Overweight Trailers and Fifth Wheels

By : JD Gallant January 02, 2017

Trailers and fifth wheels, like motor homes, may be susceptible to overweight problems. It's true, however, that travel trailers don't actually come off the assembly line literally overweight. This is because no manufacturer can legally sell a trailer (or motor home, for that matter) with a dry weight (the trailer's weight as built at the factory) that exceeds its GVWR, Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. Yet for all practical purposes, the vehicle may be overloaded. If it's stuffed with options, for instance, there may be insufficient capacity for payload, even though the added weight of persons need not be considered.


As JD Gallant states in the RV Buying Trilogy book, "Design deficiencies are to blame for most of the problems that occur with trailers and fifth wheels." If the trailer's design does not allow for the weight of your necessities of life, the trailer will either be unusable because it lacks carrying capacity for your cargo or dangerously overloaded if you decide to throw caution to the winds and load your gear anyway. And an overloaded trailer is prone to tire blowouts, overheating trailer brakes, axle and/or suspension breakage and, in extreme cases, rollover accidents.


The following design deficiencies will result in insufficient payload:

a) inadequate axle capacity (GAWR); and
b) inadequate frame assemblies, which together make up the chassis.


When the weight-carrying capacity of the chassis is close to or less than the trailer's dry weight, plus factory and dealer-installed options, plus fresh water and propane, you have a poorly-designed, overloaded trailer.


An overweight trailer may also be the result of added options and accessories. Dealers are only too happy to provide customers with every convenience and gadget they can dream of. It puts a smile on the customer's face and money in the dealer's pocket. Unfortunately, every item that the dealer has installed in addition to the options the manufacturer has already built into a specific model adds "fat", which has caused some RVers to wind up with a vehicle that was overweight even before they towed it home.


What can you do if you're stuck with a trailer that has insufficient payload?

1) Keep the trailer level when traveling.

2) Balance the load. Large storage compartments beg to be loaded to the gills. For the RVer, the temptation to overload a trailer or fifth wheel may be even greater than it is with a motor home. A travel trailer is more like a house in people's minds; so, why not equip it with everything you'd put into your home? The problem, of course, is that this particular house, even though it's not motorized, sits on a foundation with wheels (the chassis), and that it will spend much of its life traveling down the road at highway speeds.

3) Location of water tanks is critical for proper balance of trailers and fifth wheels. They should always be located over or just forward of the axle(s) for proper balance. In any case, if you are overloaded or close to the brink, travel with all tanks empty if possible.

4) Consider removing heavy options.

5) Be certain the trailer is well matched to your tow vehicle (as discussed in the How to Tow Safely Guide.

6) Be certain you are using the proper hitch for your towing combination.

7) Move items into the tow vehicle if it has payload to spare.

8) Although you can't change a trailer's GVWR, some RVers - as a last resort - attempt to increase carrying capacity by upgrading to axle assemblies with a higher weight rating. This is a relatively expensive and time-consuming choice - only worth it if you really love the trailer in every other way. And we don't recommend it as a remedy for overweight problems - it is simply a "Band-Aid" fix.

Having an overweight RV is a nagging problem. Therefore, it is critical to be aware of all your options and to understand the issues of weight and balance. Please refer to the How to Tow Safely Guide available as a bonus when you Join RV Consumer Group for more detailed explanation.

JD Gallant

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