Friday, March 24, 2023


How do we educate the RV consumer about towing capacity?

Dear Dave, 
I would hope, with camping season coming up, that current and future RV owners would and should understand better what they are already towing or about to.

I bring this up because we know that RV dealers just want to sell RVs. The car dealerships are pretty much the same way.

I blame the consumer for not doing a thorough search about the art of RVing.

I met someone while camping last summer with a ‘20 Highlander with a supposed towing capacity of 5,000 pounds and without a trailer package. Of course, the salesperson said it would be fine. When I asked him what about just the dry weight of the trailer, he said that it was about 4,500 pounds. Again, the RV sales guy told him that he would be fine.

I also blame the consumer

As mentioned, I also blame the consumer. I briefly tried to explain the differences in regard to weights. We just changed the subject!

My question is: How does all of the deceiving of the public stop? My wife and I started RVing last year. I had never done so much searching for answers in regards to both vehicles in which I wanted to be safe. My truck salesman tried to BS me. It didn’t work. My truck is rated for 11,400 lbs. but he told me 12,400. I am responsible for around 7,200 pounds. The RV guy actually figured that I did my homework about the TT we wanted.

If you have a way to get info out to the general public about the scams, it would be wonderful.

Thank you for “listening” to me. —Bob

Dear Bob,
For years there was no education or information about towing capacity or even how much a unit weighed sitting on the lot. I worked with a gentleman named John Anderson who was a retired Navy pilot that started “Weigh We Go” back in the early 1990s. He had a fifth wheel and was blowing tires like crazy. So after several sets, he got one of the major tire companies involved and when they actually weighed his rig, it was a thousand pounds over Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). It was already overloaded when all his cargo was taken out! Back then, there was no weight sticker or information about what you could put inside the rig.

Weigh We Go

So, John started Weigh We Go and collected weight information for Michelin, Goodyear, Firestone, and the Tire and Rim Association. He found that more than 75% of the rigs he weighed were over either the GVWR or the Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR). Needless to say, the RV manufacturers and dealers did not take kindly to the “facts,” as it gave tire manufacturers ammunition to get weight stickers mandatory on all RVs. These stickers provide the weight of the rig as it sits with no water, LP, or cargo—known as the dry weight.

The cargo weight is what an owner can put in for clothing, food and accessories. It includes any water, which is 8.34 lbs. per gallon, or LP, which is 4.2 lbs. per gallon. In the case of a motorized vehicle, it also includes the weight of passengers, as they will be in the unit while it goes down the road.

Towing capacity

The weight information is important to stay within safety towing capacities for trucks, SUVs and cars pulling a trailer. Towing capacity can be obtained from a variety of sources such as the Towing Guide published each year by Trailer Life and now Good Sam, or the vehicle manufacturer’s towing guide. Some manufacturers list the towing capacities in the owner’s guide, like my 2016 Chevrolet Silverado.

The towing capacity guide for a Chevy Silverado.

It is a little confusing for some owners as they need to know the cab configuration, engine size, axle ratio, and other information to get the exact towing capacity. Mine is 11,300 lbs., and, according to the RV Safety and Education Foundation, you should reduce it by 10%. You do not want to be at maximum capacity trying to stop in the mountains, hot weather, or rainy conditions. You also do not want to be at maximum weight trying to go up a 6% grade.

I have worked hundreds of RV shows and provided information on towing capacity in my RV Buyer’s Seminar, Towing Truck and Trailer, and RV Driving Schools. As you stated, I am amazed at how little people pay attention to their weights. Mostly because the average person believes there is a governing body that would not allow units to be built close to GVWR or be too heavy for a truck. But, as you stated, that is not the case.

We are seeing more RV dealers that are carrying a line of used trucks or partnering with a truck dealer to make sure their customers are matching truck towing capacity to the weight of the trailer. As you indicated, the truck dealership typically will advise it can handle anything, as they are not the ones you, the owner, comes back to when there is an issue!

More dealers are educating owners

And I see more dealers educating owners during the purchase to match the trailer weight to the truck towing capacity if they already have a truck. However, you will always find some that are just trying to “push tin,” as we call it, and will tell you everything is fine. The more you can educate yourself with the facts, the easier it is to identify those people and stay away from them. After all, if they are not providing correct information on the towing capacity or weight rating, what else are they falsifying?

