I have a 2004 Nissan Titan King Cab SE with rear wheel drive and a V8, 5.6L engine. It’s a pretty powerful truck, but it’s not the biggest one out there. So before I choose a travel trailer to tow with it, I need to ask a few questions. The first, and most important question, is how much weight can I tow? I tried to Google it, and it turns out the answer is simply not that straightforward.
Most of the sites I found swamped me with technical calculations and acronyms such as GCW, GCWR and GVWR. They talked about dry weight, tongue weight, axle weight and weighing my truck and trailer at a public RV scale while fully loaded. I had no idea what all that meant. All I asked was how much weight can I tow! It all just made my head hurt. I mean, who knew trailers had tongues anyway?! Next they will tell me that I need to feed the darn thing!
Anyway, I stuck with it and dug a little deeper and finally found an article written by Doug Setzer on the “Learn To RV” web site that made it all a bit clearer. After reading it, I went straight out to my truck, opened the driver’s side door and found the info I needed. Then following one of the suggestions in the article, I also found a towing guide from the Nissan dealer. Between the article and those two bits of information, I got a much better understanding of how to determine my vehicle’s towing capacity and what trailer is the right size for me.
Understanding those crazy acronyms
To answer the question “How much weight can I tow?” I need to understand what those crazy acronyms mean. Let’s start with GTW which means Gross Trailer Weight. This is the weight of the trailer when it is fully loaded and ready to go camping.
Well, that poses a problem for me because I don’t have a trailer yet. I’m just trying to make sure I don’t buy one that is bigger than I can safely tow. So, I have to do some research, make some estimates and then crunch some numbers to get my answer.
Now you might say “Why not ask an RV dealer?”. Well, the problem with that is, he or she might try to sell you the largest trailer your vehicle can tow while empty. So then what happens when you load up the truck and trailer? You are quickly overweight and your ability to safely handle the rig while you’re traveling is greatly decreased. Now, I want to enjoy nature and camp in remote places, but doing that upside down at the bottom of a ditch in some lonely location is not quite what I had in mind!
Now, I’m pretty certain that most RV dealers are honest about this, but it is far better to do your research and be safe than to take that chance with your life. You are your own best advocate!
Considering cargo weight
So, I need to buy the lightest trailer I can find that provides an adequate amount of space for me, my pets, my cargo and my work requirements. According to Nissan, the maximum trailer weight that my truck can tow is 7,400 lbs.
Water weighs over 8 pounds per gallon. Most smaller RVs have at least three 35-gallon tanks. That adds up to almost 1,000 pounds by itself! So that brings the weight of the trailer I can buy down to around 6,400 lbs.
Now add things like a TV, DVD, AC unit, eating and cooking utensils, towels, washcloths, cleaning supplies, toiletries, clothing, pet supplies, bedding, storage organizers, lawn chairs, portable grill, bag of charcoal, food, full propane tanks, etc. Lets assume it all adds up to another 1,000 lbs. Now my trailer needs to weigh 5,400 lbs or less. Yikes! It’s really getting up there and I’m only estimating! I could be off!
The point here is, I have to be very conservative with what I decide to take with me. But I don’t want to have to worry if the items I buy after I start my Boondocking lifestyle will put me over the limit, so I would like to have some wiggle room.
A trailer with wiggle room
Let’s look at the 2017 Jay Flight 26BH Travel Trailer by Jayco for example. According to the specifications, this trailer’s unloaded weight is 4,805 lbs. and its GVWR is 7,000. It says it has a cargo carrying capacity of 2,195 lbs. That includes water and all the other items you might put in it.
Remember that my truck has a maximum towing capacity of 7,400 lbs. So far, this trailer is sounding like it might work for me. It falls within my maximum towing capacity and has a fair amount of wiggle room, right? Well…maybe. There is one more important factor I need to consider.
Let’s talk about tongue weight
I know, I know. Your head is spinning. Believe me, I understand! I tried to pass this topic up thinking that it wasn’t important to consider yet. I’m just trying to gather enough information to know what size travel trailer to buy after all! But my new friend, Doug Setzer, (the guy who wrote the article I referenced earlier), wouldn’t let that slide. He told me that I really needed to consider the tongue weight as part of my decision about which trailer would work best for my truck. I tried to talk him out of it, but he explained more and I had to grudgingly agree that it made sense. So, I studied a bit more and asked Doug a lot of questions and here is what I’ve learned.
So far, I’ve only discussed the maximum weight that my truck can tow, but I haven’t really considered the Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW). This refers to the weight of the towing vehicle (my truck) while it is fully loaded and ready to go. This includes a full gas tank, full engine fluids, cargo, passengers and me, but we won’t talk about my weight.
The tongue weight of a fully loaded trailer also has to be included as part of the load on my truck. And then, all of this has to fall within the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of my truck which is 6,400 lbs., but also the maximum tongue load for my truck which is 740 lbs.
So, I have to start with the weight of my truck and add everything in. So I turned to Google again and found several sources that gave it a range of 4,700 lbs. to 5,300 lbs. To be safe, I’m going to estimate that my truck weighs about 5,000 lbs. It may actually weigh less since it is two-wheel-drive and not four-wheel-drive.
Now I add a full tank of gas at about 175 lbs., about 12 lbs. of oil, 8 lbs. for the water reservoir, other fluids, me, my dog, my parrot and her cage, maybe a full ice chest, a truck bed tool box with tools, my hitch receiver…you get the idea. Let’s just say that the total comes to around 600 lbs. That brings the weight of my truck and its cargo to 5,600 lbs. That leaves 800 lbs. available. As long as my loaded trailer’s tongue weighs less than that and does not exceed my truck’s maximum tongue weight rating of 740 lbs., I’m safe.
Calculating tongue weight before buying a travel trailer
So, how do you calculate a trailer’s tongue weight for a trailer that you don’t yet have? Good question! Luckily, my truly wonderful new friend, Doug, thought of that too! He has created an online tool with a tongue weight calculator! I’m really growing quite fond of Doug about now.
So let’s use Doug’s handy calculator and plug in the specifications of our example trailer, Jay Flight 26BH:
- Dry/Unloaded Vehicle Weight: 4,805 lbs.
- Dry Hitch/Tongue Weight: 525 lbs.
- Gross Vehicle Weight Rating: 7,000 lbs.
In the Calculated Percentages field on Doug’s form, I started with the 2% option. That resulted in an estimated tongue weight of 903 lbs. That far exceeds my truck’s maximum tongue weight rating of 740 lbs. and the available cargo weight left for my truck. So, I changed the percentage to 1% and then 0 %. No matter what I tried, that cool little Jayco trailer is not looking like it will work for me after all.
I’m planning to live in my trailer and tow it all over America. Imagine what could have happened if I had bought that trailer without considering the tongue weight. I could have been dealing with damage to my truck, damage to the trailer and unsafe handling of the entire rig. I love life and my precious pets a little too much to take a risk like that. Thank you Doug!
Armed with facts and confidence
Well, that wasn’t much fun and I know that those of you who are considering a Boondocking lifestyle are probably comatose by now. I know I was by the end of it all. Still it’s pretty clear that these things are extremely important considerations when deciding which trailer to buy.
After all that I’ve learned, I am now looking at trailers that are closer to 4,000 lbs, unloaded, like this little gem: Forest River, Rockwood Mini Lite 2306.
The best part is that I am now well armed with facts and feel confident that I can choose the right travel trailer for my purposes. And even better, when I talk to an RV dealer, I will have a pretty good idea if he’s being honest about the weight or trying to get a bigger commission check!