How Wide are RVs: What’s the Legal Limit?

32 shares When searching for an RV, you have to consider many unique details, including amenities, gas mileage, living space, sleeping arrangements, and more. One…

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When searching for an RV, you have to consider many unique details, including amenities, gas mileage, living space, sleeping arrangements, and more. One other crucial detail is the size and width of your rig. Knowing your RV’s dimensions is vital for everything from being street legal to finding the proper-sized campsite.

But, RV width is a bit more complex than just looking at a number. So, let’s dive into everything you need to know about how wide are RVs.

What is the Average Width of an RV?

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Photo Courtesy: Thor Motorcoach Axis

Typically, RVs are built between 96 and 102 inches wide. These numbers translate to eight and eight and a half feet, respectively. As a rule, no RV is wider than 8.5 feet because of federal road regulations.

Also, the maximum width limit does not account for side mirrors, awnings, or other elements that may stick out beyond the physical side of the RV. When you take these pieces into account, the maximum width of an RV is nine feet. The RV Industry Association (RVIA) wants to standardize RV dimensions across state borders since there are some discrepancies between regulations.

RV Trailers vs. Motorhomes

Towing a trailer is much more complicated than driving a motorhome, especially when you have a wide load. When it comes to motorhomes, the class you drive matters. Here’s a quick overview of each option:

  • Class A Motorhome – Class As are the largest vehicles with an average width of nine feet.
  • Class B Motorhome – You shouldn’t have to worry about driving a Class B RV because it’s the smallest option. Most of these vehicles are around seven feet wide, so you should always have extra clearance.
  • Class C Motorhome – These rigs are slightly smaller than Class A, with most models reaching about eight feet wide.

RV trailers can have the same variations between models. For example, a fifth wheel will be much larger than a teardrop trailer. However, the same width restrictions apply. On the high end, trailers will be about 8.5 feet wide, while on the low end, they might be 6.5 to seven feet.

Why Does Your RV Width Matter?

Airstream Interstate - how wide are rvs
Photo Courtesy: Airstream Interstate

When you consider that most cars are around 6.5 feet wide, it’s obvious that RVs are much more massive and cumbersome. So, paying attention to your rig’s width matters for several reasons. Let’s break them down.

State Road Regulations

Some states only allow vehicles to be eight feet wide, while almost every state allows them to be 8.5 feet. Only Hawaii allows a nine-foot clearance, but it shouldn’t be much of an issue since you can’t drive to that state. Any RV you rent in Hawaii should already adhere to the state’s regulations.

The states with an eight-foot clearance rule are:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Missouri
  • New York
  • Tennessee
  • Washington D.C.
  • West Virginia

Deleware also has an eight-foot width restriction for motorhomes but 8.5 feet for trailers. Massachusetts allows motorhomes to be up to nine feet wide and trailers to be 8.5 feet.

Also, keep in mind that these rules only apply to side streets. Federal law allows vehicles up to 8.5 feet on highways and freeways. So, if you’re passing through a state with a shorter width rule, you shouldn’t have to worry about getting pulled over. However, if you’re planning on spending the night and driving on side streets, you might get a ticket.

Campsite and RV Park Dimensions

Storyteller Overland - how wide are rvs
Photo Courtesy: Storyteller Overland

Typically, RV campsite parking spaces are between 16 and 20 feet wide. This extra room allows for awnings and slide-outs and ensures you have enough room to move around without getting in someone else’s way.

However, if you’re boondocking, the standard width of a parking space is only nine feet. So, if you have a large rig, you’ll likely be running up against the lines.

Driving and Maneuvering on City Streets

As we mentioned, some states have an eight-foot width maximum for side streets. The reason behind this restriction is that it can be easy to damage other vehicles or buildings if your RV is too broad. Imagine riding down a one-lane road with cars parked on one side. The chances of hitting or knocking off a mirror are pretty high if your rig is 8.5 or nine feet wide.

Width also matters because it can affect your RV’s turning radius. The wider your rig, the wider the turn. Also, if you’re towing a massive trailer, it’s easy to get stuck on tight corners. If that happens, you could be in for a pretty lousy experience.

Storing Your RV

When you’re not out on the road, where do you put your RV? If you’re storing it in a garage, you need extra room to move around on all sides. So, if your garage is only 10 feet wide, you might have to squeeze through pretty tightly.

