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Everyone wants to have the best RV travel experience as they travel the country. There are many gadgets and gizmos on the market that assist RVers to stay in their lane, increase their fuel efficiency, and avoid any long-term effects. By reducing your RV’s weight, you can improve your travel experience, avoid problems, and keep your motorhome or travel trailer in excellent condition.
We’ll show you the 20 best ways to reduce your RV’s weight. You’ll also get a crash course in the different RV weight measurements and definitions (We know, don’t say the word “crash”). Finally, we’ll show you the realities of traveling with an overweight RV and how to avoid the problem.
Why is RV Weight Important?
Your RV’s weight is an important and fundamental factor regardless of category. When a coach is too heavy, resulting problems include:
- Increased costs on toll roads
- Restricted access traveling down certain roads
- Lowers fuel economy
- Developing core structural damage
- Traffic tickets, fines, or other legal issues for recurring infractions
- Decreased control of the RV while traveling can lead to disasters on the road
- Refused RV and Auto insurance coverage due to operating out of compliance
RV Weight Can Affect Tolls and Weight Restricted Roads
Generally, toll roads charge vehicles based on how many axles they have. For example, a Ford F-350 towing a 2022 Keystone Fuzion 430 fifth wheel toy hauler will have a five axles toll cost. In some cases, like the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the tolls are based on weight. RVs typically fit in the Class 2-4 categories:
- Class 2: 7,001- 15,000 pounds
- Class 3: 15,001- 19,000 pounds
- Class 4: 19,001- 30,000 pounds
If you’re maximum combined weight should be below 15,000 pounds, but your actual weight goes at least a pound over, you can end up paying more. For example, you’ll pay more from the Warrendale entrance (Mile Marker 30) to the Wyoming Valley Toll Plaza (Mile Marker 112). The price difference between Class 2 ($66.00) and Class 3 ($79.50) is $13.50
You’ll also find that certain roads and bridges have weight limits. Road and law enforcement authorities have turned RVers around to get weighed at highway weigh stations if they suspect that rig is overweight. If they are, those RVers must find an alternate route due to their weight.
Knowing your combined weight ahead of time can save you a lot of time and trouble. Use a trip planner like RV Trip Wizard that factors your total combined weight and adjusts your route accordingly.
Exceeding Your RV Weight Limits is Dangerous
Your RV’s chassis, frame, suspension, tires, and other support components use materials with specific weight tolerances. Exceeding those specifications can bend or break those essential RV parts. Many core components are unrepairable, so you’ll end up spending thousands of dollars replacing them. If you ever plan to sell your RV, replacement parts lower your chances of getting the best price for your RV.
The Law and Insurance Regarding RV Weight
The federal government, state authorities, and the RV Industry Association (RVIA) have laws and regulations that forbid using an RV above its weight limit. That’s why they created other laws where weight measurements are easy to find. Law enforcement agencies that patrol the roadways can require you to go to the closest highway weigh station (even if that means turning around). If you are over the weight limit, they can ticket and fine you. Continued infractions can include jail time. You may be asking, how could they know? When you travel with an overweight RV, there are several telltale signs.
- The RV travels in a nose-down position instead of a level state.
- The coach swings side-to-side in a fishtailing style.
- Weight distribution is off, so the tow vehicle’s rear brakes bear the brunt of the RV’s weight.
- Wind shears rock the RV so much, the wheels lift off the road.
- The driver has to overcorrect too much, too often, to stay on the road.
If any of this does result in a road disaster, RV and auto insurance adjusters have forensics training to study the clues of the event. Then, based on the evidence, they can determine if the motorhome or travel trailer was over or underweight.
If you read your insurance policy, you’ll find a paragraph or subsection that talks about how operating a vehicle outside of the recommended safety guidelines are a breach of the coverage agreement. As a result, you could end up paying for the whole incident yourself and may have difficulty finding new coverage elsewhere. Unfortunately, this happens more often than it should.
