Understanding RV GVWR: How to NOT OVERLOAD Your RV

One of the biggest challenges in RVing is keeping your RV within its’ GVWR weight limit. But, how do you take everything you need for your RV camping trip and or full-time RV lifestyle yet still try to weigh in less than what the RV manufacturers GVWR stipulates?

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RV GVWR: How to NOT OVERLOAD Your RV or Camper

What is GVWR?

Towing experts at CURT Manufacturing describes what GVWR is best:

“GVWR stands for Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. It is the maximum loaded weight of your vehicle (or trailer), as determined by the manufacturer. GVWR isn’t just the weight of passengers and cargo but also the vehicle itself.”

Like I mentioned above, regardless whether you’re full-time, seasonal or a weekend camper, it’s extremely important to keep your motorhome or towable RV’s weight below the required standard listed on the sticker on each RV.

RV GVWR - Always On Liberty - Fifth Wheel Towing

Here’s a great video that briefly explains what GVWR is:

What will happen if you go over your RV GVWR?

For a moment, let’s look at it from a similar perspective. RVs are kind of like the human body.

The body is designed to carry a certain amount of weight based on our frame structure and size. Anything over the recommended weight for that, things go terribly wrong.

Our back, legs and feet; the very things that literally support our body scream in pain. We’re apt to fall and break those and other body parts. We end up in the hospital and it takes time to fix those parts.

Well, RV’s are designed to carry weight based on it’s particular type and size.

If we overload our RV, it puts undue stress on the frame, axles, tires, and other RV components. Worse, your RV will be out of balance and you’ll lose control of your RV which can result in catastrophic losses (human and vehicular).

Overloading your RV may also cause:

      • Rapid tire wear and tire failures
      • Roadside breakdowns
      • Reduced handling
      • Suspension issues
      • Reduced stopping capability
      • Uncontrollable swaying of tow
      • Driver stress and fatigue
      • Reduced fuel mileage

But, there’s a huge difference between how much a motorhome can carry versus what a towable RV can carry.

So, it’s important to know exactly what your RV type can carry for load. Each motorhome and towable has a decal on it’s exterior or in one of the storage bays that lists the RV’s GVWR.

If there is none, we suggest contacting your RV manufacturer with your year and model number.

So, let’s get started in understanding what GVWR is and what you can do to control your RV’s weight.

Where can I get my fully loaded RV weighed?

CAT Weigh Scale

CAT Weigh Scale Locator

I’m sure you’ve all seen those CAT truck scales at truck stops or travel stations. Typically, they’re near major highway exits. That’s one way of getting your motorhome or your tow vehicle and camper weighed.

But to be honest, truck weigh scales really don’t tell you anything except your fully loaded weight. And, you’ll have to wait in line behind trucks which interferes with their tight schedules and yours too. 

RV Show or RV Rally

RV Rally - RV Weigh Station

You can also get your RV weighed at an RV rally or RV show. Oftentimes, they will have a temporary weigh station with RV weighing professionals who will tell you exactly what your RV should weigh.

They’ll tell you what each tire bears for weight and . how to better distribute your RV’s weight.

Additionally, Escapees has Smart Weigh stations set up at various Escapees parks throughout the United States. But, you must be a current member of Escapees to take advantage of that membership perk.

Mobile Towing Scale

But there’s another way of monitoring the weight in your RV; a mobile towing scale. It measures real-time vehicle-trailer weights for safer, easier towing and hauling.

It weighs your vehicle, trailer, cargo, tongue and pin weight and weight distribution. It has an accuracy rate within + / – 5%.

Mobile towing scales also offer easy brake controller setup by measuring exact trailer brake gain needed.

All you do is plug it into your vehicle diagnostic port also known as your OBD sensor near the steering column of your tow vehicle.

Then you download their app, follow the instructions and soon, you’ll know whether you need to start chucking things out of your RV or breathe that sigh of relief.

The best thing about having your own mobile towing scale is you can weigh your RV setup anytime you want without added cost or waiting in lines at weigh stations.

CURT Better Weigh Mobile Towing Scale - AOL Banner Ad

Here’s a great video about how the Better Weigh Mobile Towing Scale works:

How to Load Your RV Properly

Loading your RV properly isn’t rocket science. It’s actually quite easy to figure out that your weight distribution is based on how your RV rides.

Motorhomes

Motorhomes are quite simple when it comes to figuring GVWR. Because motorhomes are built on a chassis rather than a frame, they can take on more weight.

But that doesn’t negate motorhome owners responsibility of staying within the legal load limit recommended by their manufacturer.

