RV Basics: How Big of an RV Can Your Vehicle Tow?

Last Updated on July 3, 2024 by Christina

While all RVers agree that the most stressful part of a holiday is the journey and not the destination, towing safely is a critical component of every trip. If you’re looking to purchase a travel trailer, fifth wheel or toy hauler, it’s important to ensure your vehicle is capable of handling the load. As the old adage goes, know before you tow.

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How much weight can I tow?

The good news is it’s not difficult to determine your vehicle’s tow capacity. Typically, this information can be found within the sticker on your driver’s side door frame. The rating displayed on the sticker should determine what kind of RV you can safely tow. If it’s still unclear, the RV experts at General RV are readily available to ensure your vehicle’s specifications match up with your dream RV. General RV developed a Towing Capacity Guide, allowing you to simply enter your vehicle’s information. The database only shows you the RVs that your vehicle is capable of towing, based on manufacturer specifications.

Remember, when determining how heavy an RV will be to tow, always consider the RV’s Cargo Carrying Capacity (CCC). This is the maximum amount of weight from personal items that can be loaded into the RV, and it’s critical not to surpass it.

Attempting to tow more than your vehicle can handle could damage your vehicle and what you are towing, and even pose a threat to others on the road. Be safe, not sorry. When calculating the weight of your RV, factor in an allowance for your gear, any added accessories, any liquids in tanks and any cargo you’ve added such as food, clothes, chairs, grills, games, tools, etc.

Explaining RV towing terms

Here are some explanations of common terms you may encounter while determining the tow capacity and weights of your vehicle and RV:

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR)

This is the maximum weight your tow vehicle can handle without any difficulty. When choosing a tow RV, consider what the RV weighs and its gross vehicle weight rating, as well.

Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR)

The gross combination weight rating of your tow vehicle includes everything that goes into it – passengers, accessories, cargo and the weight of the vehicle. Every tow vehicle has its GCWR, and that total weight must not be exceeded or you might face a big problem while on the road.

Not only is a heavy load difficult to control on the road, but several other components could also be at risk. For example, the braking systems may overheat and fail, reducing or even eliminating the possibility of safely slowing or stopping your vehicle and RV. The tires may not be able to handle the extra load, potentially causing a blowout situation. The engine and transmission in the tow vehicle may overheat due to the added strain, causing a mechanical failure. Components within the tow vehicle or RV’s suspension system could bend or even break, causing you to lose control on the road. The truth is that a variety of problems could result from overloading and exceeding the GCWR.

Hitch Weight

The hitch weight of your tow vehicle needs to match the weight of the load on the hitch. If you overload the hitch of your vehicle, it’ll cause your vehicle or even your RV to sway on the road; this is where the weight distribution hitch comes in.

Weight distribution hitches help to spread the weight from to back to the front, thereby giving you better control of the vehicle. Blue Ox offers an array of towing parts and accessories, including the SwayPro weight distribution hitch that is quick and easy to setup and available at General RV Supercenters nationwide.

Tongue Weight

Tongue weight is the downward pressure exerted by the tongue of a travel trailer.

When the tongue weight of your tow vehicle is exceeded, you’ll experience difficulties when making turns or sharp bends because the rear tires, brakes, frame and drivetrain are impacted. The maximum tongue weight for a trailer with an attached hitch ball is about 15% of the gross trailer weight

Axle Weight

Your trailer’s axle weight and that of the tow vehicle need to be within the limit or you might put yourself in trouble with the law. The front axle and rear axle are both expected to have a maximum specified weight and the weight of all the axles combined including the tongue weight, must not exceed the GVWR of the trailer.

Payload Capacity

The payload capacity of your tow vehicle is the maximum weight it can carry. Payload capacity is always less than the tow capacity. Adhering to the payload capacity is one of the important factors between your towing experiences being a smooth or dangerous one.

