The last thing you want to do is buy a camper and then find out your vehicle can’t tow it! Knowing your towing capacity will help ensure that you don’t buy or fall in love with an RV that will be stuck in one spot! Let’s look at specific things you need to consider to answer the question, what can my vehicle tow?
Your vehicle’s payload is the amount your vehicle can carry, with the weight of the vehicle itself being subtracted out. However this is not the weight of the trailer you can get though. Realize that passengers and cargo add weight to your load as well. It’s good to leave yourself some buffer room so you don’t end up with a weight issue. You also need to keep in mind that what the chassis can handle and what the engine can handle are two different things. So after you figure out how much pressure you can put on the vehicle, you need to be sure the engine can pull it as well.
Look inside the door jams of your vehicle for weight stickers. Here you will find your Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, or GVWR. This is the maximum amount of weight your vehicle can carry. In order to figure out the weight of the truck itself, you’re probably going to need to put in some work. Pack up your vehicle as if you were going camping. Put in all your supplies as well as your family. Once you have everything and everyone in the vehicle, visit a weigh station. Take the number you’ve gotten from the weigh station and subtract that from the GVWR. This is what your vehicle can handle. Keep in mind that if you’re getting a 5th wheel and don’t already have the hitch attached, you need to account for that weight too!
If you only have a sticker that says “The combined weight of occupants and cargo should never exceed …” then you’re going to have to calculate the weight of your passengers and cargo one by one. Add everything together and subtract the total from the number that follows that statement and you will get the amount left for towing.
The next number you want to look for is Gross Combined Weight Rating, or GCWR. This is the maximum weight the engine can handle when it comes to both the RV and its own weight.
When you’re adding up the weight of your passengers, keep your family in mind. Think about changes that will come. Are you planning a family (or to grow your family)? Do you think you’ll still own this RV when your current little one will be a gigantic 16-year-old? Account for these changes when you plan your buffer for the camper weight.
Let’s say we have a 2016 GMC Sierra Denali. Our GVWR is 7300. We get it weighed and the total weight with passengers and everything is 5,883 lbs. If we subtract the weight we got from the GVWR that gives us 1,417 lbs. payload.
There are a ton of different weights listed on an RV info sticker: dry weight, hitch weight, GVWR, etc. You’re only going to need to worry about the GVWR if it’s listed! If it’ not listed, simply take the UVW, sometimes called Dry Weight or Shipping Weight, and add it to the Cargo Carrying Capacity. This is now the weight of the RV itself plus the maximum it’s able to carry in cargo. Don’t let this gigantic number scare you though! Only a portion of this is going to be transferred to the tow vehicle. To determine this amount, we need to calculate the pin or tongue weight.
If you’re considering a travel trailer, you need to calculate the tongue weight. If you’re considering a fifth wheel, you’ll need to calculate the pin weight. These are the amount of weight that the RV is going to put on the hitch and then disperse to the tow vehicle. Generally a travel trailer is going to put about 12 to 15 percent of its weight on the hitch where a fifth wheel is going to put around 20 to 25 percent of its weight on the hitch. In order to figure out the weights, simply multiply the RV’s GVWR by the percent you need to figure out for the type of RV you want. As long as this number is below the vehicle’s payload, you’ll be able to tow it!
Since this truck has a pretty low payload and most fifth wheels have at least a 7,000 lb. GVWR, we’re going to want to look at a travel trailer. Let’s use the Coachmen Catalina 293QBCK that has a GVWR of 9,500 lbs:
This one is well within our towing capacity!
Now let’s make sure our travel trailer isn’t going to exceed our GCWR:
7,300 + 9,500 = 16,800
Our GCWR is 15,000, so we’ve exceeded it. Our suspension can handle it, but our engine can’t.
What Weight to Look For
Now, what if you want to know what GVWR you can pull and not have to do each trailer one at a time? Remember when you had to learn algebra and there was at least one kid in the class that said you’ll never have to solve for X, Y, and Z? Well, GVWR is X. So here’s what your equations would look like in that format:
X * 25% = 1,575
Y * 15% = 1,575
7,300 + Z = 16,800
X is for pin weight, Y is for tongue weight, and Z is for GCWR.
To solve for X and Y all we have to do is divide 1,575 by the %. This gives us a maximum GVWR of 6,300 for a fifth wheel and 10,500 for a travel trailer! To solve for Z we simply subtract the GVWR of the tow vehicle from the GCWR and we get 9,500. Always use the lower weight between tongue/pin weight and GCWR!
As you browse through RVs on our website, you can view each RV’s weight information under the Specs section. You can even filter your search by weight! Simply click on “New RVs” ,“Used RVs” or “Clearance RVs” to see the inventory. Then, at the bottom of the filter on the left of the screen, you’ll find the weight ranges. Just filter your search based on what your vehicle can handle. It couldn’t be any easier to find the right RV for you!