Unless your daily driver is a larger truck, you probably don’t put much thought into how much your vehicle weighs. The average passenger car comes in at just over four thousand pounds and a light-duty truck might be twice that. In either case, we don’t question if the weight of our passengers or several sacks of groceries will be too much for the vehicle’s suspension to handle.
RVs are a completely different animal, though. As a house on wheels, they’re intended to carry more people, more fuel, and more creature comforts than your typical sedan. The loaded and unloaded weight of an RV can differ substantially, which is why it’s important to know the weight of your vehicle before journeying down the highway. Luckily, our highway system has plenty of opportunities for ascertaining your weight in the form of weigh stations.
What Are Weigh Stations?
We’ve all seen them, the weigh station on the side of the interstate. Quite often, they’re closed, leaving us to wonder what exactly is the purpose of these bureaucratic outposts.
Weigh stations are there to perform safety checks and emissions testing and ensure that trucks aren’t overweight for the capacity of the particular highway. They also check the driver’s log to certify they haven’t been on the road too long. All of these rules keep our roads safer and in better condition — large trucks are responsible for the vast majority of highway wear.
Do RVs Have to Stop at Weigh Stations?
This is a question many first-time RV drivers ask. Commercial truckers spend months learning the rules of the road, including when it’s necessary to stop at these weigh stations. However, it’s not something covered in driver’s education courses, and the signage surrounding weigh stations never addresses RV owners directly.
For RV travelers, though, the simple answer is no — the vast majority of drivers don’t need to stop at weigh stations. Every state has different laws, but only commercial drivers and sometimes vehicles weighing over 10,000 lbs need to stop at them.
Exceptions to the Rule
While most RV’s won’t need to stop at the weigh station, there are a few cases where you might. The first is if you’re running a business out of your RV. Technically this could include any business where the RV is claimed as an expense, but more often, the rule covers businesses that utilize RVs for transportation, such as film crews or traveling musicians.
Additionally, nearly a third of the states, including Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin, require vehicles weighing more than 10,000 lbs to stop at highway weigh stations. While many Class B RVs are exempted from this regulation, the vast majority of Class A and C RVs are not.
Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, and Pennsylvania require vehicles weighing over 26,000 lbs to visit at least one weigh station upon entering the state. There are a few states with more peculiar rules, but these are unlikely to apply to most RV users (such as Montana having a weight limit of only 8,000 lbs for vehicles carrying agricultural products).
When traveling through these states, you’ll need to pull over and get weighed at the first checkpoint. There’s a good chance you’ll be told it’s unnecessary to weigh at any of the other ones, but it’s always best to ask for guidance.
What If I Don’t Want to Get Weighed?
Getting on the scales can be a bit of a time suck, so it’s not unreasonable to look for ways to avoid them. Legally you must stop if your state law requires it, but there are a few ways to hurry things up.
Plan a Route Without Weigh Stations
You don’t need to stop if there are no weigh stations in the first place. Several apps are available that show the location of each weigh station in your state so you can plan around them.
Obtain Pre Clearance
You’re not bound to the limited hours rules that truckers are; weigh station attendants are really just checking to see that you’re not overweight for your vehicle’s specifications. You can get a small transponder from the Department of Transportation that signals the weigh station employees that you’ve already been checked and cleared for the road ahead.
Drive All Night
While not the most convenient option, driving through the night is a way to avoid weigh stations. Most do not operate at night, though there are a few exceptions of busy freight corridors.
Should I Weigh My RV Anyway?
While your state probably doesn’t require that you stop at weigh stations, this doesn’t mean you don’t need to know its weight. RV manufacturers specify a maximum load for their vehicles which includes the occupants, full holding tanks, and all the gear and household goods you might be carrying.
Exceeding the manufacturer’s weight limit can do serious damage to the RV tires, engine, and frame while increasing the vehicle’s stopping distance. If you get into an accident and the insurance company finds out you are overweight, they can deny your claim.
Fortunately, you don’t need to wait in line at the weigh station to find out if your vehicle is overcapacity. Manufacturers typically provide a “dry weight” for their vehicle, which does not include occupants, personal belongings, or any liquids in the holding tanks. From there, you can estimate those additional components and have a pretty good idea of your final weight.
For more accurate measurements, you’ll need a scale. Most truck stops have certified automatic truck (CAT) scales, which RV drivers can use for a small fee. All you need is a smartphone and an app such as “Weigh My Truck.”
How Can I Reduce My Weight?
Should you learn that your vehicle is overweight, there are a few steps you can do to lighten the load.
Empty Your Waste Tank
The simplest way to cut weight is to visit a dump station, which will likely be at the same truck stop where you found the scale. If you’re staying in a campground with flush toilets, you probably won’t even need to use your RVs bathroom.
Don’t Fill Your Tanks Full
While the Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared,” the RV traveler’s motto is “Be Prepared Enough.”
A full tank of gas in a class A RV can weigh close to 700 pounds. Add in a holding tank full of fresh water and you’ll easily be carrying an extra thousand pounds. Not only will carrying extra fluids increase your fuel consumption, but it also puts more strain on all of the vehicle’s components — particularly its brakes. Only carry what you need and plan on filling it up at the next stop.
You packed everything but the kitchen sink, and that’s only because the RV has its own. Be honest with yourself, though, do you really need all of the comforts of home to enjoy the great outdoors and life on the road? Probably not, but all of those extra plates, blankets, and clothes add up to a heavier vehicle that’s harder to control and burns more fuel.
Ditch the Gas Hog and Go Solar
Generators are exceptionally heavy, especially when you factor in the extra fuel needed to run them. Solar panels on the other hand, are incredibly lightweight and need nothing more than the sweet sunshine to keep your vehicle buzzing with electricity.
Remove Unused Accessories
Is there a bike rack mounted on your RV despite having not ridden a bicycle in the past decade? Or perhaps there’s an air conditioner on the roof when you only travel during the more temperate months. These extras can quickly add a few hundred pounds to your total weight, and they’re not sparking any joy in you.
Limit Your Social Circle
Every extra body onboard puts you one step closer to having an overweight vehicle. It’s probably not feasible to leave the kids behind (and they weren’t adding that much weight anyways), but traveling with a full entourage of friends isn’t the best way to stay under the manufacturer's suggested weight.
Start Traveling with Cruise America
Get ready to hit the road and explore the United States with an RV from Cruise America. We offer pre-owned RVs for sale and RV rentals across the country. Give us a call today or contact us online for more information.