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RVs reach cargo carrying capacity with just two passengers. Is your rig dangerously overweight?

Is your RV dangerously overweight? Do you know its real cargo carrying capacity? One of the things I’ve noticed in my daily RV reviews column here on RVtravel.com is that a lot of RVs can be significantly overweight without much effort. Whether that be a motorized rig or a towable, overloading has been a big problem. Unfortunately, the manufacturers are seeming to do more to avoid the problem than to correct it. 

In fact, sometimes I wonder if it’s being purposely hidden. 

The bad thing is that your life can be in danger and you may not even know about the risks. 

What’s the issue?

The problem is that some RVs have so little cargo carrying capacity that just a couple of passengers and a week’s worth of clothing will overload them. For example, look at the recent review of the Coachmen Prism motorhome, which has less than 800 pounds of available cargo carrying capacity. 

But by no means is Coachmen alone. That review just really sparked my attention. Once I became more aware of the issue, I started digging into reviews I had done in the past. Universally, many of the larger Class C rigs didn’t have the cargo carrying capacity data. I realized that it was a pattern—the information just wasn’t available. 

Further, many of the RV companies just don’t bother to return my emails. I also called a few dealers, but that proved to be not very fruitful either. Of course, many dealers don’t have anything on their lots to go look at, so that compounds the problem. 

I wasn’t able to get the cargo carrying capacity of rigs including the Thor Quantum Sprinter, the Airstream Atlas and the Leisure Travel Vans Unity FX. These all have the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis in common. 

The hidden truth behind cargo carrying capacity

I have been reviewing fewer motorized rigs for the simple reason that I think you deserve this important information. There are few of these rigs where the companies specify the cargo carrying capacity. In many cases, as part of serving you better, I start digging and contact the manufacturers. When I don’t hear back from them after a reasonable amount of time, sometimes I look for these rigs on dealer lots and contact the people at the dealerships. 

I have yet to speak with someone at a dealership that understands the question I ask. I’ve been hung up on several times and, more often than not, the salespeople who will try to answer my question will often say something like, “Oh, it’s capable of more than what it reads on the sticker.” 

Even if that were true—and it’s not—there is still more to it than that. 

Furthermore, I do know folks at dealerships who are very intelligent and fully understand this. But all of those are people who sell travel trailers and the information for them is much more readily available. 

No wonder only 9 percent of all RVs sold are motorized. 

Where is the information about cargo carrying capacity?

All modern vehicles have to have weight information available to the owners. 

The weight information on a travel trailer.

On motorized rigs, if there is a driver door, then it’s there in the door jamb. Otherwise, it’s somewhere close to the driver’s seat. It may also be in the main entry door on some motorized RVs. 

On towables, it’s close to the front of the towable on the road side. Typically these rigs are weighed at the end of the assembly line and the sticker that’s there reflects what the rig actually weighs. The manufacturer already knows what the maximum capacity of the chassis is, so it’s simple enough to create that sticker. 

Weight sticker inside the door of a travel trailer.

You can also find this information inside the door jamb of newer towables, as well—essentially those built after 2000. 

What’s wrong with a few extra pounds? 

Yeah, this is something I tell my doctor too. Being overweight isn’t as big a deal as she makes it out to be, but I know that’s not true in RVs or humans. 

The components that keep our hind ends from scraping on the ground as we go down the road are all designed with certain specifications in mind. The steel in the chassis, the springs, axles, bearings, tires, and brakes are among the very critical components that all have capacities that are factored into what any vehicle can carry, whether it be a trailer or a motorized vehicle. 

Like any chain, the greatest measure of its strength is the weakest link. So whatever component in that collection that is the weakest part, and potential point of failure, is the most important aspect of coming up with that weight rating. 

I know some folks choose to put more capable tires on their vehicles or add helper springs to their suspension, but that may not have resolved the weakest link. That link may be a suspension component or the brakes or even the steel in the chassis. 

In fact, recently there have been more than a few videos on YouTube faulting certain travel trailer chassis for failing on the road. 

The cargo carrying capacity stickers are underrated

As mentioned, many of the salespeople I’ve spoken with often have told me flat out that the chassis are designed for much more than the sticker says, but they put that number on there for legal reasons. 

Let’s assume that’s true, even if it is a ridiculous statement. 



Let’s say you get into an accident and the local law enforcement or the insurance adjuster suspects that your rig is overweight. They can literally collect the pieces and weigh them and then figure out what that weight sticker said was the maximum. 

According to one insurance adjuster, “Yes. I have denied claims because the vehicle was grossly overweight.” While that same adjuster said the practice is uncommon, he has had to do it. 

