Travel trailers and fifth-wheels come in a lot of sizes. Some can be pulled by vehicles as small as a standard family sedan. Others need a serious heavy-duty pickup truck. When you show up to the dealership, how will you know if you can actually pull away with the travel trailer or fifth-wheel of your dreams?
Let’s talk towing, and help you figure out the type of vehicle you need to get your RV off the lot and into a campground.
Unloaded Vehicle Weight
Every RV will come with a sticker (usually inside the door) that will give you some basic information about the rig. One of those numbers is the unloaded vehicle weight (UVW). This number is how much the trailer weighs as it rolls off the assembly line. It includes any of the basic amenities you’ll find in the rig, like the dinette and included kitchen appliances.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating
The UVW number does not include anything you’ll be putting into or on the RV after you’ve bought it. Any accessories you add to customize the RV, plus any and all of your camping gear will add weight to your RV. This is why we so often preach the importance of lightweight materials and packing only what you truly need when traveling.
You’ll find another number listed on the sticker mentioned above: gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). This is the total weight that the rig can handle based on its axles and tire ratings.
So, to find the maximum amount of weight you can load into your rig, you take the GVWR and subtract the UVW. If you’re a math person, it might look like this:
GVWR – UVW = Additional Load Capacity.
How about an example? Let’s say the GVWR is 3,500 pounds, and the UVW is 1,000 pounds. (Just to be clear, these numbers are based on nothing real, and are only for the sake of simple math.)
3,500 – 1,000 = 2,000 pounds-worth of stuff you can put in and on your RV.
Water is a major element of weight to keep in mind. If you fill your fresh water tanks before you leave, you’re carrying a ton of weight with you. One gallon of water weighs over eight pounds. When you load up an RV, even halfway full, you’re taking a significant amount of your additional load capacity away from you. And after a trip, when your grey and black water tanks are loaded, you have even more weight to consider.
Of course, the more weight you have in your RV, the more it’s going to affect the gas mileage of your towing vehicle.
The Tow Vehicle
With all that math freshly in our heads, let’s start talking about the thing doing the real work here: the tow vehicle.
Smaller travel trailers, like expandable trailers, folding camping trailers, and teardrop trailers can sometimes be pulled by smaller vehicles. Family sedans or light SUVs are great options, while still allowing space for additional packing inside the vehicle. With larger trailers, you’ll need a full-size or heavy-duty pickup truck or van to get the job done.
Towing capacity is very important, but when towing an RV the gross combined weight rating (GCWR) is what you should keep in mind. It’s the maximum weight allowed for both the tow vehicle and the trailer when fully loaded. Basically, you need to ensure that your tow vehicle is rated to tow your trailer’s GVWR and that the whole combination when fully loaded doesn’t exceed the GCWR.
For larger fifth-wheels, you will also need to consider the rear axle weight rating (RAWR) of the tow vehicle. Because a portion of the weight of a fifth-wheel hitch sits over the rear axle, you’re likely going to be looking at a full-size or heavy-duty pickup truck—something heavier to help handle the weight. You need to know the pin weight of the fifth-wheel and see how that compares to your tow vehicle. If your truck’s RAWR is more than the pin weight (in most cases it will be), you’re good.
Most heavy-duty trucks have a RAWR somewhere between, 5,000 and 10,000 pounds. The pin weight of most larger fifth-wheel trailers clocks in around 3,500 pounds. So there’s usually more than enough capacity to handle the weight—and then some.
Diesel or Gas
There’s no RV forum discussion that can raise the ire of a bunch of RVers like the question of diesel or gas.
In short, it’s going to be about what you’re most comfortable driving. Diesel engines are pure towing power, and they’re geared to handle the big tow loads. You can take inclines with a loaded fifth-wheel and never slow down.
Gas engines still pack plenty of power—especially newer models. Their gear ratios may mean you slow down five or ten MPH on particularly steep inclines, and many see nothing wrong with that. Again, it’s all about your comfort level on the road.
Got all that? Just remember this: find a vehicle that will pull your rig, but also one that you’re comfortable driving. The last thing anyone wants is an unsafe RVer on the road.
Have questions about what kind of vehicle you should get to tow your RV? Check out our online towing guide!