manufacturer gives each axle it’s own rating. FR is the front rating, and RR is the rear rating.
Payload Capacity is the maximum weight your tow vehicle can haul in the truck cab and truck bed.
Tongue Weight is the downward force on the bumper of the vehicle by a trailer. It is greatly affected by the distribution of weight in the trailer.
GCWR = Gross Combined Weight Rating is the maximum weight of your tow vehicle with a trailer attached, as determined by the manufacturer. In other words, the total weight of your loaded RV and loaded tow vehicle cannot exceed this number.
How To Weigh Your RV
Knowing the weight of your RV and tow vehicle helps you figure out how much weight you can bring with you. But most people aren’t going to be weighing and tallying every item they put into their RV. In order to figure out your Total RV Weight, you need to take your RV to a weigh station.
The easiest way to find an RV weigh station is to go to a truck stop. CAT Scales are probably the most popular scale you’ll find here. We recommend using the “Weigh My Truck” Cat Scale App, as otherwise, you’ll have to go in to pay and get your ticket.
Watch the video below for instructions on how to do it!
Before you weigh your RV:
Know how much water you have in your tanks. We recommend dumping your grey & black tanks and filling the fresh tank before you do this so you know exactly how much water you’re carrying.
Know how much fuel you have and how big your tank is. Again, we recommend filling up so you’ll know how much weight is attributed to gasoline/diesel.
Know how much your tow or towed vehicle weighs loaded. You can either estimate this or do a second weigh detached.
Calculating Your Safe RV Weight
Depending on the type of RV and towing configuration, you’ll have different methods of calculating your safe RV weight:
Safe Motorhome RV Weight without a towed vehicle: Your Actual Weight should not exceed the RV’s GVWR. No axle should exceed its axle rating.
Safe Motorhome RV Weight with a towed vehicle: Your Actual Weight should not exceed the RV’s GCWR. Your towed vehicle should not exceed your towing capability.
Safe Travel Trailer RV Weight: Your Actual Weight should not exceed the tow vehicle’s GCWR. Subtract the loaded weight of your tow vehicle to figure out RV weight, and this should not exceed the RV GVWR. Subtract the weight of your loaded tow vehicle from the sum of your front and rear axles to figure out your tongue weight. Ensure no axles are overloaded.
Safe Fifth Wheel RV Weight: Your Actual Weight should not exceed the tow vehicle’s GCWR. Subtract the loaded weight of your tow vehicle for your RV’s weight, and this should not exceed the RV”s GVWR. Subtract the weight of your loaded tow vehicle from the sum of your front and rear axles to figure out the payload weight in the bed of your truck. Ensure no axles are overloaded.
What To Do If My RV Is Overweight?
We’ve been there and we know this feeling. Unfortunately, there are only a few things you can do to correct being overweight, and none of them are fun or easy.
1. Get Rid Of Stuff
Depending on how overweight you are, you may be able to just downsize what you’ve got in your RV. If it is a couple hundred pounds, this is totally doable.
If it’s 1000lbs or more, this may be difficult, unless you’re carrying around extra appliances, motorcycles, or other heavy things.
Again, depending on how much weight you need to lose, you could think about removing built-in furniture, heavy countertops, and other big ticket items and replacing them with lighter materials.
3. Travel With Empty Tanks
If you have a 100-gallon freshwater tank, that’s ~830lbs. The general best practice is to only travel with a full tank of water when you really need it anyway, so if being empty on water gets you in the safe zone, this may be a solution.
Just plan to fill water at your destination or only drive very short distances with filled tanks.
4. Get A Bigger Truck (If Towable RV)
It is quite common for people to buy an RV that ends up too big for their truck. Off the dealer lot, the truck may be able to handle it, but once it has stuff in it things can change. (This happened to us.)
One solution is to simply upgrade your truck to a bigger beast, now that you know how much you weigh. However, if it’s your RV that is over its GVWR, a bigger truck will not solve that. This brings us to our next option…
5. Get A Different RV
If you can’t downsize or modify your camping lifestyle enough to get your RV weight into the safe zone, you should probably look at making an RV swap. We had to do this once, so we know this is NOT what you want to hear if you’re in this boat. Switching rigs can be hard: searching for the new one, buying it, moving all your stuff, and selling the existing one.
The benefit of doing this is you’re probably going to end up with an RV that is more suited to your RV lifestyle. Our switch, while hard work, moved us into a much better RV that we were much more comfortable in.
Plus, we don’t have weight anxiety, prolonging the life of our tow vehicle, and know we are traveling more safely.
Know RV Weights Before You Buy
When searching for and looking at new fifth wheels, we were astonished by what some dealers thought you could tow or load an RV with. Many don’t take on the responsibility to make sure you are towing safe, so check your Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of the truck and the trailer before you buy!
DON’T rely on the dealer’s word, you alone are the one who needs to make sure you are within weight ratings.
Weight ratings are one of the first things you should look at with new RVs because some of them have very low ratings from the factory. Some are even overweight before you add your stuff! It sounds crazy, but it’s true, so get an idea of what weight ratings are like from multiple similar RV’s to what you are looking at before considering a purchase.
We recommend utilizing a tool like FifthWheelSt.com to fully understand your SAFE towing limits.
Our RV Weight Story
We learned the hard way about Gross Vehicle Weight Ratings. Our first home-on-wheels was a 2010 Heartland Cyclone fifth wheel toy hauler. On our inaugural journey as full-time RVers back in 2015, we stopped at a weigh station. We were curious about how much we weighed with all our belongings packed inside.
We got the numbers, and our hearts sank. The truck was 1,800 pounds overweight. Our truck (with modifications) has a Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) of 24,500lbs – meaning that it, plus whatever it is towing, needs to weigh less than 24,500lbs. We weighed in at 26,300lbs.
While we could go back through our belongings and pull out some things, 1800 pounds was going to be a challenge. We also decided that a bigger truck would be harder to use as a primary vehicle around town. We wanted the ability to carry water out to boondocking spots. So, we decided to sell the Cyclone and get a smaller fifth-wheel.
In the change, we lost the toy-hauler garage. As convenient as it was, it was extra space that we didn’t need. The second bathroom was also an unnecessary luxury for us.
We were already concerned about the 40-ft length and not being able to get into certain campgrounds, get into certain sites, park in driveways or in yards, etc. Even if we were able to drop 1800 pounds of belongings (which I don’t think we could have), we would have had this problem.
The RV We Switched To
We found a 2005 Doubletree (DRV) Mobile Suites that suited our needs. It’s about 33 feet long and much lighter than the Cyclone was. We drove down to Tennessee to pick it up, bring it home, repack it, and hit the road again after closing on the sale of the house in September 2015.
Do you have an RV weight story?
We hope you’ve learned a lot about RV weights and why they are important. Do you have a story to share? Did you have to change rigs? Have you seen overweight RVs? Leave them in the comments below!
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