When planning to purchase an RV and its accompanying items, there’s a lot to process. Power needs, overall weight, and the actual style are all vital to your decision – but weight can be one of the trickier things to figure out.
RV trailers come in a wide variety of sizes and types, meaning that their weight can vary drastically between various trailers. They can weigh anywhere from 1,000-9,000+ pounds, meaning that it’s important to do your research before purchase. The average (dry) weight for an RV trailer is roughly ~5,000 pounds.
So what are some of the major deciding factors when buying an RV trailer? How do you determine the weight, and what will you need to tow it? Answers to these questions and more are below.
What’s Gross Vehicle Weight? And What Else Is Involved?
Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) is a catch-all term used to describe the weight of your RV or trailer after it’s been fully loaded with gear, tanks (including the liquid inside of them), and any other accoutrements associated with an RV. One thing to remember when buying is that your GVW may vary from the previous owner’s or the one quoted by your salesman.
If you tend to travel light, your GVW may well be much lower than another person’s in the same vehicle who prefers to “glam-camp” with all of their doohickeys and gadgets. And while you might think this is common sense, it’s a general rule of thumb that you should always weigh each and every item that you’re taking with you – just to be sure you’re not going over recommended limits.
The easiest way to do this is to load up your trailer or RV and simply take it to a truck scale. If you’re underweight, good job! If not, decide what you actually need, repack, and repeat until you’re at weight.
What Factors Affect My Trailer’s Weight?
While (obviously) the specific trailer you purchase will affect what it weighs, there’s a lot of factors that go into how much it’ll weigh. Special attachments like slide-outs and solar panels can affect the weight, as can the material out of which your camper is constructed. So let’s break that down a bit more, shall we?
Depending on the special little doohickeys and bobbits you have in your trailer, its weight may vary rather heavily from its initial advertised weight. Slide-outs (the ramps that slide out from your trailer) are often rather heavy, especially if they’re mechanized. They can add upwards of 800 pounds! Canvas popouts, on the other hand, are generally light enough that you won’t need to worry.
Solar panels can get extremely heavy if you’re not careful and plan for them. They can weigh as much as fifty pounds per panel, potentially adding 250+ pounds of weight to your trailer.
What Are Trailers Usually Made Of?
There are two general styles of trailers – fiberglass, and those with a lumber frame. Obviously, the fiberglass models tend to be much lighter, as you’re not adding hundreds of pounds of lumber to your trailer. Now, airstream trailers are an entirely different story. They are (on average) lighter than your usual trailer, but it really depends on the model you bought.
Airstream’s lightest (Basecamp) model weighs in with a dry weight of just over 2,500 pounds, and their heaviest (Classic) model weighs over 7,700 pounds. While surprisingly light, you still should know each of their weights before purchase. It also helps to know if you can tow it!
Okay – I Bought A Trailer – Now How Do I Tow It?
While there are some lighter trailers that you can certainly tow with a lighter SUV (like a Crosstrek or Rav4), most trailers will need a truck to tow. And trust me, I know that’s music to your ears if you’re anything like me – now you have an excuse to buy that shiny new F-150 you’ve been eyeing!
Just as knowing your trailer’s GVW is important, it’s vital to know how much weight your vehicle is rated to tow. Some vehicles (like minivans) can technically tow a trailer – but it’ll need to be very, very light.
The same goes for trucks – not every truck is built the same, so it’s important to do your research (I know, I know, we all hate that word) before making a decision. You don’t want to trust your vehicle manufacturer’s max tow weight only to find out they were being rather optimistic when quoting.
When buying a new trailer, there’s a lot to remember. The weight of your vehicle will vary drastically depending on a large number of variables. It’s important to carefully weigh your gear and plan accordingly to make sure you’re not stuck somewhere, unable to go up the hill with a line of angry tourists behind you, waiting impatiently.
Unloaded Vehicle Weight
This is simply the base weight of your camper or trailer. It’ll vary depending on the model, but it’s still good to know. Ask the person you’re buying the trailer about the unloaded weight, GVW, dry weight, and dry hitch weight and you should be set.
What’s Dry Weight?
While it’s good that you asked, it’s really pretty self explanatory. Dry weight is what your vehicle weighs without all of your tanks filled. In other words, if your tanks are dry, that’s your dry weight.
This is important to know because it’ll inform you on how much weight you gain after filling up your tanks. You don’t want to plan around your GVW while your tanks are empty, because believe it or not – liquids, especially water, are pretty darn heavy.
What About Dry Hitch Weight?
This is the weight that is placed on your towing mechanism when your vehicle is at dry weight and unloaded. Generally this number is rather low, averaging at below 10% of your total camper’s total dry weight. This is important because you don’t want to break a hitch with too much tow weight.