How Much Can You Tow with a Small Motorhome?


A few days ago, I got this question from a reader via email:

Since you seem to be THE most knowledgeable person we’ve read on the web when it comes to RVs, I wanted to ask you for your opinion before we pull the trigger on an RV.  We have decided to order a 2015 Brand X.  We have a 2014 Jeep Wrangler 4 door Rubicon X.  The specs on it say its gross weight is 4,720 lbs.  Do you think we can tow the Rubicon behind the Brand X?  We keep getting different answers from different dealers.

 

Now, of course, my first thought was, “Heck Yeah!  I’m Awesome!”
My next thought was, “Wait a minute… These people must not have gotten too far on the internet…”
And my third thought was, “How can I thank them for their shameless flattery?”

But as I thought about their actual question, it occurred to me that it would be pretty easy to get confused about just how much you can tow, particularly with a smaller motorhome like the one they were considering.  I’m not surprised that they got different answers from different dealers either.  It really can be confusing.

A couple quick disclaimers before I explain how I answered them.  First, while I’ve got a fair amount of knowledge of motorhomes,  and with Sprinters in particular; I’m not really a “tow” guy.  I actually try to avoid towing.  Next, and probably more important – I don’t actually work for a motorhome manufacturer.  If there is a specific model you have questions on, you will want to verify things with that manufacturer.  You can call them up, it’s OK.  All the ones I’ve ever dealt with have been very eager to help customers make the right decision.

The real answer to their question depends, like a lot of motorhome related topics, on weight.  I thought it would be easiest to explain this by using an actual test case.  But since I gutted and rebuilt our own motorhome, it’s not a good example.  So I headed down to General RV here in Utah, where I found a representative small motorhome.  Here she is, a Siesta Sprinter 24 ST by Thor Motor Coach.

Siesta Sprinter

And, for the sake of argument, we’ll assume we want to tow the same Jeep Rubicon that my reader has, at 4720 pounds.

The first thing to know is that the Siesta Sprinter is built on a 2014 Mercedes Benz 3500 cut-away chassis.  You can find the specs for this chassis here:

http://www.mbsprinterusa.com/sprinter/cab-chassis/specifications/3500-standard-roof-170-wb/14

There are three numbers here that we’re interested in.  The first is the maximum towing capacity.  It’s listed at 7500 pounds.  Your first thought here might be “WOO HOO!  We’re done!”, but there’s more to the story.

The next number to pay attention to is the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR).  It’s listed at 11,030 pounds.  This number represents the maximum weight that the vehicle itself is allowed to have.  So our theoretical Siesta Sprinter can’t go above the 11,030 pounds.  The towed vehicle (the Jeep) doesn’t count toward this number, but the tongue weight of the trailer *does* count here.  You can actually find this GVWR number on the tire pressure plate inside the driver’s door.  You can also find the axle weights there if you are wanting to set your tire pressure properly.

GVWR Sticker

The third number from the Mercedes Benz page to check is the Maximum Available Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR).  This is 15,250 pounds.  So EVERYTHING – the motorhome, the people in it, the towed vehicle, the water in your tanks (fresh, grey and black), the jumper cables and that ratty blanket you left in the Jeep, the burrito you had for lunch.  ALL OF IT COMBINED has to weigh less than 15,250 pounds.

The next thing we want to do is have a look at the hitch.  Here it is:

Towing Receiver

Pretty standard.  And of course, the most important thing on the hitch is the weight rating plate.  In this case, it says we can tow up to 5000 pounds.  When a manufacturer tells you that the vehicle can tow 5000 pounds, this is where that comes from – the hitch rating (typically).

Tow Hitch Rating

So, this alone would bring our 7500 pound towing capacity down to 5000 pounds.  But there’s more.  Next, we need to find a weight sticker that was put on by the RV manufacturer.  On this model, Thor put it inside the passenger door, but on yours, it may be in a cupboard, or inside a closet.  You’ve probably seen it – and hopefully you didn’t peel it off and throw it away.

