“How big of an RV can I tow?” is one question we hear a lot! With all the different weights and numbers that apply to both an RV and a tow vehicle, it’s no wonder so many people are confused. We’re going to break it down for you to help you figure out what your truck can handle and which RV it can haul!
The first thing you want to figure out is just how much your truck can handle. Let’s start with your vehicle’s sticker. Check your vehicle’s door jams for a sticker that states the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) or a statement that says something like “The passengers and cargo of this vehicle may not exceed …” followed by a specific weight. The GVWR is the full amount of weight your truck can handle. This includes itself, the passengers, any cargo, and anything it’s towing. This is going to be the most accurate way to find your towing capacity, but you’re going to need to get your truck weighed. Before having it weighed, load it up to the max with everything you’re going to want to have with you, such as a full tank of gas and all of your cargo. You also want to have your passengers in the car, or at least know their weight to add to it later. Head over to a truck stop or weigh station and have it weighed. Subtract the number on the scale from the GVWR to determine your towing capacity! Here’s an example of how it’s done:
We took our 2015 RAM 3500 and all our stuff and had it weighed. We weighed in at 7,264 with our passengers and cargo. If we subtract that number from the GVWR of 11,300 found on the door jam sticker, we get a towing capacity of 4,036. The other number is simply the amount of pounds you can carry with the weight of the vehicle already subtracted out. Ours says “The combined weight of occupants and cargo should never exceed 1,727 KG (or 3,886 lbs.).” If you wanted to weigh the truck to get this number, you’d have to do it twice: once empty (no passengers or cargo), and once full (including passengers and cargo). If you’re stuck with only this number, simply calculate the weight of your passengers and cargo one by one and add them together. Then subtract that from the cargo max to get your towing capacity. Our passengers and all our stuff weighs in at 350lbs. Subtracting that gets us back to the same 4,036. We know what you’re thinking! This is a big, powerful truck and only has a towing capacity of 4,036!? The typical fifth wheel weighs 7,000+ lbs.! Yikes! Don’t worry! The full weight of the trailer isn’t going to be put on the truck! Part of the weight will be on the trailer’s own tires and axle. Next you want to find Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR), which is the total weight of both vehicles that the engine can handle. While much of the trailer weight is resting on its own axles, the engine still needs to have enough power to move it down the road. So, once we calculate payload, we know what we can handle on the suspension of the tow vehicle, and then we simply check it against GCWR to ensure that we’re not going to ruin our engine or simply be stuck in the driveway and not able to go anywhere. Our Ram has a GCWR of 18,400. Now you need to find out how much the trailer weighs and how much pressure it’s going to put on the hitch itself.
Hitch weight is the amount of weight that is put on the hitch and the truck. This is how much of the RV the truck is going to be carrying. When you start looking at the RVs, whether online or in person, you’re going to see a lot of different numbers. One number you may see is hitch weight. Don’t count on this. This is for the empty camper and doesn’t account for any add-on options or cargo in the trailer. So you’re going to need to do a little math here too! The number you want to look for is the GVWR of the trailer. This is the max that the trailer can hold plus its own weight so this is the heaviest it will ever be (as long as you don’t overload it).
Travel Trailer Tongue Weight The tongue weight of a travel trailer is the amount of the trailer’s weight that will be put on the hitch. In general a travel trailer will put 10-15 percent of its GVWR on the tongue. So let’s use a Salem Travel Trailer with a GVWR of 10,953. In order to figure out how much of the Salem’s weight will be put on the hitch, we simply need to calculate 10 and 15 percent of 10,953. This gives us a range of 1095.3 lbs. to 1,642.95 lbs. Since we know that our towing capacity is 4,036, we know we’re well equipped to handle this trailer! Fifth Wheel Pin Weight The hitch weight on a fifth wheel is known as pin weight since it’s the amount of weight put on the pin of the hitch. A fifth wheel rests more of its weight on the hitch than a travel trailer at about 15-25 percent. We’ll say we’re looking at a Bighorn fifth wheel with a GVWR of 15,500 lbs. If we multiply this by the 15 to 25 percent, we get a range of 2,325 lbs. to 3,875 lbs. Since our towing capacity is 4,036 lbs, we’ve got plenty of towing power to handle it! Now we want to double check against our GCWR to ensure we didn’t go over. To figure this out you want to add together the GVWR of the trailer and the GVWR of the tow vehicle. It’s not likely that both will be packed to the max, but to play it safe, do it this way to make sure you can handle everything at its fullest capacity. With the travel trailer we’re looking at 22,253, and with the fifth wheel we’re looking at 26,800. Our GCWR is 18,400. The travel trailer and our Ram weigh 22,253 lbs. and our fifth wheel is 26,800 lbs. We’re over on both!
How Much Weight Can It Handle?
If you don’t want the hassle of calculating every trailer you see, you can calculate the max GVWR for each category. Here’s a little algebra lesson. Let’s say W is the GVWR we want to calculate. The basic calculations we’ve used look a bit like this:
W x .1 = 4,036 through W x .15 = 4,036 for the travel trailer and W x .15 = 4,036 through W x .25 = 4,036 for the fifth wheel. To reverse the equation and solve for W, all you have to do is divide the 4,036 by the percentage (which is the decimal in the above equations). So your weights are going to look like this: W = 40,360 through 26,906 for a travel trailer and W = 26,906 through 16,144 for a fifth wheel! Now we need to double check the GCWR too so we’re going to subtract our GVWR of the tow vehicle from the GCWR and see how much weight we have left for our GVWR of a trailer: 18,400 – 11,300 = 7,100 That’s a lot lower so you can see that our suspension and engine are not created equal. Remember to keep both these weights in mind and use the lower one. Depending on the vehicle, some will be well matched, and some will vary between the engine or suspension being able to handle more. If shopping for an RV online, the GVWR and will be in the Specs section. If shopping in person, there will be a sticker either near or in the door that will have the GVWR on it. Remember, don’t use the Hitch Weight here as this is just a dry hitch weight and is not accurate. If you’re shopping on TerryTownRV.com, you can filter our listings to show the weight of the trailers, making it easier to search through what your truck can handle. Now that you know what your truck can pull, you’re ready to get serious about finding an RV. Happy hunting!