RV Towing Guide: How Big of a Camper Can I Tow?

truck towing large fifth wheel RV on a highway in the mountains - how big of a camper can I tow?

If you’re in the RV research phase and wondering “how big of a camper can I tow?”, you’ll want to read (and possibly bookmark) this article.

There’s a lot more that goes into understanding the true maximum towing capacity of your vehicle than just one simple number or weight.

In this article, we’ve put together a deep-dive RV towing guide that will help you fully understand RV weight designations and abbreviations, the actual maximum weight your vehicle can handle, other weight considerations, and much more. 

How Big of a Camper Can I Tow? 

The true answer to this question is much more in depth than you might initially think. 

You may already be aware that you need to match the towing capacity of your vehicle, but there are several other weight and capacity factors to take into consideration. 

If you’re looking for the answer for your specific situation, social media forums don’t always provide the best insight. 

In order to know for sure how big of a camper you can safely tow, you should always double check your own numbers by doing your own research – and we’ll teach you how here!

RV Towing Guide: Do Your Research First

A quick look at towing questions or posts on social media networks and forums will inevitably reveal some RVers stating that their truck pulls their camper “just fine”, even though it’s way beyond the listed towing capacity. 

Statements like these are not helpful and can cost new RVers greatly. This is a harsh reality that David Gray knows all too well, and he shared what he learned in the article ‘Truck Buyers Beware – Know Your Ratings for Safer Towing’.

Your research will depend heavily on whether or not you already have a tow vehicle. If you have one, you will need to choose an RV that can safely fit within your towing designations. 

If you are buying the RV first, you are free to buy any RV type and then match a compatible towing vehicle with it later. 

Important Weight Designations To Know for Towing an RV Trailer

SUV parked hooked up to RV travel trailer in the desert

There are a lot of abbreviations and weight designations on vehicles, RV trailers, and RV specifications lists. And they can all get pretty confusing if you’re new to it! Let’s take a look at the most important abbreviations to keep an eye out for and what they mean.

GVWR on a Vehicle

GVWR stands for “gross vehicle weight rating”. This rating is the maximum loaded weight that your vehicle can safely operate. It includes the weight of the empty vehicle itself plus the weight of any cargo. 

GVWR on a Camper

GVWR on a camper is the maximum weight of the camper itself combined with cargo like water, personal belongings, etc. 

GCWR or GCVWR

GCWR or GCVWR stands for “gross combined (vehicle) weight rating” and this rating specifies the maximum weight rating for your tow vehicle and camper combined. This number includes the GVWR of your vehicle and the GVWR of a camper or trailer.

Curb Weight of a Vehicle

The “curb weight” of a vehicle is how much the vehicle weighs empty, aside from the necessary fluids it needs for operation like fuel, oil, etc. 

Dry Weight/UVW on an RV

Dry Weight or UVW (Unloaded Vehicle Weight) is commonly seen on campers. This is the weight of the camper while it’s empty with no cargo, water, etc. 

When looking at RV specifications online, be sure that you distinguish between the dry weight and the GVWR. 

Some RV websites and dealerships display the dry weight of the camper, and others will display the GVWR. 

The most important number to consider when looking at campers that fit your towing capacity is the GVWR, because you’ll rarely be towing your camper when it’s completely empty. 

You should make sure the GVWR of your RV fits within the towing capacity of your tow vehicle to ensure you can safely tow your RV at all times. 

CCC or Cargo Carrying Capacity

CCC or cargo carrying capacity is the weight rating of how much cargo you can safely load into an RV. 

If you need to calculate the GVWR of a camper, simply add the Cargo Carrying Capacity to the Dry Weight. 

GAWR

GAWR stands for “gross axle weight rating”. This designation is how much weight each axle can safely carry on vehicles and campers. 

Total Towing and Weight Capacity Designations

RV Towing Guide: How Big of a Camper Can I Tow? 7

‘Towing capacity’ is the term most people know when it comes to figuring out how much RV you can tow, but there are a few other terms that are just as essential to know. Let’s take a look here.

Towing Capacity

Towing capacity is how many pounds your tow vehicle can safely tow. This information can be found on your VIN sticker, in your manual, or by calculating it yourself.

Keep in mind that your maximum towing capacity is affected by many things including the weight of your cargo and gear in your vehicle, passengers, and vehicle modifications.