It is important to do the homework and find the facts because you will always be able to find someone that will tell you it’s okay. That’s what makes it difficult for the sales professionals that are trying to help you get the right fit, as the information can be a little hidden.

What if there’s no weight sticker?

What if you are looking to purchase used and there is no sticker? I suggest to everyone in my seminars that even if you do have a weight sticker, after you get the unit ready to hit the road, go weigh it at a CAT Scale. These are at any Pilot Flying J and other truck stops. For $10 you can get the weight of the trailer and the weight on the back axle.

A CAT scale will weigh your RV and can help you with rate ratings and towing capacity.

It is also a good idea to have the rig weighed by individual wheel positions as your unit might be heavier on one side versus the other. This is not uncommon. The Recreation Vehicle Safety Education Foundation (RVSEF) has found more than 40% have this issue on larger trailers and motorized RVs. Visit RVSEF to see where the weighing teams are going to be throughout the year.

How do RVers learn about weight ratings and towing capacity?

So, how do we educate the public about towing capacities when the information is hard to find and/or sometimes confusing? Face it, most of the time owners don’t want to hear the facts, they just want to jump in the tow vehicle and drive!

It started with the weight stickers, which require potential owners to do some math! What?! I don’t want to do any math! Then it requires an education effort by someone in the industry. I can tell you it is not the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), as they want to paint a pretty picture of us adults sitting in a tropical RV park “garden” sipping wine. When we approached them to partner with the RV Repair Club several years ago, they just kept saying, “RVs don’t leak and they don’t break down!” They obviously have never RVed before. And it won’t be the forums, because you will find just as many owners out there that are pulling rigs way over their GVWR and also claim to never have had an issue.

It has to be us, the small handful of seminar presenters, professional dealers and salespersons, and even owners, as well as, that keep spreading the information—which sometimes seems overwhelming. It’s like eating an elephant, as they say… one small bite at a time.

Speaking of towing capacity… Make sure you watch today’s Video of the Day. You won’t believe this!!

Dave Solberg is a leading expert in the RV industry and the author of the “RV Handbook.”

Read more from Dave here


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1 month ago

Don’t blame the consumer. Vehicles are offered with dozens of actual designs and styles, nobody can keep them all straight, even the salespeople.

Push the manufacturers, and search sites, to list towing capacity, etc. so we can actually search on these key numbers. But right now, they want to stress carpets, cupholders and colors, so here we are, trying to cope.

1 month ago

Personally, I want to know what weight the brakes on the towed component are designed to stop and the grade limitations. Is accurate info available somewhere?
The pull vehicle brakes are designed to stop the vehicle at its rated load.

Left Coast Geek
1 month ago

I’ve talked to SO many people who plan like they are towing the advertised curb (empty) weight of the trailer… AND, they totally ignore the tongue weight on their towing vehicle, along with its GCWR. Me, I’m towing a 4500 lb FG trailer w/ a F250 diesel that has a rated tow weight over 12000 lbs and a payload over 2000 lbs. I know my trailers tongue weight loaded is in the 450-500 lb range because I’ve weighed it.

Ron Yanuszewski
1 month ago

It’s outright scary. I’m in many forums and most are travel trailers with GVWR around 4,400. More and more are towing these things with SUV’s with 5,000lb tow capacity, many with unibody construction with 500lb tongue capacity, while these campers are 550 to 740 weight tongue. Worse, Is they’ve never towed anything and tell all their friends, and anyone else who will listen, That they tow “just fine”. it’s a loosing battle to try to get through to them.

George Johnson
1 month ago

Most people, really just don’t care, or think about. I did, I got ours weighed etc… and was surprised how fast we reached our weight limit. Then I looked at other peoples rigs, and noticed they just have tons and tons of stuff, with what looks like zero consideration for weight limits or capacities.
Seeing how quickly we reached our limit (or close it) with very little extra “stuff”, I was amazed at the amount of stuff people were carrying, golf carts, aluiminum stairs/porch, kids toys, boats, holiday decorations … etc

Stefan trestyn
1 month ago

Most people say My truck can pull it. Very few say my truck can stop it

Charlie Sullivan
1 month ago
Reply to  Stefan trestyn

Very true…I was one of them. Back in the 80’s I bought a 24′ cabin cruiser. I had a 1/2 ton Chevy P/U with a built up 350 ci engine…plenty of pulling power. What I didn’t have was plenty of brakes. The first intersection I came to I applied the brakes, and to my surprise and horror, I went right through the intersection without being able to stop.. My 1/2 ton brakes were definitely not up to the task of stopping my forward motion. Thankfully the intersection was empty and I learned a very valuable lesson.

