Do RV manufacturers “lie with statistics”?

By Russ and Tiña De Maris

Pssst! In the market for a new motorhome? Looking for a steal? Here’s some news – the dealers are looking for a steal, too, and it may be that some of them figure that steal will come out of your pocket.

We picked up a copy of the RV Buyers Guide, touting “2018 specs, floorplans, photos, prices & more!” If you can pass over the pretty pictures and examine the stats closely, you may find that things aren’t always as pretty as they seem. Sad to say, not all RV shoppers are shopping with their eyes open, and probably not in possession of all the facts.

Let’s set aside our common drumbeat of “If you buy it new, expect it will spend a lot of time in the shop” for a minute. We want to talk seriously about just ONE aspect of your RV purchase. A weighty one, if you’ll pardon a pun, because it all centers on weight. The weight of a potential RV, and the weight of that stuff you want to take with you.

First, here’s a quick glossary of terms you SHOULD see when you’re paging through the fine print.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is the number you may NEVER exceed. It includes all your gear, fuels, fresh water (and waste water too), food, passengers and everything you would stuff into your rig. It also includes the hitch weight of any vehicle you’re towing along behind. And add to this, any options you or your dealer installed after the rig left the factory.

Unloaded Vehicle Weight (UVW) is the weight of the unloaded motorhome as it comes from the factory. That includes full engine and generator fuel tanks, and engine fluids. Not included are cargo, water, propane or dealer-installed accessories. Mind you, the only way to know this figure with any accuracy is to weigh the specific rig as it comes off the line – but many manufacturers list an “average” figure in their advertising material.

With these two critical figures in mind, one should be able to come to a reasonable deduction of just how much stuff you can stuff inside your motorhome. Right? Subtract the UVW from the GVWR and that should yield the correct number. Well, the manufacturers make it soooo easy – they include another number – CCC for Cargo Carrying Capacity.

We went “shopping” in the RV Buyers Guide and lit on a Class A motorhome from Coachmen RV. Their 2018 Pursuit 27DS, a gas-fired 30-footer, is our working example. The GVWR of this unit comes in at 16,000 pounds. The out-the-door UVW lists at 14,800 pounds. Subtract the latter from the GVWR and you have 1,200 pounds. Is that the true cargo carrying capacity? That depends on who you ask.

The advertisement in the Buyers Guide provided us with the GVWR and the UVW. It also listed “CCC (APPROX): 706 lb”. That’s nearly 500 pounds of difference. What’s the deal here? We called another official Coachmen dealer, asking for the figures we needed. After four phone calls, we were told they couldn’t give us anything but the GVWR – nothing on UVW, and certainly nothing on CCC.

So we called Coachmen to make a few inquiries. The representative basically said, “Subtract unloaded vehicle weight from the gross vehicle weight, and presto, there’s your answer.” In this case, he said, “You have approximately 1,200 pounds of cargo carrying capacity.” He followed it up with, “Give or take a couple hundred pounds.” Give or take? Each rig is supposed to be weighed as it goes out the door, then you’ll know the exact figures.

We still haven’t resolved why there’s nearly a 500-pound difference in our calculation and that published statistic from the Buyers Guide, but let’s just chalk it up to a goof on the part of the advertiser. Maybe he really meant to say 1,200 pounds. But here’s where it gets a bit more, shall we say, confusing.

By industry accepted standards, for model years 2000 and beyond, that CCC figure is determined this way: GVWR minus the following: UVW. Same as above. However, their figuring for what UVW translates to is the actual weight of the coach, plus a full motor fuel tank. Coachmen’s representative says they include a full LP tank in the figure. Apparently nobody else in industry works that way – and if it’s not really so, let’s say the coach comes off the line with an empty LP cylinder – you’ve been misled by 85 pounds. But still, you’re pretty close, right? You can toss 1,200 pounds of gear into your brand-new motorhome. Right?

Wrong. Sorry, but in our view, it’s an easy way for industry to “lie with statistics.”

Before we can even talk about stocking the refrigerator, tossing in a few tools, and loading up the closets with Hawaiian shirts, there are a few other things to consider. Let’s add it up: The Pursuit 27DS has a fresh water capacity of 50 gallons (8.3 pounds per gallon), so 415 pounds is suddenly knocked off the fuzzy 1,200 pounds CCC. No, there’s also another 50 pounds to knock off for the water in the water heater – that makes it 735 pounds of CCC. Next there’s the not-so-small matter of what industry jargon calls SCWR – Sleeping Capacity Weight Rating. The number of “sleeping positions” officially declared by the manufacturer is to be multiplied by 154 pounds each to determine the SCWR. I don’t know, I’m afraid nobody in my family is at or below 154 pounds, but go figure. Anyway, Coachmen tells us there are SEVEN sleeping positions. Seven times 154, that now wipes out 1,078 pounds. Your newly revised weight is “in the red” by 343 pounds. Yes, you could conceivably “let it slide” by saying you’ll never have seven passengers in your motorhome. Maybe.

