Apache Camper Blog

  • Published on Aug 04, 2015
    The ABC's of matching tow vehicle to trailer - a beginner's guide

    Years ago, my husband and I bought a video of The Long, Long Trailer with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez – possibly one of the funniest and most true stories about what can happen when weight goes wrong with a camper.  After seeing this movie, you will realize for yourself (once you stop laughing) that weight and campers is a pretty serious business.

    As Tim the Tool Man used to say, “More power!”  Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there, and it is up to you the consumer to muddle through all the muck.  However, after many years in this industry and seeing all the mismatched vehicle/camper combinations out there, I decided that we need a layman’s guide to shopping for the camper that will best match your vehicle.

    This is not only for your vehicle’s sake, but also for the safety of your family.  We recently visited Colorado and were amazed at some of the combinations out there, and the lack of so many safety features like weight distribution hitches, undersized vehicles, etc.  Many of these were sitting on the shoulder of the highway with their hoods up.  The whole point of going camping or on a family vacation with the camper is to have fun, be safe, and relaxed when you arrive at your destination. 

    When you walk onto an RV lot, come prepared – a lot of the salespeople out there are mis-informed, or assume that they can sell you a camper based on the dry weight of the camper in order to make a sale. They are well intentioned for the most part, but only have a rudimentary understanding of the weight requirements of vehicles.

    However, we all know that guessing at the amount of weight that you load into a camper is generally going to fall far short of the actuality of the situation.  Consider for a moment the weight of a gallon of milk – 8 lbs. on its own.  That is just one gallon.  Add to that the weights of the condiments, vegetables, fruits, meats, and we are probably looking at around 40 to 50 lbs. or more just in added refrigerator weight. (And that is on the light side)  To keep that vein of thought going, when you are doing laundry sometime, weigh the laundry basket when full.  Could be somewhere around 30 lbs. or more.  I think that you might be getting the idea I am going for here….. With just a little laundry and the refrigerator, we are edging towards 100 lbs. without adding for pots and pans, silverware, dishes, linens, pantry items, and the list goes on. 

    I usually tell my customers that the dry weight doesn’t really exist – because as soon as you put towels in the camper, that weight is gone, and you have begun to add. 

    The first step in determining the proper match, research your tow vehicle.  Your local car or RV dealer will usually be able to tell you the tow capacity especially if you supply them with the VIN number.  If you can’t get the information that you need or trust, go to www.trailerlife.com where you can download tow guides by model year.  These guides are valuable resources for information on tow capacities.  Once you have established your tow capacity – for this example I will use a tow capacity of 5,000 lbs.  Now you can begin to narrow the field down on the campers that you look at.  The perimeters of your search should be trailers that have a GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) of 5,000 lbs. or less. 

    A lot of people don’t really understand the terminology, but the easiest way that I know to explain this is that the camper can’t weigh any more than the GVWR.  At that point you will damage the axles and other components.  If you look at the dry weight and deduct it from the GVWR, you will find out what the cargo capacity is.  Therefore, if you are able to tow the GVWR of a camper comfortably, it will be a safe match and account for all the cargo that you will carry as well.  Back to the Tim the Tool Man theory, always have more power than you need rather than just enough.   

    When you look at campers, always look for a label on the side of the camper showing GVWR.  All campers are required by code to have that tag displayed.  If you are looking at a used camper and the tag is worn off or missing, a lot of this information is available on line just by googling the camper make model and model year.  Look for this tag BEFORE entering the camper.  You will save yourself a lot of grief when you avoid looking at campers too large for your tow vehicle. 

    In the 5,000 lbs. range, there are a multitude of camper options – from hybrids or expandables with pop out bed ends with tent coverings but a solid center, to a regular lightweight travel trailer with floorplan options including bunks, what I call “couple campers”, to that old standard of a fold down.  

    The next step in your shopping journey – determining the floorplan best suited for your family.  That will be a blog entry for another day. 

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