RV Weight And Towing Masterclass – What You Need To Know

RV weight and towing guide


In this article we’re going to be talking about RV weight. And how to know what your RV should weigh.

Now I know that there’s some folks that just go and buy an RV. And when they do, they buy it, and off they go to enjoy their RVing adventures.

But if you do that, the problem is that you’re not giving consideration to your RV’s weight. Or in other words, how much your RV should weigh safely.

And without knowing that information, you could be putting yourself and your loved ones at serious risk. And nobody wants to do that.

So in this article we’re going to discuss RV weight ratings. And help explain them so that you can make sure that you’re RVing safely.

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RV Weight – Why It’s So Important

You know, with RV’s, sooner or later it all comes back to weight. It’s so true!

It simply means that the bigger your RV is. The wider it is. The more luxuries and amenities that you’re carrying along. Well then, the bigger engine you must have to move that weight down the road.

But it doesn’t stop there! You have to have a bigger transmission. And you have to have a beefier suspension. You also have to have bigger brakes, etc.

Now some folks assume that if the engine can move it all down the road, then everything is fine. But that’s not the case.

This is because with too much weight, your transmission could easily break. With too much weight, you could be going down the road, but you can’t stop that RV in a safe distance.

And with too much weight maybe the suspension breaks down. It could affect your tires too. Because too much weight on the tires will cause them to run hot. And they could even blow out.

So you can see where I’m going with this. Weight is very important when it comes to RVs.

RV Weight Ratings – Why We Need Them

And that’s why RV manufacturers do their best to help us out. They publish a list of weight ratings for each RV.

And there’s a spot somewhere on every RV that tells you what the RV weight ratings are for that particular RV.

As long as you stay within those weight ratings, you’re fine. You’re operating the RV the way it was designed and in a safe manner.

But some folks kind of get scared about these weight ratings. The truth is though, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know about how weight ratings work.

There’s really only a few things that you need to know about to be able to travel safely.

And what we’re going to do in this article is identify those weight ratings first. Then I’ll explain them, so you can understand them.

And that way you can use them correctly as you go down the road with your RV.

So let’s get started. First of all, I’ll explain what the weight ratings are for RV’s and what they mean.

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RV Weight Rating #1 – GVWR

So let’s identify our first weight rating that we want to talk about. And that is the GVWR.

It stands for “gross vehicle weight rating”. Now what does that mean?

Well here’s the sort of everyday definition. It’s the most that a vehicle can safely weigh while traveling down the road. So what does that mean?

Well it means that it includes the total weight of any vehicle that’s on the road. And that includes the driver, the passengers, cargo, fuel, and any accessories that you’ve added to that vehicle.

Whatever that vehicle weighs with everything in it and on it, it cannot exceed the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR).

That’s the maximum weight that you can safely propel down the highway with that vehicle.

RV Weight Rating #2 – GAWR

Now let’s go to the second weight rating. And that is the GAWR. It stands for “gross axle weight rating”.

And the everyday definition is that it’s the most weight that any one axle can support while traveling down the road. Now why is that important?

Well, you may have your total weight under the GVWR. But that weight may be distributed in an uneven way. So one axle may have way too much weight on it and it can’t safely support that weight.

So then, using these two weight ratings together helps us understand whether the weight is under the safe limit. But also whether it’s distributed and proportioned correctly.

Now using these two weight ratings, let’s actually see it at work on a vehicle.

An Example Of How To Use Weight Ratings

Now to illustrate how these weight ratings actually work, we’re going to use the example of our little towed vehicle. Our 2011 CRV.

If you open the driver’s door and you look inside on the pillar you’re going to see a label right there. Like this:

A typical label for vehicle weight information
The Vehicle Weight Information Label For Our CRV

And that label is very common to almost all passenger vehicles. You’re usually going to see a label of some kind somewhere around the front door.

When you look at the label right at the top, you are going to see the vehicle’s GVWR. That’s the most that vehicle should safely weigh.

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Then you also have GAWR for the front axle and you have GAWR for the rear axle. And they tell you what the RV weight rating should be on each axle.

Now they they usually have the weight listed in kilograms. But of course, we use pounds. So the GVWR for my little CRV is 4560 pounds.

That’s the most that it should weigh going down the road. And the front axle at most should have 2310 pounds on it. The rear axle at most should have 2290 pounds on it. Now let’s see that in action on the car itself.

Let’s Put It All Together

Our towed vehicle - Honda CRV

Here’s a side picture of my little CRV. So the total that vehicle weighs as it travels down the road is the GVWR. And it should not be more than 4580 pounds.

