Before purchasing an RV, it’s important that you know the towing capabilities of your tow vehicle. Weight ratings and tow ratings are assigned to vehicles for very specific (and important!) reasons and should be followed closely. Not abiding by the towing capacity of your vehicle is not only dangerous for you and everyone on the highway around you, but it can be interpreted as negligence on your part. This can lead to being subjected to a large settlement amount if you get in an accident and/or your insurance refuses to pay a claim due to your negligence. The smartest way to choose the right RV for your vehicle is by noting every maximum rating and making sure you stay under each one of them. This includes the GCWR, GVWR, GAWR, and the maximum tow rating. These ratings should all be listed on the data plate which is typically found on the inside of the driver’s door.
Let’s address some of the weights that you need to be familiar with in order to make an informed decision about how much weight your vehicle can tow.
Simply put, the payload of your vehicle is anything that your vehicle carries or tows on the suspension. This includes passengers, groceries, cords of wood, pumpkins, mulch, and anything you can tow behind your vehicle, such as an RV. Knowing your vehicle’s payload is very important because exceeding it can put a huge strain on its chassis. Luckily, calculating a vehicle’s payload is easy. First determine its GVWR and its curb weight. The GVWR is its gross vehicle weight rating and it can be found either in the owner’s manual or on the inside of the driver’s door frame. If not, look up your vehicle online and you’ll find its rating. The GVWR is the maximum capacity that your vehicle can handle when it’s fully loaded and ready to go. It includes passengers, fluids (fuel), cargo, tools, etc. The curb weight is simply what your vehicle weighs all on its own, not including any passengers, cargo, fuel, etc. Once you have these two numbers, you can easily calculate your vehicle’s payload.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating-Curb Weight=Vehicle’s Payload
For example, if your truck has a GVWR of 9,500 lbs. and a curb weight of 6,931 lbs., simply subtract 6,931 from 9,500 to get a payload of 2,569 lbs. Then you need to subtract the weight of any cargo in the vehicle. This includes the driver, passengers, and any other things you may have in there. If your total cargo weight were 382lbs, you would be looking at a payload of 2,187
9,500 (GVWR) – 6,931 (curb weight) - 382 (occupants and cargo) = 2,187 (payload)
To determine what your engine can handle you will want to look for Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) to make sure you don't burn it out. What you will need to do is look up the GCWR and subtract the GVWR. This will give you the max weight of the trailer that the engine can pull. For example, if your truck has a GCWR of 21,100 you would take out the 9,500 GVWR mentioned before and get 11,600 pounds of trailer your engine can handle.
21,100 (GCWR) - 9,500 (GVWR) = 11,600 (Max trailer weight)
You always want to go off the smaller of the numbers between the payload and the max trailer weight we calculated.
Every RV has a weight sticker that shows the most important weights as they apply to the RV and your tow vehicle. It most likely contains GAWR (Gross Axle Weight Rating), GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating), UVW (Unloaded Vehicle Weight), NCC (Net Carrying Capacity) or CCC (Cargo Carrying Capacity), GCWR, (Gross Combined Weight Rating), and Hitch Weight. If the RV lists the GVWR, then that’s all you need to know. If it doesn’t have the GVWR listed, then take the UVW (the “dry weight” of the unloaded vehicle) and add it to the NCC (or CCC, whichever is listed). This is the RV’s weight plus the maximum it can carry in cargo. While this is a large number, only a small percentage of it gets transferred to your tow vehicle.
Tongue weight applies to travel trailers, and pin weight applies to fifth wheels. The concept for both is the same, though. This is the amount of weight that the RV is going to put on the hitch of your vehicle and then disperse to the vehicle. In general, a travel trailer is going to put about 12-15% of its weight on the hitch, whereas a fifth wheel is going to put about 20-25% of its weight on the vehicle’s hitch. To figure out these weights, simply multiply the RV’s GVWR by the percentage for either a travel trailer or fifth wheel.
For example, if your travel trailer has a GVWR of 9,500 lbs., your calculation would look like this:
9,500 lbs. x 15%= 1,425 lbs.
This travel trailer has a tongue weight of 1,425 lbs.
Weigh Your Load
The only surefire way to know how much your vehicle weighs when it’s fully loaded for a trip (including passengers, cargo, hitch, fuel, etc.) is to weigh it at a public weigh station. This will give you the weights of the hitch, axle, and the total weight of your vehicle. Load it up as if you were heading out for your cross-country trip and swing by the weigh station. The small weigh station fee is well worth it considering what it could possibly save you if you unknowingly hit the road with a trailer that exceeds your vehicle’s towing capacity.
When looking at RVs, consult the weight sticker on the inside of the unit and find the UVW and the CCC. Use your weigh station information to estimate how much cargo weight you will bring along on your trip. Add the UVW and your CCC together to get a total for how much the RV would weight. If you're unsure how much cargo you may put in it, use the GVWR of the trailer. This is going to be the max it can hold so you'll always be safe here unless you overload the trailer.
With something as important as vehicle tow capacity, always consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual and weight stickers found on the vehicle. While car and RV dealers can be helpful in determining how much your vehicle can safely tow, it’s up to you to know your vehicle’s limits and to never exceed them. Safety should be your first concern, for yourself and everyone around you.