An important question every new full-time RVer needs to ask is: “Am I overweight?” And no, it’s not about your bulging love handles; it’s about your rig. Because when you live in your RV full-time it’s easy to pack on the pounds without realizing it. Every souvenir, extra skillet and lawn chair you pack on board can put you dangerously close to the edge of your RV’s capacities. And just like the stress that excess poundage puts on your heart, the burdensome extra weight you put on your RV can also turn into a life or death situation.
Get Peace of Mind With a Weigh In
When Jim and I hit the road we thought we were being savvy full-time RVers by learning about those tongue-twisting acronyms like GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) and GCWR (Gross Combined Weight Rating). We knew it was important to find out our RV weight because we learned from the Escapees RV club that:
- If your RV is overweight and working harder than it was designed to do, every bump, dip and jolt on the road will accelerate normal wear and tear.
- When an RV is overweight with unbalanced loads, the safety of everyone in the RV is in danger. You’ve probably seen the damage a tire blowout can do; it’s not pretty.
- Insurance policies and extended warranties will be voided if excess weight is to blame for an accident involving your overweight RV.
- RVers with overweight rigs have enormous legal and financial liability in a wreck. Injured parties have more recourse for compensation.
Manufacturers and federal government officials determine the payloads and capacities of every vehicle on the road. All RVs have specific limitations that vary according to the make and model of the rig. With each mile you drive, overloading your rig increases the chances for a tire blowout and handling issues.
Getting Accurate RV Weight
We knew the numbers for our Dodge Ram 2500 4×4 diesel pickup that pulled our first full-time RVing rig, a 24-foot fifth wheel. Because our small trailer carried the burden of a full-time RVing lifestyle, we remained conscientious about our weight. We visited CAT scales at least three times in seven years to make sure that all our trinkets and extra T-shirts weren’t packing on the pounds. At each weigh in we were pleased to learn that our rig was within its weight capacities.
The only problem? We weren’t weighing the rig accurately! It was like a thunderbolt hit us when we learned that truck scales don’t give you the whole picture. According to Escapees RV Club’s Smart Weigh program:
“Truck scales are platform scales, which give you only the weight for the axle. Individual wheel weights are necessary to identify and resolve side-to-side balance and tire loading issues. Truck platform scales can actually give you a false ‘safe’ indication and allow you to operate with one or more tires overloaded.”
Only RV weigh scales offer “wheel position weighing,” which gives you a complete and accurate picture of your weight. Unlike CAT truck stop scales, which only weigh each axle, at RV scales each wheel gets placed on its own individual scale. The RV Safety and Education Foundation tells us that:
- 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.
Escapees Smart Weigh Program
As Escapees members, we knew about the Smart Weigh program but blew it off, mostly because it costs almost three times more than truck stop scales. It wasn’t until we recently purchased a larger 27-foot Arctic Fox fifth-wheel that we took the RV weigh scale warnings seriously and cracked open our wallet. With a larger solar array on the roof and a new workshop space in back, we weren’t sure if our Dodge 2500 was still up to the task of hauling our home office.
RVers have a few different options to receive an accurate weight reading, from the non-profit RV Safety and Education Foundation weigh scale program to independently owned portable weigh scale operators to Escapees scales. We chose the Escapees Smart Weigh program because the club offers this service at three permanent locations in club-owned parks. The weigh masters also measure your RV’s height at no extra charge—a bonus to tightwads like us!
I’ll be honest: my ulterior motive for getting a true reading was to hear an expert tell us our truck was over-capacity and as a result, it would be easy to convince Jim that we needed that new Ram we’ve been drooling over. While traveling through the Southwest, I made an appointment for the weigh scale at Escapees North Ranch RV Park in Congress, Arizona.
The process took less than an hour and went like this:
- We followed the instructions to load our rig exactly how it is when we’re driving down the highway. We had half-full water tanks, a bit in our black tank and a one-week supply of food and consumables.
- Once we arrived at the park, we completed forms that asked for the make, model and specs for the tires on our fifth-wheel and tow vehicle.
- Next, we drove to the scale and followed the weigh master’s instructions for positioning the rig. We drove the trailer onto two scales for each side of the rig, one per wheel.
- In the meantime, the weigh master pulled out a giant ruler in order to take a measurement from the highest point of our rig (the air conditioner) to the ground.
- After each trailer wheel was weighed, we dumped the trailer and came back with the Dodge. Separate readings were taken for each truck wheel.
After measurements were taken, the RV weigh master, George, gave us a comprehensive weight analysis. According to George, over 50 percent of all RVs he personally weighs are overloaded—many dangerously so. Would we be another statistic? Was it time for a new truck? Could my obsession for buying jewelry-making tools put us on the brink of a trailer tire blowout?
George was happy to inform us that every corner of our Dodge and the rig is well within our cargo and towing capacities, with room to spare. We are safely within the Gross Combination Weight Rating and George even suggested that we could stand to use a little more weight in the back of the rig for better load distribution.
I laughed, thinking about how great it would feel if my doctor told me I could stand to gain some weight in the rear! Sure, I was a little disappointed that we wouldn’t be upgrading to a newer pickup, but not sad to bypass that kind of financial hit for now. In the meantime, I’m working on an argument with Jim about why we need to triple tow a small cargo trailer to hold all my extra jewelry-making tools (just kidding!).
The cost of knowing exactly what our rig weighs was only $55. That’s a small price to pay for the kind of peace of mind we now enjoy on the open road. This service is a must for every RVer but especially full-timers. Don’t wait—get weighed today.
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, have been living and working on the road since 2007. They chronicle their travels in their blog, LiveWorkDream.com. Also follow Rene’s blog, “The Full-Timing Nomad,” at rvlife.com.
Often called “The O.G. of full-time RVing,” Rene Agredano and her husband Jim Nelson hit the road in a fifth wheel trailer in 2007, after their dog Jerry lost a leg to terminal cancer. Sixteen years later they are still traveling and sharing their nomadic adventures at LiveWorkDream. As a self-employed wordsmith, Rene shares her expertise for many RV industry videos, publications such as the Escapees RV Club Magazine, and has authored numerous books, including the Essential RVing Guide to National Parks, and Income Anywhere, a guide to earning money on the road. She has been featured in global media outlets including the PBS documentary “NATURE: Why We Love Cats and Dogs,” The Guardian Sunday Edition, and the Dan Pink book Free Agent Nation.