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RV Weight Limits: Safety & Legal Concerns That You Should Know

Published on July 17th, 2023 by Emily Lawrence

RV with weight limits

What Happens If You Exceed Your RV Weight Limit?

We all love RVs because they help us take our adventures onto the road. They may seem like the perfect solution because you have a mobile living space and extra room for your gear. But these vehicles still have limits, especially when it comes to RV weight.

It can be counterproductive and dangerous to load your RV beyond its weight capacity. Just because you can put something in doesn’t mean you should! Make sure you take stock of everything you bring. Consider how useful it will be versus how much it will affect your overall weight.

In addition to safety concerns, there are also legal reasons to stay within the recommended RV weight limit. Some states will require you to stop at weigh stations to ensure you’re at a safe weight for driving. Below, we’ll break down the important terminology, as well as some safety and legal concerns to keep in mind.

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RV weight terminology

Before proceeding, it is essential to establish key terms for determining the weight capacity of your RV. Every model has specific measurements and weight limits that are relevant. Without understanding what to search for, it can be difficult to ascertain if you are abiding by the recommended range.

Check your RV owner’s manual or the company website to find the following measurements.

  • UVW – Unladen Vehicle Weight: This is also known as the dry weight. UVW describes how heavy an RV is when it is completely empty of cargo and water.
  • CCC – Cargo Carrying Capacity: This measurement shows how much additional weight a vehicle can carry.
  • GVWR – Gross Vehicle Weight Rating: The GVWR is the sum of the dry weight plus the maximum cargo carrying capacity. It describes the maximum recommended weight for the entire RV.
  • GCWR – Gross Combined Weight Rating: This is only relevant for towable RVs (such as travel trailers and fifth wheels). It describes the maximum combined weight for both the RV and the tow vehicle. Together, they can be quite heavy, which can affect their road safety rating.

Keep these measurements in mind as you browse for a new RV or calculate how much to pack into your current vehicle. The weight can add up faster than you might expect, so you need to be thoughtful throughout the entire process.

In addition, it’s best to give yourself a margin of error as you pack. The measurements we described above refer to the maximum safe weight for an RV. If you push too close to the upper limits, you’re in a risky situation. If possible, try to keep your RV 10-20% below the maximum weight measurements.

Safety risks for overweight RVs

It’s easy to overlook the importance of RV weight ratings. After all, you’re probably busy planning your next trip! But it’s critical to make your vehicle safe for your upcoming travel plans. If you overload an RV, you’re putting yourself at risk for all sorts of issues.

Some of the most common safety risks include:

Tire blowouts

Tires bear the majority of the weight in your RV. Although RV tires are quite sturdy, they have limits too! The more weight you put on them, the faster they will wear out. Some of them might even burst under the strain. Tire blowouts can be potentially very dangerous, especially if they occur while you’re traveling on the highway.

Even if you don’t have a blowout, your tires will likely develop problems much faster if you load your RV beyond capacity. For example, the tread will wear down much faster than normal. As a result, you’ll have to replace them fairly often.

Less control while driving

Even in the best circumstances, RVs can be hard to control on the road. They’re heavy and bulky, so you need to plan extra time for accelerating, braking, and turning. Too much extra weight complicates the problem even further.

You’ll have to fight with your RV at every turn. You’re also more likely to crash because it’s harder to slow down when you have so much weight and momentum.

Greater risk of swaying or tipping

Speaking of safety risks, an overweight RV is also in danger of tipping! You might think that more weight would help stabilize it. But the weight is rarely distributed evenly. If one side is heavier than the other, the whole setup is prone to swaying and tipping once the wind kicks up.

Flipping your RV is a worst-case scenario. It causes a ton of damage to the vehicle, and it’s dangerous for you and other drivers in the vicinity! You must take every precaution to avoid this outcome, even if it means leaving a few things behind.

Brake failure

As mentioned above, excess RV weight puts a lot of strain on the tires. In addition, the brakes have to work extra hard to slow down an overweight vehicle. As a result, they’re more likely to fail and wear out. Faulty brakes are the last thing you want while you’re in an RV!

This is particularly risky if you’re driving in an area with a lot of hills and steep grades. The harder you ride your brakes, the faster they’ll degrade.

Suspension/frame damage

Your entire RV will suffer if you push past the recommended weight limits. Warping is a common side effect, and this is a difficult fix (even for professionals). The areas that are hit the hardest are usually the suspension and the lower frame.

Excess weight can weaken and bend the framework. Bumpy road conditions exacerbate the problem as well. The issues may start off small, but they will get worse if you ignore them. Although it may be out of sight, out of mind, you always need to think about the suspension. If it fails, your RV won’t be able to travel anywhere.

Reduced gas mileage

This next point isn’t really a safety risk, but it is a natural consequence of overweight RVs. The heavier your vehicle is, the more fuel it consumes. If you pack your RV beyond its recommended weight limits, you’ll burn through your gas tank much faster.

As a result, you’ll have to spend a lot of extra money on fuel. This can add up quickly, and nobody likes to spend hundreds of dollars every time they stop. If you want to improve your gas mileage, take a few pounds out of the RV!

Crowded living space

Finally, an overcrowded RV is cramped and uncomfortable for passengers. If every available space is stuffed to the gills, there’s nowhere to relax and unwind. It can also be a safety hazard because there’s a greater chance of something falling, breaking, or starting a fire. For everyone’s sake, try to keep your cargo confined to the closets, shelves, and wardrobes!

Laws and regulations for weight limits

There’s a bit of a gray area when it comes to the legality of overloaded RVs. All RV owners are encouraged to follow the weight recommendations for their vehicles. You could get in trouble with law enforcement if you’re in an accident that was worsened due to overpacking.

But generally, the main thing you need to worry about is size/towing limits. Each state has its own rules about RV safety. For instance, you cannot tow two vehicles at a time in California. In some parts of Mississippi, your trailer cannot be longer than 32 feet. There’s a huge variety of laws, so you need to look up the restrictions of each state you plan to drive through.

Weigh stations are also a bit tricky to navigate. Some states require RVers to stop, but others let you pass without issue. In general, you should try to stop in most states if your rig has a GVWR of 10,000 lbs or more. A few states require vehicles to stop even if they only weigh 8,000 lbs.

Again, look up the rules for the states where you plan to travel. Don’t mess around with RV weight! It can have severe consequences if you ignore the recommended limits.

Plan an RV-safe route

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Been to a campground lately? Don’t forget to leave a review! Reviews help other RVers like yourself, and they help the campground. Leave a campground review today!

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2 thoughts on “RV Weight Limits: Safety & Legal Concerns That You Should Know”

  1. Pay attention to Pin weight too. Especially true for 5th wheels. Your pickup truck cannot handle as much weight in the bed as most people think it can. Verify on the truck scales too.

    My 5th wheel comes in at over 3000lb pin weight. That exceeds the weight for most standard bed pickup trucks. Even my dad’s much lighter trailer at 1500lbs came in at almost 2400 when he had it loaded up and he was significantly over the weight rating on his 2500 series truck.

    Reply
  2. The issue with many smaller, single axle trailers is that their CCC is very low – some as low as 500 pounds. The salesperson never explains this – its all about the trailers GVW and what your vehicle can tow.
    Once you have it home and figure out its pretty useless for what you need it for, its to late – so many I have spoken to, just bite the bullet and sadly take a chance.

    Reply

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