By Charles Joseph—As you travel to your vacation destination with your travel trailer, you find yourself behind what seems like an endless lineup of semi-trucks. 80 miles down the road you finally see your sign of hope “Weigh Station 1 Mile.” As they all start to pull off, that little voice in your mind plants a seed of doubt, “Do RVs have to stop at weigh stations?”
We’re going to explore this question with you. You’ll find out the history, purpose, and laws regarding mandatory highway weigh stations. We’ll answer those frequently asked questions our readers have concerning if they’re required to stop at weigh stations and the consequences of bypassing them.
What Are Weigh Stations For?
The original purpose of weigh stations had to do with the fuel tax. Weigh stations allowed states to collect fees from heavy commercial vehicles that put extraordinary wear and tear on state-funded roads. Today, toll roads perform the same purpose for federal and state-funded roads.
The fuel tax that you pay at the gas pump, toll roads, and commercial traffic pays at weigh stations helps fund repairs to publically-funded roads. When you see a pothole filled up, cracks sealed with tar, or major reconstruction of highways, just know that the fuel in your gas tank helped pay for that. To be fair, potholes and cracks form quicker than they can be fixed.
As the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Transporation Security Agency (TSA) became more involved, weigh stations took on a more comprehensive role making commercial vehicles required to stop at weigh stations for many different reasons. This includes:
- Fuel tax collection
- Inspection of DOT safety standards
- Driver’s log times
- All manifests and paperwork are in good order
- Compliance with TSA security regulations
- Possible inspection of cargo
When Would I Need to Stop at a Weigh Station
Each state has its own laws regarding weigh stations. The language of these laws can be vague. This makes the meaning of the law and the interpretation of the language seem like two different ideas. Before you retain your lawyer, we’ll break it down for you.
For Most States, Privately-Owned RVs Aren’t Required to Stop at Weigh Stations.
If you bypass a weigh station, unless you are specifically ordered to do so by a police officer, you’re going to be just fine. If you do feel the need to stop at a weigh station, follow the instructions of the attendant of that station. Fee collection is usually designated for those vehicles that are above extreme weights.
For example, The state of Montana requires business-owned RV over 8,000 pounds to stop at all weigh stations in the state. If you run your home jams and jellies business out of your RV and you claim your RV as a business asset, the interpretation of “business-owned” could be tricky. The safest course of action would be to pull in, explain yourself to the attendant, and let them decide.
Your gross combined weight may be over 8,000 pounds but is well under what they consider an extreme weight. More than likely, you won’t have to pay anything, but you did comply with the law. The attendant may tell you that you do or don’t have to stop at the other weigh stations.
Whatever they tell you, follow their instructions. If you are purely a privately-owned RV on vacation or full-timer where your RV has nothing to do with your business, you can keep your foot on the gas pedal and continue to enjoy the scenery. If you’re unsure, it’s always a good idea to contact the state’s DMV ahead of time to learn its weigh station laws in detail.
Weigh Station Protocols for RVs
If you’re in a state which requires RVs to go through weigh stations or must pull in, your weigh station protocols for your RV should always start with staying calm. There are many reasons RVs are asked to pull over. Our best recommendation for what to do at a weigh station is to be pleasant and follow instructions.
There is something about your vehicle and/or RV they are looking for. Someone else with a similar description did something wrong, your vehicle weight may be the issue or many other factors. Whatever the reason, this isn’t personal.
The attendants know that we RVers are friendly folk just looking to enjoy our vacations. The weigh station staff generally want to do their due diligence with us so they can focus on the ones that need their attention.
Weigh Station Laws by State
As we mentioned before, each state has its own laws. Some match up with others, and some have unique characteristics. In the list below, we’ll identify the key components the states have in their weigh station laws. Whether you stop or not is your decision, but we always recommend being aware of each state’s traffic laws that you’re driving through.