OCCC Sticker

This gives the Occupant and Cargo Carrying Capacity (OCCC) of the motorhome.  Now, so I don’t mistype anything, here’s the definition of this, straight from the RV Safety Education Foundation:

OCCC (Occupant and Cargo Carrying Capacity) (for Motorized RVs only):  This figure states the maximum allowable weight of all occupants (including the driver), plus the weight of all food, tools, full fresh water tanks, full LP-Gas tanks and personal belongings.  The maximum allowable weight of passengers is based on the number of seat belted positions in the motorized RV.  The regulation also states that the “tongue weight of towed trailer counts as cargo.”

On this motorhome, that number is 1178 pounds.  So now, it’s time for some math.  What this OCCC is telling us, is how much weight we have to play with before we tip over 11,030 pounds.  We can subtract to find the weight of the empty RV.

11,030  (GVWR)  –    1,178 (OCCC)  =  9,852 pounds (the weight of the empty RV)

OK.  Now, let’s virtually load up our RV, add on the towed vehicle, and see if we’re over weight.

  • Weight of Empty RV:    9852
  • Weight of Jeep:        4720
  • Weight of Driver (me)    190
  • Weight of Passenger    120 (If you’re a guy, you should always estimate the weight of your spouse at 120 pounds.  It just works out better for everyone.)
  • Full load of water        398 (for this RV, the water weight is listed on the OCCC sticker.  If you have to add this in yourselves, be sure to INCLUDE the water in the water heater, like Thor did.)

 

Adding all those up, I get 15,280 pounds.  Boom.  We’re overweight.

If we were to try to hook this up and tow, we’d be getting ourselves into a dangerous situation.  And we STILL haven’t added in the weight of a full tank of propane (68.2 pounds), any food, any other cargo, any extra passengers or pets, and a contingency in case you have to travel with full black and/or grey tanks (up to another 398 pounds on this model ).  If doing the math isn’t your thing, it’s just as easy (and more accurate) to load your RV up just as you would for a trip, and drive down to a local truck scale.

Once you start adding it all up, you see that you can pretty quickly get overweight – and I’m not just talking about towing.  When you consider that this Siesta Sprinter has over 62 cubic feet of exterior storage, it wouldn’t be too hard to tip over the 1,178 pounds of cargo carrying capacity just by filling up the basement!

And speaking of that exterior storage, check out this garage-type storage compartment in the back.  If I had had my bike with me, I would have tried to fit it in there!  I think I need to go back and check this motorhome out in more detail.  (The side-opening compartments are a nice touch too – they won’t be banging on your head!)

Siesta Sprinter Storage

So, on this vehicle, Thor could, legitimately, advertise a 5000 pound towing capacity.  The fine print would say “when driven by a single flyweight, who carries no water”.  To their credit, I couldn’t find an advertised towing capacity from Thor.  They took the high road, and just published the weights, and let you figure it out for yourself.  And now that you’ve read this, hopefully you can!

So, exactly how much can you tow with a smaller motorhome?  Only you can say, because only you know exactly how heavy you roll.  But with a little simple addition, and a few specifications, you don’t need to be at the mercy of an RV dealer for this critical info.

I’m sure there will be lots of comments and questions on this one, so let’s hear it down in the comments!



James is a former rocket scientist, a USA Cycling certified coach, and lifelong fitness buff. When he's not driving the RV, or modifying the RV (or - that one time - doing both at once), you can find him racing bicycles, or building furniture, or making music. In his spare time, he works for a large IT company.


    42 thoughts on “How Much Can You Tow with a Small Motorhome?

    1. Mary L Ernest

      James. Sorry for the above post. If I have a Unity Rv and plan on towing do I still have a tongue weight? Does that just mean the weight of the tow bar?

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Hi – The best way to imagine tongue weight is this: If you put a scale under the trailer tongue (where it attaches to the vehicle), what would that scale read.
        It’s always there (there’s always some weight – though I suppose it could go negative…). And yes, it’s still applicable to your RV.
        Generally, it’s about 10% of the total rated hitch weight (but check your particular model).