RV Weight Terminology Explained
- Unloaded Vehicle Weight (UVW): Also known as the “Dry Weight,” this measurement refers to the empty weight of the RV. When the coach leaves the factory, everything built-in accounts for the dry weight. If the dealership adds anything at their location, then that’s an amended UVW.
- Wet Weight: You’ll also hear people call this the “Curb Weight.” The Wet Weight is the UVW plus all fluids and gasses, assuming the holding tanks are empty. Motorhomes factor in the automotive fluids.
- Cargo Carrying Capacity (CCC): Manufacturers like Airstream refer to this weight as the Net Carrying Capacity (NCC). Your RV can hold up to this amount of weight for your gear and personal things. A heavy safe may fit, but you have to consider how much CCC weight it’s using.
- Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR): Every towable and drivable RV (minus truck campers) will show you how much weight each axle can safely hold on each axle. Toy Haulers place the axles under the garage for this reason. Teardrop campers use the GAWR as their GVWR since they’re the same.
- Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR): The GVWR is the safest maximum total weight the RV can tolerate. The rating includes the Dry Weight, CCC, and people traveling inside.
- Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR): The GVWR focuses on the RV itself. For those towing an RV or a motorhome towing a car (toading), the GCWR is the combined weight of your entire rig. Many states require drives to have a CDL to drive an RV if the GCWR is 26,000 pounds or more.
For example, A long bed Dodge Ram 3500 has a max weight of 7,536 pounds. The Heartland Landmark Scottsdale fifth wheel has a GVWR of 18,000 pounds. Together, they weigh 25,536 pounds. If a resident of California were to exceed the maximum GCWR by 464 pounds, they could be pulled over for not having a commercial driver’s license.
- Tongue/King Pin Weight: The tongue weight is the travel trailer’s pressure on the tow vehicle. Typically, the average tongue weight of a travel trailer should be between 10-15% of the actual Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW). Average fifth wheel tongue weights sit around 20% of the towable’s GVW.
- Payload Weight: Since truck campers are hauled instead of towed, you want to look at the Payload Weight the truck can carry when choosing a pickup truck. This measurement is the truck camper equivalent to the GVWR.
- Center of Gravity (Front or Rear): Truck campers have a center of gravity that measures from the back of the bed (where the bed meets the cab) and the front of the bed (from the cargo bed door). RV manufacturers express these balance points in inches or centimeters and must securely fit inside the truck’s cargo bed, so the camper doesn’t fall out.
How to Figure Out How Much Your RV or Travel Trailer Weighs
Can I Weigh My Trailer at a Weigh Station?
The best way to figure out how much your RV or travel trailer weighs is to load everything you want to bring with you, including your family, and take it to an RV weight scale near you. A simple Google search using the phrase “RV weight scale near me” will bring up some results.
Familiar places include city dumps, truck stops, highway weigh stations (some states require it), and (of course) Camping World. CAT scales is a famous national vehicle scale company with over 2,000 locations in North America. Their website has a user-friendly locator.
How Do I Calculate My GVWR
Using simple math, you can weigh everything you’re bringing with you using a bathroom scale.
- Weigh your gear and things individually (clothes you could stack together) and add it all up.
- Determine how many gallons of freshwater you’ll put in your freshwater tank and multiply that by 8.34 pounds (the weight of water per gallon).
- Adding your final dry gear and water weight gives you your CCC.
- Add your UVW to the CCC you calculated. This final number is your GVWR.
- Make adjustments accordingly to reduce the RV’s weight if necessary.
How Much Weight Can an RV Hold?
Determining how much weight an RV holds has a few answers that say the same thing. It starts with the towing capacity of your vehicle. To keep it easy to follow, we’ll explain it through an example by using the 2021 most popular mid-size SUV in America.