But we’re not through yet. Plan on taking a toad car with you? Yes, this motorhome does allow for 4,000 pounds of vehicle behind you. But how do you plan on towing it? Four wheels flat, or using a tow dolly? Flat towing won’t make much difference. But if you use a tow dolly, you can safely figure that 10 to 15 percent of whatever weight is on the tow dolly’s axle will appear as weight on the hitch. That could easily hit 100 pounds. And that hitch weight takes away from your CCC weight.

So let’s play a numbers game. Let’s just say, only you and your significant other will EVER ride in your motorhome. We’ll pretend that means only two SCWRs are used, meaning that’s 308 pounds for passengers. You have 427 pounds left for cargo now, but let’s say your “light” tow vehicle only pushes down on the hitch 80 pounds. Congratulations! You have 348 pounds left to put in your RV. Food, clothing, tools, recreational gear. And by the way, how much does your satellite system weigh? The “shade room” that hangs on the awning? Did the dealer install any “options” after the rig came off the assembly line? It all counts!

But there are still other “inconvenient truths” that can really put you over, even if you’re scrupulous and keep inside those remaining 348 pounds. While the fresh water capacity of this motorhome is 50 gallons, the waste water systems can take a lot more in total. Gray water plus black water totals 114 gallons, with the black tank holding 38 gallons by itself. Most RVers won’t dump their black tank until it’s nearly full. So let’s say you’ve finished a stint at a campground, you dump your gray tank, fill your fresh tank, but hey, your black tank is only three-quarters full. Let’s wait until the next stop to dump. There’s more than 200 pounds of weight lurking in the black tank alone. So much for that gracious amount of cargo carrying capacity.

Inconvenient truths. Lies by statistics. The RV industry has the typical RV buyer buffaloed into thinking they’re really getting something, including all that “bling” that RVs are stuffed to the gills with, and still have plenty more they can take with them.

Want to really be safe? Whenever you contemplate buying a rig, make having the true weight of the unit as a condition of the sale. The unit should be taken to a public scale and weighed. Subtract the scaled weight from the GVWR and you’ll truly know just how much you can add on. Just don’t forget all those other things that push down on the scales. No, don’t think you can “fudge” your way through. Get into accident, you may find your insurance company won’t stand behind you. Don’t blame them – blame the characters who built it and talked you into buying it.



6 Thoughts to “Do RV manufacturers “lie with statistics”?”

  1. Wolfe

    I believe I know some of the answers, but can RVT experts discuss more of WHY those numbers exist, why insurance denies claims, and how it’s dangerous? I’ve hear many folks brag about being grossly overweight, and “so what if it rides hard?”

  2. Jim Anderson

    For a season RV Owner, this of course is no Surprise!
    But for the First Time Buyer,
    Where do they go to get the real story and make wise decisions.
    how do they even know information like this is even available?
    Most RV Salesmen have never been RV’n and have no idea what any of this means nor do they care!

  3. Captn John

    Then there are those of us that have added a separate washer/dryer and more and will never reach the nearly 3500# of CCC in the 5er.
    Sadly, too few see all that storage and fill it without having a clue they are way over CCC.

  4. Jeff

    Too many people live in the World of “Charles Darwin”! In a word “STUPID”.

    For instance, I just had a new Morryde IS (independent suspension) system with Disc Brakes put on my 5th wheel. Prior to that I had 7k Axles and 16 inch tires. I now have 17.5 inch tires and 8K Axles.

    I have ran across many (actually too many people) who think you can automatically increase how much junk you carry, simply because you have increased the larger axles and tires. 100 PERCENT INCORRECT.

    My 5th wheel has a GVWR of 16500 and I know that can never be exceeded. From a technical standpoint, I could put more weight in the RV and go up to almost 18000 lbs. But, that would be very foolish. So my RV weighs in at 16100. Still have a little safety built in.

    Try to explain this to those EXPERT RVers out there and they think they can do it.

    I REFUSE to be one of the Accident Statistics on the road.

  5. Chris

    How the UVW is distributed between axles is also important. There are cases where the front axle capacity is close to or exceeds its rated carrying capacity before any cargo or people have even factored into the equation.

  6. Bill T.

    Good article. It’s all about research and forcing oneself to overlook the bling and find the truth. Knowing how you will be using your rig helps with the decision. Fulltimer’s or extended travelers will need more stuff. Thanks for the info.

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