        Reply
    2. Deb

      Thank you very much! I am researching (retiring in a couple of years & considering full-timing it, or at least long-hauls). Pretty much decided on a ClassC. Don’t know how big yet, but trying to figure out how much tow car I can deal with (if I decided to – I have a 400cc Burgman scooter I will be hauling too) has been a real PITA! Yours is the first and only site I have found that actually gives me some information to work with! Cheers from Canada.

      Reply
      1. Mark Lyerly

        I have a 29ft class C Tioga montara by Fleetwood motorhome.can i pull another 26 Prowler by Fleetwood pull behind camper with the camper?

        Reply
        1. James - Post author

          Most likely not. You’d have to check the weights and run the numbers to be sure. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    3. Michael Harvey

      Would a Honda CRv be a suitable vehicle to flat tow behind a 29.2 ft. Thor ACE A class. I understand from researching the CRv is a towable.
      up to 2014. After 2014 they can no longer be flat towed

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Hi Michael – Without all the weights, I really can’t say.
        Motorhome magazine publishes Dinghy Towing Guides for each year all the way back to 2000. They’d be a good source for information about towing any particular vehicle.

        Reply
    4. Larry Gray

      I understand the math you went through and typically use it when pulling a more traditional trailer with truck/SUV. Given that, it also makes me wonder if/why the same applies when flat 4 wheel towing a vehicle. It primarily has to do with axel placement. The traditional trailer has one or two axels close together midpoint acting as a pendulum for the weight. More in the front increases tongue weight – so much so that some mid-size Airstreams that have abnormally high tongue weight (25′ in particular), have people moving at least one on the propanes to the rear interior for transport. Also travel with minimal water, and dumping grey/black before journey.

      Contrast that with 4 wheel pulling (not dolly or flatbed) a vehicle. Wide axels of the 4 wheels absorb the weight and seems like would be far less weight transfer to the towing vehicle compared to a trailer with similar stresses/weight increase with acceleration, hills, and braking. Even I can push a car (preferably on level ground) but wouldn’t even want to think about the same weight trailer, and if I did would take far more effort. And then it gets to hitch weight. Unlike the pendulum weight transfer of a trailer to the tow vehicle suspension, 4 wheel towing is almost like a train car hitch except both are not rigid, so essentially is the weight of the Hensley or competitor’s hitch.

      Given the change in the variables between trailer towing and 4 wheel towing, is using the same math inputs (GVR etc) really valid?

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Interesting thoughts, but I don’t think flat-towing invalidates the GCWR on the sticker on your chassis.
        Their tongue weights might be different, but mass is mass. Your towing vehicle still has to accelerate, and more importantly STOP, all that mass.

        I recommend following the GCWR and GVWR limits on your chassis, regardless of your method of towing.

        Reply
    5. Raymond Ralston

      I have a 2005 Gulfstream Conquest Limited, Model W6275. I can’t find how much weight I can tow in a dingy vehicle. Thank you, Ray Ralston

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Well, you’ll need the OCCC sticker from Gulfstream, the tire loading info from your chassis, the weight of your proposed tow vehicle, and the weight of your motorhome with occupants and typical gear. Once you’ve got those, the calculations are pretty easy.

        Reply
      1. James - Post author

        For a back of the napkin calculation that would be a good starting point.
        But if you’re going to carry some baggage or supplies in the tow vehicle, then it might make sense to get it weighed as well, once you’ve got it loaded up.

        Reply
      2. Samantha Davis

        This was my thought as well. The GVWR is the max on the vehicle your towing but not likely how much it’s going to weigh. If you do use this, you want to ensure you account for ANYTHING you have in the vehicle.

        Reply
    6. Bill libby

      Great data and discussion and as relevant today as was yesterday. You have broken the code for “us” customers that could have been explained by the Mfg. Unfortunately Marketing continues to call the shots on degrees of transparancy.

      Reply
    7. Evelyn Zeller

      Hello,
      Well this is where I am….I have a Mercedes Spinter Motor Home …I want to flat tow..could you please give me what I can purchase..As far as a tow Car?
      I see many flat tow Jeep Wrangler?

