Fifth wheels are a popular type of RV (recreational vehicle) that are towed by pickup trucks or even semi-tractors, allowing travelers and campers to take the comforts of home with them on the road. We love our fifth wheel as it allows us to travel full time while working comfortably, with amenities such as onboard laundry, a dishwasher, and even a living room ceiling height over 8 feet tall. With these amenities often comes an increase in size and weight. When towing our home on wheels down the road, we are similar to semi-trucks pulling trailers in that we are nearly 60 feet long and 13’4” high. After towing our RV home on wheels through 25+ states and over 25,000 miles so far, we want to help you limit stress by understanding the ins and out of weigh station regulations. RVing should be a fulfilling and fun adventure!
As a general rule, commercial trucks and vehicles with a GVW (gross vehicle weight) over 10,000 lbs have to stop at weigh stations throughout the United States. This can rightfully cause some confusion for RV owners when it comes to fifth-wheel campers or other large truck campers, heavy trailers, motorhomes, or conversions as while they are non-commercial, they can often weigh well over 10,000 lbs. Our 38-foot fifth wheel, weighs around 19,000 lbs, for example.
Due to fifth wheels’ larger size and potentially higher weight, there is often concern and questions surrounding whether or not fifth wheels or other RVs need to stop at weigh stations while driving on highways. In this article, we explore the laws and regulations surrounding weigh stations and fifth wheels and help clarify whether or not you need to stop at these stations.
What are weigh stations?
Weigh stations are roadside facilities designed to weigh commercial vehicles to ensure they comply with weight limits and other safety regulations. These facilities are typically located on major highways and are operated by state departments of transportation. At weigh stations, commercial vehicles such as tractor-trailers, buses, and other large vehicles are required to stop and undergo a weight inspection.
The purpose of weigh stations is to ensure that commercial vehicles are operating within safe weight limits, as overweight vehicles can cause damage to roads and bridges and are more likely to be involved in accidents. Weigh stations also serve to protect the public by ensuring that commercial vehicles are properly maintained and in compliance with safety regulations.
A Breakdown of RV Weight Terms
There are several terms used to describe different aspects of vehicle weights. Here is a breakdown:
Dry Weight (also known as unloaded vehicle weight or UVW): Dry weight refers to the weight of a vehicle or object without any additional fluids or cargo. It typically includes the weight of the vehicle itself, its frame, engine, fuel tank, and any other components that are necessary for its operation, but it excludes any fuel, oil, water, or other liquids.
Gross Weight: Gross weight is the total weight of a vehicle or object, including its own weight, passengers, cargo, and any fluids such as fuel, oil, or water that may be present. It is often used to determine the maximum weight a vehicle can carry or transport safely.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating: GVWR is the maximum weight a vehicle is designed to be, as determined by the manufacturer. It includes the weight of the vehicle, passengers, cargo, and any fluids, and it is important to stay within this limit to avoid overloading the vehicle and compromising its safety and performance.
Combined Weight: Combined weight is the total weight of a vehicle and any trailers or other objects that are being towed or carried by the vehicle.
Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR): The combined weight limit of your tow vehicle and trailer.
Payload: The payload capacity of a vehicle is the maximum weight that it can carry safely, without overloading or damaging the vehicle. (Important for how much your truck or tow vehicle can carry, which includes passengers, cargo, and pin weight from the fifth wheel hitch)
Pin Weight: Weight that is transferred to the tow vehicle when a trailer is hitched to it. Specifically, pin weight is the downward force that is exerted on the fifth wheel or gooseneck hitch by the trailer. (Important for fifth wheels with kingpins or gooseneck attachments)
Tongue Weight: Tongue weight is the weight that is exerted on the hitch ball by the trailer’s tongue or coupler. It is important to ensure that the tongue weight is within the recommended range for the vehicle and hitch, as too much or too little weight can affect the stability and safety of the towing setup. (Important for tow-behind trailers, pop-up campers, etc.)
Highway Weigh Station Vs. Truck Stop Weigh Station
A highway weigh station is typically located along major highways and interstates and is used by state authorities to check the weight and safety of commercial vehicles such as trucks and buses. These stations are often mandatory for commercial vehicles to stop and get weighed to ensure they are within legal weight limits and meet safety regulations.
On the other hand, a truck stop weigh station is typically located in or near a truck stop and is used by truck drivers to weigh their vehicles and make sure they are not overweight before entering a highway weigh station. You may have heard of these weigh stations referred to as “CAT Scales”. These weigh stations are not mandatory, but they can be useful for truck drivers who want to avoid being fined for overweight loads or risking damage to their vehicles or other drivers on the road.
When it comes to highway weigh stations, you may find that some are open and others are closed. So what does that mean?
The decision to open or close a weigh station can be based on a number of factors, including the volume of commercial traffic in the area, the time of day or week, and staffing levels. For example, a weigh station might be closed during the late night or early morning hours when there is less commercial traffic on the road, or during weekends or holidays when staffing levels are reduced.
