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Guidelines for Buying an RV That Your Vehicle Can Tow

Weighing down a vehicle with an RV that is too large can cause some serious problems, including braking and steering issues. Don't sacrifice the safety and well being of yourself and those around you by purchasing an RV that is too big and bulky for your tow vehicle. By hitching up an RV that weighs too much for your vehicle, you'll cause unnecessary wear and tear on your vehicle and it'll be difficult and dangerous to tow. It is important that you know the limits of your tow vehicle and choose accordingly when RV shopping. Follow these guidelines for buying an RV that your vehicle can tow to ensure that you reach your destination safely. Let's look at how trailer weight and towing capacity go hand in hand in determining what size of RV your vehicle can handle.

Trailer Weight

Whether you’re looking at a travel trailer or a 5th wheel, know that neither is going to put its entire weight on your tow vehicle. The amount of the weight that’s transferred onto your vehicle will depend on the type of RV you purchase. A travel trailer transfers about 15% of its weight onto a tow vehicle, which is called tongue weight. A 5th wheel transfers about 25% of its weight, which is called pin weight. To calculate how much is going to be transferred to your vehicle, simply figure out the specified percent of the trailer’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). Then you just have to see if the tow vehicle’s suspension can handle it.

Towing Capacity

When you look at the specs of your tow vehicle, you’ll probably see a lot of different weights and capacities. For the max towing capacity, it’s better to do your own calculations to ensure that you’re falling within the range of what your vehicle can handle when combining its own weight with anything cargo you add to it.

The first thing you need to figure out is how much weight the vehicle can handle on its suspension. This includes its own weight, all the passengers, cargo, and whatever it’s towing behind it. This is called the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, or GVWR, and can be found in the door jam. It's important to get your vehicle weighed before you hitch up an RV to it. To do this, load up your vehicle with everything that will be going along with you on your trip, including passengers, coolers, pets, food, and any other cargo you plan to take along. Drive over to a weigh station or truck stop to get it weighed. Subtract this weight from the GVWR and you will obtain the amount of weight you have left for an RV.

If you cannot find your GVWR this way, there is another method. On the specs sticker you should also see a Tire and Loading specification number. This will tell you the max allowable weight of cargo and occupants. With this method, you have to weigh everything and everyone separately. Add the weight of everything and everyone together and subtract it from the max weight of cargo and occupants. This should give you roughly the same number you would get from using the GVWR.

Next you need to know the towing capacity of your vehicle's engine. This combines the total weight of the trailer and the total weight of the vehicle. This is listed as Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCVW).


Let's look at this real life example using a Dodge Ram SLT with a GVWR of 9,900 lbs. We’ll look at both a 5th wheel and a travel trailer to see if this truck can tow it. First we packed up all our campers and cargo and got it weighed. We weighed in at 7,126 lbs. We subtract this from our GVWR and obtain a towing capacity of 2,774 lbs.

If we were to use the max cargo capacity, the sticker states to not exceed 3,115 lbs. If we weigh everyone and everything separately and add it up, we get a total of 341 lbs. When we subtract this number from the max cargo, we get the same 2,774 lbs. as above.

Let's see if our Dodge Ram SLT can pull an Eagle 27.5RLTS 5th wheel and an Eagle 324BHTS travel trailer. The 5th wheel has a GVWR of 9,950 lbs. and the travel trailer has a GVWR of 10,950 lbs. We'll calculate the pin and tongue weights to see if we can pull them:

Pin weight (5th wheel): 9,950 * .25 = 2,487 lbs.

Tongue weight (travel trailer): 10,950 * .15 = 1,642.50 lbs.

Our suspension can handle both of these easily since they're under the 2,774 lbs. Now let’s see if our engine can handle these RVs. All we need to do is add the GVWR of the trailer and the truck and make sure it’s under the GCWR.

9,900 + 9,950 = 19,850 lbs. for the 5th wheel

9,900 + 10,950 = 20,850 lbs. for the travel trailer

Since our GCWR is 25,300 lbs., our engine can handle both of these trailers!

If you're unsure of which type and size of RV you want and want to know how heavy of an RV your vehicle can handle, there's an easy calculation you can do so that you don't have to spend time calculating each and every model you are interested in. Just divide your towing capacity by the % amount on the hitch (25% for a 5th wheel, 15% for a travel trailer):

5th Wheel: 2,774/.25 = 11,096 lbs.

Travel Trailer: 2,774/.15 = 18,493 lbs.

Then subtract your GVWR from your GCWR to get the max GVWR your vehicle can handle:

25,300 – 9,900 = 15,400 lbs.

This calculation makes shopping for an RV that is just right for your tow vehicle quick and easy.

Calculating these amounts may seem like a lot of work, but doing so will ensure that you are traveling safely down the road with an RV that isn't too heavy for your vehicle. Be smart about how you travel and you'll be able to enjoy your outdoor adventures at every turn.

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