RV weight limits can sneak up on you


By Greg Illes

I‘ve learned to always drive my RV within its specified weight limits. How I learned this is a long and somewhat sordid tale, but I’ll touch on the highlights.

First of all, know that “stock” motorhomes do not have a reputation as load-haulers. Manufacturers seem to play a minimalist game, buying a chassis (from Ford or whoever) that will just barely hold their coach, its occupants, and a few odds and ends. Add in full water/gas/propane tanks, food and clothing, some tools and toys — it’s way too easy to bust the limits.

What are the limits? The two most important are GVW (gross vehicle weight) and GCVW (gross combined vehicle weight). There’s also the towing weight rating. GVW is the maximum allowed weight as it rolls down the road. GCVW is for motorhomes towing another vehicle, and is the combined weight of both vehicles.

My motorhome has a little gotcha (not uncommon). See if you can spot it:

•  GVW 15,000 pounds

•  GCVW 19,000 pounds

•  Tow limit 5,000 pounds

Got it? Right, I can’t have my coach at gross weight and use my 5,000-pound tow limit, because that would put me at 15+5 = 20,000, or 1,000 pounds over my GCVW.But that one was fairly obvious from the get-go. What tripped me up was the insidious way that weights large and small sneaked into my motorhome. Oh, I know all about my 622 pounds of water, a fridge full of food, and my 50-pound kayak. But along the way, I kinda overlooked the 400-odd pounds of chassis modifications, extra tools, spare parts, tire chains, etc., etc.

I was also doing the same thing with my toad — it’s a Ranger 4×4 pickup, and I had big steel bumpers, off-road recovery gear, spares and tools and so on.

After five years of such excess, I got around to (re-) weighing the rig in late 2014 and I almost had a heart attack right there at the truck scales. I was so far over both weight limits I’m embarrassed to repeat the numbers. More than 1,000 pounds over — let’s leave it at that.

I did some soul-searching, and reset my attitude about my “include everything” approach. If it was not being used, it was ejected. If it was heavy-ish, I replaced it with something equivalent but lighter. I got really aggressive about it, perhaps overly so, and pulled a LOT of weight out of both vehicles. Occasionally, I had to put something back in.

A ladder is one example (15 pounds). I had been carrying one for years and never used it. Of course, as soon as I got rid of it I found something I couldn’t get at from the roof. So the ladder went back in.

Keeping track was both easy and difficult. I used an Excel spreadsheet to tally up the weights — that was the easy part. The hard part was keeping up the discipline to make an entry for every item that went in and out. A lousy six-pound portable vacuum hardly makes a dent in a 15,000 pound GVW, but ten such items is 60 pounds, and three of those — well, you get the idea. It all adds up.

For food and clothing, I made some initial measurements and then created some educated guesses as to spreadsheet entries for my average loads. (I’m not crazy enough to be entering two bottles of milk and a loaf of bread in my spreadsheet.)

These days, I’m many hundreds of pounds under my limits, but I confess that it would be too easy to again bust through them. After all, while I travel, my RV is my house, and I’m not used to worrying about what I keep in my house.

photos: Greg Illes and wikimedia/public domain

Greg Illes is a retired systems engineer who loves thinking up RV upgrades and modifications. When he’s not working on his motorhome, he’s traveling in it. You can follow his blog at www.divver-city.com/blog.

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