How To Weigh A Travel Trailer
By Marshall Wendler
Before heading out for your next camping adventure, you need to ensure the weight of your travel trailer is within the design limits. Understanding how to weigh a travel trailer and why you should care about the weight is essential to RV life.
Having an overweight recreational vehicle endangers not only your life but also the lives of those nearby as you travel down the road.
Be a safe RVer and get your trailer's weight checked out before your next camping trip.
Why You Should Weigh Your Travel Trailer
Campers are designed with a specific maximum weight limit; if you exceed those limits, you are putting dangerous stresses on the frame, trailer axles, and tires.
A vital part of RV safety is knowing to total weight of your trailer as it is loaded for a typical camping trip. And most importantly, not exceeding the maximum allowable weight.
Did you know that many travel trailers don't allow you to put many personal belongings inside before the maximum weight is exceeded?
Sad but true, most RV designers care less about how much cargo you can load into your rig and more about how the floor plan will wow you into spending your money on a camper.
Knowing the weight of your travel trailer as it is loaded for a typical camping trip ensures you are not exceeding design limitations and are safely towing your rig down the road.
Your trailer will weigh differently depending on whether it is empty or full of your personal items.
Therefore, you must know what your trailer weighs when it's loaded versus when it's unloaded (the amount the manufacturer claims your rig weighed when it left the factory).
Having an accurate weight ensures that your trailer isn't loaded above its maximum weight rating and that your tow vehicle has enough towing capacity to pull your trailer safely.
It also will tell you what weight rating your weight distribution hitch needs to be.
You must know how much your trailer weighs!
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Understanding Your Trailer's Various Weights
There are several key trailer weights that you should be familiar with (all with 'fancy' acronyms). Impress your friends and family by learning the following terminology.
Dry Weight or Unloaded Vehicle Weight (UVW)
Dry weight is the weight of the RV as it comes from the factory, with none of your personal belongings inside or any dealer-installed options/accessories.
With travel trailers, this means that there is no water in any of the holding tanks, the propane tank(s) are empty, and typically there are no 12-volt house batteries installed (as the dealer frequently installs these).
This is also known as unloaded vehicle weight (UVW).
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR)
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is the maximum weight of the vehicle, including everything you load inside it, water in the holding tanks, the weight of the propane, etc.
GVWR is typically the UVW/Dry Weight plus Cargo Carrying Capacity.
Cargo Carrying Capacity (CCC)
Cargo Carrying Capacity (CCC) is how much cargo (stuff) you can load into the recreational vehicle.
You have to subtract the weight of full propane tanks, fresh and wastewater in the appropriate holding tanks, anything the dealer adds on after they receive it from the factory, and the cargo you put into the trailer from the CCC.
Keep in mind that MANY RVs being sold today have an incredibly low Cargo Carrying Capacity. By the time you factor in the items mentioned above, very little weight is left for your personal belongings.
With most campers, you cannot simply load up all available interior and exterior storage compartments with your stuff and call it a day, as they most likely will be overloaded if you do this.
Thank you, RV designers!
Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR)
Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) is the amount that each trailer axle is rated to handle.
If your travel trailer has two or three axles, then each should be rated the same (for example, 2,000 pounds), and you would add up each rating to get the combined GAWR (two axles, each rated at 2,000 pounds, equals 4,000 combined axle rating).
Tongue Weight or Hitch Weight (HW)
What is tongue weight? Tongue weight (sometimes called Hitch Weight) is the downward force that the front of the trailer exerts on the rear (hitch) of the tow vehicle.
Tongue weight is important for two reasons:
- Your tow vehicle is rated for certain tongue weight, so your trailer should not exceed this rating.
- Tongue weight should fall between 10 and 15% of your trailer's actual weight (ideally 12%). You can measure tongue weight and trailer weight at the same time, per the instructions below.
Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR)
Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) isn't a trailer weight but applies to your tow vehicle.
GCWR is the weight of the tow vehicle, plus anything it is towing (for example, your travel trailer).
So, in a way, GCWR is relevant to your RV as you need to know your camper's maximum allowable weight to add it to the weight of the vehicle you tow with and ensure that the combined number doesn't exceed the GCWR.
How Do I Find My RV's Weight Rating?
You will find your RV's weight rating on a yellow sticker that is usually located at, or very near, the main entry door.
This sticker may include the Cargo Carrying Capacity (CCC) and the Unloaded Vehicle Weight (UVW) or the weight it left the factory.
Adding these two amounts should give you the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) or the most your RV should weigh. You may also be able to confirm the GVWR from the owner's manual or by contacting the manufacturer.
Where Can I Get My Trailer Weighed?
You have a couple of options regarding where to weigh a trailer.
- A commercial weigh station is normally found at truck stops. CAT Scales are a well-known example.
- At a facility or event that offers wheel position weighing, or getting the individual weights at every tire (wheel).
Below we discuss these two options for weighing a trailer, as well as instructions on how to weigh a trailer on a commercial scale.
