RV Safety Begins With RV Weight
Knowing the weight of your RV is one of the most important safety factors for all RV owners. And it's not just about knowing how much weight your particular RV is rated to carry. It's also about knowing how much your RV actually weighs when fully loaded, understanding what makes up that weight, and being familiar with how the weight is distributed throughout the RV.
In this post, we're going to talk about all things related to RV weights and share two easy ways to learn the weight of your motorhome, travel trailer, fifth wheel or truck camper.
Watch Our Video About 2 Ways to Weigh Your RV and Why It's So Important
Video: 2 Ways To Weigh Your RV and Why It's Important
Why Is Weight Important For Recreational Vehicle Owners?
First things first: why is weight so important? Every recreational vehicle is rated to carry a certain amount of weight, and that weight limit is what keeps the vehicle safe while traveling. Being overweight can put undue stress on your front axle, rear axle, RV frame, front wheels, rear wheels, tires, or even your truck if you are pulling a towable camper.
The more knowledge that you have when it comes to your RV's weight, the safer you will be on the road. No one wants to spend their trip on the side of the road (or worse). Being properly loaded with proper tire inflation will help prevent tire blowouts. And proper tire inflation all begins with knowing your weight!
How Do I Find My RV's Weight Rating?
Most RV manufacturers will include weight ratings in the specifications list of their models. However, remember this is not specific to any individual RV. Even if you have a stock version of that model, your weights will likely be at least slightly different from what is listed on the manufacturer website or brochure.
Every RV should have a yellow sticker that spells out exactly how much weight that RV can safely carry. Usually you'll find this sticker in the door frame. Sometimes it will be on the side of the RV, and you might find additional information next to the driver's seat in a motorized RV.
The weight stickers may include the following abbreviations:
- UVW or Unloaded Vehicle Weight This is the weight of the RV alone as it was completed by the manufacturer with no water, propane, fuel or anything else added. This is also called Dry Weight. And if the camper is a trailer, this might also be referred to as Trailer Weight.
- CC or Cargo Capacity This is the total amount of weight that the RV is rated to carry. Also sometimes noted as CCC - Cargo Carrying Capacity. It is the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating minus the Dry Weight of the camper.
- GVWR or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating This is the total weight (including the dry weight of the camper, full water tanks, propane, fuel and all cargo) that the RV is rated to carry. It's also sometimes called simply gross weight.
- GAWR or Gross Axle Weight Ratings The Gross Axle Weight Rating is the maximum amount of weight that that particular axle (front or rear) can safely carry. Some folks just call this the axle weight rating.
- TW or Tongue Weight For bumper pull RVs, like travel trailers and pop-up campers, your tongue weight is going to be the amount of weight that is put onto the hitch of your truck. For a motorhome, the tongue weight is going to be how much weight can be put onto the hitch on the back of the RV for towing.
- HW or Hitch Weight Fifth wheel trailers are going to list a hitch weight. This is the amount of weight that the RV will put into the hitch when connected to your truck. This is also called the pin weight.
How Do I Find Out How Much My RV Weighs?
Knowing the max weight according to your RV manufacturer recommendations is a good start, but it's not the same thing as knowing the actual weight of your RV as it is loaded to travel. We have used two different options for weighing our RV...
RV Weighing Option 1: Certified CAT Scale
Easy to find and easy to use, CAT scales (also called truck scales) can be found at most truck stops. No appointment is needed. You simply take your RV to your local truck stop and drive onto the platform scales. It's best to have a spotter with you who can get out and guide you so that each axle is stopped on a different scale. You can tell where the scales are located by the separation in the concrete. Double or triple axle vehicles will usually have more than one axle on a scale and that's okay.
If you drive a truck pulling a 5th wheel or RV trailer, you'll want to make sure that your truck and camper are on separate scales, but you want to have both weighed to get the full picture.
If you drive a motorhome and pull a tow vehicle, you'll likely use 3 scales: one for the motorhome's front axle, one for its back axle (or axles if you have a tag axle), and one scale for your tow vehicle.
Once you are in position, push the button on the call box to notify the clerk and ask for a vehicle weigh. They will ask for a name or some way to identify your report. It only takes a minute or two for the truck scale to perform the weighing. The clerk will notify you when it is complete and you can pick up your report at the register in the store. Typically this will cost somewhere between $10 and $25.
RV Weighing Option 2: Four Corner Weigh
More difficult to find, more expensive than a CAT scale weigh, and requires an appointment, but provides a lot more information. This weighing process takes longer, but not only weighs the weight placed upon each axle of your RV, and your RV's weight as a whole, it also provides the weight that is riding on each wheel position. This is invaluable information for having a complete understanding your RV's weight distribution. The weigh master may also ask additional questions about your tires or how you like to travel to provide you with safety recommendations.
