When choosing an RV, there is a lot to consider. Are you looking for a bunkhouse that can accommodate children, or a fifth wheel with a large master suite? Do you want one with an exterior camp kitchen or a toy garage for your ATVs and kayaks? Before you start looking at specific features, there’s one big thing you need to think about: what can your vehicle tow? Determining what RV your vehicle can tow is very important to do BEFORE you purchase your dream RV! For your safety and the safety of those traveling near you on the road, you need to adhere to the weight limits of your tow vehicle and choose an RV that can safely be towed by your car, crossover, or truck.
Pulling an RV that is too heavy for your vehicle is not only rough on your vehicle, but it’s dangerous. It puts a lot of stress on the engine, transmission, and chassis, and can cause a lot of failures. The extra weight can affect braking and steering and could result in a serious accident. Let's look at how to determine your vehicle's towing capacity to help you make a smart choice in RV selection.
When you want to figure out how much you can tow, it may be tempting to just check the max towing capability set by your vehicle's manufacturer and take it as the final word. But this number is the maximum towing capacity, which means a fully loaded RV (cargo, liquids,etc). Any RV you tow should weigh less than this number when it is empty, as this number already has your cargo, luggage, food, fuel, etc. factored into it. On the door jams of your vehicle, you'll see a sticker that shows the GVWR of your vehicle, which stands for Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. This is the maximum weight your vehicle can handle and includes passengers, cargo, vehicle weight, and anything that is being towed behind it. If you cannot find this number, look for the Occupant Cargo Carrying Capacity (OCCC) which will typically be found on the tire and loading information sticker followed by “THE COMBINED WEIGHT OF OCCUPANTS AND CARGO SHOULD NEVER EXCEED ...” This is the weight your vehicle can handle with its own weight already factored in. Now we're ready to do some calculations.
First you need to determine how much your passengers and cargo weigh. You can calculate this one at a time, or load everything up in the vehicle and have it weighed at a weigh station or truck stop. When working with GVWR, you’re looking at a pretty accurate number. If you’re working with the OCCC, then you want to weigh everything separately or look up your vehicle’s curb weight and subtract this number from the number you get on the scale.
Once you have your weights you need to subtract them from the beginning number. If you’re working with the GVWR, then subtract the number from the scale from the GVWR and this will tell you how much weight you have left.
If you’re working with the OCCC and have everything weighed separately, then you want to subtract it from the OCCC number. If you weigh the vehicle, subtract the curb weight from the scale number first, and then subtract that number from the OCCC. With both numbers, you should get pretty close to the same answer if you do it both ways.
Let's use a Ford Super Duty F-350 4x4 as an example. Here are the numbers we found on the stickers:
GVWR: 13,000 lbs.
OCCC: 5,869 lbs.
We loaded up our Super Duty with all of our passengers, camping cargo, and fuel and got it weighed at a station. Our weight was 7,689 lbs. In order to calculate what we have left for towing, we need to subtract this number from our GVWR:
13,000 – 7,689 = 5,311 lbs.
Or if we are using the OCCC, we need to look up our curb weight (which is 7,131 lbs) and add it to the OCCC number which will give us GVWR. Then we subtract our weight from this number:
(5,869 + 7,131) – 7,689 = 5,311 lbs.
Great! We now know how much weight is left over for the weight of an RV. Now we need to know how much weight the engine can actually pull. You’ll need to find the Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR), which is the total weight of the tow vehicle plus the trailer that the engine can handle. The GCWR for our Ford Super Duty is 40,400 lbs. We’ll hang onto this number for later. First let's talk about how much weight an RV transfers onto a tow vehicle.
Finding the RV Weight
Since your RV has its own tires and axles, not all of its weight rests on the tow vehicle. Due to the way they're hitched to a tow vehicle, travel trailers and fifth wheels differ in the amount of weight they transfer to a tow vehicle. A travel trailer puts up to 15% of its weight on the hitch, and this is called tongue weight. A 5th wheel is going to put up to 25% of its weight on the hitch, and this is called pin weight. Let's do some calculations using a Chaparral 5th wheel bunkhouse and a Jay Flight Bungalow Park Trailer bunkhouse. The Chaparral has a GVWR of 14,000 lbs and the Jay Flight has a GVWR of 13,000. Since the Chaparral is a 5th wheel, it will only put 25% of its weight on the truck, giving us a 3,500 lbs. pin weight. The Jay Flight travel trailer will put 15% of its weight on the truck, giving us a tongue weight of 1,950 lbs. Since our towing allowance for this truck is 5,311 lbs., we are well equipped to tow either of them! Now we need to make sure our engine can pull them.
To see if our Ford engine can handle the weight of the RVs, we want to take the GVWR of the Ford and add it to the GVWR of each trailer. We could use actual weights, but this would mean you would have to get each trailer weighed to figure this out and then carefully watch what you load into it. Just to be on the safe side, we’re going to use GVWR amount.
Chaparral Fifth Wheel: 13,000 + 14,000 = 27,000 lbs.
Jay Flight Travel Trailer: 13,000 + 13,000 = 26,000 lbs.
Since our engine can handle up to 40,400 lbs., we are well within our towing limits for the engine as well.
If we just want to know how much our vehicle can tow (without having a specific one in mind), we can just reverse our equation. We take our towing capacity and divide it by the % of the weight put on the hitch. So for a 5th wheel, we can pull 21,244 lbs., and for a travel trailer we can pull up to 34,406 lbs. Keep in mind that if you are looking at a toy hauler, you will need to add in the weight of your toys to the GVWR of the trailer before working through the calculations. To figure the GCWR, simply subtract GVWR of the tow vehicle from the GCWR and this will tell you how much weight is left. For our Ford we’re looking at 27,400 lbs.
There you have it! Now you know how to figure out how much weight your vehicle can tow, and how much weight a specific RV would put on your tow vehicle. Now you can begin your search for your perfect RV. Remember, when shopping online, look in the specs section for the GVWR. If you’re shopping on our sales lot, find the sticker near the RV's door for this information. If you aren’t sure what RV you want and you’re browsing our large selection of new and used RVs online, just filter down your search to only include the weight you’re able to tow!