The Toyota Highlander has a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds. But, as you’ll see, you won’t be able to pull a travel trailer with a 5,000-pound UVW because there are other factors to consider. The basic idea is:
Weight = Horsepower
If you were a physicist, mechanical engineer, or an auto tech, you’d know it’s way more complicated than this. But, for the rest of us, it’s an excellent perspective to use. So here are the weight considerations that the Highlander also has to tow:
- UVW: The weight of the RV.
- CCC: the gear inside the RV and anything inside the SUV.
- Personnel Weight: Everybody, including the driver, adds weight (of course, we all know that the women weigh a healthy 120 pounds or less).
- SUV Weight: The Highlander needs horsepower to move itself in all road conditions. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, those gas-guzzling V8s spent over half of their power moving their steel bodies. When you compare them to today’s cars, those massive engines had the same ponies as today’s compact cars, and our vehicles need a lot less muscle to keep up with traffic.
There are many rules of thumb RVers use. One version says each square foot of your RV can hold 250 pounds, so multiply 250 by your square footage. Another says to keep your actual RV weight below 80% of your tow vehicle’s maximum towing capacity. A third option recommends saving 500-1,000 pounds for people and driving.
For the Toyota Highlander, we would recommend ensuring at least 200-300 pounds left for acceleration, climbing hills, and dealing with the road. Overcompensate for your personnel weight and keep the glamping to a minimum with your gear. An RV with a 3,000 to 3,500 pound GVWR won’t bother your stress level, but don’t look at anything that goes over 4,000 pounds.
20 Best Ways to Reduce RV Weight
Reduce Water Weight
- When traveling, only fill up your freshwater tank halfway or up to a third of the tank. Water weights 8.34 pounds per gallon.
- Switch to a tankless RV water heater. The device itself is lighter, but when you factor in the 6-gallon or 10-gallon tank in a standard RV, you’ll save 50 to 84 pounds in water weight.
- Go eco-friendly with an RV composting toilet. They’re more sanitary than you think, and it allows you to remove your black holding tank. As a result, you’re reducing the tank’s weight, compost commodes weigh less than RV porcelain toilets, and you’re avoiding a build-up of hundreds of water weight pounds.
- Dump your holding tanks before you travel. Your motorhome and travel trailer’s holding tanks use gravity to flush out, so the more water in the tank, the better the flow. The rule of thumb is to wait until the tank is ⅔ full, but half will work. Take advantage of an RV discount club or truck stop program for discount rates on their dump station services.
Remodel and Repair Lightly
- Replace heavy furniture with lightweight versions that use lightweight materials.
- Unless you’re repairing the chassis, use aluminum parts for metallic repairs.
- Privacy curtains are much lighter than privacy doors. It also makes life a lot better when your four-legged children can’t decide which part of the RV they want to claim.
- Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) is twice as strong as natural wood and significantly lighter. Substitute MDF adjustable shelves to shave off weight.
- Update your window treatments from the wooden manufacturer pieces to something lighter and may look better.
- Go Solar! In the last ten years, solar panel technology has rocketed to the point where the best generator for full-time RVing is half the size previously recommended. For example, Keystone’s SolarFlex 1200i-L gives you 1,200-watts with Lithium-Ion batteries. These batteries are lighter than traditional lead-acid too.
- If you can barely lift your bed to get to the storage underneath, there are dozens of lightweight mattress options out there. You’re probably still getting inundated with various ads due to that one time you looked at one of them.
- The 1980s called, they want their mega multi-component multimedia entertainment system monstrosity back. Furrion makes a 12v TV with a built-in soundbar that only weighs 18 lbs! The picture quality and sound are so much better than your pre-Millenium equipment too.
- Go all-electric! If you can change out all of your propane features for electric amenities. For those of you that live in the Sunbelt, when was the last time you used your RV’s furnace instead of portable heaters? Propane tanks weigh a lot, and the price per gallon isn’t looking good.
- Residential refrigerators in an RV are worth it in some situations. House units have their benefits, but they are heavier and don’t handle road conditions well. RV refrigerators come in sizes as large as 18 cubic feet in full-size coaches.