It’s important for commercial vehicle operators to be aware of which weigh stations are open and which are closed, as failure to stop at an open weigh station when required can result in fines and penalties.
State authorities typically use a combination of signage, electronic message boards, and mobile apps to communicate which weigh stations are currently open or closed, so it’s important for drivers to pay attention to these signals and plan their routes accordingly.
How do you calculate your vehicle weight, fifth wheel weight, and total combined weight?
Along with having all RV essentials on board, determining the total weight of your camper or fifth wheel is an essential step in ensuring that you are operating your vehicle within legal weight limits and are complying with safety regulations.
In addition, making sure your fifth wheel and tow vehicle are within regulation is important to your own and other peoples’ safety. If either your RV or your tow vehicle is overweight, you can be prone to a variety of dangers including trouble stopping or maneuvering, brake failure (for truck brakes or trailer brakes), and cracked frames.
To determine the safety of the total weight of your fifth wheel, you can start by checking the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of your truck and RV listed on the manufacturer’s label or in the owner’s manual. This rating indicates the maximum weight that your vehicle can safely carry, including the weight of the trailer or truck itself, all cargo, and any passengers.
You can then use a scale, such as a commercial scale at a weigh station (if you are asked to or permitted), a portable RV scale, or a CAT scale at a truck stop, to weigh your vehicle and trailer when they are fully loaded. Subtract the weight of your vehicle when it is not towing the trailer from the fully loaded weight, and you will have the weight of your fifth wheel. This information can help you ensure that you are within legal weight limits and avoid fines or other penalties.
Knowing your gross weight is an important part of RV and towing safety and can also keep you free from liability if an accident or incident were to arise during your travels.
If you end up with a cracked frame on your fifth wheel and you are well over the gross weight your RV is rated for, you may be at fault if your actual weight exceeds what your fifth wheel or trailer is rated to carry. The same goes if you own a travel trailer or specialty vehicles and conversions as well.
Example from our full-time RV setup:
DRV Mobile Suites Fifth Wheel
- Dry Weight (UVW): 16,885 lbs
- GVWR: 19,000 lbs
- Pin Weight: 4,500 lbs
Ram 3500 Long Bed Dually
- GVWR: 14,000 lbs
- Dry Weight (UVW): 8,508 lbs
- Payload: 5,492 lbs
Combined Weight: 28,500 lbs (truck GVWR + fifth wheel GVWR – fifth wheel pin weight)
Legally, do fifth wheels have to stop at weigh stations?
The answer to this question is a bit complicated and can depend on the specific laws and regulations of the state in which you are driving, as well as how those laws are carried out in practice.
In general, fifth-wheel owners are not required to stop at weight stations unless their vehicle meets certain criteria:
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) defines a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) as any vehicle used for interstate commerce that meets a certain size, weight, or other criteria. CMVs are required to stop at weight stations and undergo inspections.
However, fifth wheels are typically not considered commercial vehicles and are exempt from weigh station requirements in many places. According to the FMCSA, a vehicle is not considered a CMV if it is being used solely for personal use and not for business purposes. This means that if you are using your fifth wheel for recreational purposes and not for commercial gain, you can typically expect not to be required to stop at weigh stations.
To make things a bit confusing though, it is important to note that some states have their own regulations regarding weight station requirements for non-commercial vehicles, including fifth wheels. For example, California requires all vehicles over 10,000 pounds to stop at weigh stations, regardless of whether they are commercial or personal vehicles. Other states may have different weight limits or other criteria that determine whether a fifth wheel must stop at a weight station.
Individual State Laws & Regulations of note:
Here are some examples of states that have specific regulations when it comes to who has to stop at weigh stations. It is always best to check in on regulations for states you might be visiting and pay close attention to signage.
California: Vehicles with a GVWR of 11,500 lbs or more, UVW of 8,001 pounds or more, or not equipped with an open box-type bed not exceeding 9 feet in length are required to stop at weigh stations. More specific regulations for what is described as “pickup trucks with camper shells,” generally will not have to stop, but may be asked to under certain conditions
Maryland: Has adopted the Federal Bridge Formula and Table for maximum allowable vehicle axle and gross weights (aimed at preventing damage to bridges and pavement). This formula is based on the gross weight in relation to the wheelbase
In some states, you may also find that random checks are performed that do apply to RVs and fifth wheels. In these instances, a police officer may ask you to pull over at a nearby open weigh station, or you may be directed there by signs. This is the case for states including:
- New Hampshire
- New York
- North Carolina
- West Virginia
In addition to state regulations, there may be other factors that determine whether you need to stop at a weigh station. For example, if you are traveling with a full tank of water or other supplies, your vehicle may exceed weight limits and you may be required to stop at a weight station. Additionally, if you are driving a pickup truck with a fifth wheel attachment, the weight of your entire rig (that combined weight) may exceed weight limits and require you to stop at a weigh station, even if each component of your setup individually is under the established limit.
