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Trailer Towing, RV and Tow Vehicle Weights

This page is not meant to be all inclusive for every tow vehicle and RV combination. It is meant to be a starting point where you can familiarize yourself with towing terminology and the basics involved in towing. As my dad used to say, 'we give you just enough knowledge to be dangerous' so seek qualified professional help before hitting the roads.

Proper loading and distribution of weight in your rig can prevent premature tire failure, broken axles, failed transmissions and many other problems. A little money spent on prevention can save you a substantial amount in repairs later on. First, let's learn a few of the most common acronyms regarding weights and towing.

Curb Weight: Weight of a vehicle with standard equipment, oil, lubricants, coolant and a full tank of fuel.

Gross Combination Weight (GCW): The total weight of a fully equipped truck and trailer with cargo, driver and passengers, fuel, coolant, equipment, etc.

Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR): Weight specified by the manufacturer as the maximum loaded weight of a towing vehicle and its trailer. The sum of the loaded vehicle weight of the truck and trailer should not exceed the GCWR. GCWR = vehicle curb weight + payload + trailer weight + driver and passengers.

Gross Trailer Weight (GTW): The weight of the trailer plus all the cargo in it. This is measured by putting a fully loaded trailer on a scale.

Gross Trailer Weight Rating (GTWR): Max allowable weight of the trailer, plus cargo.

Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW): Actual weight of a vehicle as determined by the total of the curb weight, payload, driver, passengers and optional equipment. Gross Vehicle Weight should not exceed the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) or the vehicle’s warranty could be voided.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR): Maximum allowable weight of a fully loaded vehicle (includes curb weight, optional equipment, payload weight and weight of driver and all passengers). GVWR for a particular vehicle is shown on the vehicle’s Safety Compliance Certification Label usually located on the left front door lock facing or on the door latch post pillar.

GAWR (Gross Axle Weight Rating): Weight specified by the vehicle manufacturer as the load-carrying capacity of a single-axle system, front or rear. The GAWR is limited by the lowest individual rating of tires, wheels, springs or the axle itself.

Calculating Your Tow Vehicle and Trailer Weights

When looking at tow vehicle and trailer combinations, it is important to stay within the maximum weight ratings for the tow vehicle and trailer. A lot of folks find out after they have purchased the tow vehicle and trailer that they have exceeded these ratings. In order to avoid this, you need to look over the weights from the tow vehicle and trailer brochures and do some math. The following data was the numbers for a 2003 Chevrolet Silverado 1500HD Crew Cab, 6.0L V8 Vortec Engine, HD automatic transmission, 3.73 gears and a 2011 Gulf Stream Kingsport 288RLS travel trailer taken from the manufacturer's brochures.

We weighed the truck and trailer at the local CAT scale on (we have since sold both the truck and the camper). The camper was fully loaded with propane, food, all of our belongings and approximately 20 gallons of fresh water. The truck was loaded with us, our gear and a full tank of fuel. We took 3 weighs: with weight distribution bars connected; with weight distribution bars disconnected; and truck only.

Truck - 2003 Chevy Silverado 1500HD Crew Cab
Max Trailer Weight 8,200
GVWR 8,600
Curb Weight 5,506
Payload 3,094
GCWR 14,000
Trailer - 2011 Kingsport 288RLS
GTWR 9,680
Dry Tongue Weight 880
Gross Dry Weight 6,706
Cargo Carrying Capacity 2,974

To properly weigh your rig, load up as you normally would for a camping trip. Make sure you have a full tank of gas, all the gear and passengers, a full fresh water tank, full LP tanks, etc. Drive your rig onto the scale and tell the attendant that it is your first weigh and that you do not need certified weights. Stop on the scale as shown in the picture below, your tow vehicle front axle on pad 1, your tow vehicle rear axle on pad 2 and your trailer axles on the pad 3. Get the weight reading.

CAT Scales

Next, unhook your weight distribution bars (if you have them) and request your second weigh. Exit the scale and find a spot to unhook your trailer. Now return to the scale with just your tow vehicle and weigh. Again, tell the attendant this is your third and final weigh. These three weighs will give you all the information you need to determine your overall weight, your tow vehicle weight, your tongue weight, your trailer weight and how much weight is distributed by your weight distribution bars (if you have them).

Using your 3 weigh tickets, let's determine what everything weighs. Your first ticket "gross weight" will be your GCW of the tow vehicle and trailer, and should not exceed the GCWR for the tow vehicle (for our truck, 14,000 lbs). The combined weight on pad 1 and pad 2 from your first weigh ticket should not exceed the GVWR of your tow vehicle (for our truck, 8,600 lbs). The weight on pad 3 is the Gross Axle Weight of the trailer, and should not exceed the GAWR of the trailer.

The weigh taken with your weight distribution bars unhooked will allow you to see how the weight is actually being distributed. Compare the weights of your first ticket with your second ticket so see the differences. Your final ticket with the trailer unhooked will allow you to determine your actual tongue weight. Subtract the combined weight of pad 1 and 2 on your third ticket from the combined weight of pad 1 and 2 on your second ticket. The difference is your tongue weight.

Many people often find out that they can tow much less than they thought they could. TV ads that claim a vehicle can tow X,000 pounds are misleading as they don't explain to you how they are able to make that claim. This is usually achieved by having a multi-axle trailer with a perfectly balanced load so there is virtually zero tongue weight. As a general rule, if you have an ultra-light rated camper under 25', you can safely tow it with a 1/2 ton truck. If you get into larger or heavier campers, a 3/4 ton or 1 ton truck may be better suited for the job.

The point of all this is simple: know what your tow vehicle weighs loaded, know what your camper weighs loaded, know your tongue weight and know what the weight ratings are on everything. Stay within those limits and you should be fine. The small amount of time and money spent at a CAT scale is well spent.
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