OK, it’s time to admit we have a weight problem. It’s not easy to share it publicly, but we’ve all been there. You try to be so good but darn it, those extra pounds just seem to sneak up on you so easily! You know how it goes… you find some great new jars of yumminess at a local farmer’s market. You stock up on bottles of wine at Costco. You sneak in a few extra goodies over the holidays. You think you’ve been watching your weight pretty well, being mindful of what you take in. But then… you get on the scales and have a rude awakening. You just know that extra weight isn’t good for you and something has got to change – fast!
Sigh. Body weight, RV weight. The battle of the bulge never ends. Here’s our RV weight loss journey. Go grab a low calorie beverage and settle in – it’s a long story.
It all started from Day One
When we first bought our RV and started moving into it, we were trying to be mindful of our our weight limitations (22,000 lb), but with every item we thought we absolutely HAD to take with us, thinking “this doesn’t weigh too much, it will be OK if we bring that”… it all added up. We had parked our RV outside of our townhome before we we getting ready to hit the road and I (Marc) was working from the RV for a few weeks to help our dog Coda get used to it. Meanwhile, Julie was packing up the inside of our townhome and moving things into the RV. I still remember with horror as she came in and out of the RV and exclaimed “Wow, this is amazing, I keep bringing things out and it just keeps taking it” as she managed to fill every cupboard and drawer inside our motorhome with our “stuff”.
I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach and shook my head in frustration. I had originally intended on actually weighing everything before bringing them on board to get a good gauge of how the pounds were adding up so we could start within our safe and legal weight capacity (GVWR) – but there was simply too much going on in the transition to go to that extreme. But we hit the road feeling like we did a pretty good job of keeping things within the payload limits and I had also been mindful to try to mentally balance the weight inside our RV front/back/left/right.
We had been traveling about four months before finding our way onto a scale. We rolled up onto one of those roadside weigh stations for commercial trucks in Oregon. It was ‘closed’, meaning nobody was there manning it, but it wasn’t blocked off, so we thought we would give it a try. We weighed the front axle, then the back and added them up. Oh no! We were a bit overweight – by a few hundred pounds! We were still newbies at that point and temporarily dismissed it, figuring that since the scale wasn’t open, it might not have been accurately calibrated. Surely we weren’t that much overweight, after all, we still had lots of storage space available. We weren’t packed to the gills.
A couple weeks later we found another scale, which showed us in the same weight range. It was a different weight as we had different levels of fuel and water on board compared to the first time. But that second scale indeed confirmed we were overweight and for the next 6 months, I frequently commented to Julie about how we needed to be extra mindful of what we are carrying around.
Of course, we were still in that exciting honeymoon phase of hitting the road and exploring all the sights – she didn’t want to be thinking about boring, mundane things like the coach being overweight. Besides, Julie reasoned… there must be SOME leeway on the weight. Now, to put things in perspective, we were only about 2% over the recommended weight, after all. Surely there has to be some wiggle room. So I called our RV manufacturer, Tiffin, to ask the question and they said nope, that’s your weight limit. I called Ford, our chassis manufacturer and they said the same thing, nope, that’s your limit – there is no wiggle room. Of course, we were not surprised. They have to draw the line somewhere and “cover their butts”. If they publicly advised it was fine to go over the GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) they could be liable, so they’re not going to do that.
Push the limits, pay the price
The problem is, most of us are always trying to push the limits somehow and somewhere in all areas of our lives… go a little faster, get a little heavier. The problem is, when and where do you stop? It’s not too different to managing your own personal weight and health – like eating an extra donut, having another drink, taking a larger portion of dessert… Oh, just a little bit extra won’t hurt… until eventually that weight stacks up over time and you find yourself living in a 300 pound body, facing serious health risks and wondering how the heck you got there!?
Managing RV weight is no exception. If we keep turning a blind eye to all the little things and ignoring the potential ramifications, when it finally does hit a tipping point, it can have dire consequences. And that isn’t a risk we’re willing to take.
Many larger RVs have a reasonable amount of storage space (ours included), but cargo capacity in RVs usually has more to do with weight than cubic feet. Weight is a big concern, and not just because it requires more fuel to lug it around. It can also make your RV ride unevenly, strain the suspension, tires and braking ability.
This braking ability is more than just concern about excessive wear on the brake pads. Carrying extra weight could mean that instead of stopping in 220 feet, you would not be able to stop for 250 feet. If there was another car or a pedestrian at 225 feet, the impact could be big, even fatal. It would be unthinkable to hurt somebody because your RV was overweight, and would be even worse to hurt somebody and not be covered by insurance as a result. Some insurance companies have been known to refuse to pay a claim after discovering that had the vehicle been within the safe and legal weight ratings, it would have been able to stop safely. So you probably know where I am going with this – RV weight is not something to be taken ‘lightly’.
