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Many RVers love the idea of having a tow vehicle with them on the road. It provides them with the freedom to explore without their cumbersome motorhome. Others want to have a boat, ATVs or just a trailer for extra storage. There are many factors to consider when towing something with an RV, specifically weight.
So, what can I tow with my RV? An RV is capable of towing a vehicle, trailer or boat. The main thing to know is what the maximum weight your RV chassis can tow. This will depend on your RVs Gross Vehicle Weight, Gross Combined Weight, Occupant and Cargo Carrying Capacity as well as the maximum Gross Trailer Weight.
I’ve thrown out a bunch of weight-related terms but I’ll explain in more detail when each of these mean, give you a specific exam and also some options for towing a vehicle.
Understanding the Different Weights
I’m going to start off explaining what the different weights you need to know of your RV so you can figure out how much you can safely tow.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR)
The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is the maximum weight allowed for a fully loaded vehicle. This is EVERYTHING in the RV including people, pets, luggage, furniture, water as well as the tongue weight of anything towed.
Tongue weight is the downward force the tongue of the trailer applies to the hitch of the RV. Think of it as the maximum vertical load the hitch can carry. In general, the tongue weight is 10-15% of the gross trailer weight but you will need to know the weight of your trailer to find this out.
Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR)
The Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) is the maximum weight of both the RV and whatever you are pulling, i.e. vehicle, trailer, boat, etc. Basically, it’s your GVWR plus the maximum weight of your trailer (minus the tongue weight since you don’t want to include this twice). The weight of the trailer/boat/car also needs to include everything in the vehicle too including anything stored in the vehicle, like a bicycle.
Occupant Cargo Carrying Capacity (OCCC)
Occupant Cargo Carrying Capacity (OCCC) is the maximum that the combined weight of the passengers and cargo should never exceed. The weight of your freshwater, greywater, and black water need to be included as “cargo”.
This value should be provided by the RV manufacturer since they know how much weight was added during the build, i.e. furniture, cabinets, etc. Remember the OCCC provided includes the weight of everything from the build. It will NOT include anything you have added aftermarket.
If your RV came standard with a hitch then this should already be accounted for. If it came out of the factory with it then you don’t need to worry about adding in that weight.
Remember water weighs 8.3lbs/gal (0.995 kg/L) and propane weighs 4.2 lbs/gal (0.503kg/L).
Gross Trailer Weight Rating (GTWR)
The Gross Trailer Weight Rating (GTWR) is the maximum towed vehicle weight. You should have a number based upon the chassis of your vehicle. There should also be a rating plate on your hitch.
You will need to follow whichever is the lowest of the two. This will give you the maximum gross trailer weight the hitch and the RV can safely handle.
Finding the Weights for your RV
Now you might be wondering where to do I find these numbers. That’s going to depend on your RV. The GVWR can be found on the tire pressure plate. Ours was stuck to the wall next to the driver, but due to age actually peeled off. Other vehicles have them on the inside of the driver’s door.
The GCWR and GTWR of the chassis can be found in your owner’s manual. The OCCC should be found on a sticker or in the RV owners manual. As mentioned above the hitch weight is found on the weight rating plate fixed to the hitch itself.
What You Need to Start Towing
There are three parts needed to tow just about anything, a ball, a ball mount, and a hitch receiver. I should mention that if you are towing a car using a tow bar then you will not need a ball and ball mount.
Hitch receivers come in several sizes: 1-1/4″, 2″, 2-1/2″ and 3″. The most common size for an RV is the 2″ receiver.
A 2″ receiver will allow you to tow just about anything you would want to. If for some reason you need to pull (and your RV has the capability) a large toy hauler or a multi-car trailer then you may need a larger hitch receiver.
There are five classes of ball mounts. Ball mounts increase in weight ratings with Class I being for light duty and Class V for heavy duty. A Class III or Class IV will likely cover you for all your towing needs.
Class III ball mount can handle up to 8,000 lbs GTW and 800 lbs tongue weight. A Class IV will let you tow up to 12,000lbs GTW and 1200 lbs tongue weight. This should cover you for anything ranging from kayaks up to a large boat. Check out our article with some of the top ways to carry a kayak on your RV.
There are three ball sizes 1-7/8″, 2″ and 2-5/16″. Another thing to pay attention to is the ball shank diameter. Class IV mounts will only take 1-1/4″ shank diameter while Class III can take either 1″ or 1-1/4″. The top of the ball will indicate the size of the ball as well as the GTW.