Further, a few law enforcement officers I spoke with said that they can cite you for being overweight. That means you’re unloading stuff and leaving it behind, depending on the circumstances. 

So, while you may feel that that weight rating is overzealous, the fact that your insurance company and, potentially, law enforcement believe that number is factual is really what it’s all about. 

Steve Kass from RV Weigh works with an owner to weigh the individual wheels on the owner’s motorhome.

Weighing in

I had the privilege of interviewing Steve Kass from RV Weigh about what he has experienced as part of weighing rigs all over at places like FMCA rallies. He has seen some interesting things with rigs that were drastically overweight. 

But he has also seen rigs that were considerably overweight on one side while underweight on the other. The podcast episode (link in prior paragraph) is really interesting and I do encourage you to listen. 

Not a new story

In the 1970s, Toyota, a bastion of ultra-reliable vehicles, especially so in those days, started selling their pickup chassis as a cab and chassis to motorhome companies. This all started with the Chinook, a small motorhome. But as the popularity of that grew, so did the motorhomes themselves. 

By the 1980s these things were really popular and also considerably larger than the original models. A lot of companies had jumped onto the Toyota motorhome bandwagon, some of which established their names with these little beauties. They made a lot of sense. They were easy to drive and park, and they got fuel mileage that wasn’t cringe-worthy. Sound familiar?



By the late 1980s, the length of the camper bodies for many of these mini motorhomes had expanded to 22 feet. This caused a severe overload problem on the original half-ton pickup axle. A national safety recall was issued to correct the problem. Under the recall, most of the models were then given a new one-ton axle which was less prone to failure, but the other components of the chassis were left intact. 

In 1989, Toyota began offering a V6 in the chassis. This increased horsepower became very popular with the camper owners and production continued. Until 1994.

At that point, there had been so many axle failures and the damage to Toyota’s reputation had started to set in. So Toyota just stopped selling cab and chassis models altogether in the U.S. These little motorhomes weren’t so little anymore, and the axle failures were significant. 

What should consumers do? 

The decision to buy one of these rigs rests with the people who are shopping. In my daily RV reviews, I often cite suspension and tire systems that I think are second-rate. But being close to capacity on cargo carrying, particularly in a motorized rig, is also a big safety concern. 

One way of mitigating a small cargo carrying capacity is to simply reduce the weight of what’s in your rig. But, as cited in the example above, just a driver and passenger and a few necessities may put some of these campers over capacity. 

Once again, this goes back to something I strongly urge you to do if you’re shopping for a new RV of any sort, whether towable or motorized. I would first look at what’s underneath the rig that keeps you from scraping on the highway—long before you ever step foot inside and examine those pretty cabinets.

##RVT1040

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Gerald
7 months ago

We have 2010 open range with a gvrw of 10260 with 2 4400lb axels how is that legal??

Rodney Lacy
5 months ago
Reply to  Gerald

By deducting tongue weight.

Ken Wagner
7 months ago

I owned a 2019 Outback Model 335CG, and had the frame buckle after hitting some dips on a road in Northern New Mexico. Found out that there had been a recall for frames made by a company, but did not include mine because it was made by a different company. The trailer manufacturer said it was the result of a accident and to deal with my insurance company. I weighed all of the cargo and added in the weight of the fresh water and was 250 lbs under GVWR. Lesson I learned, weight is important but most manufacturers do not warrant road damage especially on travel trailers that use load leveling anti sway systems.

Rick Donaldson Jr
7 months ago

It will be a bad day for the RV industry if Ford decides to cease all production of the E-450 and F-53 chassis. The Sprinter and Transit vans just don’t have enough horsepower and torque in their engines, and stopping power? Good luck on those mountains out west.

Ray
7 months ago

I just went to the Dallas RV Show yesterday, as we like to look for any new stuff that is coming out. I note that the sticker on trailers, the one that shows critical weights for towing and capacity are smaller than in the past. In reading about a dozen of them, it appears that, after the water tank is filled, there is not much weight left for the traveler’s stuff like food, utensils, and clothing. You ever wonder why those stickers are mounted on the side away from the foot traffic at a show? And the prices! Wow. We searched and found a near equivalent 5th wheel to our 2015 model and the show prices was twice what we paid brand new. Never fear, just 20% down and the rest over 10 years at 7%. Do the math folks. I feel sorry for anyone having to take those terms.

Larry
7 months ago

Thanks Tony for a well done job of informing people of this issue! (and calling out those who just want to make a sale without regard for safety and practicality)

Virginia
7 months ago

We were taught on our first rig to be aware of weight distribution. This is particularly true as the new trend for stripping and replacing RV interiors/furnishings becomes popular.

We removed the original furniture on one slide and wanted to replace with something quite different.

I wrote to Winnebago to ask specifically what my weight limit would be for just the slide. They took my VIN number, model, etc. The specs did not provide any data.

The response I got was that I was “okay” with what I was planning to install…in spite of the fact that I provided no information as to the weight of the specific item.

So I am led to believe that (1) the slide can take pretty much whatever we put on it; (2) they don’t know the specific weight capacity of just the slide; (3) there is no way to actually determine the weight on the slide only.

Jim Keltner
7 months ago

Tony, after you published this awhile ago (maybe within the last year) I was concerned because 2 friends have the Leisure Vans and my wife and I are looking to the future when our 36′ diesel pusher would need replacement. I finally emailed Leisure Travel Vans (Leisure and Winnabago 25′ is what we are looking at). asking them about this issue. My email was answered the next day! This is the email:

The GCWR and GCWR varies slightly between the Unity and Wonder.
For the Wonder, the GVWR is 11,000lbs, with a GCWR of 15,000lbs. Maximum tow weight is roughly 4000lbs.
The Unity has a GVWR of 11,030lbs, and a GCWR of 15,250, with a maximum towing capacity of 5000lbs.

I can forward the email with the email address, etc if you want. I have looked at many of these type vehicles this year and you are right, none carry the GCWR. Is it possible the Class B’ with dual wheels on the rear are all as capable as shown above? Keep up the good work, Jim

Ken
7 months ago
Reply to  Jim Keltner

This post does not even address the CCC of the Leisure Vans so I am not sure what the point is.

Vanessa Simmons
7 months ago

Don’t forget the things you add to the RV…They come with, maybe, one battery in the weight on the sticker. Does it include one propane tank? You ask the dealer to put on two tanks and add a battery. Oh yes you have to add fill the tanks. Maybe add a ladder or a tailgate for generator. That cuts into your cargo carrying capacity. Then you add a solar panel or two or five and maybe another battery (go lithium instead and save a little weight but you might add with solar controller and inverter). Don’t plan on towing with a full tank of water, just enough to get through a day or two of tooth brushing and flushing. Keep those gray and black tanks “empty” on the road.

I lived full time in my TT when I started out and when I weighed I was 1200#s over. I’ve pared down so much I have mostly empty cabinets, I took out the sofa and put in one recliner, removed the dinette and put in a folding table and stools and I am still pushing the line.

It doesn’t take much.

John Koenig
7 months ago

This is a primary reason I LOVE my TRUE Super-C motorhome (as opposed to the MANY “wanna be” so called Super-C rigs). The GVWR on my rig is 33,000#. The CVWR is 54,000#. As long as I don’t start an anvil collection, I will never be overweight. I have had my rig “Smart Weighed” (EACH wheel position is weighed separately) and, with all the “stuff” I routinely carry, I’m still ~ 2000+ pounds UNDER my GVWR. A TRUE Super-C will have a diesel motor which displaces AT LEAST ~ 9 liters. When you see a diesel rated at 7 liters or less it is, at best, a “wanna be” Super-C and will have a GVWR of 28,000# or less. Buyers, CAREFULLY perform your DUE DILIGENCE before you sign! Many dealers will lie about the true capacities of the RVs they’re selling.

David
7 months ago

We just attended the Houston Rv show. Saw these 5th wheels with all this wonderful storage space underneath. None of them had a decent CCC. If you give the average person this much space they are going to fill it. When they do they will be way over weight. Saw one with a mini garage in the back with a CCC of 1300 pounds. That won’t go far.

Heather
7 months ago

Yes, prospective RV buyers & especially fulltimers must make it clear to both manufacturers & dealers that paltry Cargo Capacity is simply unacceptable. RV’s for couples should be no less than 2500 lbs & for families & fulltimers no less than 3K. If the CCC is already used up by a passenger’s weight than the unit is effectively useless. The more RVers demand brand models CCC be appropriately upgraded for real camping use the better & safer it is for everyone.

Bill Richardson
7 months ago

When we bought our small Class C last year, ccc was one of the critical factors. The 27.5 foot Leprechaun we purchased has a build weight of 11,136 lbs. It is well equipped, including auto levelers ( another must have). It is on the E450 chassis so gvwr is 14,500. Thanks for educating more people about this very important factor. I would like to see you write about the importance of wheelbase to length ratio. Our Leprechaun is on a 190″ wheelbase which is a 57% ratio. It is very stable on the road. One well regarded brand had wb:length ratio in the 46-47% range. On that basis alone, I eliminated them from further consideration. I think it would wander all over the road. Love your articles. Keep it up.