Further, motorhomes need to keep in mind their toad vehicle plays into the motorhome’s GVWR. So, while motorized RVs have huge storage bays in their basements, that certainly doesn’t mean you can load ’em to the gills.

Remember, that diesel pusher or gasser still has to make the hills and mountains.

Towable RVs

When towing an RV (fifth wheel or travel trailer), the weight ratio should be 60% of your load starting at the trailer tires forward. The other 40% of your trailer weight should be distributed over the trailer tires back.

And, if you overload the back end of your RV, there is high possibility of creating an accident situation because you’ll lose control of your tow.

In other words, stow your heavier stuff over the tires and forward. This explains why most cargo compartments on towable RVs are forward of the tires.

Here’s a great short video that visually demonstrates proper trailer weight distribution:

Also, be mindful of your trailer’s tongue weight. The tongue weight should be no less than 10% and no more than 15% of your gross tongue weight (GTW). You’ll find that information on your trailer near the tongue hitch.

It’s extremely important to have the proper towing equipment per what you’re towing. But, we’ll talk about that in another article.

But whether you’re RVing in a motorhome or towable RV, it’s important to pack low and in the center.

This way your RV isn’t top heavy and of course, your stuff won’t fall out of all of the overhead cabinets each time you turn a corner, take a tight turn or hit a good size bump in the road.

RV GVWR - Motorhome Driving Curve

So, now that you have the basic concept of what an RV GVWR is and where to weigh your motorhome or towable RV (fifth wheel and travel trailer), let’s now move onto ways to control your load.

RV Weight Management Tips

Remember earlier I compared an RV to the human body? Well, here we’re going to show you what we call the RV diet plan. These are simple ways to keep your RV GVWR at an even keel.

Again, keeping in mind, knowing your RV’s GVWR is most important to begin with before even packing a thing.

Everything Must Be Multi-Purpose

Unlike living in a sticks and bricks home, everything you pack into your RV,  is weight critical.

So, having items that are multi-purpose or have a frequent purpose are most essential. There’s no use packing something in your motorhome or towable RV that you’re only going to use once or at the most, twice a year.

In other words, if you bake muffins once a week, then pack that muffin pan. But, if you only make muffins twice to three times a year, just buy a disposable muffin pan or cheap muffin pan and then donate it.

We use individual silicone cupcake or muffin liners instead of having to store a large muffin pan. We can even make small quiches and egg bites in them too!

Or, just skip the muffin pan all together and buy them at the store.

Here’s a good resource on how to pack some of your belongings in your RV:

Packing Tips for your RV Trips

Cookware and Bake Ware

We all can appreciate that camping meals taste so much better when cooked in cast iron pots and pans. However, they’re stupidly heavy.

So, for lighter weight motorhomes and towable RVs, find an alternative to your cooking vessels.

We love the Magma cookware set because, not only is the complete set lighter in weight, but they save incredible space because the pots and pans nest inside each other during storage.

Though they may be a little pricier, they are the perfect answer for RVs kitchens and even a boat galley.

Magma Nesting Cookware
Nesting Cookware for RVs, Boats and Tiny Living

You can read our product review here:

MAGMA Nesting Cookware for RVs and Boats

Also, skip the glass and ceramic baking dishes and opt for lighter weight, food-safe, collapsible microwave bowls or baking pans like those below. Check them out!

Limit canned goods, bottles or jars

I know this can be a challenge because you just can’t avoid buying nonperishables that are packaged in heavy cans or glass bottles or jars. Just try to limit your dry stores.

There are grocery stores everywhere where you can pick up your condiments and ingredients as you travel. A great tip is get to your destination, unhook and head to the grocery store after you’re parked.

Buy Smaller Containers

As mentioned above, grocery stores are everywhere, so there’s no need to buy supersized ingredients, condiments or packages of food. 

Also, if you’re only buying food for one or two, be sure to check out our video on how we do that:

Also, check out our article on Minimalistic Shopping Hacks

Thin your wardrobe

RV Living - Clothing

RVs don’t have big walk-in closets and big chest of drawers to store all of your clothes in. So there’s no need to pack like you’re moving into a mansion. And of course, excess clothing adds lots of weight to your RV GVWR.

We’ve written a super helpful article on how to minimize your wardrobe yet still be fashionable.

Lightweight interior decor & furniture

Always On Liberty - Fifth Wheel Workspace

With all the RV renovations and remodeling motorhomes and campers, it’s tempting to put up stylish home decor and furniture to your interior decorating. But, they add tremendous amount of weight.

If you’re going to decorate, use lightweight wall art. Remove the glass from photo frames and insert lightweight plexiglass instead. Stay away from heavy metals and wood home decor items.

