What Is Your Gross Vehicle Weight (And Why Does It Matter)?
The gross vehicle weight of your RV not only matters, but in some cases, it could be a matter of life or death. But it’s not all that complicated when you take a few minutes to consider all the variables and break down the important components of the gross vehicle weight formula.
There are dozens of resources on the internet that go into great depth about this subject. Some have formulas you can use for your own calculations and there are even formulas used by dealers to help you determine which RVs in their inventory your particular towing vehicle can safely tow.
There’s no point in rewriting what has already been covered in such detail, so I intend to examine a few real-life RVers’ practical applications of the vehicle weight issue to help you understand how this vital concern may apply to your RV, your tow vehicle, your toad, and your particular camping lifestyle.
What is gross vehicle weight?
Before we look at unique examples of gross vehicle weight, you need to understand that there are basically two main considerations.
The first is that every RV has a specific gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) that it can safely manage over the long haul. That weight is comprised of the actual manufactured weight of the vehicle, plus (and this is where it becomes an issue of lifestyle choices) all the rest of the weight that you add to your RV.
That added weight is usually referred to as the cargo carrying capacity (CCC). In RVs manufactured before 2000, that added weight was referred to as net carrying capacity (NCC), but either way, it refers to everything extra you add to your RV.
What cargo are you carrying?
The cargo-carrying capacity includes the weight of all fluids such as gas, propane, water, and the content of your holding tanks. It also includes you and your furry friends, and all your food, gear, supplies, tools, clothes, and extra (maybe I will need this, someday) stuff stored in your basements.
These extras can add up quickly and with some RVs, the cargo capacity may be very limited, so you need to pay close attention to all the extras you put into your RV, like your tarps and tents, easy-ups, barbecue, fishing, hunting, hiking, and boating gear, and in our case, dog food.
We travel with 4 dogs, each weighing between 30 and 40 pounds, so their combined weight is equal to another human being, but the real concern is the weight of their dog food. They consume 10 pounds of dehydrated dog food every week, and this particular food is difficult to find in most of the places where we travel, particularly in Canada, so when we’re going to Canada for a few months we try to take their food with us. We often have over 200 pounds of dog food in our RV and that weight all needs to be accounted for in our total allowable cargo carrying capacity.
For your reference, a gallon of milk, or propane, or gasoline, or water, weights about 8 pounds. If your RV has a 50-gallon water tank, a 20-gallon propane tank, and your gas tank hold 70 gallons of gasoline, those full tanks add up to 1,120 pounds of weight that also needs to be accounted for in your total carrying capacity calculation.
Tongue, hitch, pin weight
Additionally, you need to consider how towing impacts gross vehicle weight. When you are towing your RV or towing a vehicle behind your RV, both vehicles have maximum weight limits and they directly affect each other when the two vehicles are connected to each other.
Your RV weight limit may be fine, but you could exceed the weight limits of your towing vehicle, and thereby create unsafe driving conditions. For example, if you’re towing a 40-foot fifth wheel toy hauler behind a diesel pick-up truck, some of the weight of the fifth wheel is transferred through the pin weight to the truck, and depending on what the gross vehicle weight of the trailer is, and how that weight is distributed, it could put extra strain on the truck and make it unsafe to drive.
Additionally, if you’re towing a travel trailer behind an SUV, some of the weight of the trailer is transferred through the tongue or hitch and adds to the gross vehicle weight of the SUV. And in that same vein, if you’re towing a toad behind a motorhome, the weight of the towed vehicle is transferred to the motorhome through the hitch weight.
If the toad is on a dolly, some of the weight of the dolly and the toad are both transferred to the motorhome through the hitch and must be included in the overall cargo carrying capacity for the motorhome. Finally, if you add a motorcycle rack to the back of your RV, the weight of the rack and the weight of the motorcycle must be included in the calculation of your carrying capacity.
A fully dressed Harley can weigh more than 1000 pounds and the motorcycle rack could add several hundred pounds of extra weight, all of which will lower the amount of available carrying capacity you have in your RV.
These are all lifestyle choices, so if you want to mount your Harley on a motorcycle rack, you may not have much carrying capacity leftover for other heavier gear. It might be a trade-off you’re willing to make, or you might need to shop for an RV that allows for more carrying capacity.
Also, the weight distribution needs to be part of your carrying capacity calculation. I mentioned above that the way the 40-foot toy hauler was loaded could impact the pin weight of the pick-up truck’s total weight.
If you put all the extra weight in the back of the toy hauler behind the trailer’s wheels, it tends to lift the front end of the trailer, which lowers the pin weight. To some extent, this can be good but lifting too much weight can cause the towed vehicle to sway or fishtail. Using this method to control the pin weight is not a safe option.
Both vehicles need to be within their allowable gross vehicle weight limits and properly balanced to each other. You may need to take a trip to a scale and unhook your trailer to accurately measure the weight of both vehicles separately and then in combination.
Escapees RV Membership program makes SmartWeigh services available to their club members. For a small fee, you can make an appointment at one of their scales to have your towing (or towed) vehicle, as well as, your RV evaluated for total weight, distribution, and safety.
There are many combinations of towing and towed RVs and they all have their own specifications. Be sure to consider these important limitations, so you chose the right fit for your lifestyle. If you plan to carry a lot of extra gear in or attached to your RV then you may need to spend more on your towing vehicle. We have friends who tow a 45-foot fifth wheel with a commercial diesel truck that has been modified for RV towing.
Another couple we know intentionally purchased a large Class A diesel motorhome because their lifestyle involves traveling around the country competing in car races. They tow a heavy trailer in which they keep the race car, parts, tools, and other gear, and because they don’t want to drive a stock car (that is often wrecked) around town, they built a platform in the trailer for a second vehicle.
Consequently, they tow a huge trailer behind their motorhome with two cars stacked in the trailer. The total weight distribution of the trailer must be managed carefully even with a large diesel motorhome as the towing vehicle, because of the excessive weight of the trailer and two cars.
Don’t overload an RV then try to compensate with distribution
I have mentioned several times the importance of weight distribution. All the vehicle manufacturers assume that the vehicle will have an even weight distribution from side to side and from front to back but that may not always be the case. The axles each have a maximum weight limit and again that is based on the assumption of an even weight distribution from one wheel to the other.
If your RV has 3 large slides on one side and one on the other side, there may be an inherent weight mismatch in the way the rig is set up. Then you might unwittingly compound that problem with the way you distribute your gear in the RV.
If you think your rig is not well balanced from side to side, you may need to drive your rig over the scales and measure one wheel at a time or have your rig’s weight evaluated by professionals.
Understanding all these issues will help you decide if you will need a half-ton truck or a one-ton truck to haul your RV. The gross weight of your rig is the actual manufacturer’s weight plus you, all your gear, and its attachment to another vehicle. You need to understand what your rig’s weight limits are, how much weight capacity you have for all the extras, and if your lifestyle fits within those limits, because operating your RV outside of those parameters is not safe or prudent.
Learn more about RV towing safety
Enjoy your RV and drive safely. For more information, check out the following short video by Michael Hall explaining RV weight issues:
Also check out these great resources for more information:
- RV Towing: Important Things To Consider
- This Trailer Tongue Weight Scale Could Save Your Life
- Watch This Out-Of-Control Trailer Flip And Crash On The Highway
- How To Avoid The Dangers Of An Overweight Trailer