      Thank You
      EZ

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Hi Evelyn – There’s a lot of information that’s needed to provide answer, and I don’t have nearly enough information to give you one. It will depend on many things: how heavy is your motorhome, how much cargo do you typically carry, what kind of hitch do you have, etc. etc. etc. A trusted local motorhome dealer should be able to help you out.

        Reply
    8. Jane K

      Wish I’d found your concisely written article before I did my towing cap research…It took me weeks to figure everything out!

      What is still illusive to me is the tongue weight. For your example RV, it is 500 pounds max. How do I know what that tongue weight is if I’m towing, say, 5,000#? Is it usually around 10% of Tow Cap or are there other factors involved?

      Thanks for clarifying!

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Usually everyone estimates the tongue weight at 10% of the trailer weight. But that’s just an estimate. The only real way to know for sure what the tongue weight of your load is would be to weight it.

        To do that properly, you’d need to load up your trailer with everything you normally take (extra gas? whatver goes in there) and then get it on a scale. This article from etrailer shows three ways to measure it. https://www.etrailer.com/faq-how-to-determine-trailer-tongue-weight.aspx

        When you get this weight, that number shouldn’t be greater than the tongue weight your hitch is rated for.

        Hope this helps!

        Reply
    9. Diana

      Lots of great information here, but confusing to try to decipher it all out. All I need is a small Class B, that can haul my 3500lb horse trailer with two horses. A combined weight of 5500lbs. So I am not even sure about the tongue weight at all… What do you recommend James? One thing I know for sure is I want to be safe. Precious cargo and all you know. Then I have all these torque numbers do figure out too. Ugh

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        That’s a tough one. The Class Bs that I’ve seen only come with – at most – a 5000lb hitch. You’re already over that.
        And then most of the Class Bs are heavy enough on their own that you might not be able to tow anywhere near that 5000 pounds safely.
        I think you’re going to need to look at something bigger than a class B. You’re going to want the margin of safety a beefier chassis will give you.

        Reply
    10. Mike K

      Great article, but it’s best to get your rig weighed rather than depend on the numbers given by the manufacturers. That way you have the facts not some engineer’s calculations. Nothing against engineers — I’m one myself, but few RV manufacturers actually weigh each rig they build. I do know that Advanced RV does — good on them. I have a friend that bought a new Tiffin Allegro Bus, Class A and the rear axle was under sized for the actual weight of his rig nearly empty. He got them to install a new axle with higher weight rating. Be safe — GET YOUR RIG WEIGHED!!

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Agreed. Weighing your rig will always be the gold standard in these kinds of calculations. (And getting it weighed as you actually travel in it. Not empty.) Sound advice.
        I wonder if everyone knows how to do this though? The CAT scales can be intimidating. Wonder if I should make a video…

        Reply
    11. Marshal

      James,

      Thanks for this analysis. For the sake of my simple mind, am I correct in perceiving the “least” amount of towing capacity for any given vehicle to be GCWR minus GVWR (4,220 using your example)? To this I can then add back additional towing capacity to the extent I have unused or left-over OCCC? So again using your example, if I only add 1,000 pounds of stuff (OCCC weight), my actual towing capacity increases from 4,220 to 4,398 (subject, of course, to any tow hitch limitations)?

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Yes, you’re correct. And that’s not a bad way to think of it. In addition to the hitch rating, you would also want to pay attention to the tongue weight, and also any maximum towing capacity for the chassis (7500 pounds for this Sprinter). Although most small motorhomes are on the heavy side, and it’s unlikely you could get anywhere near that 7500 pounds…

        Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Mike – Good question! Yes, it does. Fuel weight absolutely does count toward GVWR and GCWR. If you go to weigh your vehicle, you should always weigh it with a full tank.
        The manufacturer should have considered fuel weight when they give you the OCCC, so the calculations in the article should stay the same.
        You can read the definitions for all the weights here.
        On that page, they call out which ones include fuel, and even give you the weight of a gallon of diesel (6.8 lbs.)