But then we break it out to the front axle and the rear axle too. And the rear axle should never have more than 2 290 pounds, the front axle never more than 2310 pounds.

Now suppose that I am within the GVWR and each axle rating as well. Then I am operating this vehicle the way that it was designed by the manufacturer. And in a safe manner as I’m going down the road.

So that’s how these weight ratings work. Now the important point to understand here is that this principle applies to all vehicles going down the road.

So if you have a motorhome, then the motorhome has to conform to the same guidelines. It has a GVWR, a total weight limit. It also has limits on each axle, the GAWR.

You need to find both of those weight ratings and work with them to make sure that you’re operating them safely.

RV Weight Ratings

Well that’s a close look at GVWR and GAWR for RVs and what they mean. Let’s see how we can use those weight ratings in real life.

First of all, suppose you have a motorhome that doesn’t tow a vehicle behind it. Then GVWR and GAWR may be the only weight ratings that you really need to know about.

For instance, suppose you have a Class B motorhome or a small Class C. They’re both small enough that a lot of RVers just use them for their around town vehicle too.

And it would work fine for that. So there’s no need for a towed vehicle at that point. And really the only weight ratings that you need to focus on in that case are the ones for the motorhome itself.

Once again, you find the RV weight ratings on the label inside your RV first.

Now how do you find out though, how much that motorhome or your RV actually weighs? Well that’s a fairly simple process.

How To Find Out What Your RV Weighs

The first thing you need to do is make sure that you take your RV and put everything in it. All the stuff that you’re going to use going down the highway.

For instance, you need to make sure you have the passengers in it that you will be taking with you.

You also need to have a full tank of fuel. And make sure you have a full tank of propane too.

Also include whatever fresh water or wastewater that you feel you’ll normally have traveling down the road.

Then make sure you’ve got all the cargo that you’re going to be taking with you too. In other words, everything that normally would be with you as you’re going down the highway.

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Once you have the RV outfitted that way, now you need to take it to a scale to have that RV weighed. That way you know whether you’re within the stated weight ratings of that RV or not.

How To Find A Scale For Your RV

Now I personally like to use CAT Scales to do that. CAT Scale is a company that produces weight scales mainly for truckers to use.

You know, truckers really have to know what’s going on with their vehicle weight. And they’re checked very often to make sure they’re not overweight.

So CAT Scale places these heavy duty scales all across the country. And there’s a lot of them.

It’s kind of rare if you don’t have one within driving distance to where you are. But you can use their scales to also weigh your RV to compare with your RV weight ratings.

But now how do you find a CAT Scale? Well the good news is the company has a website that you can use to do that. And it’s called catscale.com.

How To Use The CAT Scale Locator

So here is how you can use their website to find a scale that’s close to you. On catscale.com all you need to do is go up to the top menu and there you will find the CAT scale locator.

Press that and you will come up with the locator page. As you go down the page, first of all there’s a section there where you can enter in where you’re located. And it’ll pull up however many scale locations that are in that area.

So you can do it that way. Or you could also go a little farther down the page. And there you’ve got a map of all the CAT Scales in the country.

Then you can zoom in anywhere you want and find where the CAT scales are that are nearby. By using their website, you should be able to find something that’s usable around the area where you are.

So that’s how you can use catscale.com to find a scale that’s close to you.

RV Weight – Weighing Your RV

Now you’ll find that many of these scales are at large truck centers. At places like Loves, TA’s, Petros and Flying J’s. And the first time you pull in there you might feel kind of intimidated.

You’re there with the big rigs all around you and it is intimidating. You may even question whether you even belong back there at that scale with them. Let me assure you though, you do belong.

The truth is they will weigh anything, as long as they get paid for it. So here’s what I normally do before I get on the scale.

I’ll usually go inside to the counter first. And I’ll tell the person there that I have an RV and that I’ll be weighing it. That way they understand what I’m doing.

Then I get in line for the scale. Or sometimes you can just pull right on it. And once you’re there, very often you’ll find that you can communicate with the counter inside through a speaker.

They’ll tell you when they’re about to weigh so you know what they’re doing. And then when they’re done, they’ll tell you they’re done so you can pull off.

Afterwards, just go find an area to park. Then go inside, get your report, and now you know your list of actual weights. And you can compare that with the weight ratings for your RV.

That report will tell you what your total weight is, what the weight is on each axle, and so on. Then you will have a complete understanding of what’s going down the road with you in your RV.

RV Weight – What If Your RV Weighs Too Much?

Now let’s suppose that you get your information from the scale. And you find out that you’re overweight.