To find a four corner weight station, check with any RV club that you are member of. Often they will have weigh stations available in specific locations or at RV rallies. Escapees RV Club offers a four corner weigh station at their campground and headquarters in Livingston, Texas. We have also undergone a 4-corner weigh at an FMCA rally.
When we weighed our rig at Escapees, they also measured the height of both our motorhome and towed vehicle. This was really useful because we learned exactly how tall we were, not just what our RV's brochure told us we should be. Typical cost we've incurred for this method of weighing is $60 to $100.
Important Steps To Remember About RV Weighing
You should weigh your RV as it typically would be set up for your travel. So if you normally carry 6 chairs and a loaded ice chest in your camper, you should have those onboard when you weigh. If you normally travel with a full tank of fresh water, then load that up as well. But even if you don't typically carry full water tanks, it's a good idea to have at least a quarter to one half of your water full when you weigh. You'll also want a full propane tank and full fuel tank so that you'll get a more realistic report of overall travel.
If you travel in a Class A, Class B, Class B+, Class C or Super C motorhome, it's important to get onto the vehicle scale with all people and pets that will normally travel with you as well. And have everyone sitting in their normal travel position while being weighed. Actually, having all of your travel group with you when you weigh is a good idea for trucks pulling towable RVs as well so that you can get a complete picture of your travel weight.
Don't forget to also load up your truck if you are pulling your camper or your tow vehicle if you have a motorhome before you weigh. Again, you want to get the most accurate and realistic weight that you can for the way that you travel. You can't make any necessary adjustments if you aren't starting with accurate weight data.
Which Method of Weighing Is The Best Option?
Any accurate weight of your RV is much better than nothing. The CAT scales are much more convenient making them a great place to start for understanding your axle weights and combined weight of your truck and camper or motorhome and tow car. If you can get to a truck stop, you can get to a CAT scale.
The most comprehensive report from the four-corner weigh (which by the way is also called wheel position weighing) is going to provide you with a lot more information about your current weight and how it is distributed. It will give you individual wheel weights. This way you will know if you need to move some things around in your storage bays to balance out your weight.
If you have a fifth wheel, a 4-corner way will sometimes weigh the truck twice... once with the camper attached, once without so they can calculate the pin weight.
Both of these methods will provide you with a certified weight receipt for your records.
What Do I Do With My RV's Weights After I Get Them?
Now that you know exactly how heavy your RV is, you can make sure that you are equipped with the right tires based on your weight data and that those tires are set to the proper pressure. Visit the tire pressure chart on your tire manufacturer's website, find your tire's listing, and then check the chart to find your weights. The chart will give you the manufacturer's suggested tire pressure for your specific weight. Adjust your air pressure accordingly without going over the tire's maximum pressure.
If you find that you have an overweight RV, it's time to start downsizing. It is not safe to travel in or with an RV that exceeds the maximum weight rating for the RV itself or for the standards set by the tire manufacturers. Nothing that you might want to carry is more important than safety.
Should I Get My RV Re-Weighed?
If you find that you add additional weight over time, it's probably a good idea to get weighed again. You always want the most accurate information to give you peace of mind as you travel. Many weigh stations (both CAT scales and 4-corner weigh stations) will provide discounted re-weighs within a specific period of time following your first scale visit. So if you want to check to see how your adjustments affected your weights, be sure to get re-weighed.
Is It Okay To Max Out My RV's Weight?
In our opinion, the short answer to this question is No. In all of our years as RVers (we're closing in on a decade of owning RVs now) and in our training as RV technicians, it is never okay to load up and max out your truck, RV or tow vehicle weight.
No matter what type of RV you have, please pay attention to the maximum numbers recommended by your manufacturer and do everything you can to stay below that number. (We like to stay at least 200 pounds below our max weight rating. In our Tiffin Breeze, we were usually about 400 pounds under our max weight. And in our New Aire, we're almost 2,000 pounds below our allowed max weight!)
If you need to carry more stuff, then you really need to buy an RV with a larger cargo capacity and/or a truck with more towing capabilities. Just because you CAN carry or tow something, doesn't mean you SHOULD. There's a big difference. Unfortunately, not every RV dealer will be upfront with you on the load capacity or towing requirements. So please do your own research so that you are prepared and stay safe out there on the road.
The research you do now will serve as a great education foundation for many happy and safe years of RVing.