Being overweight is bad for you and your RV. RVs that exceed the capacity work harder, break down faster and experience greater wear and tear than ones that aren’t. Excess pounds also make your rig susceptible to tire blowouts. Even more importantly, overweight RVs raise your legal and financial liability if you’re involved in a wreck. Whether you tow a trailer or a toad, here’s what you need to know about staying within the weight and towing limits of your RV.
Is Your RV Overweight?
Whether you tow a vehicle with your motorhome or you have a truck pulling a trailer, you must know if your tow vehicle is within its hauling capacity. The first step to knowing this is to locate the manufacturer’s tow rating of your tow vehicle. This number lets owners know how much weight their vehicle can safely pull. You’ll find this figure in your owner’s manual. Once you compare it to the total (loaded) weight of a toad or trailer you want to buy (or already own), you’ll know if the RV salesperson is telling the truth when you hear “Sure your vehicle can tow this”
After obtaining the tow rating of your vehicle, it’s time to understand the GVWR and GCWR of your entire RV setup. If you don’t know what this alphabet soup means just turn to GMC’s definition:
- Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR): This represents the maximum weight your tow vehicle can carry, including passengers, cargo, fuel and the vehicle itself.*
- Gross combined weight rating (GCWR): This represents the maximum weight of your loaded tow vehicle and your loaded trailer combined.
Exceeding these ratings can put you at risk of handling hazards such as trailer sway and tire blowouts. The internet is full of helpful tips to calculate GVWR and GCWR for RVs, but essentially it boils down to subtracting your Gross Combined Weight (or GCW) of your tow vehicle from the Gross Combination Weight Rating or GCWR of your entire rig.
Obtaining rough estimates for these figures isn’t hard, but the results won’t give you the accuracy needed to ensure a safe ride. The only only positive way to know if you have an overweight RV is to get weighed at a professional RV weighing station.
RV Weigh Stations Pinpoint Overweight RVs
Factoring your RV’s total overall weight isn’t just about the amount of pounds on-board, but onto which axles each pound gets distributed. When you take your RV to a RV weighing station you’ll have the advantage of obtaining “wheel position weighing,” which puts each wheel on its own individual scale. According to the RV Safety and Education Foundation, this is the only reliable method of obtaining your RV’s overall weight. The organization tells us:
- The ONLY way to properly weigh your RV is by wheel position. Your tires and wheels are the foundation of your RV, and each has a maximum weight rating.
- Unless you know the load being carried by each wheel position, you have no way to know the proper inflation of your tires. Improper inflation leads to improper wear, reduced life of the tire, and greater potential for rapid tire failure.
You’ll find RV weigh stations at many RV events and rallies (just ask other RVers in your favorite RV discussion forums). The weighing process costs less than $75 and only takes about an hour. Just arrive at the weigh station with everything you would have for an ordinary RV trip (including water in your holding tanks, the usual number of passengers, food, gear, etc). The weigh masters will compare that total weight against your RV’s rated GVWR specifications and the make, model and ratings of your RV and tow vehicle’s tires. Together, it determines if your RV and the tires are carrying a safe payload.
Once your RV weigh scale experts determine if and where your RV weight is improperly distributed, you can take steps to alleviate any problems. Sometimes these steps are as easy as moving items around inside the RV and eliminating excess pounds. Other times it’s as expensive as getting a larger tow vehicle or smaller toad. Either way, making these safety adjustments can mean the difference between an uneventful RV trip or being in a terrible accident that makes you wish you had never left home.
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, became full-time RVers in 2007 and have been touring the country ever since. In her blog, Rene chronicles the ins and outs of the full-timing life and brings readers along to meet the fascinating people and amazing places they visit on the road. Her road trip adventures are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.