        Reply
    12. jjva

      James, just so I know what I’m looking at, I’m looking at a possible purchase of a 2015 Newmar Ventana 3636. The figures I see posted on their site are: GVWR 36,400; GCWR 46,400; UVW 26,900; NCC 9,500; and towing capacity 10,000. Reference: http://www.newmarcorp.com/motor-coaches/diesel/ventana/specifications/. The towing capacity I saw somewhere else on their site. I don’t know what UVW means or for that matter what NCC means, and their brochure doesn’t say. Do you have an idea? Can you do your math and tell me what I could carry in the vehicle and what I could tow? I don’t expect you to do this math for every non-engineering capable possible motorhome purchaser, but I think one more example (mine) would help clarify things for all of us (especially me). Personally, I am new to RVs, but from what little I do think I know, is that I trust Newmar more than other manufacturers (we won’t specifically point to Thor).

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        OK. Your example actually comes out pretty easy. UVW is Unladen Vehicle Weight. NCC is net Cargo (or Carrying?) Capacity.
        The Max GVWR (36,400) – Unladen Vehicle Weight (26,900) = Net Cargo Capacity (9,500). Meaning, you can take along 9,500 pounds of stuff in the vehicle, and not be overweight. That seems like a lot, so you should be good.
        The towing capacity is the Gross COMBINED Weight Rating, GCWR (46,400) – the Max Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (36,400) = 10,000 pounds exactly.
        So, on this rig, you’re in the clear. You could load the vehicle up with 9,500 pounds of stuff and still be under weight. Then, on top of that, you could STILL tow 10,000 pounds.
        That thing’s a beast! You’ll be fine. Hope this helps!

        Reply
    13. jjva

      James, if your calculations are correct, and I have no reason to challenge them, then Thor is being totally dishonest in even selling this vehicle, much less allowing its vendors to mention the 5000 lb towing hitch. If you, your 120 pound partner (I pretend my wife is still the 105 pounds she was when we married), and the water puts it over the 15,250 GCWR limit. What is a buyer of this vehicle supposed to do? Use it as a lawn ornament? I have to admit that this was one of the vehicles on my short list of possible buys. If your calculations are correct some law firm should file a class action suit against Thor! I’m really pissed.

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Hang on! Don’t get out the torches and pitchforks just yet!
        I think you might be forgetting about the Jeep. That Jeep was pretty darn heavy.
        It was me, my partner, a full load of water, PLUS the 4700 pound Jeep!
        Leaving the towing aside for a moment, you have 1,178 pounds of capacity for just stuff in the motorhome. That’s enough for you, your partner, a load of water, a full load of propane, and around 400 more pounds of stuff.
        And then, on top of that, you could STILL tow (GCWR) 15250 – (GVWR) 11030 = 4220 pounds.
        Now sure, that’s not quite 5000, and not enough to tow the Jeep in the example, but you could still tow something like my Subaru Impreza, which comes in at around 3,000 pounds.
        If you really wanted to, you *could* tow 5000 pounds with the Thor Siesta Sprinter, but you would have to forgo 780 pounds of cargo to do it.
        It’s fairly common for these small class C (B+) motorhomes to come in pretty heavy on the Sprinter. I don’t think this is at all unusual.
        In my opinion, Thor is being pretty open about the weights. The only thing I had to actually get to the motorhome to see was the OCCC, and that’s common in the industry.
        If you still feel like something’s not on the up and up, contact me via email, and I’ll try to help you figure it out. I’m just trying to help – don’t want to get anyone in hot water.

        Reply
      1. James - Post author

        You’re absolutely right. A true class B starts out a lot lighter, but has the same Max GCWR. The extra capacity can be used for additional cargo, towing, or both. (Of course, in a true B, there’s less room for cargo anyway!)

        Reply
        1. Charles C

          I called Mercedes and they indicated that the Leisure Travel Van’s can tow 7,000 lbs but that they advertise only 5,000 in the brochures to allow for other items such as water, etc.

        2. James - Post author

          I think the 5000 pounds may be the rating of the hitch receiver that is installed. If you have an LTV, or are considering purchasing one, you’ll want to double check the towing hardware to make sure it’s rated for what you need.

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