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How to Compute the Tow Capacity for a Travel Trailer

by Nicole Vulcan
Staying within your tow capacity makes for a safer RV experience.

Staying within your tow capacity makes for a safer RV experience.

Determining how much trailer your vehicle can haul is an important first step in making sure your RV experience is a safe and happy one. If you try to tow too much weight behind your vehicle, you could end up with transmission, brake or bearing problems, or worse, you could end up hurting yourself or others. To do the basic calculations for determining your tow capacity, you'll need to dig up a few simple facts about your vehicle and travel trailer.

Find out your travel trailer's gross vehicle weight (GVW). This is the estimated weight of the trailer when it is loaded with gear, fuel tanks and everything you'll need for a trip. Travel trailer manufacturers typically offer an average GVW when you purchase the vehicle, so check your owner's manual to find it. As a last resort, you can take your trailer to a commercial scale and weigh it. You may have heard about assessing the "tongue weight," or the amount of weight the trailer hitch itself can hold, but this will be included in the GVW, so don't worry about it at this point.

Find out your vehicle's maximum loaded trailer weight rating. This is the maximum amount of weight your vehicle is designed to tow. You can typically find this information in the owner's manual of your vehicle. If you don't have the owner's manual, contact the vehicle's manufacturer to get one.

Multiply your vehicle's maximum loaded trailer weight rating by .8. So if your vehicle has a maximum loaded trailer weight of 10,000 pounds, multiplying that number by .8 would equal 8,000. This is the amount of weight your vehicle can tow safely, according to many RV experts. Compare this figure with the trailer's GVW to determine if your vehicle can handle the job of pulling the trailer.

Use the "Travel Trailer Weight Calculator" provided by the Changin' Gears website (see Resource section) to factor in other variables, if your vehicle's towing capacity is close to the maximum or if you just want to get a more precise figure.

Items you will need

  • Travel trailer owner's manual
  • Vehicle owner's manual

Warning

  • Always stick to the manufacturer's recommended towing capacity for your vehicle, to avoid costly repairs or dangerous driving conditions.

About the Author

Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.

Photo Credits

  • camping,trailer image by Greg Pickens from Fotolia.com