George Johnson
1 month ago
Reply to  Stefan trestyn

I got the most truck I could get, ’21 RAM 3500 heavy duty dually. The exhaust brake is amazing. (One mode is like reverse cruise control, maintain speed going downhill).
I’m not a fan of more laws and regulations, but its almost crazy they dont require these on vehicles pulling rigs.
I know one lady that went off the side of a “mountian” because of brake fade, and the brakes in our class c (before we got the 5th) gave out just from in town driving.
That made me a big fan of exhause brakes.

Jim Johnson
1 month ago

Many, especially rural, RVers don’t have access to scales near their homes. When the nearest scale is several hours round trip, you aren’t likely to setup a road side yard sale to sell your surplus weight. My suggestion is easier to do with bumper-tow RVs.

Small crane scales are relatively inexpensive and can often handle around half a ton. You can use some good chain and a timber frame to determine your hitch weight. It is probably safe to say that a dry trailer’s hitch weight will be between 10-15% of the over all trailer dry weight. Start with a dry trailer. Weigh the hitch and compare it to the manufacturer’s sticker to verify this. A properly loaded trailer should stay within approximately the same ratio. Weigh the hitch for the loaded trailer. Make sure the weight is still appropriate for the tow vehicle, and do the math to calculate the trailer weight. Is it within the max for your trailer. And hint, in my opinion 85% of the sticker is MY max.

1 month ago
Reply to  Jim Johnson

Well, the ratio of hitch weight to trailer weight depends on how it is loaded – more weight in front, higher hitch weight and vice versa. Yes, the hitch weight of a tow-behind SHOULD be 10% of the trailer weight but that doesn’t mean the weight of the trailer as loaded is 10 times the hitch weight. And, too much weight at the rear will make it unstable and swaying may result in loss of control.
Also, it would be hard to use the crane scale on a fifth wheel, and their pin weights are 20 to 25%.

In rural areas, you may be able to find a grain elevator with a scale, or other agricultural facility, or the county landfill, or a moving and storage company.

Jim Johnson
1 month ago
Reply to  Bill

Yep. None of those around here, very sadly. So you make do with what you’ve got. For what it’s worth, I did emphasize a properly loaded trailer. Which I’m sure the majority of readers know is a subject on to itself. And to keep it short, specifically talked about bumper tow.

Jonathan Schacher
1 month ago

Back in ’18, I did all the research to match a truck with a new 5th I had selected. I quickly learned that the truck dealer sales were technically incompetent when it came to towing. I purchased a truck based on published manufacturer specs for that specific model. After I received the 5th I weighed. The 5th dry weight was off from published specs by over 1000 lbs which greatly reduced cargo capacity! The only thing that I could attribute this to is that the trailer manufacturer did the weights with none of the removable stuff included – such as the dinette with chairs, sofa, mattress, spare tire, house batteries, etc. What should the RV manufacturer include? Or is this at manufacturer’s discretion? Buyer beware?

Steve H
1 month ago

We experienced this when selling our 2016 fifth wheel. A very nice couple had just bought a new crew cab Toyota Tundra, which the salesman said could “tow a fifth wheel”. But they wanted to be able to take their 3 teenage grandsons camping with them. We were selling Rockwood’s smallest fiver, 8645# GVWR, but when we saw their truck and grandsons, we refused to sell it to them. I photo’d the trailer weight sticker and sent it to them. They compared it to the truck’s door tag and then took it to the dealer, who admitted that it couldn’t handle the pin weight if five people were in the cab. But, too late, because they had already bought the truck!

1 month ago

I believe you will exceed your payload capacity before your towing capacity. As stated, a lot of people don’t want to hear it.

1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

This is almost always true. Payload capacity is the most important factor. It is found on the truck’s door sticker.

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