Maybe your GVWR weight has exceeded the weight rating for your RV. So you’ve actually got more weight than you should in the RV. What do you do?

Well there’s only one thing to do. You’ve got to find ways to economize on the weight. And usually that’s in your cargo.

So you might just need to start pulling out some cargo. Some things that you really wanted to take with you, you might want to keep them.

But maybe there’s some things that you could do without. Then you need to start moving those out of the RV. And get that weight down under the GVWR rating for sure.

RV Weight – What If An Axle Is Overloaded?

Now suppose though, you find out that you’re under the weight rating for the GVWR. But you’re overweight on an axle. So one of the axles has too much weight on it.

Well that’s another matter to address. And that means you need to reposition some of the weight in your RV.

Maybe the way that you pack your cargo needs to be rethought out. And repositioned so that axle doesn’t have too much weight on it.

You can position it so that you distribute the RV weight a little bit more evenly. Now you would never have known that if you hadn’t gone on that scale and gotten the information.

But once you do, you can make the adjustments needed to make sure that you’re going down the highway safely.

RV Weight – How About Towing?

Now suppose you tow another vehicle with your RV though. For instance, suppose you have a motorhome that has a little towed vehicle behind it.

Or suppose you have a travel trailer or a fifth wheel. And you have a tow vehicle that pulls it. Now what do you do with the weight ratings? Because you’ve got two vehicles involved now!

Well, let’s talk about that subject. And how to use the weight ratings that that you’re given for your RV and whatever other vehicle is involved.

That way you will be able to to know what you can tow safely using the correct vehicle weight ratings.

Now to do that I’ll give you a little hint. We’re going to add another weight rating beyond the ones we have already discussed.

So far we’ve talked about GVWR and GAWR. But we’re going to add another one called GCWR. And that means “gross combined weight rating”.

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It’s one that a lot of folks kind of forget about in this whole process. And therefore they’re not actually driving safely.

Misinformation About RV Weight And Towing

Now the first thing I want to talk about at this point is that I know the way a lot of people get their information on towing. And that is that they just ask their salesperson or the dealer that they’re buying the RV from.

So the dealer salesperson tells them what they need to tow or what they need to be able to tow their RV.

And then they go out and they get that. But you know I really don’t think that’s the best source of information for towing. Why?

Because the internet is filled with stories on RV forums and also in social media about folks that did that. And then they were very sorry because the tow setup that they got just really didn’t work correctly.

So that’s not the best way to do it. But why is it not the best? Well, the RV salesperson or dealer really has one major thing in mind. And that is selling you an RV.

So naturally they’re going to be way too optimistic about how easy it is to get something to tow. Or to get something to tow it with.

Therefore that’s really not your best source of information. Instead, what we’re going to talk about in this article is completely different.

RV Weight Rating #3 – GCWR

And that is how you should know just a few weight ratings that are established by the manufacturers of RVs. Or of vehicles that are towed by them or tow them.

Then with those weight ratings you can easily figure out what you need to know about how much you can tow in your RV travels.

Now so far we have covered how to make sure that your RV itself is not overweight. And really we covered two weight ratings up to now.

That’s GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating). And then GAWR, which is (gross axle weight rating). And just using those two weight ratings alone you can make sure that your RV itself is not overweight.

But now we’re going to add another vehicle into the mix. So here is where we need a little bit more information.

And there’s two more pieces of information that you need to know about here. Then you can pretty much figure out what you need to tow with almost any rig.

So let’s go ahead and add one more weight rating that you need to know. It is GCWR. Or (gross combined weight rating).

How Can GCWR Help Us?

The real world definition is that it’s the most both vehicles can weigh in total while they’re going down the road.

So what it simply means is that first you take the GVWR, of the RV itself. Then add that to the GVWR of the towed vehicle.

And when you do, it should never exceed the maximum limit established by the GCWR. So using these three weight ratings you can really keep things under control.

You know where your limits are for RV weight as you’re towing. All right, so let’s see these weight ratings in action.

An Example Of Using Weight Ratings For Towing

We’ll use a couple of examples to explain it in action. And the first one is our own rig here:

Using RV Weight Ratings on our whole rig
Using RV Weight Ratings On Our Own Rig

As you can see in the this picture, we’re parked at a rest stop. And it’s actually a very good place to make this explanation of weight ratings.

That’s because the whole motorhome here must have a weight that is under the limit that’s set by the GVWR. It can’t go over that weight limit.

So everything in my motorhome. Us, our cargo, our fuel, our water tanks, everything, cannot exceed the limit established by the RV’s GVWR.