It’s important to note that these regulations can change over time, and there may be other factors that determine whether you need to stop at a weigh station. If you are unsure whether you need to stop at a weigh station or if you are going on a long trip where you will be crossing state lines, it is best to consult the regulations of the state you are driving in and generally follow signs you see along the highway or the direction of police officers.
Worst comes to worst, you pull into a weigh station only to be sent on your way, and avoid being assessed any fines.
Where can you find more state-specific information?
If you are unsure whether you need to stop at a weigh station while driving your fifth wheel, there are several resources you can consult to determine the specific laws and regulations of the state you are driving in.
One resource is the website of the state’s Department of Transportation. Most state transportation departments have information on their website about weight station requirements and other regulations for commercial and personal vehicles – but it can be pretty tough to find clear answers and be full of jargon. You can do a quick search, but might also want to try contacting the department directly by phone or email to ask about specific requirements for your vehicle if you are concerned.
Another resource is the FMCSA’s website, which provides information on federal regulations for commercial motor vehicles. While fifth wheels are typically exempt from these regulations, the website may provide useful information on weight limits and other safety requirements that could affect your vehicle.
Finally, you can consult a professional in the RV industry, such as a trusted dealer, who may be able to further advise you on weight limits and other regulations specific to your RV. They may also be able to provide tips on how to properly distribute weight within your fifth wheel to ensure that you are operating within safe limits. Proper weight distribution is important not only for safety, but also for the comfort and stability of your RV and or tow vehicle while driving.
It is important to note that even if you are not required to stop at a weigh station, it is still a good idea to regularly weigh your vehicle to ensure that you are not exceeding weight limits. Overweight vehicles can cause damage to roads and bridges and are more likely to be involved in accidents. In addition, overweight vehicles may be subject to fines or other penalties.
If you do need to stop at a weigh station, it is important to follow all instructions and regulations. This may include pulling onto a weigh scale and providing documentation such as your driver’s license and vehicle registration. The weight station operator may also perform an inspection of your vehicle to ensure that it is in compliance with safety regulations.
What does a weigh station examination entail?
If you do end up having to stop at a weigh station, here is a bit about what to expect:
A weigh station examination, also known as a weigh station inspection, is a process that commercial vehicles are required to go through at designated weigh stations. The purpose of a weigh station examination is to ensure that commercial vehicles are not overloaded and are in compliance with state and federal laws and regulations regarding weight and safety.
During a weigh station examination, commercial vehicles are required to pull onto a designated scale where their weight is measured. If the weight of the vehicle exceeds the legal limit or is close to exceeding it, the driver may be required to remove some of the cargo before continuing on their journey.
Additionally, the vehicle may be inspected for any safety violations, such as worn tires or faulty brakes.
Weigh station examinations are an important tool in ensuring that commercial vehicles operate safely on the roadways and that they do not pose a risk to other drivers or to the infrastructure. They help to enforce weight limits, prevent accidents caused by overloaded vehicles, and ensure that commercial vehicles are in compliance with state and federal laws and regulations.
Bottom Line: Do fifth wheels really need to stop at weigh stations?
The short answer? Generally no, non-commercial vehicles (including fifth wheels and RVs not used for commercial purposes) generally should not expect to have to stop at weight stations. In 2 years of RVing full-time throughout the United States, we have not yet had to stop at a weigh station or been flagged down due to concerns about our RV’s weight.
Different states have different rules and regulations and these do change from time to time. So the long answer is, whether or not fifth wheels need to stop at weight stations depends on the specific laws and regulations of the state in which you are driving.
In general, fifth wheels that are used solely for personal use and not for business purposes are exempt from weight station requirements.
However, some states have their own regulations that may require fifth wheels to stop at weigh stations, and there may be other factors that determine whether you need to stop. It is important to consult state regulations, and professional resources, and weigh your vehicle regularly to ensure that you are operating within safe limits and complying with all applicable laws and regulations.
Knowing the weight of your RV as well as your tow vehicle’s weight is part of responsible fifth-wheel ownership, as is doing your best to follow state guidelines when it comes to stopping at weigh stations.
Your best option will always be to air on the side of caution when traveling on public highways or exploring new places while embarking on an epic road trip.
Interested in purchasing a fifth wheel or learning about a full-time RV lifestyle? Check out these other resources:
- Best Luxury Fifth Wheels For Full-Time Living
- Best Truck Tires For Towing Fifth Wheels
- Complete Guide To The Types of Fifth Wheel Hitches
- Transitioning to Full-Time RV Living
- 33+ Best Camper Hacks
- Ultimate RV Maintenace Checklist
- RV Tips 101: Education Guide For Beginners