Michael Butts
7 months ago

The RV manufacturers really do a disservice to shoppers with their “unloaded” weights. What good are ficticious weights that don’t include their “mandatory options” packages?

CB Roberts
7 months ago

RVs are also subject to length laws in each state – info websites

Maximum Allowable RV Lengths
https://www.rvia.org/system/files/media/file/Maximum%20RV%20Length.pdf
 
Summary of State Exceptions to Federal Truck Weight Limitshttps://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/freight/policy/rpt_congress/truck_sw_laws/app_b.htmThe table below is a summary of State exceptions to Federal truck weight limits. For additional details see 23 CFR Part 658, Appendix C.
 
Truck Axle Weight Limits by State 2022
https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/truck-axle-weight-limits-by-state
There are a few reasons that trucks have weight limitations on roads and need to be properly weighed. The main reason is safety.  A truck that is carrying too much weight can make it difficult to brake and maneuver.
 
The federal vehicle weight limits are 20,000 pounds on a single axle.

CB Roberts
7 months ago

Questions and answers? Maybe?

Do RVs Have To Stop At Weigh Stations?

https://camperreport.com/do-rvs-have-to-stop-at-weigh-stations/

CB Roberts
7 months ago

24k exemption applies only to motorhomes and buses and only on Interstates – no other roads
Change in Law for Motor Home Axle Weight on National Network Highways
https://www.aamva.org/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=7208
Exemption. – The second sentence of section 127 of title 23, United States Code, relating to axle weight limitations for vehicles using the Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways, shall not apply to –
https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/freight/sw/faqs/qa.cfm#SO-39
Are recreational vehicles subject to Interstate axle weight limits?

Yes.

Are recreational vehicles required to stop at State scale sites?
Each State may set its own requirements.
What is the minimum/maximum single axle weight limit on the Interstate System?
It is 20,000 pounds or a higher grandfathered weight.
May States allow vehicle weight tolerances above Interstate System weight limits?
No. Federal law specifically prohibits this.

Spike
7 months ago

My Newmar has a GVWR of 48,000 lbs. All loaded up as we use it, with full fuel (150 gallons) and water (105 gallons) the rig weighs in at approx 43,000 lbs. I have 1000 to spare on the front and 4000 to spare on the rear. Every Newmar owner can request and receive a weight report as of when it came off the line. Individual wheel weights are in the report, which can help one see, as built, how balanced the rig is side to side and front to back. My report had 1 1/2 pages of information.

An owner should still do weights as the rig is used, but I found the highly detailed report Newmar provided for my specific coach, as built and optioned, very helpful.

Quality companies will provide weight information. If you cannot get weight info before the sale so you can make an informed buying decision, I say run away. Lack of info should be assumed as they don’t care, or worse, they don’t even know.

Ray
7 months ago

Great article. The margin for safety is getting thinner and thinner on the roads. For today’s newbies the bling is mightier than the bloat. Maybe your article may have reached some of them.

Wendy
7 months ago

Just recently purchased a motorhome of 27′ in length built on a Ford E450 precisely because I have watched the Sprinter chassis build increase dramatically in length over the years. Wanted to take my partner, my dog and some food and clothes and the Sprinter just didn’t provide for cargo. Happy with my “underbuilt” coach with its 14,500lb. GVWR and it’s 2900lb. CCC! 🙂

Bob p
7 months ago
Reply to  Tony Barthel

This goes along with the owners who think they can safely drive 75-80 mph and be in complete control on tires rated for 65mph for 30 sustained minutes for their rating.

CB Roberts
7 months ago

Pertaining to Class A – most states and US highways have a 20,000 lb axle limit – interstates allow 24,000 due to Indiana politicians slipping a couple of words into a bill – many people think 24,000 is legal everywhere – NOT.
Running over an in motion scale set off alert in weigh station – trooper ran me down and escorted me back to scale – it can be done.
Tire companies have instructions on how to weigh an RV but few owners do it arguing they can’t find a scale that allows 4 corner weighing – side to side – make the effort.
Broken welds due to potholes and overweight caused ride height air bags to deflate – complete loss of handling – nightmare – be warned.
I post solid info about NHSTA tests regarding weight and stopping distance and people argue – though the tests clearly state weigh does increase stopping distance.
Consider your liability if accident investigations shows you to be overweight.
GET WEIGHED!