Need-to-know vehicle criteria for towing a camper

Owning a camper is a dream that’s shared by many Americans. It gives you true freedom of the road, allowing you to make any spot your home away from home. Campers are also the perfect option for family adventures since they bring everyone closer together – literally.

The first step for most families is to qualify for an RV loan. Once you verify that you’re eligible for camper financing, the next thing you’ll need to check is whether or not you have a vehicle that can tow a camper. Nearly all vehicles have tow ratings that determine what type of camper can be hooked up.

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Towing a camper: Key factors that influence tow capacity

Weight may seem like a straightforward measurement, but not when it comes to towing campers. There are a number of factors that impact both the weight of the camper and a vehicle’s ability to pull it.

  • The size of the camper – Even though a sedan may be able to pull a camper, size has to be factored in along with weight because it can affect safe handling.
  • How much is packed inside – Keep in mind there will be extra weight in the camper once it’s packed, especially if you plan to prepare meals in your camper and have stocked up for the trip. When in doubt use the camper’s gross vehicle weight (GVW) rating, which should be listed on the RV identification tag. This is the maximum factory-recommended weight with the camper fully loaded.
  • Gross combination weight rating – Safety protocol also calls for a maximum combined weight between the vehicle and camper being towed.
  •  Terrain you’ll drive across – If you plan to visit the Colorado Rockies the power required to pull a camper is much higher than driving across the flat great plains of Nebraska. Some highways and overpasses also have weight limitations, which can affect where you can tow a camper.
  • The type of hitch you have – There are five classes of hitches: Class I for light duty, Class II for medium duty, Class III for light heavy duty and Class IV/V for very heavy duty towing.

Keep in mind towing around extra weight will also affect your gas mileage. How the weight is distributing throughout the camper can also have an influence on the general handling of your vehicle while driving.

General tow rating by vehicle type

Organizations like the Recreational Vehicle Safety and Education Foundation have created towing guidelines to help drivers understand how to safely gauge weight limitations. PLEASE NOTE: The figures below are general estimates. Always check your vehicle’s specific manufacturer guides and the owners manual for the exact towing capacity.

Small Sedans

Some small sedans can tow a maximum of 1,000-2,000 lbs. in gross trailer weight (GTW). Pulling a camper is not recommended since most exceed that load.

Mid-Size Sedans

Many mid-size sedans are capable of towing up to 3,500 lbs., which is enough for a small camper.

Mid-Size Vans

Most mid-sized vans can tow a camper up to 3,500 lbs.

Large Vans

Bigger vans typically have more towing capacity than mid-size models, however, gross combined weight can lower the amount that can be towed. The towing capacity in large vans can be up to 8,000 lbs. GWT.

Small SUVs

Small SUVs have a towing capacity similar to mid-size sedans at around 3,500 pounds.

Large SUVs

A large SUV should have a towing capacity around 8,000 lbs. GWT. With a sizeable SUV you can two small trailers and most medium-sized trailers as well.

Small Trucks

The towing capacity of small trucks is typically going to range between 8,000-18,000 lbs. GTW.

Large Trucks

You’re most likely to see a Class IV/V hitch on a large truck. Many models can tow up to 18,000 lbs. GTW, making them ideal for everything from medium-sized trailers to large RVs.

WORD OF CAUTION: It’s important to note the crucial difference between a camper’s GVW and net weight towing capacities. Never max out your vehicle’s towing capacity. Pushing your vehicle to the limit increases the risk for overheating, mechanical failure and damaging the hitch. It’s always best to leave yourself a little margin of error so you don’t end up stuck on the side of the road.

 

 

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About the author

Pit Stops for Kids AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly at a number of travel publications, and contributes to OutdoorsNW magazine as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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