Hitching up correctly

Before you tow, it’s imperative to learn the proper technique for hitching and unhitching an RV. This will vary depending on your RV and your type of hitch. Failing to learn how to do this correctly will result in damage to your car or truck, RV and possible injury to you, your passengers or other drivers on the road.

Hitching is different for travel trailers and fifth wheels. Travel trailers connect to a vehicle via a hitch ball on the rear of the vehicle and the tongue on the front of the RV. However, in fifth wheels, a truck will have a large hitch plate installed in the bed. The fifth wheel has a king pin box at the front, and connects by locking into the hitch plate, similar to how semi-trailer trucks are attached.

PullRite makes a number of fifth wheel towing products, including the SuperGlide hitch for both ISR (Industry Standard Rail) and OE (Original Equipment) mounting systems. The SuperGlide is considered the nation’s easiest-to-use fifth wheel hitch and allows up to 90-degree turning without stopping or slowing down. PullRite products can be purchased at any General RV Supercenter nationwide.

Check your visibility

Once your RV and tow vehicle are safely hitched and connected, your visibility of the road and your RV are crucial. Be sure that all your side mirrors are well-adjusted and working properly, as this will help you have a clearer view of the entire road while driving.

Furrion’s Vision S RV Rear Camera System offers peace of mind with wide viewing angles, night vision and motion detection. Backing up your travel trailer or fifth wheel will never be easier than with Furrion helping guide you. General RV’s service experts can install the Furrion Vision S Camera System on your RV at any Supercenter nationwide.

Check your brakes

Your tow vehicle’s brakes need to be in top condition. It’s also important to know the exact amount of pressure to apply on your vehicle’s brakes to safely stop the RV.

An RV brake controller is an electronic device that activates and, as the word suggests, controls the brakes of the RV. It’s essential for safely towing heavy loads, especially at higher speeds, as it ensures the RV’s speed matches the tow vehicle’s pace. Without a brake controller, the tow vehicle’s brakes might not be enough to safely stop the RV.

CURT, a Lippert brand, provides a full line of towing and braking products. The Echo Mobile Trailer Brake Controller wirelessly connects to your smartphone to control and monitor all trailer brake activity.

Practice braking as many times as needed, as your trailer’s brakes need to be more than the vehicle’s because the trailer has to stop first.

Is my vehicle equipped to tow?

Traditionally, RVers have looked to hefty pick-up trucks for their hauling needs, but the allure of a vehicle that combines strong towing capability with family-friendly features is certainly growing. SUVs can pull a wide range of RVs, as well, depending on the tow capacity of the SUV. They can range from 3,500 pounds of tow capacity to 10,000 pounds.

For larger RVs, pick-up trucks are often required to tow them safely. Trucks can range in various sizes and payload capacity, with some able to haul up to 20,000 pounds. Larger sedans and hatchback-style cars may be able to tow a light trailer, but most large and midsize cars have a max towing capacity of just 2,000 pounds or less. Smaller, lighter cars are not designed to tow at all, and that will be stated in the owner’s manual. Be sure to check with a General RV expert to ensure your vehicle is capable of towing.

General RV’s favorite RVs to tow

Whether it’s a weekend getaway or a full-fledge family vacation, ensuring your tow vehicle is up to the task of hauling your RV safely is the first step to a safe and happy holiday.

SUV in Sync

Grand Design RV 151BH Transcend One

The Transcend One travel trailer by Grand Design RV is one of the most budget-friendly yet comfortable and easiest to tow RVs on the market. The Transcend One’s shorter length and lighter weight make it painless to haul and with no slides, setting up camp is a breeze. This lightweight travel trailer boasts a pet-friendly, carpetless design with a straightforward floor plan.

A full-sized queen bed faces east to west, maximizing space throughout the RV. Additionally, there’s ample overhead and underbed storage. The Transcend One accommodates up to five people, with double bunks and a fold-out sofa bed. With an easy-to-tow design, the Transcend One travel trailer from Grand Design RV delivers top-notch quality and practical features for an exceptional camping adventure.