But then I’ve also got a limit that’s established for my towed vehicle, the Honda CRV. So it’s got a GVWR too.

And all of the weight that it carries cannot exceed the limit set by the GVWR for that vehicle too.

But now there are four axles in this rig. There’s two on the CRV. But there’s also two on the motorhome.

And they have their own weight rating limit as well. That you can have for weight on each individual axle.

RV Weight – How To Use GCWR For Towing

But now let’s take the the total GVWR of the motorhome. That is, the limit of the weight that could be in it. And the limit of the weight for the CRV, or it’s GVWR.

Now, let’s add these two together. Then we see how it compares with the GCWR, or the combined weight rating of these vehicles.

In other words, if I add the maximum weight for the CRV to the maximum weight for the motorhome. And together they’re under the limit of the GCWR, then I’m doing fine.

So this is very important to understand. Because this is how you can establish that you are towing safely.

One More Important RV Weight To Consider

However, we still have one more thing we have to consider. And that is the hitch or pin weight where the two vehicles are connected. Because the CRV is attached to the back of the motorhome.

So there is some weight being transferred to the back of the motorhome by the tow bar.

Now there is some good news on motorhomes here. Suppose you’re towing a little towed vehicle behind your motorhome, like my CRV.

With a tow bar, all four wheels are down on the ground for the CRV. So there’s not very much weight being transferred to the motorhome by the tow bar.

Indeed the car is taking the vast majority of it’s own weight. So there’s not much here for hitch weight that you have to worry about.

But there is some transfer. And that transfer will contribute toward the total weight, or the GVWR, in the motorhome.

It could also have some influence on the motorhome’s rear axle too. Because the hitch is on the back of the motorhome.

So any downward pressure on the back of the RV transfers weight onto the rear axle of the RV.

All right, so this is the first example. This is a situation where you have a motorhome that’s pulling a towed vehicle.

What About Using Weight Ratings For Towable RVs?

But now we’re going to look at a different example here for a towable RV. And the next example involves our good friends Mark and Julie Bennet from RVLove. And maybe some of you recognize them.

Now there’s a good reason why I asked them if I could use their example in this article.

That’s because they’ve had to take the weight ratings that we covered today and adjust them somewhat. From a motorhome pulling a vehicle to a vehicle pulling a towable RV.

Now normally for the last few years they’ve had a large motorhome that pulls a smaller vehicle. It’s a car, like we have. But now here you can see they’re doing just the opposite.

Using weight ratings on the Bennet's rig
Using RV Weight Ratings On The Bennet’s Towable Rig

Now they have a small travel trailer. And it’s being pulled by the vehicle that was previously being pulled by their motorhome.

So they had to work things out to make sure that they are towing safely. With that in mind, let’s go over their rig’s RV weight and see what we can learn from it.

Using RV Weight Ratings On The Bennet’s Rig

First, they had to make sure that they knew the weight of their Jeep Cherokee. And that’s with everything in it, including them and any cargo and a full tank of gas.

And all of that could not go over the limit established by the Cherokee’s GVWR. Remember, that’s the top limit of the weight that is allowed for their Cherokee.

They also needed to do the same thing with their travel trailer with everything in it. All the cargo, all of their water and waste tanks, and all of that going down the road.

They had to be sure it didn’t exceed the limit of the weight established for its GVWR.

But now they also needed to make sure of one more important thing. That the axle on their travel trailer didn’t have too much weight on it either. And the same thing for the axles on their tow vehicle, the Jeep Cherokee.

Then they needed to add the GVWR for their Cherokee to the GVWR for their travel trailer. And make sure that putting those two figures together did not exceed the GCWR for the whole rig.

But now here is where things get much more important to watch with towables. Because the hitch weight comes into play here very significantly.

Applying The Hitch Weight Correctly

Remember, that each travel trailer applies some downward pressure to the hitch on the back of the tow vehicle. Now where does that weight transfer? To two places.

It will now be included in the total weight of the Jeep Cherokee. So it’s got to be considered in the amount that cannot exceed its GVWR.

But it also has to be added to the rear axle of the Cherokee too. Since all of this weight is going on the vehicle’s rear, it’s going to affect the rear axle.

So whatever weight it contributes to the rear axle, it cannot exceed the limit of weight the rear axle can carry. Or its GAWR.

Now suppose their tow vehicle here, the Cherokee, is all within specs with these weight ratings. Also, suppose the trailer is all within specs of its weight ratings too.

And the two together are under the GCWR for combined weight rating. Finally, the hitch also has not put too much weight on the tow vehicle or its rear axle either.

