If you are just embarking on your first RVing adventure, you could get in a bit of trouble if you do not know some facts about your RV trailer, and what they mean. One such is what does GCWR mean?
Gross Combined Weight Rating or GCWR is a specification of a combination of a towing and towed vehicle, i.e. your car or truck, and travel trailer. It is a sum of the GVWRs of both vehicles.
But, you do not just need to know what it is, as there are some implications of this number, and some very common misconceptions about what it is. So, read on to find out why it is an important number and why you should know it.
What does GCWR mean?
As we said above, the Gross Combined Weight Rating is the sum of the GVWRs of both the towing and towed vehicle, when you are towing a travel trailer it is your car and the RV trailer.
But, if you are dinghy towing, then GCWR can be the sum of GVWRs of all the vehicles in such a combination.
It can be a motorhome and towed car, a towing vehicle, an RV trailer, plus a towed dinghy vehicle. The thing to keep in mind is that when a vehicle is towing one or more trailers or other vehicles they are together called a combination of vehicles.
Because each of those vehicles has its own GVWR, the sum of them is called Gross Combined Weight Rating.
What is GVWR?
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating or GVWR is the maximum weight any vehicle is allowed to have when loaded with all of the needed fluids, cargo, and passengers.
It is a design specification of any vehicle, whether it is a car, truck, or trailer. This value is provided by the manufacturer of the vehicle, and you can find it on the Vehicle Identification/Information plate.
The GVWR of any vehicle is limited by the design of many of its components. Most importantly the chassis and suspension. Both of them can withstand only so much force before they start performing worse than desired or even failing.
Because of this, you must never exceed it, as the overloaded vehicle does not brake nor turn predictably or safely.
How to calculate GCWR?
To calculate the GCWR all you have to do is sum the GVWRs of your vehicles in combination. Whether it is two or three of them, it doesn’t matter.
The important thing to know when calculating it is that you must use the trailer’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, and not something else.
Many articles on the internet will tell you that GCWR is calculated by adding the travel trailer’s actual weight to the GVWR of the towing vehicle. This is the wrong way to do it.
While calculating it this way is safe, the problem is that firstly you will get a wrong number, and secondly, it could be illegal for you to drive such a combination.
And this problem of legality will discuss later on in this article.
What is GTW?
The Gross Trailer Weight is just another name for the actual weight of your travel trailer when it is loaded with all cargo, fluids, and occupants.
It is not applicable just to RV trailers, but also to all other types of them. Very often you will find articles on the internet that confuse GTW with trailer’s GVWR.
Following their advice, you can create some problems for yourself.
GVWR or trailer vs towing capacity
Towing capacity is the maximum trailer’s GTW that is allowed to be towed by some specific vehicle. It is a design characteristic of that vehicle and tells you how big a load it can safely pull behind itself.
While the GVWR of a trailer is the maximum weight that a trailer is allowed to have when loaded with cargo. It is a design characteristic of that trailer.
It is important to understand this difference so you could properly calculate the GCWR of your combined vehicles. Because there are certain legal limits around that number.
If you erroneously calculate GCWR by using GTW instead of the trailer’s GVWR, you will very likely get a much lower number, while the actual GCWR could be illegal for you to drive.
Importance of GCWR
The most important thing about the GCWR is the legal limits that are prescribed for driving a combination of vehicles.
For such limits, the maximum weight ratings are used because it is impractical to weigh the actual vehicles on the road and enforce such limits. And you can be certain that if something is possible people will do it.
So, what is this legal limit we keep talking about? It is the limit of a combination’s GCWR which is allowed to be driven with the standard, non-commercial, driver’s license.
Per law, you are allowed with it to operate combinations of vehicles that have a GCWR of 26,000lbs or less. In case the GCWR is 26,001lbs or more, you need a CDL.
What is CDL?
CDL is a Commercial Driver’s License. It is a certificate that you have the knowledge and practical skills needed for driving commercial trucks and cargo trailers.
Some travel trailers can have very high GVWR, and when combined with some pickup trucks, the GCWR can be above 26,001lbs. There are three classes of CDLs:
- Class A,
- Class B,
- Class C.
Class A is needed for driving a combination of vehicles with GCWR above 26,001lbs, where the trailer has a GVWR of 10,001lbs or more.
Class B will allow you to operate combinations of vehicles with GCWR above the cut-off point, but only if the GVWR of the trailer is up to 10,000lbs.
While Class C is for other commercial vehicles. Those that are designed for transporting 16 or more passengers, hazardous materials, and everything else that is not covered by Class A and B, or non-commercial driver’s licenses.
What GCWR means is important to know because of the driver’s license requirements. It stands for Gross Combined Weight Rating, and it is the sum of the Gross Vehicle Weight Ratings of towing vehicle and a travel trailer.
By law, if you have the standard, non-commercial, driver’s license, you can operate combinations with the GCWR up to 26,000lbs.
If the GCWR is 26,001lbs or more, you would be required to hold a valid CDL.
Erick is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast. Growing up in Nairobi Kenya and now calling Glasgow, United Kingdom home. Sipping on homemade spiced swahili tea and enjoying a good book is his idea of bliss.