The most common ball size is 2″ and will likely be sufficient for your towing needs. Most tow dollies will require a 2″ ball size as do standard 1 and 2 axle trailers.
If you need to tow something large and heavy like a 5th wheel than you will need a 2-5/16″ ball but you’ll need to make sure your Class of ball mount is in line with it too.
If in doubt and you want all your bases covered, you can buy a tri-ball hitch which will actually replace your ball mount and give you the option of 1-7/8″, 2″ and 2-5/16″ ball sizes.
What to Tow with Your RV
So now that you’ve figured out how much weight your RV can tow, which is the main restriction when it comes to towing, you can decide what do you want to tow.
Towing A Car
The main thing people tow with the RV is a tow car also fondly referred to as “toads”. Toads can be very handy for letting you run errands and explore without having to take your RV everywhere.
Some pros to having a tow car are:
- Not having to worry about parking your rig while exploring
- Don’t need to navigate big cities with your big rig
- Can easily pop out to the store to pick up groceries
- Can explore areas that have size restrictions (e.g. Needles HWY in Blackhills Nation Forest)
Some cons of towing a car are:
- Worse fuel economy while towing
- When your car is hooked up you are even longer
- Tow packages can be expensive
- Takes extra time to load and unload the car at the campsite
- May need to pay for an extra vehicle at campgrounds
There are three ways you can tow a vehicle, on a flatbed, a tow dolly or with a tow bar.
This is probably the least common way for RVers to tow a car. The idea of the flatbed is simple, you drive the car onto the trailer secure it and off you go.
But you have to invest in a flatbed trailer which can be very expensive. You will also to plate and ensure the trailer as per your local regulations. As well as taking care of any maintenance it may require.
Another drawback to flatbed towing is the added weight of the trailer. Now you have to account for the weight of the trailer AND the car when figuring out the maximum you RV can tow.
You should also consider when you’re at a campground, where will the trailer be stored. Some campground will not have enough space for your motorhome, trailer, and car. Or you may be charged for an extra vehicle.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to get a campsite that will fit everything. Just before we went full time, we had to move all our belongings from Savannah, GA to Ottawa, ON.
We had our 25′ RV towing a 6’x10′ trailer and I was following in the Corolla with a bike rack. We found a few campgrounds on route which could squeeze us all into one site, but it was also May and not too busy yet.
There are several pluses to flatbed towing. Your car is subject to less wear and tear from the road since it’s off the ground. You can bring multiple vehicles with you, maybe you want your golf cart and your car, if you have a large enough trailer then you can bring both.
You don’t need to worry about supplemental lights. All trailers are already fitted with proper signal and brake lights.
Also, you are not limited by what vehicle you can tow behind your RV. As you’ll find out later some vehicles cannot be towed using a tow bar or tow dolly.
A tow dolly is like a mini trailer for the front wheels of your car. It allows you to tow your car with the rear wheels on the road while the front two are on the dolly.
A tow dolly and flatbed have a lot of the same strikes against. You need to account for the weight of the dolly, they take up space at your campsite (or home for that matter), it takes time to get the car on and off the dolly and some states require you to plate your tow dolly.
You may be required to have on-board brakes for the dolly which will significantly up the price and, depending on the type of brakes, force you to purchase an electronic brake controller. These will contribute to higher maintenance costs.
Many dollies require your car’s steering wheel to be unlocked while towing. This can mean leaving the key in the accessory position but you’ll need to keep an eye on your battery then. Or you may have to disconnect the battery to keep the car in neutral and the steering unlocked.
You’ll need to be VERY familiar with your car’s manual and the dolly’s to make sure you don’t damage either one!
Another thing to consider is if the dolly has a speed restriction. I have seen some dolly’s that have a 55mph speed limit, granted you may not be going much over this speed in your motorhome while pulling a car anyways.
It might sound like a tow dolly is not the way to go, but if you want to tow a vehicle that cannot be flat towed (using a tow bar) then really it’s the only option. You can find some high end more expensive dollies that can actually be stored vertically when not in use which offsets some of the downsides.
The tow bar, also known as flat towing or 4 wheels down, is the most popular and most affordable option when it comes to towing a vehicle.
