Can My Truck Tow My RV? (Do You Trust the Salesman?)

It all sounded so simple at the dealership.

“You drive an F-150, huh? That won’t be a problem. It can tow about 10,000 lbs, right?” says Rick the RV salesman. He grins and slaps the electric tongue jack of a 32-ft travel trailer. “This here bad boy weighs 7,000 lbs. You should be well under your limit.”

If you’re lucky, you’re reading this paragraph before you signed the dotted line at Rick’s “This-Friday-Only!” dealership.

If you’re so not lucky, you’re now the proud owner of a 32-ft four-wheeled behemoth, and your shiny F-150 is starting to look awful puny …

5th Wheel RV being towed by a white pickup truck

“Hey, Can My Vehicle Tow that Trailer?”

It may be the number one question asked on RV owner forums: “Can my vehicle tow [X] camper?”

Some dealerships will give you a straight-up, honest answer. Some will … how should I put it? Ever read the kids’ book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie?

As the book says: “If you give a mouse a cookie, he will want some milk to go with it.” It’s a lot easier to sell a $75,000 RV if you don’t have to sell a $75,000 dually truck along with it!

Psst … if you’re reading this article and hate math, I invite you to step over to and try out these interactive RV towing calculators!

STEP 1: Find Out EXACTLY What Your Vehicle Is Rated to Tow

So let’s start with some facts.

If you want to know EXACTLY how much your vehicle can tow, find the Trailer Towing Chart from your vehicle manufacturer. These are all available online from Ford, Ram, Chevrolet, Toyota, etc.

You’ll need to know:

  • Engine
  • Transmission
  • Axle ratio
  • Cab style
  • Drivetrain (e.g. 2WD, 4WD)
  • Bed length

Or you can skip all this research drudgery and look at the VIN sticker on the inside of your door jamb. It should tell you exactly what your maximum tow capacity is.

Here’s a towing selector for the 2021 Ford F-150 pickup truck.

 towing selector for the 2021 Ford F-150 pickup truck.

Was the salesman correct?

Sure, with a 5.0L V8, 3.73 axle, 4×4 drivetrain, the Max Trailer Tow Package, Heavy-Duty Payload Package, and a SuperCab long bed, you could tow 13,000 lbs. What a beast!

Your F-150? With the 3.3L V6, 3.55 axle, 4×2 drivetrain and SuperCrew short bed? Maximum towing weight: 5,100 lbs

Actually, you can’t tow that, either. Keep reading.

STEP 2: Account for Tow Vehicle Passengers and Cargo

I could spoon-feed you a thick alphabet soup of automotive equations (GCVWR, GAWR, GVW, TW etc.), but who wants to swallow all that?

But … there are two acronyms you should really know!

  • UVW: Unloaded vehicle weight, also known as “factory weight” or “dry weight.” This is the weight of your RV as configured by the manufacturer. It’s what’s on your sticker or title. Your dealer may add a few options that slightly increase the factory weight, but by law, it must be accurate to 100 lbs or 1%, whichever is less.
  • TW: Tongue weight. This is the weight of your trailer at the hitch as configured by the factory. Generally, it should be between 10 and 15 percent of the UVW for a travel trailer and 15-25 percent for a 5th wheel.

For more information, check out FMVSS 49 CFR § 571.110.

Anyways, let’s keep it simple. Brochure towing capacities are best-case scenarios only. They aren’t real-world values. They assume your truck is completely empty except for you and a passenger.

Oh, and both you and the passenger weigh 150 lbs. Wouldn’t that be nice? (Thanks for rubbing it in, Ford!) So if you weigh more than your 15-year-old self or are carrying any gear whatsoever, expect your towing capacity to decrease.

There are literally dozens of fine-print reasons why your real-world towing capacity won’t be what the chart says.

We’re not going to run through all of them. Instead, just lop off 10-20%. If your chart value is 9,000 lbs, assume you can actually tow 7,200-9,100 lbs at most – and that’s just with regular passengers and cargo, not everything extra you might bring along for a camping trip.

But we’re not done quite yet.

