A buddy of yours has asked to tag along on your latest camping adventure. You figure why not, the more, the merrier! Your friend mentions they own a travel trailer, and that if possible, they’d like your motorhome to tow it. Is this something you can realistically do?
Most RVs or motorhomes should be able to pull a travel trailer, especially class A and class C motorhomes. Some of the most heavy-duty motorhome rigs could tow 10,000 pounds!
In this post, we’ll tell you how to calculate your travel trailer weight so you can determine whether your motorhome is eligible for towing the trailer. We’ll also cover each RV class–from class A to class C–to gauge the max towing capacity for each. Keep reading, as you’re definitely not going to want to miss this!
How to Calculate the Weight of a Travel Trailer
Getting back to the scenario from the intro, before you agree to your friend’s request of towing their travel trailer with your motorhome, you need to know how much the trailer weighs.
The average weight of a travel trailer is 5,200 pounds, but a trailer can weigh more or less than that depending on the type and model. For example, a small travel trailer might weigh 2,800 pounds and a big behemoth of a trailer up to 6,700 pounds.
If you want some real travel trailer examples and their weights, we’ve got ‘em. The 2021 Jayco Jay Feather Micro 166FBS has a gross weight of up to 4,995 pounds. The 2020 Forest River RV EVO FS 177BQ weighs 4,845 pounds.
If your friend doesn’t own either of those travel trailers, how would they calculate the weight of their trailer? It’s easy, at least when you have a weight calculator such as this one from RV resource Changin’ Gears.
First, you need to input the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating or GVWR, then the Gross Combination Weight Rating or GCWR. Next, you need to know the max loaded trailer weight rating, then the max tongue weight rating.
Then you have to add your Rear Gross Axle Weight Rating or RGAWR, the Gross Vehicle Weight or GVW, and the Rear Gross Axle Weight or RGAW. You also must know your trailer’s tongue weight, its safety margin, and the tongue weight percentage override.
If you’re confused by all those abbreviations, no sweat. We’ll go through each one now so you can get an accurate gauge of your travel trailer weight.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR)
Starting at the top, the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating or GVWR is the max weight limit of the travel trailer when you accommodate for the cargo, passengers, driver, accessories, fuel, engine fluids, the engine itself, the body, and the chassis of the trailer.
Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR)
To calculate the Gross Combination Weight Rating or GCWR, you take the GVWR and then add the weight of the travel trailer itself to that number.
Max Loaded Trailer Weight Rating
The max loaded trailer weight rating is sort of like the GVWR. It’s how much weight the travel trailer can handle when loaded with cargo, gear, accessories, fluids, and people.
Max Tongue Weight Rating
What is tongue weight, you ask? Well, when you tow a travel trailer or another vehicle with your motorhome, you’ll use a hitch to do so. Most hitch types include a hitch ball, which is attached to the mount of the trailer. The hitch ball is where the coupler connects to. Without a hitch ball, your turns would be all jerky with your rig.
Tongue weight then is how much downward pressure is on the hitch ball. You can calculate the tongue weight of your rig by weighing your travel trailer on an industrial-grade scale. Attach the hitch to the trailer and then raise the tongue jack so the hitch ball doesn’t have any weight applied. Take your average trailer weight and then subtract it from the weight of the trailer when you lifted the tongue jack.
Once you calculate the GVW (which we’ll talk about momentarily), the tongue weight is always supposed to be 10 to 15 percent of the GVW. So let’s say your travel trailer weighs 10,000 pounds, as that’s an easy example. The tongue weight shouldn’t exceed 1,500 pounds.
Rear Gross Axle Weight Rating (RGAWR)
The Rear Gross Axle Weight Rating or RGAWR is the max weight limit of the RGAW, which we’ll explain in just a moment. By towing weight past what’s recommended by the RGAWR, the rear axles of the travel trailer could fail, which would be catastrophic.
Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW)
The know your trailer’s Gross Vehicle Weight or GVW, you need to calculate the weight of your trailer with all the equipment, passengers, fluids, and cargo. The GVW should never surpass the GVWR. Another name for this calculation is Gross Trailer Weight or GTW.
Rear Gross Axle Weight (RGAW)
How much weight goes on the rear axle is answerable through determining the Rear Gross Axle Weight or RGAW. The weight should be even from the axle to the tire in a perfect world. An accurate RGAW measurement does not take the trailer attachment into account.
Trailer Tongue Weight
Since you know the max tongue weight rating, calculating the trailer tongue weight should be a piece of cake.
Trailer Safety Margin
The trailer safety margin is a percentage of the max trailer rating that you wish to stick within. In other words, rather than pushing any part of the travel trailer to the max weight limit, you’ll stay within X percent of that limit.
It’s ideal if the safety margin is at least 20 percent, but it can be as low as 10 percent and as high as 50 percent if you’re being extremely cautious.
Can My Motorhome Tow a Travel Trailer?
You reviewed the terms above, did some serious numbers-crunching, and calculated the weight of your travel trailer. Congratulations! Now it’s just a matter of determining which class of motorhome is the best choice for towing the trailer.
If you need a quick refresher, class A motorhomes are the most sizable of the three RV classes. Class B motorhomes are the smallest and class Cs are moderately-sized, as they’re bigger than class Bs but not as large as class As.
With all that fresh in your head, let’s talk about the max towable weight of all three classes of motorhomes.
Class A Motorhomes
If you splurged and got an RV with all the amenities, then you know your class A motorhome is quite the hulking behemoth. It may weigh 13,000 pounds on the lower end and 30,000 pounds or more on the higher end.