Going over your manufacturer’s recommended towing capacity can cause a myriad of problems: trailer sway, inefficient towing, and ruining your engine over time.

How to Find the Max Towing Capacity of Your Vehicle

There are many ways to find the towing capacity of your vehicle. On some vehicles, the towing capacity is listed on the metal VIN plate inside the driver side door jam. Otherwise, you can find your towing capacity in your vehicle’s user manual, online by searching your specific make, model, and engine type and size, or by doing some calculations. 

The calculation for determining maximum towing capacity for your tow vehicle will require you to know the gross combined vehicle weight of both your tow vehicle and trailer and the curb weight of your vehicle. 

The calculation is: 

Gross Combined Vehicle Weight – Curb Weight = Max Towing Capacity

If you are unsure about any part of this calculation, a more accurate way to find your correct towing information is to search the vehicle manufacturers website for your specific year, model, and engine size and type. 

Payload Capacity

Payload capacity is how much weight your vehicle can safely carry in the bed and cab combined. Payload capacity can refer to cargo, luggage, passengers, or items in the bed of a truck. 

Payload capacity is an important number to know when considering buying a truck camper because the entire weight of the camper sits in the bed of the truck, as opposed to being pulled behind.

How to Find Your Payload Capacity

Payload capacity can be found on your VIN sticker, in your manual, or by subtracting the curb weight of your vehicle (total weight of the empty vehicle) by the GVWR.

GVWR – Curb Weight = Max Payload Capacity

Tongue Weight and Tongue Weight Capacity

Maximum tongue weight is a very important number to look at when considering a travel trailer. 

The tongue weight of a camper is how much the camper weighs at the hitch and this number will be different when the camper is empty vs when it’s fully loaded. 

Sometimes a camper will fit within the towing capacity of your tow vehicle, but the tongue weight will exceed your vehicle’s tongue weight capacity. 

If you want to pull a travel trailer, it’s essential to ensure your travel trailer GVWR and maximum tongue weight fit within your vehicle’s towing capacity and tongue weight ratings as well.

The tongue weight of your trailer will also affect your payload capacity. You will need to subtract the total tongue weight of your trailer from your vehicle’s payload capacity to ensure you are within your manufacturer’s specified limits. 

Center of Gravity (For Truck Campers)

truck camper on a truck parked next to snow drift

If you want to carry a truck camper in the bed of your truck, it’s important to know the center of gravity point on your truck camper and match that up with the center of gravity point on your truck bed. 

The COG of a truck camper is the point on the camper where the majority of the weight sits. It’s important to match this with the COG point on the bed of your truck because if you mismatch and put too much weight on or behind your rear axle, you could greatly damage your vehicle. 

To find the center of gravity point on your truck camper, refer to the manufacturers website or the camper specifications. 

To find the center of gravity point on your truck bed, measure from the front wall of the truck bed to the center of your rear axle. 

The COG point on your truck camper should rest somewhere between the rear axle and the front wall of your truck bed to carry it safely, it should never fall behind the rear axle.

How to Find the Weight of A Camper Trailer

As we previously discussed, towable RV manufacturers have two ways that they display weight: dry weight and GVWR. 

Some manufacturers list both weight designations in their specifications, while others only show one or the other. 

It’s essential to know the GVWR of your camper when matching an RV with a tow vehicle. 

You can find your camper’s weight designations on a VIN plate on the frame of the RV or on the sidewall near the front, on the manufacturers website, or by searching the year, make, and model online. 

If you can’t find the GVWR, remember that you can calculate it. 

Dry Weight/UVW + Cargo Carrying Capacity (CCC) = GVWR 

What is the 80% Towing Rule?

Ford Truck with Arctic Fox Fifth Wheel

Many RVers are strict followers of the 80% or 80/20 rule of towing, and it’s a great rule to live by if you want to ensure you don’t overload your tow vehicle. 

The 80% towing rule is less of a “rule” and more of an idea: don’t pull a trailer with a GVWR that is more than 80% of your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity.

That leaves 20% of your towing capacity left for other cargo like passengers, baggage, etc. It also leaves room for your vehicle to pull your camper over hills, across long distances, etc. 

