You don’t need a scale to know when it’s time to drop a few pounds, but it’s easy to live in denial until your pants no longer fit. When that day comes and you’re ready to do something about it, SmartWeigh has the only kind of RV scale that will tell you the whole ugly truth for less than the cost of one tire.
All RVers Are At Risk of Weight Creep
It happens to just about every long-term RVer, including me and my husband. Over the last twelve years of full-timing we’ve found it harder to resist adding extra creature comforts to our fifth wheel. More electronics here, a new workstation over there and little by little additional weight creeped into our rig. We hoped the impact of bringing more stuff inside would be negligible. But deep down, a little voice urged us to get back on the Escapees SmartWeigh scale.
There have been three times in our full-timing life when we stepped up to the scale. The last time discovered our Dodge RAM 2500 was close to exceeding its towing capacity for our GCWR: the combined weight rating that represents the maximum weight of our loaded truck and trailer combined. We were safe but decided that adding another 80-pound dog to our pack was a bad idea. Then we carried on with business as usual. Our truck was technically within safe hauling limits even with full holding tanks. What could possibly go wrong?
Then it happened. The inevitable remodel. Last summer after one too many back aches, it was time for Jim to stop working from the dinette and build a real desk. Out went the old jackknife sofa, in went a custom RV workstation. The new mod turned out great, but it left us with an uneasy feeling about our Dodge’s towing capacity. The nagging uncertainty could only be rectified by pulling into a SmartWeigh location.
The Right Way To Weigh RVs
From a trashed transmission to blown tires and brake failures, everything we put inside our rig to make it more comfortable adds extra weight that can push us to the brink of disaster. It doesn’t matter what make, model or size of RV you own. If you want to get to your next destination in one piece, your RV and tires must be within safe hauling and operating limits. The best way to know if they are is by getting onto the Escapees SmartWeigh scale at Livingston, Texas, Bushnell, Florida or Congress, Arizona.
“We try to guide people and give them guidance. Whether they follow it or not is their business,” says George Wickholm, the Weigh Master at North Ranch RV Park in Congress. He’s been weighing RVs since the park launched the program in 2012 and has seen thousands of examples of RVers unknowingly putting their rigs and lives at risk.
“You see all kinds of things. It’s fun,” says George.
From another working RVer like us who built a custom slide-out workstation – but with a granite countertop, to the RVer whose weight-lifting set caused his diesel-pusher to exceed its limits, RVers pack on the pounds in a variety of entertaining ways.
But those who are smart enough to roll up to a SmartWeigh scale are halfway to winning the battle of the bulge.
“Too many of us have been ignoring it too long and gotten lax about what we carry”
I shared our previous weigh-in experiences with George, who wasn’t surprised that we still allowed ourselves to haul extra weight around. “Too many of us have been ignoring it too long and gotten lax about what we carry,” he explained.
It’s easy to ignore the risks of driving under unsafe operating conditions, until it’s too late. And when that time comes, an accident won’t just ruin your whole day, but will impact your finances too. Highway patrol officers who arrive on an RVer’s accident scene have the authority to tow the rig to a truck scale. If being overweight was a factor in the wreck, you’re in trouble. “It’s a ticketable item,” explains George.
RV Safety Knowledge Is Finally Cool
When the SmartWeigh program started, many experienced RVers were reluctant to get on the scale. George says that in those early days, experienced RVers would tell him, “I’ve been doing this for 20 years without a problem, why do I need to get weighed?” It took a while to clarify the benefits to up-and-coming RVers, but George says that an attitude shift has occurred over the last ten years.
Today’s younger and inexperienced RVers want to know all they can about RVing safety, before they begin driving. They soak up online RV education and go Boot Camp before buying their first RV. And when they do, by making a trip to a SmartWeigh station, they quickly discover that any truck stop scale can weigh RV axles, but cannot give wheel weight readings that indicate unbalanced, unsafe axle loads. SmartWeigh does. “We can tell you how many pounds you’re unbalanced. A truck stop can’t,” says George.
“Truck scales are platform scales, which only give you the weight per axle. Individual wheel weights are necessary to identify and resolve side-to-side balance and tire loading issues. Truck platform scales can actually give you a false “safe” indication and allow you to operate with one or more tires overloaded.”
SmartWeigh also tells you if your tires are under or over-inflated for your specific weight readings. You’ll also get a tutorial on the optimum tire pressure for your specific tire brand and wheel weights, something a truck scale can never provide.
The dangers of under-inflated tires are also emphasized. “Under-inflation will do more damage to a tire than over-inflation,” George says. When a tire has low pressure, it will shred and disintegrate from the inside out, causing hidden damage that isn’t apparent until it’s too late. So, whether you get on the scale once or three times as we have, it serves as a reminder that getting a scale reading and achieving optimum PSI involves so much more than pulling into a Flying J.
Our SmartWeigh Moment Of Truth
The Congress, Arizona SmartWeigh location is far from any bargain-priced truck stop scale, but the rewards of paying for a real RV scale are far greater. Our moment of truth arrived, and it was well worth the drive. By driving our truck and trailer onto the scale for a third time, we are now traveling with a little less worry. Here’s what we discovered about our rig:
- Our truck is 1000 pounds overweight, when towing with full holding tanks. “You’re OK on both axles,” said George. It’s not putting us in danger, “but during a panicked stop, you may not stop as fast as you need to,” he explained. Traveling without full holding tanks will help. And although buying a new truck isn’t a necessity, he emphasized that we are “creating a long-term wear situation that will require a little money somewhere down the line.”
- Our trailer’s kingpin is 25 pounds overweight. Although we’re not in the danger zone, it would benefit us to shift more weight to the rear when towing.
- The front end of our trailer is “nose down,” by about 300 pounds. Shifting more weight to the rear will ease that burden. Whether or not we can technically do that is another matter.
- The slide-out workstation made our trailer axles out of balance. We’re now 75 pounds heavier on the left side. The total axle weight is heavier, but still within safe limits.
- The trailer is now 200 pounds overweight, which contributes to the excess 1000-pound weight on the truck.
- Our truck and trailer tires were extremely overinflated. By filling them according to the sidewall maximum PSI number, we weren’t factoring the axle loads placed on each tire. Both sets were at 80 PSI, but the truck’s tires should be at 60 in the front and 65 in the rear when towing. The trailer tires should have been at 55. “Never let them get below that, because that’s your optimum pressure,” urged George. “Below that does more damage to the inside of the tire than you want.” Reducing the tire pressure will also create a lighter, less bumpy ride.
In total, yes, we are slightly overweight and if we made some modifications to our lifestyle, we could get within closer reach of our RV’s ideal weight limit. Other than traveling with empty holding tanks, which is a hassle for boondocking fans like us, I’m not exactly sure how we will do it, but at least now we have some guidance to help us get there.
Weight is such a sensitive topic. Whether we are talking about our bodies our or RVs, none of us want to confront obesity. But no matter how you look at it, knowledge is power. When we take that first step to drop those pounds and reduce our risk of catastrophic failure, life can only get better.
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