Unsurprisingly then, through their sheer bulk, class A motorhomes can tow around 10,000 pounds, and quite comfortably at that. Do make sure your motorhome has an equally sizable engine though, as some bigger class As with small engines have quite the weak towing capacity.
Class B Motorhomes
The van-like class B motorhome is slimmer and streamlined, clocking in at 6,000 to 8,000 pounds on average. These may be much small vehicles compared to class As, but a class B motorhome is still an RV at the end of the day. As such, it outweighs most travel trailers.
That said, these motorhomes can’t tow to their own weight, being limited at around 5,000 pounds. If you have a smaller to mid-sized travel trailer, then towing one in a Class B motorhome should be no problem. For the bigger travel trailers that cross the 5,000-pound mark, the class B can’t handle it.
Class C Motorhomes
The third class of RV is the class C. As the in-between of class A and B, a C-class motorhome might weigh 10,000 to 12,000 pounds. That makes it double the weight of most travel trailers and thus lends it a towing capacity you almost wouldn’t believe. Some class Cs can tow just as much as a class A, up to 10,000 pounds!
Don’t assume this of all class C motorhomes, though. If yours has a heavy-duty chassis designed for towing, then your class C should be able to pull the extra weight.
Tips for Towing a Travel Trailer with Your Motorhome
Perhaps this will be your first experience towing anything with your motorhome. Maybe you’ve towed in the past, but only small vehicles, nothing significant like a travel trailer. If so, these tips will help you acclimate quickly.
Learn to Stop Way in Advance
You’re used to pumping the brakes a little early in your motorhome anyway due to its size, but now you’ll have to come to a stop even earlier. Since you’re adding at least 2,000 pounds to your setup, stopping on a dime is not possible.
Well, you could try, but it will almost assuredly result in jack-knifing or skidding, both of which increase your risk of an accident. Let the electronic brakes that are likely included with your travel trailer aide you in stopping, but be ready to do it early and slowly.
This will feel rather strange at first, but the more you drive in your towed setup, you’ll adjust to these early stops.
Stay to the Right
If you’re doing any highway driving in your rig, you want to stick to the right lane for as much of the drive as possible. This keeps you out of the main flow of traffic, which is what you want, as you won’t be able to keep up with other motorists. Switch to a middle or left lane when other drivers are trying to exit off the highway, then skirt back over to the right lane again.
Drive Slightly Under the Speed Limit
Whether you’re traversing residential streets, freeways, or highways, it’s always better to go a little under the speed limit when towing a travel trailer with your motorhome. Driving a bit slower might not be as hard as you think it would be considering the extra weight around back makes it hard to speed up and maintain that speed.
When we say go a little slower by the way, we don’t mean crawl like a turtle down the road. You’re driving slowly to maintain control, but by inching along, your presence is a hazard to other motorists.
Beware Trailer Sway
Trailer sway is just what it sounds like, when the travel trailer begins to wiggle and wobble, threatening to fall out of your control. You can cause trailer sway by speeding, making sudden maneuvers, and trying other risky driving tactics. Failing to distribute the weight across your rig properly also boosts the likelihood of trailer sway, as can high winds.
Sometimes those winds are generated by other motorists who are passing you like lightning on the left or right. The drivers leave air in their wake that sways the trailer somewhat. To prevent your whole rig from toppling over in a situation like this, use the trailer brake if possible. This causes both vehicles to align themselves straight so the situation rights itself.
Don’t Bring More Than What You Need
You’re trying to stay within trailer and motorhome weight limits, and that means packing sparsely. Whether you leave a few of the usual suspects home for this trip or you skip some bulkier camping or cooking equipment, doing so is for the stability of your rig.
Learn to Navigate Hills
It’s best if you can avoid hills and other steep ascents or descents when towing a travel trailer with your motorhome, but sometimes that’s simply not possible. You want to stay to the right side of the road when ascending a hill, reducing your speed. If you’re descending a slope or hill, turn your engine to a lower gear and then brake all the way down. This practice, referred to as engine braking, causes your drivetrain to commandeer the engine, creating resistance that makes you go slower.
Know How to Do Basic Driving Techniques
You may have to back up as you drive your trailered setup, and you’ll certainly have to turn too. To back up successfully, you want to follow the swoop technique, which is where you drive near a spot you want to turn at, creating an acute angle. Next, swoop back from the spot, lining up your trailer’s end towards the spot. Then, spin your wheel so it’s counterclockwise and voila, you’ve backed up.
Turning requires you to do so with plenty of advance notice. Lower your speed and be prepared to make wider turns. Avoid speeding up as you turn, even if other cars are honking at you.
Practice as many maneuvers with your rig as you can in empty space like a parking lot. This will give you the confidence to pull off these techniques in a lower-stress scenario. When you are driving with other motorists around, you’ll panic less.
Check Your Overhead Height
You do not want to find yourself in a situation where you don’t have overhead clearance but you only discover as much when your rig crash-lands into a signpost or collides with the top of a tunnel entrance. If your travel trailer is taller than your motorhome, it’s worth measuring the height of your rig and then avoiding routes that don’t provide enough overhead.
Make Sure You Have Visibility
Your rearview mirror is obstructed by the travel trailer when driving your motorhome, so you can’t rely on that anymore. Instead, you’ll have to get very good at checking your side mirrors–both of them–as frequently as possible so you can see who’s coming up on you.
If you want to tow a travel trailer with your motorhome, most class A RVs and many class Cs can do so without difficulty. You’d need a lighter trailer if you wanted to tow it with a class B motorhome.
Keep the tips from the last section in mind when towing a trailer, as they’ll help you be a safer driver even when pulling thousands of extra pounds!
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