Weight has a lot to do with RV safety, not to mention the structure’s longevity. It’s not just the weight of the RV itself. It’s how much stuff you bring, how much liquid you have, how many passengers are coming along, and how that all impacts your tow vehicle (if you are towing) and driving capability.
So, let’s talk a little bit about weight – key definitions, signs you have an overweight RV, problems that stem from having a heavy RV, and ways to reduce weight.
For motorized RVs: These are your Class A, Class B, and Class C vehicles where there is a driving cab portion of the RV – it’s all in one. You have your RV’s starting dry weight – how much it weighs straight from the manufacturer without any accessories, passengers, or cargo – and then you start adding all those items. With the RV loaded, you have Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW), or how much your RV weighs with everything and everyone packed inside.
For towable RVs: You’ve got a little more to think about. Towing an RV safely depends on having the right combination of tow vehicle and RV. Your tow vehicle needs to have the appropriate towing capacity for your chosen RV.
What is “towing capacity”? The maximum weight limit that can safely be towed by your specific vehicle, which is calculated by adding the RV’s GVW (gross vehicle weight, or weight of the trailer when loaded) plus the weight of all passengers, cargo, and liquids in your tow vehicle. You can find this directly from your vehicle’s manufacturer. Check physically on a vehicle for a label showing the numbers. If you already have a tow vehicle, then you need to shop for an RV within that limit of towing capacity, unless you choose to upgrade the tow vehicle to match an RV purchase.
Towing: A towable RV needs a tow vehicle regardless. Some folks with motorized RVs may choose to tow a toad (car). In both cases, there is a special weight consideration called “Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR),” otherwise known as the combination weight of your entire, loaded rig. If your truck is X pounds (packed) and your RV (filled) is Y pounds, you have a total of Z pounds. If that figure is above 26,000 pounds, many states require a driver to hold a CDL (commercial driver’s license). Michigan is not one of these states. And even though some Class A motorhomes could reach this weight, for most RVs, this is not a big danger.
It’s also important if you’re towing something to know your “tongue/hitch weight,” which is the weight or pressure from a trailer tongue/coupler to the hitch on your vehicle. The average tongue weight should be 10-20% of a trailer’s Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW), or how much your RV weighs with everything and everyone packed inside. If you have too much tongue weight while traveling, you risk losing control of the RV.
Signs You Have an Overweight RV
- The RV travels nose-down instead of level.
- A tow vehicle’s rear end is trending downward as it’s handling most of the weight, which reduces brake effectiveness significantly.
- The motorhome or trailer swings side to side as though fishtailing or swaying a lot, which could also weight distribution of your items packed inside the RV may be off (not equally shared between sides or improperly packed over the axles).
- Weight distribution is off. How do you know? Seeing your RV swaying a lot during travel, or
- Wind rocks the RV and actually lift the RV off the road.
- The driver has to overcorrect too often to stay on the road.
Problems From Too Much Weight
- Abnormal tire wear. If the trailer axles are overloaded, they tend to develop negative camber, which kicks the tires out at an angle and creates excessive wear on the inside of the tire treads.
- Restricted travel access down certain roads.
- Lowered fuel economy.
- Encourages core structural damage. Think about it: Your RV’s chassis, frame, suspension, tires, etc., have specific weight tolerances. Exceeding them, particularly regularly, can either bend or break those parts, leading to an expensive fix or an unusable RV.
- Decreased control of the RV while traveling, which increases risk for everyone you’re traveling with and everyone around you on the road. (See “Signs of an Overweight RV.”)
- You could get in trouble with law enforcement depending on a state’s weight restrictions and limitations.
- Could make your insurance claim void if it’s discovered you exceeded recommended safety guidelines at the time of an incident.
- More likely to have a tire blowout during travel.
Ways to Reduce Weight
- Don’t load your RV to capacity. Instead, use 80% of GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) as the maximum. GVWR is how much weight your RV can hold and tow safely. For example, let’s say your RV’s GVWR is rated 8,000 pounds by the manufacturer. Your RV already weighs 5,000 pounds. This means you can add 3,000 pounds of liquids, supplies, accessories, etc. However, if you go by the 80% rule, you should shoot for 2400 pounds.
- Reduce water weight by filling your freshwater tank only partway full during travel and waiting until you’ve reached your destination to fill completely. However, check your manufacturer’s official policy before traveling with water on board. In the past, one RV manufacturer denied warranty claims related to the holding tank brackets breaking because their official policy was customers aren’t supposed to travel with water in the tanks and only to fill the water tanks when at or very near their destination. Definitely food for thought.
- Switch to a tankless water heater, which could save you up to 84 pounds in water weight.
- Switch to an RV composting toilet, which means you can remove your black holding tank.
- Dump holding tanks before travel.
- Choose or replace existing furniture with lightweight furniture.
- Switch to lightweight mattresses – bonus, you can more easily get to the storage underneath!
- Don’t bring the whole shop. Heavy tools are helpful at times, but those times are usually rare. You take up valuable space and add weight if you cart them around all the time. Many places rent out tools, or maybe a neighbor has one handy.
- Only take what you need. And clean things out regularly! It can be easy to overpack or mispack if you don’t have an organization system or checklist, such as those found here.
- Pack smart. Put heavier items low and forward, and the lighter item high. Equalize the distribution of personal items on the right and left sides. Every RV also has a Gross axle weight rating (GAWR), or how much weight each axle can safely hold. This is very important when it comes to packing up the RV as well as distributing passengers during transport. Every RV also has a “Cargo Carrying Capacity” (CCC), or how much extra weight your RV can take in when it comes to gear, accessories, and passengers. Keep this all in mind as you make decisions on what to pack.
You can try to figure out the weight of your loaded RV manually, however, the easier way would be to use a scale, such as CAT scales found across the country: https://catscale.com/cat-scale-locator/.
If you have a towable RV or are considering a towable RV and want to know if it is a good selection for an existing tow vehicle, visit Explore USA’s Tow Guide at www.exploreusa.com/tow-guides. Plug in your tow vehicle’s year, make, and model – and the site will show you RVs that will work within that towing capacity.
Weight is a big deal and very important for RV owners to understand. Hopefully this gives you a good start. Happy camping!