A blue 2020 Ford Super Duty, one of the popular a popular Ford trucks for sale, is towing a camper on a highway.

Towing an RV: Reading Between the Specs

The idea of hitting the open road in your pickup truck and an RV travel trailer behind you has become increasingly popular – it’s easy to see why. While a massive motorhome can grant you a tremendous degree of freedom, you’re stuck having to take it everywhere you want to go or towing a small car behind it. A towable RV gives you all of that freedom, plus you can unhitch your trailer and explore different locales in your favorite pickup. Of course, knowing what you need before looking at Ford trucks for sale or any other models is very important.

Today, I’m going to take a little time to really dig into what you need to know about towing an RV and look beyond the specs you’ll see listed for different models by truck manufacturers. By the end of this, you should have a good idea of the different terms used when it comes to towing an RV with your truck, and what they all mean. But even more than that, you’ll know what you need to look for when shopping for an RV or a pickup, or both, and how to make sure you get the right truck and trailer.

Important Towing Terms

Before we go any further, I need to make sure you understand some important terms used in talking about towing – both towing in general and also towing an RV. This is going to be a lot to absorb at once, but you need to know these terms to make sure you get the right truck and trailer combination. Before I get into all this, however, I’m going to let the inimitable Marc (and Tricia) of Keep Your Daydream tell you just about everything you need to know.

That was a lot of info, and I’m going to go over some of it below to make sure you got the important stuff.

  • Curb Weight – This is the weight of a truck, straight from the manufacturer, with no cargo, passengers, or accessories in it.
  • Unloaded Vehicle Weight (UVW) – This is the weight of a trailer or RV without any cargo or passengers in it. Sometimes called the “dry weight,” it may or may not include batteries, propane tanks, and other necessary accessories.
  • Cargo Weight – How much all the stuff you put in your truck or RV weighs. This can be separate from the weight of your passengers, but it’s easy to include them too.
  • Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) – This is the total weight of your vehicle at any given moment – so it’s the curb weight or UVW plus the cargo and passenger weight.
  • Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) – This is a value set by the manufacturer, which tells you the maximum amount of weight a vehicle can handle. The GVW should never go above this.
  • Gross Combined Vehicle Weight (GCVW) – This is the combined weight of your truck and trailer or RV with all included cargo, passengers, etc.
  • Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR) – This is similar to the GVWR but indicates the maximum GCVW that your truck can handle.
  • Payload Capacity – Often advertised as a maximum value for a model in general, this indicates the maximum amount of weight your vehicle can handle in terms of cargo and passengers.
  • Towing Capacity – The towing capacity indicates the maximum amount of weight your truck can pull using a hitch. Depending on the model you look at, you might see different numbers for conventional vs. gooseneck or fifth-wheel towing.
  • Hitch Weight – This simple number is easy to overlook, and doing so can get you into trouble. The hitch weight is how much the hitch of your RV trailer weighs, which affects your total payload (see The Payload Trap below).

Using these Terms when Shopping

That’s a lot of terms to keep track of, right? Fortunately, you can simplify things a bit for yourself and focus on some key ones. First and foremost, always know the GVWR for a trailer or RV you’re interested in buying or towing. Use this number, not the UVW, or whatever you might guess the GVW will actually be when shopping. Since you’re never going to go over the GVWR for your trailer, it gives you a maximum value to use.

Next, when looking at different trucks, always look for actual numbers for GVWR, GCVWR, and the payload and towing capacities. When you look at literature for a particular model, you’ll see many “up to X lbs” indicated, but specific configurations and models will have different values. For example, you might see a GVW and GVWR listed for a Ford F-150 – but different engine options, cab sizes, and bed lengths can impact the GVW for that model, significantly affecting the actual payload rating available.

So, always look at the sticker on the inside of the door of any specific truck you’re interested in to see the real values for things like GVWR. You saw this displayed in the video from Keep Your Daydream above, and it really can’t be stressed enough.

The Payload Trap

A blue 2020 Ford F-150 is towing a trailer on a highway.

This is something Marc talks about in the video, which I’ve dubbed “the payload trap,” because a lot of people overlook payload and GVWR when thinking about towing an RV. You can see in the video that a trailer with a GVWR of 10,900 lbs seems like a good fit for a truck that has a towing capacity of up to 15,000 lbs. The problem, however, is that the hitch weight of that trailer is 1,400 lbs and the truck has a maximum payload of 2,115 lbs. When the hitch weight is overlooked, you can very quickly exceed the payload limit with just 800 lbs of passengers and cargo in the truck. That’s the payload trap.

So, when you look at a truck for towing an RV, you need to be sure to look at all of these different factors, and yes, that means doing some math – or making a cool spreadsheet as Marc does to run the numbers for you. Factor in everything for a trailer, including its GVWR and hitch weight, to make sure you have a truck with the payload capacity, towing capacity, and GCVWR to handle the weight of your pickup and your RV.

Truck First or Trailer First?

This is something Marc touches on in the video, and I 100% agree with him on it. If you already have a truck or RV trailer, then use what you have to figure out what you need in terms of other equipment. But, if you’re looking at Ford trucks for sale, for example, and RV trailers right now, then consider shopping for your RV first.

It’s a lot easier to find the perfect trailer that you love and has everything you need, and then use those specs to inform your decisions when shopping for a truck, then it is to go the other direction. If you choose a pickup first, you can limit your options when looking at different RV models. Ultimately, your best choice is to select a trailer – but don’t buy it – then find the perfect truck to match, and commit to both of them at the same time, so you know you get both.

Just remember to run all the numbers, look at specs on a specific model you’re looking at and not only general specs, and don’t fall into the payload trap. Then, load up, hit the road, and have an adventure!