Weigh With Trailer And Tow Vehicle Loaded
Anytime you weigh your rig, have it loaded just as it would be when you typically use it.
Load it with the same gear (personal items, food, etc.), the same amount of water in the fresh tank you have when you tow, and full propane tanks.
Above all, you must get an accurate and realistic weight.
The same holds for your tow vehicle if you use the commercial-scale method and are weighing it to see how well your weight distribution hitch is set up.
Your vehicle should load it as it typically is when you tow your trailer.
Option #1: Commercial Scale (CAT Scale)
Commercial scales are large platform scales you drive your entire truck and trailer onto. There are typically three individual platforms in a line so that you can put different axles on separate platforms, allowing you to get individual axle weights.
You will find commercial scales at some truck stops, such as Love's and Flying J, as well as at some highway weigh stations. CAT scales is a well-known brand.
You can use CAT Scale's handy online locator to find one near you. You can
It may be prudent to call ahead and ensure they allow RVs to be weighed (we've never been turned away). Also, there is usually a fee involved.
Here are the steps to figure out both the weight of your trailer (including tongue weight) and how well the weight distribution hitch distributes weight to the tow vehicle's front axle.
Once you have located a commercial scale and verified they would let you weigh your RV, it's time to get busy!
You will be taking three separate weighings:
- One with the trailer connected and weight distribution engaged (so weight is being transferred to your tow vehicle's front axle).
- One with the trailer connected and weight distribution disengaged (no weight transfer to the tow vehicle's front axle).
- And finally, you will be weighing your tow vehicle by itself (trailer not hooked up).
For the first weighing, you will need to press the call button and tell the clerk that this is your first weighing.
They may ask you for your truck number. Just tell them you are an RV.
When taking your second and third weighing, you will need to be clear that this is a re-weigh.
If not, you may be charged the full price for the second and third weighing (re-weighs are usually cheaper).
Weigh As Follows:
- Weigh your tow vehicle with the trailer attached and the weight distribution bars/ mechanism engaged. Each axle will need to be weighed individually. You will weigh the trailer axle(s) on one pad of the commercial scale, the rear axle of the tow vehicle on another, and the front axle on a third pad. See the pictures and the video below to see how this is done. This gives you three separate weights on the printout you get when you are done weighing.
- WITHOUT moving your tow vehicle and trailer, disconnect the weight distribution bars/ mechanism. Take the second weighing. (Tell the scale operator this is a 're-weigh' so you don't get charged the full amount for a second weighing.) You will get another three separate weights on the printout you get when done.
- Drive off the scale and detach your trailer from your tow vehicle. Drive JUST the tow vehicle back onto the scale, ensuring the front and rear axles are on separate weighing pads, just like they were for the first two weighings. (Tell the scale operator this is a 're-weigh' so you don't get charged the full amount for a second weighing.) This will give you a set of two weights on the printouts you will collect.
- Collect your weighing slips from the scale operator (you will get three slips). Make sure you make notes on each of the three weigh slips which weighing they represent, so you know which is the one with the weight distribution bars connected, disconnected, and the tow vehicle by itself.
It's time to enter all of these weights into the Google Sheets spreadsheet that we've created for you.
Make sure to enter the correct weights in the right spots. Then, the spreadsheet will do the heavy lifting for you.
Whew! You are done! You now know what your trailer tongue weight is.
You also know how well your weight distribution hitch distributes the weight of the trailer to the tow vehicle's front axle.
Commercial Scales Don't Give The Complete Picture
Commercial scales are an easy place to find the weight of your vehicle (truck and trailer), but there is one thing you need to understand. Commercial scales only weigh per axle. I.e., you get the weight of the front and rear axles of your tow vehicle and the total weight of your trailer's axle(s).
Remember that with a dual or triple axle trailer, you only get the total combined weight on all the axles with a commercial scale, so you have no idea if an individual axle is overloaded.
You have no idea what the side-to-side weights are. A trailer doesn't necessarily weigh the same on the left and right sides. This is because one side may have a slide-out, or heavier appliances (furnace, water heater, fridge) may be on one side.
Individual tire loading may vary due to this imbalance in how trailers are built (or loaded with your stuff).
If you want a complete picture of the actual weights on each tire, you need to have a wheel position weighing performed.
Spreadsheet To Help Calculate Trailer Weights
We put together a Google Sheet (spreadsheet) that you can use to calculate tongue weight and to see if your weight distributing hitch is set up correctly.
You enter the weights that you get when you follow the instructions in the below section. The spreadsheet can be found here.
(You will have to log into your Google account and be forced to make a copy of this Sheet so you won't be 'messing' with the original.)
A big THANK YOU to our reader, 'Jim'! He emailed us letting us know he took our original version and made it MUCH more useful by adding extra 'gee-whiz' stuff. We decided it was much better, and we are now using it. Thank you, Jim!