RV Weight Loss Program # 1: June, 2015
When we arrived back to old home state of Colorado in the summer of 2015, we knew that it was a good time to get serious about our coach weight loss program, as we’d be able to store the things we still wanted to keep (for free) in my mom’s basement. So we put the RV on a CAT Scale (Certified Automated Truck Scale) – which measures weight by axle – to get an actual number of pounds we needed to reduce and sure enough, we were 500 pounds (227 kg) overweight! It was definitely a bummer to see that number so high, but it was also good to have a real number to work with – and a specific goal to achieve. Challenge Accepted! We started going through every storage cabinet, cupboard and basement bay because we had a LOT of weight to lose.
Our 36’ gas motorhome is built on a 22,000 pound chassis. That means that we should not exceed a weight of 22,000 lbs (10,000 kg) fully loaded. According to the manufacturer spec sheet for our coach, our RV rolled off the production line weighing 18,600 lbs with a full tank of fuel. Which means that, in theory, we should have had over 3,000 pounds available for people, water and cargo. This is why it was so eye-opening to me when we discovered our RV was overweight. We carry a few extra items, but it isn’t like we are traveling with rock collection, a home gym, or cases of beverages. We got busy and really dug deep to offload the non essentials.
So how and where did we lose the weight?
Here’s a list of some of the items that we dropped off and what they weighed to give you an idea of how much all the little stuff can really add up.
Extra books: 37 lbs
Floor jack: 35 lbs
Exercise hand weights: 26 lbs
Julie’s Electra bike: 30 lbs (she eventually downsized to a smaller, lighter one)
Moving blankets to protect Julie’s bike when it was stored in the basement: 10 lbs (5 each)
Julie’s extra clothes: 35 lbs
Marc’s extra clothes: 5 lbs (Note: We both still have a closet full of clothes)
Magazines and the basket we kept them in: 15 lbs
Extra shoes: 13 lbs
Tow dolly extra equipment: 9 lbs
Extra tools: 10 lbs
Extension cord: 6 lbs
Extra cleaning supplies: 6 lbs
Extra suitcase: 8 lbs (we still have 2)
Extra floor mats: 5 lbs
Heart shaped waffle maker: 5 lbs (we only used it twice)
Storage containers that held some of the stuff we let go of: 10 lbs (5 lb each)
Corian sink covers: 10 lbs (we use the sink often so we never cover them with the toppers)
Front Cabin TV: 24 lbs
Rear Bedroom TV and wall bracket: 30 lbs (note: we still have the main living area TV and we still don’t even watch that!)
That’s 329 pounds in this list alone! Did you notice there was a lot of “extra” stuff in there? But still, it wasn’t enough.
We continued to reduce the amount of food, bottles of wine, cans, jars etc that we carried on board, offloaded bathroom toiletries, paperwork, and kitchen stuff. We even switched to using plastic squeeze bottles instead of glass bottles to store vinegars and sauces in the fridge. You’d be surprised how 20-40 small and seemingly light items, can add up to some big weight savings. Fortunately, it’s just the two of us, so I didn’t have to make any tough decisions about leaving my wife people behind! 😉 But all jokes aside, you need to remember to account for the weight of all of your passengers when adding up the total weight in your RV or tow vehicle.
Our tow vehicle – a Mini Cooper Convertible – is relatively light, which helps with our GCVW (Gross Combined Vehicle Weight). Our RV allows for a 4,000 lb (1,800 kg) towed vehicle, bringing the total combined weight maximum to 26,000 lbs. Our MINI is only around 2,800 lbs (1,300 kg). And the dolly we tow it with weighs around 400 lbs (180 kg) so we still have 800 lbs available for towed vehicle weight. Sure, it’s great to have that extra capacity, but we still need to make sure the motorhome is at the proper weight alone (the 22,000 GVWR Gross Vehicle Weight Rating).
How did we decide what to keep and what to leave behind?
We were asking ourselves serious questions about what is most important to us, and looked at everything we could to drop weight. Julie realized she had hardly used her heavy Electra cruiser bike as we mainly rode together on the tandem, so she decided to sell it. I briefly considered leaving my road bike behind and just keeping the tandem, but Julie said NO WAY. She knows that I LOVE to ride my bike – cycling is very therapeutic to me and a big part of my mental, emotional and physical health. It’s how I decompress from stressful days at work and also gives us each personal time and space apart, which is healthy for both of us.