- States where police officers can reroute any vehicle to weigh stations: Alaska, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Maine, Mississippi, Texas
- States commercial vehicles must stop regardless of weight: California, Connecticut, Kansas, Texas
- Only commercial, agricultural, and trucks must stop if they weigh more than 10,000 pounds: Alaska, Arizona*, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland
*Arizona requires RVs used for commercial purposes to stop at all weigh stations
- Privately-owned RVs, specialty vehicles, passenger vehicles, or trailer weighing over 10,000 pounds: Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Washington (State), and Wisconsin.
Unique State Laws
- Pennsylvania: Agricultural vehicles using public highways, passenger and specialty vehicles towing large trailers, large RVs, and trucks must comply with inspections and weigh station examinations regardless of size.
- Colorado: You must obtain clearance at a weigh station if a vehicle has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) or a Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) over 26,000 pounds.
- Delaware: Delaware currently has only one weigh station with plans for another. Commercial trucks and specialty vehicles weighing over 22,000 pounds must stop. The only RVs that have to stop are those extreme builds that are over 46 feet in length (either on its own or in combination with a tow vehicle).
- Missouri: Mandatory highway weigh stations are required for commercial trucks over 18,000 pounds
- Montana: All agricultural vehicles with a GVWR over 8,000 pounds and business-owned RVs must stop at state weigh stations.
A business-owned RV would be one that’s used as a musical group’s touring vehicle or a business’ promotional tour vehicle. Not-for-profits and campaign RVs are other examples of business-owned RVs. If you’re using your own towable or drivable for a family vacation, this doesn’t apply to you.
- Nebraska: All trucks weighing over one ton must stop. Pickup trucks with trailers don’t have to stop at weigh stations.
- New Jersey: All vehicles, regardless of category, must stop at a weigh station if its at or above 10,001 pounds.
- New Mexico: Any truck over 26,001 pounds must pull in to a weigh station.
- Oregon: If a vehicle or combined weight is over 26,000 pounds, it must stop at the weigh station.
- South Dakota: Agricultural vehicles, trucks, and drive-away operations over 8,000 GVWR must go through weigh stations. Vehicles towing horse trailers need to stop at weigh stations in this state.
Before you contact your lawyer or look it up, a “drive-away operation” is a legal term. It basically means any motor vehicle that carries cargo. This can be in a towable or drivable situation.
- Wyoming: Any vehicle involved in transporting people or property that weighs over 10,000 pounds must stop at weigh stations.
- Virginia: Virginia weigh station rules dictate that trucks over 7,500 pounds must stop at open weigh stations.
In our explanation of the state weigh station laws, we mentioned GVWR and GCWR. Knowing your vehicle’s weight ratings and specific numbers can mean the difference between stopping or bypassing a weigh station. These numbers are also important for the mechanical health of your vehicle.
There are many different measurements in the RV industry you need to know. Most have acronyms or nicknames. Knowing your coach’s numbers will help you with weigh stations, campground limits, and other real-world situations.
- Unloaded Vehicle Weight (UVW): This weight is also referred to as the RV’s “dry weight.” This is the weight of the coach (or tow vehicle) when it’s empty of cargo, liquids, and passengers. This weight is the basis for many of the other weights.
- Curb Weight: Another name for this weight is the “wet weight.” For motorhomes, this would be the dry weight plus all of the various engine fluids, fuel, and holding tank liquids filled. Cargo and passengers are not factored into this measurement.
- Towing Capacity: This rating is dominantly used for tow vehicles, but motorhomes need it when they tow a passenger vehicle or other towables. This is the maximum weight a vehicle can safely tow according to the manufacturer. Exceeding this weight will exceed the stress tolerances of the various parts of the vehicle.
- Payload Capacity: For those that use truck campers, payload capacity is your version of towing capacity. Your pickup truck has a maximum amount of weight it can carry in the bed of its truck. You’ll want to make sure that the gross trailer weight of your camper doesn’t exceed your payload capacity.
- Tongue Weight: The weight on your hitch connection is important. Too much will hurt your suspension and too little will give you a lot of sways. Your goal should be 10- 15% of your towable’s total weight.
- Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR): After you pack in all of your gear, personal items, and family, you’ll have your gross vehicle weight. Your GVWR is the maximum amount of weight your vehicle can carry. Don’t forget that the weight of water per gallon in your holding tanks weighs 8.34 pounds.
- Gross Combined Weight Rating: Going off of the same logic of your GVWR, this measurement would be the combined maximum weight of both your tow vehicle and your connected RV. If you’re in a state that allows for triple towing, be careful with your gross combined weight. You’ll want to make sure all the states you’ll be traveling through allows triple towing and find out if your weight might prevent you from traveling certain roadways.
- Gross Axle Weight Rating: Fifthwheels need to be very mindful of this one since the hitch gets its strength from the rear axle. Exceeding the maximum weight rating of your axle’s tolerance can damage them. Your front and rear axle have their own rating.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Can I Weigh My RV?
There are a few different ways to weigh your RV. Going through a weigh station, though not optimal, is one of them. A better way is to find truck stops or other places that use vehicle scales. CAT scales has an app that will help you find a nearby location.
How Can I Make My RV Lighter?
When you travel, having freshwater in your RV is a safety precaution. Since water is heavy, only fill your freshwater tank about a third or halfway. If you do run low, truck stops like Pilot/Flying J or Loves has places to dump your holding tanks and refill your fresh water.
Other suggestions to make your RV lighter include minimizing your camping gear to what you really need. Avoid the temptation of the outlet mall or other shopping areas. Instead of bringing all the clothes you need for your trip, have a roll of quarters for the laundromat.
Other ways to make a travel trailer lighter can be filling your RV and tow vehicle tires with nitrogen instead of regular air. Replacing glass doors on showers can be replaced with curtains that will save weight. Window and door treatments can subtract from your total trailer weight as well.
How Do I Locate a Weigh Station?
You can locate weigh stations through your favorite online map websites like Google or Mapquest. Other sites like Coops Are Open gives you the location of them (the trucker slang of a weigh station is a “chicken coop”). If you’re one of those “old school” types that still uses citizen band radios (CB radio), get on the “horn” and ask a nearby trucker on channel 19.
How Can I Avoid Stopping at a Weigh Station?
If you want to avoid stopping at a weigh station, plan your route in advance. You can find alternative routes that avoid them. You’ll want to make sure that you’re allowed to travel on the alternative roads due to your length and weight.
Another option is to time your trip so you come up to the weigh stations when they’re closed. If you’re not in a hurry, spending some time at a rest area to wait it out will help you refresh yourself. There are other apps that give you real-time reports on the status of the weigh stations.
What Happens If I Don’t Stop at a Weigh Station?
If you don’t stop at a weigh station when you were supposed to, there are penalties you can face. Like toll roads, they are responsible for the collection of fees, DOT compliance, some TSA compliance (which is apart of the Department of Homeland Security), and other tasks. Generally, your consequences will be monetary.
The total amount of the fine you could pay could be big. For perspective, commercial truckers can pay between a few hundred up to $10,000. As a private non-commercial driver, your amount most likely will be less as a first-time offender.
The officer that pulls you over may ask you to circle back to pull in to the weigh station you missed. Any other legal concerns like jail or impounding your vehicle is very unlikely. Remember, to them they are doing their due diligence, but their real concern is commercial and other categories of traffic.
Stopping at a weigh station in your privately-owned RV is a good idea if you’re unsure. You avoid the possibility of facing vacation-altering fines. Let the attendants instruct you what’s best.
In the majority of states, you may not need to, but you can always contact their DMV ahead of time to find out for sure. At the weigh stations, you may have a weight that justifies you being there, but being a private citizen negates any fee or other issues. Those few minutes are a lot cheaper than what you could pay in penalties.
To speed things along, you’ll want to know what your GVWR or GCWR is. Even if you don’t know the exact number, you’ll want to know the ballpark you fall under. States that require weights of 10,000 pounds or more would fit many full-size travel trailers and bigger.
(Source: Campersmarts. No copyright infringement intended.)