If this is all true, then they are all set for towing happily down the highway.

A Little Review About RV Weight Ratings

Now let’s kind of cover this information again just briefly as a review. And it’s as simple as this.

You need to weigh each vehicle in the rig. Then make sure that the weight of each one is under its GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating).

Then put the two weights together. And make sure that they are under the GCWR (gross combined weight rating).

Then make sure each axle in the rig is not overloaded as well (GAWR). And there you have it. You’re ready to go!

Don’t Listen To RV Weight Misinformation

Now let me address one other point here. And that is that I often see people try to skirt around vehicle weight ratings. Since it probably seems too difficult for them.

In fact, I see RVers on forums actually get on there and brag to no end about hauling some really heavy weight with a smaller truck.

And they talk about how they soup up their engine a little bit to give it more power.

Then they talk about how they they beefed up their suspension too. And then by doing all that, they say they’re all set to go. My friends don’t fall for that!

How RV Weight Ratings Are Established

It’s just not the way to do things. You’ve got to understand these vehicle weight ratings are established by the manufacturers. The designers of these vehicles. And under very strict guidelines I might add.

Now when they establish the vehicle weight ratings it’s really based on a lot of things. It’s not just engine size or suspension. In fact there’s many things that go into it.

For instance, the engine, the transmission, and the braking components are very important. And yes, the suspension too. But also tires. And even things like the size of the radiator and so on.

So many things are taken into consideration here with the vehicle weight ratings by the manufacturer.

Therefore, be sure that you know and follow the weight ratings for your particular rig. And how do you do that?

Well you need to weigh the rig. You need to make sure that you weigh each vehicle in your rig. You know, the RV and the tow or towed vehicle.

How To Find Out Your RV Hitch Weight

And if a hitch is involved, you need to find out how much that hitch weight is. So how do you do that?

Well on Amazon, there are hitch scales that you could use that will tell you the weight of the hitch. But you know, most people actually do it a little different way. And it works as well.

You just simply need to know something about towable manufacturers. And that is that they design their products to be balanced the right way.

So with travel trailers, generally speaking, they try to design them so that the hitch is providing no more than about 10 to 15 percent of the total weight of the RV on the hitch. For fifth wheels it goes up closer to 20 percent.

But you know what I would do? I recommend contacting the manufacturer and just give them a call. They’ll be happy to answer the question about your RV’s hitch weight for you.

Because they want you to safely tow their product down the highway. So just ask them how have they designed their particular travel trailer or fifth wheel to have the weight on the hitch?

How much percentage should you use? And using that information, you can get very close to the actual hitch weight.

Now suppose both of the vehicles in the rig are under their GVWR ratings. And the whole rig is under the GCWR rating.

Also suppose the hitch weight does not bring it over any axle ratings. Then you’re really good to go at that point in most cases.

An Important Warning To Consider

Now one other point I want to mention. Try not to get all the way up to the limit on your RV weight ratings.

Leave yourself a little head room if you can. And why do I recommend that?

Because RVers have a habit of bringing things into the RV as we travel. You know we buy this, we buy that, and we’re bringing new things in.

And we’re not even thinking about the weight of these items as they come in. Little by little all those things accumulate. And their weight keeps accumulating as well.

Before you know it, if you started right at the limit of your weight ratings to begin with, well it’s not going to be hard to go over them very quickly.

So try to leave yourself a little bit of head room there to work with on your RV weight ratings. Because you’re probably going to be accumulating some weight as you go along.

Now where do you weigh all of this? Where do you get the information you need? Well, once again, I think CAT scales are very useful in this.

You can use pretty much any kind of heavy duty truck scale, but I find CAT scales work really well. And to find one that’s near you just visit catscale.com. And follow the directions I mentioned above for using a CAT scale.

Conclusion

Now I’ve tried to make this as understandable and clear as I can. And there is a reason for all of this RV weight information I’ve covered here.

It’s because I get the feeling that a lot of people don’t look into these weight ratings very deeply. Maybe because they feel overwhelmed by them.

And I visit a lot of RV websites that discuss towing. Mainly they’re covering all kinds of acronyms, not just the vehicle weight ratings.

They often go into every kind of acronym you can imagine. And honestly that’s just complicating things unnecessarily.

But you just need to understand the few RV weight ratings explained in this article. And then make sure that you work within their guidelines.

If you do, then you’re pretty much all set for towing. So I hope what I’ve showed you in this article has been beneficial and helpful for you.

That’s it for now. Have safe and happy travels my friends … until next time.

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