There are a few parts you need to flat tow a vehicle. A tow bar to connect the RV to the base plate, a base plate specific to your vehicle (the tow bar attaches to this), a light kit and an auxiliary braking system.
Auxiliary braking systems are legally required in many states (all but 8) as well as in Canada but in general, they are a smart safety feature. The system will brake your vehicle for you as you tow it taking some strain off your RVs brakes.
The main caveat to flat towing is that not all vehicles can be towed like this. This is due to too many transmissions needing to be lubricated and that only occurs while the engine is running.
Most front-wheel drive automatic vehicles are not good options for flat towing. So it’s important to check the owner’s manual or even call the manufacturer to find out if you can safely tow your car without damaging it.
If your vehicle isn’t recommended to be flat towed but you have your heart set on it, there are some aftermarket devices that may allow you to do so. These include driveshaft decouplers and transmission lubrication pumps but will require more maintenance in the long run and can still result in damage to your vehicle should the device fail.
Like with the dolly, you’ll need to leave your steering unlocked so the front wheels can turn with the RV. Again, check what is required in your owner’s manual but it’ll involve either leaving the ignition in the accessory position, removing a fuse or disconnecting the battery.
What is nice about flat towing is once you have your vehicles set up it’s really easy to connect and disconnect. This is really handy if you happen to get into a tight spot and need to reverse.
It is NOT recommended to reverse with your car flat towed, or even dolly style. With flat towing, you can quickly disconnect get out of your tight spot then hook your car back up right quick.
Towing a trailer or boat
If cars aren’t your thing you can tow just about anything else your heart desires as long as you are under the maximum weight your RV can tow.
Many people enjoy bringing their ATVs, dirt bikes, side-by-side or even golf carts with them on their travels so they can adventure in nature.
Boats and jet skis are other favorites. You can bring along with your water vehicles to explore or fish in local waterways.
A horse trailer is another great option to combine with RVing. Some campgrounds are actually horse camping specific and can explore the trails with your equine friend.
As with flatbed towing mentioned above, you need to use the weight of the trailer AND whatever is in/on the trailer to calculate the GCWR.
You will also need to be aware of how long you are with your trailer to make sure you can safely navigate the roads and fit into the site at the campground.
Tips and Considerations on Towing
We’ve come across a few tips that will make your towing life a little easier as well as some things you will want to consider when making your decision to tow something.
The gas mileage of your RV WILL be negatively affected by your decision to tow something. RV’s are notorious for poor gas mileage and adding on a couple of thousand pounds to pull will only see that mileage plummet.
But if you are towing a car then you might get out ahead when you look at the combined fuel economy of both vehicles. Since you’ll be using your smaller more fuel efficient car for most of your running around and exploring you’ll, hopefully, end up ahead at the pump.
Notice I didn’t call it a backup camera, you’ll want a camera that you can have on at all times so you can monitor your precious cargo. A rearview camera is a great way to give you peace of mind that your trailer/car/boat is still behind you and in good shape.
I actually recommend this for everyone, it helped us identify a tire blowout. All we heard was a pop, like a juice box being run over, but could see debris in the rearview camera and immediately pulled over before it affected the handling.
You should measure how big your RV and trailer combo is so you can prepare your route accordingly. Some roads have length restrictions due to being narrow and winding.
It’s also important for campsites and parking. Knowing how long you are all in will hopefully help you avoid getting stuff in any hard to maneuver situations.
Tire Pressure Monitoring
Remote tire pressure monitoring systems have come a long way and are relatively inexpensive. They will alert you if you have a slow leak, let you know in real time the pressure and temperature of your tires all for around $100.
These can alert you to issue before a flat or blow out occurs, which in my books are well worth the price.
If you are like us and have an older RV you will likely run into an issue when you go to connect the trailer lights. Our RV had an older style of light connection which was a 4 prong round connector and our trailer had a 5 prong flat connector, so it was literally square peg round hole.
We picked up an adapter off Amazon but bought a cheap one. Turned out we got what we paid for and it was miss wired. We were about to pull out of the driveway to start our move and the trailer lights weren’t working.
Fortunately, we found the soldering iron, found a wiring diagram on Google and rewired the plug. A few blown fuses later we were ready to go. Moral of the story, sometimes there is a reason things are cheap.
Whatever you decide to tow with your motorhome the main thing is to do it safely. You need to find out what the maximum weight your RV can safely tow and still leave room for passengers, water and food.