Winnebago Minnie 2801BHS

While small may be in its name, the Winnebago Minnie travel trailer is designed for big outdoor adventure. The Minnie is an easy-to-tow, lightweight RV with room to sleep up to ten people. That includes large bunks, a tri-fold sofa, convertible dinette and queen bed.

The full kitchen offers a convection microwave, 3-burner cooktop stove, single-basin stainless steel sink with residential faucet and ample counter space with storage throughout. A big walk-in pantry offers additional storage, and the bathroom includes a foot-flush toilet, single-basin sink with medicine cabinet overhead and a 30-inch by 36-inch stand-up shower. The bottom bunk flips up for extra storage with the pack-and-play access door at the back, and there’s an outdoor kitchen with a sink, griddle and refrigerator.

Truck Required

Alliance Paradigm 382RK

Paradigm fifth wheels by Alliance RV are functional, high-quality and luxurious for an unforgettable camping experience. Weighing nearly 14,000 pounds, a Rota-Flex pin box comes standard for hassle-free towing, along with Super-G 4,400-pound rated tires and Dexter 7,000-pound axles.

The kitchen features LG solid-surface countertops and Insignia range, plus LED motion lighting in the pantry and a Maxx fan with rain sensor to keep everything fresh when making meals. The middle living area includes dual sleeper sofas and a dual recliner loveseat across from the 50-inch Smart TV and fireplace. The main bedroom boasts comfort with a king bed slide, a flip-top dresser with a Smart TV above and a seat with storage, plus access to the front full bathroom.

Cougar Sport 2100RK

One of the lightest fifth wheels on the market, the Cougar Sport from Keystone RV packs luxury and convenience into an easy-to-tow package. This unique floor plan places the kitchen at the rear of the RV with residential appliances and a large pantry with ample storage. The bathroom offers a shower with skylight for added headroom and natural lighting, as well as a medicine cabinet over the sink for your personal items. 

Head up the steps to a complete bath and private front bedroom featuring a queen size bed with dual shirt wardrobes and nightstands on both sides of the bed.  There is also a wardrobe off the foot of the bed with two convenient drawers as well. Outside, a 17-foot awning provides added living space protected from the elements.

RV Towing Terms & Definitions

  • Dry Weight/Shipped Weight – The weight of the RV as shipped from the manufacturer without any passengers, cargo, liquids or additional accessories or dealer installed options.
  • Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) – The current combined weight of the RV (dry weight) plus passengers, cargo and liquids.
  • Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) – The maximum allowed weight of a vehicle/RV, including passengers, cargo, fluids, etc.
  • Cargo Capacity – The total weight of all passengers, food, clothing, liquids, accessories, etc. that you might put into your RV.
  • Tongue/Hitch Weight – The weight/pressure applied from the trailer tongue/coupler to the conventional/bumper hitch on your vehicle.
  • Pin Weight – This is often referred to as the weight/pressure applied from fifth wheel king pin to the hitch in the bed of your truck.
  • Payload Capacity – For trucks the amount of weight you can safely add to the bed of the truck. Your fifth wheel’s hitch weight or pin weight plus the actual weight of hitch plus any other accessories you have in the bed of the truck must not exceed the Payload Capacity amount. Confirm Payload Capacity with your vehicle’s manufacturer.
  • Max Towing Capacity – The maximum weight limit that can safely be towed by your specific vehicle. This weight is calculated by adding the RV’s GVW with weight of all passengers, cargo and liquids in your tow vehicle.

Our goal at General RV is to be your premier RV partner and your one-stop-shop for all your RV needs. For your convenience, we have in-house financing options and work with an RV insurance partner. Plus, you’ll find all the RV parts and accessories you need in our Supercenters. We also have more than 600 state-of-the-art RV service bays across our nationwide network.