On the other hand, we rarely watch TV. In fact, our bedroom TV had only been turned on once – and that was for our nieces and nephews to hunker down and watch a movie while we grown ups visited in the living space. Our RV had 3 TVs, so we decided to remove two of them and store them so that we can put them back in when we eventually sell our RV. We replaced the TVs with canvas wall art which we much prefer. So for us, my road bike was a higher priority than the TVs!
How much did we lose?
We rolled back onto the same CAT scale two weeks later with the same amount of fuel and were very happy to find that we had dropped a total of 580 lbs! We still needed to stay mindful of our weight – the standard RV rule is “for every new thing that comes in, something else has to go out” but of course, weight creep happens and so it’s just something we need to keep paying attention to. We try to do a clear-out of cupboards and drawers and paperwork every few months or so as a general practice.
Ideally, we would love to drop a bit more weight to give us more comfort in carrying extra fuel and/or water, but we were definitely happy with our achievement. When we got back on the road, I swear that I could feel that the coach was lighter, though admittedly, maybe it wasn’t just the RV. Maybe it was us! Having let go of so much more of our ‘stuff’ – physically, mentally, and emotionally – we were both feeling lighter in every way.
Re-weighing all 4 corners of the RV
For the next year and a half, we tried to stay diligent about something going out of the RV any time something came in. But after leaving Quartzite, AZ we discovered that we were going to be near a SmartWeigh station (offered by Escapees RV Club) – they have scales that can weigh RVs by each corner, instead of just by axle, we decided it was time to get re-weighed – and we’re so glad we did. This is the main focus of our video.
Since our first major “RV Weight Loss Program” in 2015, we had made a suspension upgrade by adding Sumo Springs and also replaced our 6 Michelin RV tires with heavier duty Bridgestones. Ironically both of these upgrades help our RV carry loads more safely, but they still added weight to the RV. With those additions, we expected to be a couple of hundred pounds overweight, so when the total scale weight came back, we were not overly surprised by that. The more shocking realization for us was how far overweight we were in specific corners of the coach.
We had tried to be logical about where we store our heavier items to keep the RV balanced, but until we had our RV weighed on each corner, we had no idea just how far out of balance we were. I had mistakenly been working on the assumption that the RV was relatively balanced to start with. Surely RV manufacturers surely give thought and consideration to even weight distribution!? Sadly, this is not always the case – regardless of brand. Most manufacturers tend to focus on the things that consumers will be looking at – like floor plan and mod cons – in making their purchase decision. Sadly, many RV owners don’t find out their RV could literally be overweight from the day it drives off the factory floor, leaving little or no cargo carrying capacity – until it’s too late.
Where is our RV most overweight?
As it turned out, our RV was overweight on the front left (driver seat) corner, and the right rear (bedroom/bunkhouse/office) corner. We were shocked that even though the RV was only 150 lbs overweight in total, the left front corner was 350 pounds heavier than the right front corner, and the whole front of the RV was 400 pounds overweight despite the fact that we only had relatively light items stored in the basement (especially on the left side).
Similarly, the right rear corner was 400 pounds heavier than the left rear corner. Our fresh water tank is on the right side, toward the rear, but was only one quarter full. Can you imagine how much overweight our right rear corner would be if we were carrying a full tank of water weighing over 650 pounds!? We have met many RVers who like to travel with a full tank of water but we never do unless we are on our way to a nearby boondocking location – we always travel with just enough water for a travel day and then fill our water tank when we arrive in the area we plan to boondock, to reduce the extra weight and strain on the coach.
Our RV has four slide outs of varied sizes, but the two largest slides are definitely the front left and rear right, so the slides are likely a factor in our weight imbalance.
Fortunately, our tow car is well under the tow weight capacity of our RV. So an immediate solution was to simply use the car as a trailer. By moving the heaviest items out of the RV and into the car, we were able to very quickly get the RV close to it’s proper weight, and plan to do more when we arrived at our next location for a longer stay. Once we arrived at our next location we literally emptied the entire basement and nearly all of the cabinets to take a full inventory of our stuff, and got serious about what else we could off load and re-distribute.
RV Weight Loss Program #2: February, 2017
As mentioned above, the front axle was overweight. We didn’t carry very heavy things toward the front of the RV, but there is another way to reduce the weight on the front and that’s with a cantilever effect. If you have ever played on a see-saw, or at least watched kids play on one, you will realize that if one side is heavier than the other, it will easily lift the other end. Similarly, if we were to consider the rear axle a pivot point, we would then be able to reduce weight on the front of the RV by putting additional weight behind the rear axle. The further distance from that pivot point, the more impact it will have.