Remember, weight is critical in RVs. Think about whether you’d rather have something pretty to look at in our RV or stuff you really need. 

Check out our 10 Simple and Easy RV Decorating Tips

Lightweight Outdoor Camping Gear

RV Camping Gear - Propane Fire Pit

This is probably the biggest challenge of RVing; finding lightweight yet durable RV camping gear. Because face it, we all love to sit outside around the campfire or grill up something tasty.

When we downsized from our big 42′ fifth wheel to our tiny 25′ motorhome, we had serious weight restraints we had to consider when buying our RV gear and camping accessories. We literally had to start over in configuring weight over size because our motorhome has a much smaller RV GVWR.

Here’s how we downsized our RV camping gear: 

Outdoor Camping Gear for Tiny RVs

GVWR - RV with Kayaks

But, let’s not forget, you must add the weight of any bicycles, kayaks. paddle boards, SCUBA equipment or any other outdoor recreation gear you may carry onboard your RV. Those all are typically heavy, so plan your RV GVWR accordingly to include those.

Travel with empty holding tanks 

Always On Liberty - Dump Station for Campers Only

On travel days, it’s important to keep your RV holding tanks dang near empty and here’s why. Your RV GVWR includes what your RV tanks weigh full. So, why tote around that extra weight? We try to travel with empty black and gray tank. And our water tank is about 1/3 full to allow for toilet flushing, hand and dishwashing. We can always fill up when we get to our destination or campground.

Here’s some perspectives on what water approximately weighs:

        •     15 Gallons = 125 pounds
        •    30 Gallons = 250 pounds
        •    60 Gallons = 500 pounds
        •  150 Gallons = 1251 pounds
        • 300 Gallons = 2502 pounds

So, as you see, that adds up to weight you don’t need to carry while driving our motorhome or pulling your fifth wheel or travel trailer.

Here’s a great resource on where to dump or take on water:

Where to Find RV Dump Stations and Potable Water

Boondocking and don’t want to break camp? Try these great solutions:

AquaTank Water Bladder for RV Boondocking

Empty Your Black Tank Without Moving Your RV

Lighter batteries and solar panels

RV GVWR - Solar Panels Upgrade

Something you need to consider if you are wanting to beef up your energy management system and solar system is the added weight of batteries, inverters, converters, heavy cables, solar panels, etc. So, plan your off grid solar system carefully with your RV GVWR as your top concern.

Some great reads of how we did that:

Solar Upgrades for Our Winnebago Class C Motorhome

Why We Installed Battle Born Batteries in our Fifth Wheel

Battle Born Lithium Battery - AOL Banner Ad

Only Carry Tools You Need

Oh, how Dan wishes he could have his big rolling tool box that he had in our sticks and bricks. But, that’s not conducive to smaller RV living.

But, you’ll still need some tools to keep in your RV for basic RV maintenance and repairing your motorhome or towable.

Here’s our recommendations of what you need:

Top 10 Must Have Tools to Keep in Your RV Tool Kit

RV tip: Instead of building heavy wood blocks to place under your leveling jacks, get lightweight heavy duty leveling blocks instead. Check them out below:

 

Buy Camping Supplies at Your Destination

Firewood and Ice

Instead of packing in your food, ice for your ice chest, charcoal, charcoal lighter, and firewood, wait until you get to the campground or RV park to buy it. Why tote around that extra weight when you can just buy it at your destination?

Like I mentioned before, there are grocery and big box stores in most locations. If you are headed to a remote area, then shop closest to your destination.

And speaking of firewood, it’s against the law in most states to transport firewood across state lines anyways, so save yourself the hassle and weight.

While it may be a tad bit more expensive than what you can bring from home or pick up along the way, the cost of an accident will supersede the  cost savings of a bundle of two.

Remodels and Renovations

This is a big issue for those renovating RVs. When considering a total or even partial remodel, consider how much weight you’re adding to your RV. The weight of heavier countertops,  backsplashes, flooring, and even decorations are all part of your RV’s weight. 

So, make sure you figure in the weight of your RV remodel projects into your GVWR.

We recommend paying attention to how much each component you’re adding to your motorhome or camper weighs.

Of course, while you may be removing dinettes and such, still take into account what you’re replacing it with (table, chairs, workspace, etc.).

That’s a Wrap!

So, that wraps up our article on understanding RV GVWR and how to NOT OVERLOAD Your RV.

Think carefully on what stuff you pack in your RV. Unless you’re going to some far off remote area to park your RV or camp, there are stores where you can pick up the things you need, groceries, clothes, camping supplies, etc. Be safe and travel smart.

Always On Liberty - RV GVWR

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