Option #2: Wheel Position Weighing
A second method to get the weight of your towing setup is to use wheel position weighing. This method uses small, individual platform scales, with one scale under each tire (of both your tow vehicle and trailer).
This allows individual tire weights to be measured rather than the entire axle weight.
The equipment used for this method is portable, so you won't find a fixed trailer weigh station. Because of this, you frequently find wheel position weighing at major RVing events.
Unfortunately, it's harder to get weighed using this method than a commercial scale. Truck stops with commercial scales are all over the place, whereas wheel position weighing generally requires you to go to an RV rally offering this service.
Two organizations offer wheel position weighing:
- Escapees RV Club has a SmartWeigh program offered at their Livingston, Texas, location and one of their co-op RV parks in Arizona. They also occasionally provide this service at RVing events.
- The RV Safety & Education Foundation (RVSEF) offers wheel position weighing at various events throughout the country.
There is nothing for you to do regarding the steps involved other than showing up and pay the fee. The organization doing the weighing will handle all the necessary steps and will let you know what you need to do.
Which Weighing Method Is The Best?
Either the commercial scale or the wheel position method is better than not weighing your camper in the first place.
We've only weighed our rigs using commercial scales as we have never been at a location that offers wheel position measurements.
The best method to find out how much your RV weighs is the wheel position option, as it tells you how much weight is on each tire rather than just each axle. And it allows you to weigh your trailer axles individually (you get a combined weight reading from a commercial scale).
But again, using a commercial scale is much more convenient as many more places offer this; it is cheaper and will give you a really good idea if your trailer is loaded properly and your weight distribution hitch is set up correctly.
Front Axle Weight
If your weight distribution hitch (WDH) is properly set up, the following statements should ring true:
- The WDH is intended to transfer some of the trailer tongue weight from the tow vehicle's rear axle to its front axle. This is called Front Axle Load Restoration (FALR). Different manufacturers have different FALR percentages. For example, GM and Ford recommend a 50% weight return to the front axle. RAM recommends 66%, and Toyota recommends 100%. For example, if you have a Ford truck and hitching up a trailer reduces the front axle weight by 200 pounds, Ford recommends you adjust the WDH so that it 'puts back' 100 pounds on the front axle. Follow the manufacturer's recommendation when setting up your hitch.
- You never want the hitch to cause more weight to be put on the front axle than when the vehicle is not towing. The aim is to get the front axle weight when towing (and weight distributing hitch engaged) to be within the FALR specifications spelled out by the vehicle manufacturer.
- Most weight distribution hitch manuals will have you measure the height of the vehicle's front wheel well when it doesn't have a trailer attached and again when you have the WDH setup properly. The 'hitch connected' height should be somewhat close to the unloaded heights to ensure proper weight distribution (and front axle loading). This will depend on the FALR requirements of your tow vehicle manufacturer. In no case do you want the height lower when towing, as this means too much weight is distributed to the front axle, potentially unloading the rear axle too much.
Your Trailer Is Weighed - Now What?
Once you have your RV weights, you need to determine a few things:
In other words, are all the weights within specification so that your trailer is safe to tow down the road?
How Much Will It Cost To Weigh My RV?
The cost to weigh your RV is very nominal, considering the safety implications of an improperly loaded rig.
Getting a wheel position weighing done costs between $60 and $80.
CAT commercial scales charge $13 for the first weight and $3.50 for each additional weighing (which is why we highly recommend you make it very clear to the operator that the second and third weights are re-weighs).
Should I Get My RV Re-Weighed?
You should re-weigh your RV whenever you appreciably change the way you load it for a camping trip.
You will also need to check the weights after you change/upgrade your weight distribution hitch, install new equipment on your rig, or change tow vehicles.
There you have it! You now understand how to weigh a truck and trailer and your different options to get it done.
You also learned basic recreational vehicle weight terminology and why it is vital to have an accurate weight for your camper as it is loaded for a camping trip.
This isn't an area you want to screw around. Towing an overweight trailer endangers your life and those driving near you.
Fortunately, you should be able to weigh your rig once and, assuming it is all good, not have to do it again for the foreseeable future (unless the setup changes).
Before you head out on your next camping adventure, weigh your travel trailer!
Author: Marshall Wendler
As the co-founder of Camp Addict, Marshall Wendler is a seasoned expert in the world of RVing, with years of hands-on experience living the full-time RV life in his travel trailer. From 2014 to 2020, Marshall learned the ins and outs of the lifestyle and has enjoyed sharing his knowledge and expertise with others. After a brief hiatus as a part-time RVer in 2021 and 2022, Marshall is back on the road full-time, embracing the vanlife and all the exciting possibilities it brings. He particularly enjoys the freedom and flexibility of boondocking and is excited to share his technical insights with the Camp Addict community. Whether you're a seasoned pro or new to the RV world, Marshall has valuable insights and information to share, and is here to help you navigate the exciting world of RVing with confidence and ease.