The reason for this rule is simple: taking an abundance of caution to not overload your vehicle and engine to minimize wear and tear and avoid potential problems and breakdowns due to towing an overweight camper. 

The 80/20 rule is a good guideline to follow and a good place to start, but it’s not always fail-proof. Even if you are well within or under 80% of your maximum towing capacity, you could still be overweight in a particular area, such as on a specific wheel or axle. 

Escapees SmartWeigh weighs your RV and your tow vehicle separately and together on each individual wheel to give you a full picture of your weight management, load, and distribution.

Don’t Max Out Your Tow Vehicle: Other Weight Factors to Consider

The GVWR of an RV trailer isn’t the only thing to consider when looking at how big of a camper you can tow. 

The weight of the passengers and cargo in your tow vehicle will also take away from your maximum towing capacity, so calculate carefully!

Here are some less-considered things that add weight to your tow vehicle and camper: 

  • Water: fresh water weighs about 8.3lbs per gallon. A full 50 gallon fresh water tank adds 415 pounds!
  • Passengers
  • Luggage
  • Gas
  • Propane
  • Camping supplies

Why Staying Below Your Towing Capacity is So Important

There are many reasons why staying below your towing capacity is so important. Maximum towing capacity exists to protect you, others on the road, and your vehicle. 

Trailer Sway

Trailer sway happens when your trailer is too big or too heavy for your tow vehicle. If your trailer is overweight or improperly loaded, it will begin to sway uncontrollably at highway speeds. 

According to Hensley Manufacturing, trailer sway is a leading cause of trailer accidents. And many times, accidents from trailer sway are rollover accidents. 

Braking

Heavier trailers are harder to stop, especially at high speeds. Overloading your tow vehicle’s weight capacity can make it harder for your vehicle to stop your trailer at any speed, which is a major safety concern.

RV Tire Safety

Not only does your camper and your vehicle have a weight rating – your tires do too. 

Overloaded RV tires and/or overloaded tow vehicle tires are incredibly dangerous. Overloading your tires increases your risks of blowouts at highway speeds.

How to Find the Weight of Your RV Trailer After Loading Your Belongings

The GVWR of your camper and your vehicle are both weight ratings that have been designated by the manufacturer, but how do you know you’re staying within those numbers once you load up your family and gear? 

You get weighed, of course. 

You can have your loaded camper weighed at CAT truck scales at truck stops, but these scales only give you a fraction of the full picture of your total loaded weight. 

Get Weighed with Escapees SmartWeigh

RV Towing Guide: How Big of a Camper Can I Tow? 8

If you want a full picture view, get weighed by Escapees SmartWeigh. This exclusive RV weighing program is performed by highly trained personnel and provides you a full picture of your RV weight, tow vehicle weight, and combined weights. 

Using high-quality scales, every tire of your RV and tow vehicle are weighed individually to give you an accurate idea of your total weight and any potential weight loading or distribution issues. 

SmartWeigh isn’t just a scale – it’s an RV weight educational program. With this program you get personal attention during the duration of your appointment, an individual consultation after weighing to discuss your results and address potential problems, and tips for correcting any imbalances or weight issues. Learn more about SmartWeigh here.

Should You Buy The Tow Vehicle or the RV Trailer First?

If you have the ability to choose your camper before you buy your tow vehicle, you have a great advantage! 

Being able to have the freedom when choosing your RV to make sure it ticks all of your boxes without being constrained by a particular “weight” makes it so much easier to get something you’re truly happy with. 

For example, maybe you need an RV with a great RV office space, or maybe you want to try RV living with a large family.

Many long-time and full-time RVers try many different RV types and models before ending up with one that perfectly suits them and their lifestyles. But being able to choose an RV before buying a vehicle truly allows you the best chance at buying your “last RV” first.

Conclusion

As you now know, there’s a lot more that goes into the answer for “how big of an RV can I tow?” than you might have initially realized. 

However, once you understand what each designation means and why it’s important, calculating your maximum capacities can become pretty simple! 

The 80% rule is a good rule of thumb to follow to ensure you’re not overloading your tow vehicle and have plenty of extra capacity for passengers and cargo. 

And remember: you can get weighed at Escapees SmartWeigh on your next road trip to see how your weights measure up!

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RV Towing Guide: How Big of a Camper Can I Tow? 9

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