So, when re-packing the RV we put the heaviest items the furthest back that we could. We also planned to carry more fuel than we had been carrying at the time of the first weighing because our fuel tank is located behind the rear axle. Knowing that we were going to carry more weight in fuel, meant we needed to reduce the weight of our stuff even more. We really felt like we were being very aggressive in off loading. We even changed out our RV mattress, although not just for the weight savings – it was time to upgrade it anyway – but the weight saving of the new mattress was a welcome bonus. We have a separate blog post and video about our RV mattress upgrade here.
We feel like we don’t carry a lot of extra stuff. In fact, we only use half of the actual storage space in our RV, even though we are using up nearly ALL of the weight capacity. We still like having the extra space as it allows us more flexibility in WHERE we store things to help keep things balanced. But if you have a very limited storage space, it will mean you need to store whatever you bring in that area. Having more space also means that we can carry large, light weight items if needed – like empty suitcases or bulk supplies of paper towels, toilet paper etc.
Getting Re-Weighed 6 weeks later
We scheduled a re-weigh six weeks later in March as we were leaving the Escapees Escapade RV rally in Tucson, AZ. As you would have seen in the video, we were excited to see how well we did with our weight loss and re-distribution plans. We are happy to report that even though we were carrying an extra 300 pounds of fuel that day, we were right on target with the total RV weight, and had significantly improved the weight distribution within the coach. The front axle weight was reduced by 300 lbs and only varied 200 lbs side to side compared to the previous 400 lb variance. The rear axle weight increased by 200 lbs, and the side to side distribution remained similarly un-even to the first weigh-in. I guess there is only so much we could do with the items we had, but we squeaked it in. More details of how this went in the video.
Meeting our Overweight RV Twin
Interestingly, in between our first SmartWeigh and our second SmartWeigh, we met another couple that had the identical RV to us – same year, options, even the same paint color. The difference was they were carrying substantially more stuff than us. We were chatting about our RVs and comparing notes about modifications made and other comparisons and realized they had been using every inch of their basement storage, they were using the bunkhouse area as additional storage for large totes filled with stuff, and had even put an additional refrigerator and a large 12 volt cooler inside. They were even towing a much heavier car.
Owning the exact same RV, we knew right away that they were more than just a little overweight. Our estimate is that they were at least 2,000 lbs, and were possibly even 3,000 lbs overweight. They are a serious safety risk driving down the road – for themselves and for others. We had some great conversations about their situation and in the end, they began making quick steps toward changing to an RV with much higher weight carrying capacities because it was unlikely they would ever be able to downsize their stuff to fit within the weight capacities of their current RV. Their RV had travelled many miles overweight. They were lucky not to have had an accident, but they will most certainly have put a few extra miles of wear and tear on their RV.
Tips for Keeping Your RV at a Healthy Weight
- Be sure to keep weight capacities in mind when shopping around for RVs.
- We highly recommend getting your RV weighed regularly on certified scales that weigh each axle, and better yet, get them weighed at a facility that allows weighing your vehicle at each corner.
- If you have a towable RV, you should get weighed with and without the trailer attached so that you can have a clear picture of the impact the trailer is having on the truck and ensure that the amount is appropriate for your setup.
- There are many places to get weighed. If you are looking to get weighed by axle, you can go to truck stops with CAT (Certified Automated Truck) scales. We have heard of others who visit landscaping material suppliers, and if you are in an area where they have closed (but still accessible and operational) truck scales for the highway department, they might work too. But CAT scales are generally a better choice because they’re more likely to be open and accurate and you’ll get a printed report.
- Many RV rallies offer a 4-corner weighing service to make sure you are balanced. Escapees, FMCA and RV maintenance rallies are a good bet, but some facilities are available even when there is not a larger event. When you get weighed at these facilities, they will often also check the age, weight ratings, and air pressure of your tires, to make sure you have tires and air pressure appropriate for the demands you are placing on them.
It is estimated that over 50% of RVs on the road are overweight on at least one measurement. Do your best to be in the group that is within your weight limit, for your safety and the safety of others. Just like our bodies, we have to remain mindful of our RV weight and what we take in. Weight will always fluctuate over time, but the more you keep on eye on it, the less likely you are to experience serious issues down the road.
Hopefully this post helps shed some light on the importance of RV weight management and will help inspire you to shed some RV weight of your own. You’ll feel better, and your RV will last longer and drive safer.