Thinning Out the Chaos
- Spring clean to dispose of unused items. If you haven’t used it for a year or more, do you really need it?
- Use stackable clear plastic storage containers instead of shelves to organize your belongings in your cabinets.
- It may be difficult but manage your kitchen items. For example, you may have been drooling over your mother-in-law’s Kitchenaid mixer for years, and she finally gave it to you, but (and we put our triple-thick flack vest and battle helmet on when we ask this) does that heavy machine need to travel with you?
- A properly stocked toolkit is a necessity. However, 98% of the time, you won’t need heavy tools. If you do, hardware stores rent out tools and equipment, or you probably know someone with what you need. Add an adult beverage or six; they may even help you.
- When grocery shopping before your travel days, prepare a separate grocery list focused on food items and supplies specifically for the road. Everything is easy to make, simple to clean up, minimizes wasteful purchasing taking up weight and space.
- Create an RV capsule wardrobe. With 9-12 core clothing pieces, you can keep a stylish look without using too much CCC weight and storage space. The concept started in the 1970s by London-based clothing designer Susie Faux and was made famous by Donna Karan in 1985 in the United States.
How to Reduce RV Tongue Weight
If you find your SUV or pickup truck’s rear suspension bottomed out, you may need to reduce the tongue weight of the RV. The key to the best RV towing experience is balancing the weight. An overloaded tongue weight means that you need more weight in the back of your coach.
If you have too much tongue weight while traveling, your risk of losing control elevates significantly. Since most of the weight ends up on the tow vehicle’s rear axle, braking, turning, and overall vehicle responsiveness decrease. The RV’s brake and suspension systems are there to take on their share of the towing burden, so the SUV or truck has the freedom to do its job.
What Happens if Your RV is Overweight?
A quick search on YouTube will give you a long list of videos of RV disasters due to what happens if your RV is overweight. For example, wind shears are bad enough when you’re under the GVWR, but when your tow vehicle’s straining to keep your rig moving, the smallest of gusts will have you flipping around like a floor routine at the Olympics.
Overweight RVs can have a tire blowout since they are optimized for a maximum weight even when they become hot from friction. In addition, long-term overweight conditions can bend the axles causing them to bow, resulting in an expensive replacement cost.
Conclusion: Avoiding the Overweight Issue Before You Buy an RV
The best way to avoid the overweight issue before buying an RV is to rent a few before investing in your own motorhome or travel trailer. When you rent from a peer-to-peer RV rental company like Outdoorsy, RVezy, or RVshare, you have the opportunity to figure out what essential accessories you absolutely need, what you really want to bring, and what can stay at home. By the time you’re ready to buy, you’ll know which RV model you want and how much gear you need to bring with you.
To help you figure that out, check out the RVBlogger Website for the articles like this on the best gear and related topics. We also have an Amazon Gear Page that shows you what we use for our RV adventures. Our Instagram page shows you how we use it as well as the wondrous places we go.
You can also learn from the RV Community by joining our Facebook Group, RV Camping for Newbies. You’ll have a chance to speak with the thousands of RVBlogger Friends that come from all walks of life and have all levels of experience. Our conversations are positive, supportive, and they’re there to help each other out like you’ll find when you RV in a campground.
Don’t forget to sign up for our FREE digital magazine, RV Camping Magazine. Each month we interview the best RV influencers within the RV Community. You’ll also learn about the newest gadgets and gizmos hitting the market and incredible destinations for everyone to enjoy. You’ll also discover fantastic remodeling examples, the best maintenance, and repair tips to add to your checklist from the National RV Training Academy.
When you sign up for the RV Camping Magazine, you’ll get our free weekly newsletter that gives you links to our latest blogs and what’s coming up at RVBlogger. You’ll also have a chance to see our latest YouTube video that comes out every Sunday that walks through the best RVs by topic.
So, from Mike and Susan, remember to leave your campsite better than you found it, thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next time.