STEP 3: Account for RV Size and Driving Dynamics

We’re almost done! I promise!

There is one special tow capacity stipulation I want to highlight: Frontal area.

Imagine a kit. The bigger the kite, the more wind it catches, right? A truck and trailer work the same way. The wider and taller the RV, the harder the truck must work to pull it through the air. And – you guessed it – that further reduces towing capacity.

Ford doesn’t tell you how much less you can tow. They just say that “performance will be significantly reduced.” That’s because aerodynamics is a dark art in physics, and there’s no chart-friendly way to quantify it. Plus, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Big trailer trailers and fifth wheels can overwhelm smaller trucks.

So unless you’re towing a pop-up or teardrop trailer, your RV will be too tall and too wide for maximum towing capacity. Even worse, big “ultralight” RVs can overwhelm the tow vehicle, causing the tail to wag the dog! Scary!

STEP 4: Subtract for Driving Conditions and Tow Vehicle Condition

I can hear you whispering. “Geeeeeez Andy,” you say, “Why you gotta rain on my parade like this? Don’t you have any good news?”

Not really. Instead, here’s some more fine print.

The towing capacities in Ford’s chart are based on Ford’s factory-installed towing packages. These include improvements like a transmission cooler, engine oil cooler, larger gas tank, stronger rear bumper, locking rear axle, etc.

So if you’re thinking, “I can just take my base F-150 to U-Haul and install a Class IV hitch and then tow 12,000 lbs!” please, please, drive far, don’t drive anywhere close to me. Not all towing packages are created equal. Just because your hitch can handle 1,200 lbs doesn’t mean your transmission can handle an extra 12,000!

Oh, and if you want to visit the Rockies, Ford recommends decreasing towing capacity by 2% for every 1,000 ft above sea level. At 8,000 ft elevation, that’s 16% less.

STEP 5: Account for Your Gear!

Last piece of the puzzle – you need some leftover weight for your stuff!

We RV designers call this “cargo carrying capacity.” Check the VIN label on your unit. Most medium-sized RVs have a CCC of 800 – 2,000 lbs. Chances are, you don’t have as much cargo capacity as you think.

Showing VIN, tire, and CC stickers on RV sidewall

This is usually calculated with the water tanks empty, so any water you add will reduce your cargo capacity. However, a lot of stickers now show the base CCC with calculated reductions for full water and waste tanks.

If you’re a minimalist backpacker, you can get away with 500 lbs. If you’re a burger-grillin’, camp chair-loungin’, 10-person tent erectin’, corn bag tossin’ weekend warrior, the sky’s the limit. Buy accordingly.

STEP 6: Now Do the Math

Now what happens if you ignore my advice and listen to Jerry B. down the road? “That’s just lawyer talk,” he assures you. “I’ve towed Ol’ Bertha here to California and back with my Dodge Dakota. Never had a problem.”

And … well, sometimes that happens. Some trucks seem to absorb whatever you throw at ‘em. That’s a credit to their engineers. Other times, you burn up your transmission. Or you shear off all the studs on your rear tires. Yes, I’ve seen both.

Now look, I’m not telling you whether your vehicle can or can’t tow a certain camper. That’s a legal liability I don’t need on my shoulders. All the numbers in this article are best guesses. THEY ARE NOT ENGINEERING ADVICE!

The truth is, figuring out exactly how much you can tow is a lot more complicated than this short post can dissect. For instance, I wrote this post for discussing how, in real life, its the tow vehicle’s rear axle that normally determines how much weight you can really tow.

Because of the numerical complexity, many RVers abide by the 80/20 Towing Rule, but that can be woefully inadequate if you travel with a full tow vehicle!

What I’m saying is this:

  1. Find out exactly what the manufacturer says your vehicle can tow.
  2. Account for the additional weight of trailer, dealer and aftermarket options, passengers, RV height and width, tow vehicle cargo, trailer cargo, elevation, road conditions, your driving style and a generous buffer.
  3. And that’s your real-world maximum towing capacity.

And more than likely, the last step:

 4. Trade in your F-150 for a dually three-quarter-ton truck.

Now that’s a real truck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *