How RV Towing Regulations Work


Ready for that lake tour? First learn a bit about towing with an RV.
Ready for that lake tour? First learn a bit about towing with an RV.
Tim McCaig/iStockPhoto

Life is perfect. You've worked your tail off for far too long, and you've finally reached a point where you can leave behind the desk, the boss and lunch at the same old place day after day. You, friend, are ready to hit the open road. Perhaps you cashed in your 401(k) and bought a deluxe new RV. Maybe you've sold your stationary house to trade it in for one with wheels. You may have converted an old bus into an RV. Whatever your situation, you'll likely want to take along a few things that won't fit comfortably inside your motor home.

Take a car, for instance. Having an extra (and smaller) set of wheels along for the ride offers a lot more freedom to tour the charming main streets of the towns you visit. A small car is also a lot more energy efficient than driving your RV absolutely everywhere. If you're planning a tour of lakes, you'll probably have a boat in tow. Or perhaps you simply have too much stuff to fit into your RV; a small travel trailer is a good idea in a case like this.

­There are some factors you'll want to consider before you hitch up your vehicle to your RV and head up the highway. Do you have enough insurance to cover both your motor home and your towed vehicle? Are you aware of towing regulations that may change as you cross state lines? There are plenty of factors to towing, and you should be as familiar with them as possible before taking an extended trip.

In this article, we'll look at some of the special circumstances created by towing with an RV. On the next page, read about differences among state towing regulations.

RV Towing Laws by State

Hey, pardner! If you're crossing state lines, you'd better familiarize yourself with different regulations for towing!
Hey, pardner! If you're crossing state lines, you'd better familiarize yourself with different regulations for towing!
Rob vanNostrand/iStockPhoto

You could be in for a big surprise when you cross state lines in your brand-spankin'-new RV and find it's too tall to comply with the laws of the state -- in which you've been pulled over. If you're lucky, you'll meet a friendly state trooper who lets you off with a warning. At worst, you could face a fine or possibly jail time, depending on the mood of said officer. The best way to get around this situation is to familiarize yourself with the towing regulations of all of the states you intend to pass through.

Quick, what do Texas and Washington have on common? They're the only two states that require coaches with vehicles in tow to observe a speed limit of 60 miles per hour [source: Hitch Me Up]. In general, many states set a speed limit of 65 for coaches with vehicles in tow; others set a limit of 55 mph. This is a good example of how towing regulations can change when you cross state lines, and why you should be aware that they often do.

Another regulation that can vary wildly by state is the maximum allowable weight for what you're towing -- be it a car or a trailer. Some states rely on the federal bridge formula -- that calculates the amount of weight based on how much is carried per axel. Other states have their own determinations. Colorado allows a gross vehicle weight of 54,000 pounds, while Iowa allows 80,000 pounds [source: Towing World]. You'll also want to have a good idea of your combined gross vehicle weight. This is the total weight for your RV, your towed cargo, all of the passengers, fuel -- anything found aboard the RV and tow vehicle that has weight.

Most states offer public scales for you to weigh your RV and tow set-up. They're usually found just off major highways. Some are operated by the state, while others are found on the premises of private businesses that use scales to weigh shipping cargo, like dairy farms. Either way, you'll likely be charged a fee. It'll be worth the money to know you're complying with state laws, however.

Before you leave on an extended trip with your RV and tow set-up, list the states you plan on traveling through. Beside each state, list different regulations that pertain to your situation, like allowable height and weight. You can use this as a handy reference guide. Be sure to also keep a full print out of the regulations of every state in your RV; you never know when a detour from your original path will tempt you.

The requirement your vehicle have insurance also varies by state; some states require it, while others don't. Read the next page to get a clearer picture of why you should be insured to the teeth when you're towing with your RV.

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RV Towing Insurance

Your towed car got loose, huh? Geez. It's a good thing you have the right insurance to cover the damage.
Your towed car got loose, huh? Geez. It's a good thing you have the right insurance to cover the damage.
Jenny Hill/iStockPhoto

When it comes to towing with an RV, it's common for people to assume the insurance policy covering the RV also extends to any vehicle in tow. After all, the RV's much larger than the tiny car it's towing; why wouldn't it envelop the car in tow?

It's absolutely incorrect to assume your RV policy covers a car (or anything else) you're towing. Coverage and policies vary by company and state, so HowStuffWorks can't stress enough that you have a long conversation with your insurance agent before heading out on the road to make sure you've got all the coverage you need.

­Very few, if any, RV insurance include coverage for a vehicle in tow. When you're on the road, you'll need an insurance policy for both your RV and the vehicle you're towing. If, heaven forbid, your towed vehicle becomes detached while traveling and hits another car, you'll most likely have two claims involved in the accident. The first will be a collision claim filed to repair any damage to your towed vehicle. This is why you need an insurance policy for the towed vehicle. The claim you'll make to your insurance company will be against the collision portion of the policy.

The other claim involved will be filed by the drivers of any vehicles, other property owners or people your out-of-control car hit after it became detached. These claims will most likely be against the liability portion of your RV insurance. This is why you also need full coverage (including liability) for your RV; a towed vehicle on the loose is usually considered the fault of the driver of the coach pulling the towed vehicle. It's a good idea to also have liability coverage on the towed car, in case you really made another driver mad during the detached towed vehicle debacle.

People who live in their RVs more than 150 days per year will also want to look into a type of RV insurance exclusive to recreational vehicles, usually known as a full-timers comprehensive personal liability policy. This type of policy extends your coverage to allow you to treat your RV like your home. Someone who trips inside your RV and breaks his or her ankle may make a claim against you as they could in your home, and this type of coverage is designed to cover such claims. This type of policy is exotic and many people who travel full time in their RVs don't realize they need it until their insurance company denies their claims because they use their RV as their primary residence.

There are other policies RV drivers should look into as well. Some pay for hotel stays while the RV is under repair. Others offer full replacement of a new model or upgrade if you total your RV. Again, policies change from company to company and across states. Speak to your insurance agent to find out what policies are offered.

On the next page, learn about converting a bus to an RV.

Bus to RV Conversions

A bus converted into an RV by Jake VonSlatt.
A bus converted into an RV by Jake VonSlatt.
Courtesy Jake VonSlatt

The charm of the highway appeals to a wide swath of people. While some travelers opt to purchase a brand new RV, there's also room for do-it-yourselfers. Converting an old bus into an RV has become an increasingly viable and popular option.

It's true you can make your own RV from an old bus for a fraction of the cost of even a used factory-made RV. One enthusiast, Jake VonSlatt, purchased an old school bus from eBay for around $2,000 and chronicled his conversion process online. With an environmentally-friendly mindset, VonSlatt used as much recycled material as possible, including salvaged and demolished materials, as well as used and discarded items from friends and the Internet. Another bus converter took the green aspect even further, converting the bus to run on a diesel-vegetable oil mixture.

VonSlatt's converted bus was similar to others like it in that it was a unique creation borne from the owner's mind. This is perhaps the biggest reason that bus conversions has caught on among some RV enthusiasts -- converted buses are one of a kind.

­Among the most popular (and often cheapest) buses to convert are old school buses. In most quarters, these conversions are called schoolies. City transit buses and old motor coach company buses that have been replaced by newer models and fallen out of use are also popular candidates for conversion. There are several companies that specialize in converting buses into RVs for people who aren't sure in which direction to hold a hammer. These professional conversions often look just like the interiors of manufactured RVs. They're usually cheaper than a new RV, but more expensive than converting a bus yourself. What's more, most people who convert buses into RVs are handy to begin with and prefer doing it themselves.

To be sure, there is a degree of difficulty to any bus conversion. Most require a complete strip down of the interior, removing all seats and other obstacles, before insulating the inside of the exterior walls (after all, buses weren't originally made for sleeping). After this, the paneling process begins, with walls and floors added. Bedrooms, cabinets, bathrooms and appliances and fixtures all have to be installed. New plumbing and energy sources (for cooking and lighting) have to be installed as well. After the bones are laid, it's time to install the finishing touches like wall covering, upholstery and flooring.

Converting a bus into an RV is a long process, and typically a labor of love. It's far too detailed to chronicle here, but fortunately, there are plenty of resources on the Internet dedicated specifically to posting advice and information on bus conversions (you can find one link on the next page). Mr. VonSlatt offered a piece of advice: Finding a free used travel trailer through a site like Freecycle or Craigslist not only yields reusable appliances designed specifically to maximize spaces -- like sinks and couches - but enthusiasts often find that tearing an old trailer apart is the best learning experience one can undertake to prepare to convert a bus [source: VonSlatt].

Whether you choose to go all out and purchase a brand new motor home with all the bells and whistles, convert a bus into an RV yourself, or something in between the two, make sure you're properly insured and aware of variations among state regulations. And most of all, be sure to take it easy as you ease on down the road.

For more information on RVs and other related topics, visit the next page.

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Sources

  • Sanchez, Joann. State Farm Insurance agent. Personal interview. October 21, 2008.
  • VanSlatt, Jake. Personal correspondence. October 22, 2008.
  • "Frequently asked RV insurance questions." RV Advantage. Accessed October 21, 2008. http://www.rvadvantage.com/faqs/rvfaq.htm#8
  • "RV insurance." RV For Sale Guide. 2002. http://rvforsaleguide.com/rv-insurance.htm
  • "RV towing tips - plus a few more." RV Towing Tips. March 9, 2007. http://www.rvtowingtips.com/
  • "School bus conversion project." Vonslatt. Accessed October 22, 2008. http://www.vonslatt.com/bus-main.shtml
  • "U.S. state towing laws." Hitch Me Up. Accessed October 21, 2008. http://www.hitchemup.com/statetowinglaws.htm