Is your RV overweight? Weigh it and be safe

By Deanna Tolliver
At a recent RV rally I took the plunge and had my fifth wheel and truck weighed. Although many RV safety experts recommend it, I’ve been making excuses for not having it done (too far from an event that offered it or didn’t want to wait in line on departure morning). Also, I was a little afraid of what I might find out.

This particular weigh-in was sponsored by RVSEF (RV Safety and Education Foundation). At this rally, all the rigs were weighed on the last day—departure day—which was convenient because you need to be set up for weighing as you would be going down the road: water in the freshwater tank, fuel, people on board, etc.

Photo courtesy RVsafety.com

Those of us with tow vehicles were asked to meet the afternoon prior to our weigh appointment to weigh our trucks separately. That was a a great idea because no one would have to unhitch the next morning at the appointment.

When I made the appointment, I met my Weigh Team, Trey and Susan Selman. I was asked to fill out a form and provide the following information:

GVWR = Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (of the truck and the trailer, separately)
GAWR = Gross Axle Weight (Both front and rear axles of both truck and trailer)
GCWR = Gross Combined Weight Rating (truck and trailer hitched)

Hitch type: (fifth wheel, gooseneck, travel trailer) and both vertical and tow ratings

Data from the tires (on both the truck and the fifth wheel):
Brand, model, size, load range (LR)
Sidewall rating: Max load single and max load dual ___pounds @ ___psi
Inflation pressure you set your tires (on both truck and trailer)

At the weigh appointment, I was asked to drive up onto the portable scales, first with the truck, then with the trailer. The team then entered those weights into their computer program, and within a few minutes I had a printed report in hand.

Trey went over the numbers with me, and, although I had some trouble areas, he told me how I could manage them by shifting and/or eliminating weight.

For example, the team weighed each wheel position on my fifth wheel. I learned that not only was my trailer weight over on one axle, the printout showed which side and which tire. This information can then be checked against a table showing the maximum weight ratings for the tires. I was very happy to see that even though the weight of one side of the front trailer axle was a little high, I had not exceeded the maximum rating for my tires.

THE OTHER POSITIVE RESULTS were that my pin weight was fine, the truck axle weights were good, and the total GCW (combined truck and fifth wheel weight) was good.

But….I also found out that my fifth wheel exceeded the recommended GVW by about 1,000 pounds . The bulk of that is on the driver’s side, which not coincidentally happens to be the side containing the large kitchen slide—residential refrigerator, convection/microwave oven, stovetop range, large TV, and fireplace. Not much I can do about those, but I’m taking a close look at moving other items on that side to a different location, AFTER trying to downsize those 1,000 pounds!

Having the weights on all four tires is extremely helpful because I can see where the problems are. For example, the front axle of the fifth wheel carries too much weight. The back axle (I have a dual axle fifth wheel) is fine. I’m working on shifting some front axle weight to the back of the trailer and am considering a small storage container on the rear hitch.

Why is all this important? To quote from the RVSEF website: “Exceeding these ratings can cause premature wear and tear on the vehicle’s components. The RV may have failures or need repairs due to excessive weight, although the weight factor may not be clearly evident. In the worst case, an overweight situation creates safety hazards.”

From a tire safety standpoint, Roger Marble (RV Tire Safety) notes that overloaded and under-inflated tires can lead to safety issues. You might be a stickler for keeping your tires inflated at their correct levels, but if you don’t know if your RV is overloaded, you could still have tire issues, such as premature tire wear or tire failure (blowouts).

Now that I know my RV and truck weights, I have some work to do. It will be a challenge, as a full-timer, to downsize the “stuff” in my life even further, and to figure how the best places to keep the rest of it. But it must be done to drive safely down the road.

Do you feel confident that your weights are within the safety zone? Click here to see when you can get your RV weighed by RVSEF.

##RVT848

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7 Thoughts to “Is your RV overweight? Weigh it and be safe”

  1. Sherry Dawson

    Very well written, Deanna. The list of information to bring to the weighing is also very helpful. I enjoyed reading about your personal experience.

    Regarding reducing weight of contents, I always think first about reducing the weight of the containers holding my items. You might not have to take less with you–just store it differently. For example, use food-safe plastic containers and plastic or paper bags instead of heavier glass or crockery containers. Remove as much of the packaging from any item as possible. Many food items are sealed in bags inside a box–so throw away the box. Use one large light-weight bin to corral multiple items instead of several small ones (if that reduces the total weight). Items in outside storage may also need to be repositioned rather than discarded.

    In my current small RV, I weigh every item before it is put in the rig, and keep a running total of weight. For items to be stashed in multiple places, I keep a temporary bin for each area, and weigh the lot before I store them (deducting the weight of the bin). That way I can keep a tally of the weight over each wheel.

    Also, when trying to redistribute the weight, a different way to store it might help. For example, many food items that we refrigerate at home don’t actually need refrigeration. Move them from the heavy refrigerator side of the RV to a cabinet or basket on the other side. Items in hanging baskets can be stashed in a chair or in the sink, etc. (on the lighter-weight side) when traveling. Also, some items that you really like having on the current side can be moved to the other side or the rear only when traveling, if you’ve planned right for each wheel or axle. A diagram helps.

    There are lots more tips like this, but the main idea is to educe container weight or reposition some contents and then see what you really have to discard. You might be pleasantly surprised.

    1. Deanna Tolliver

      Thanks Sherry! Those are great ideas!

  2. Doug

    Very interesting!

    As my wife and I travel around Canada & the US in our converted 16′ Cargo Trailer, we are often amazed to see 5th wheel trailers with large storage boxes hanging off the back bumper.

    Obviously it’s a personal thing. But I wonder, with a large 5er to begin with, why the need for “extra” storage? Is it really necessary to take absolutely everything?

    Maybe I’m missing something? Perhaps we downsized too much?!

    1. Hi Doug,
      Good observation. Some of those RVers with the cargo boxes on the back are actually trying to be safer. In my case, one of the recommendations was to get more weight behind the axles. I have actually been looking at those storage cases that go on the receiver hitch. The weight limit on my receiver is 300 pounds, so it could help move some weight back.
      Deanna

      1. Doug

        Hi Deanna,
        Thanks for the explanation. That hadn’t occurred to me, but it makes sense – to help distribute the load.
        Doug

  3. Gary Machholz

    Wow! Three events in the Mountain States for the whole year and only one in Colorado where every third house has an RV parked in the drive. If this is truly an industry safety issue it should be offered more than one time in an area each year. Either that or give detailed information on how to weigh your setup at available spots such as landscape supply places or trucker scales (and which trucker scales are friendly enough to accommodate you and take the time necessary to do it correctly).

    1. Hi Gary,
      The weighing schedule in my article is only for RVSEF. There are other companies that do this, or, if you are an Escapees member, weighing is always an option at Livingston, TX (and at their rallies). In addition, there are hundreds of rallies around the country every year, and many offer the weigh-in.
      As far as truck scale weighing, that is always an option, but the attendants are not going to do it for you. You cannot get always get side to side weights, but you can get a truck weight, trailer weight, and, by deduction, pin weight.
      It would be impossible for us to list every trucker scale where you could weigh your rig. I think it might be safe to say that almost every truck stop with a scale would allow you to do that. I stopped at a random truck scale last year and did it myself.

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