Ideally, your garage would be large enough for you to also open any awnings or slide-outs. This way, you can clean and inspect these pieces in a covered and safe location. While it’s also easy to do this outside, you have to worry about rain, wind, and debris.

If you want your garage to be accommodating, we recommend using one that’s at least 16 feet wide. However, 20 feet is a better minimum if possible.

Other Dimensions to Pay Attention To (and Why They Matter)

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Photo Courtesy Coachmen Leprechaun

As we’ve seen, your RV’s width can make a huge difference in many different situations. Whether you’re on the road or bunking for the night, knowing this dimension can make your experience more enjoyable.

That said, you also have to pay attention to your RV’s height and length. Let’s break down the essential elements of these dimensions and why they matter.

Height

The federal government’s maximum legal height limit is 13.5 feet. This guideline affects all roads, although many streets may have obstacles lower than 13.5 feet. Also, remember that this figure represents add-ons, such as air conditioners, roof racks, and equipment. For example, if you store bicycles on your RV’s roof, you can easily extend past the legal limit, putting you in a precarious position.

Typically, you need to pay attention to clearance obstacles like signs, low bridges, tree branches, power lines, etc. Also, your owner’s manual won’t include any extra elements you install yourself (i.e., roof racks and equipment). So, you have to measure your RV’s height yourself to ensure it’s as accurate as possible.

Length

RV length requirements vary by state, but most states allow motorhomes to be up to 45 feet long, while trailers can be 40 feet or less. In some cases, you might be able to tow a trailer behind a motorhome. In those instances, the maximum length might be 60 feet, but you have to double-check if that kind of towing is allowed.

As with your RV’s width, the length affects your ability to park at specific campsites and maneuver down side streets. Longer rigs are much harder to turn and require lots of extra space to do so. Also, some national parks set the RV length limit at 27 feet, so you might not be able to spend the night or park in a campsite at all.

How to Measure Your RV Dimensions

While it might be tempting to look at your RV owner’s manual, these booklets are not always accurate. Usually, they’re made for standard RV models, but they don’t show any unique differences between them. For example, choosing a unique floorplan may make the RV wider, taller, or longer by several inches, but the manual might not reflect that.

Instead, it’s much better to take your own measurements. Then, we recommend writing them down and storing them in the RV’s cab. This way, you can access the dimensions quickly and easily whenever necessary instead of trying to remember them.

Here’s a quick overview of how to measure your RV’s height, width, and length:

RV Height

Start at the ground and measure to the top of the tallest point, such as the air conditioner. If you have roof racks and plan to store equipment on them, you should measure that as well. While it’s hard to say precisely what you might put on your RV’s roof when you head out, taking this measurement should give you a better idea of the maximum height.

You should also determine how much wiggle room you have. For example, if your RV is 12 feet high at the tallest point, you theoretically have another foot and a half before violating federal regulations. Again, keep in mind that you’ll encounter clearance obstacles regardless of the law, but it’s nice to know.

RV Width

You should measure your RV with and without the side mirrors if you can fold them inward. If the mirrors are fixed, then just take the measurements with them. Also, consider any awnings or ladders that might extend the width by a few inches.

Again, if you’re planning on taking any mounted gear on the side of your RV, you should mount it and re-measure it. This way, you know if you’ll be too broad or still have room to spare.

If your RV has slide-outs and awnings, you should measure the total width with everything extended. Knowing this number helps you pick the right campsite for the night. For example, let’s say your RV is 18 feet when fully extended. If you’re at an RV park with 16-foot parking spaces, you’ll have to leave a slide-out unused or park somewhere else.

RV Length

Start from the front bumper and measure to the farthest point in the back. Usually, this piece will be the ladder, but you might have a bike rack or something similar.

If you’re towing a trailer, you might have to consider whether there’s an overlap with your tow vehicle. For example, fifth-wheel RVs mount over a pickup truck cab, so you might not have to count that area. However, for all other trailers that attach at the rear of the vehicle, size does matter.

What Happens if Your RV is Too Big?

how wide are rvs
How wide are RVs? Campsite Family time

As a rule, if you’re driving an oversized vehicle on state-controlled roads, you must apply for a permit. Also, most oversized loads are limited to driving during the day, from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset.

Fortunately, RV manufacturers all adhere to federal guidelines, so you shouldn’t have to worry about this step.

Another point to consider is if you’ll run into any clearance obstacles during your journey. Here are some tips to avoid a potentially sticky or undesirable situation:

  • Plan Your Route Ahead of Time – The easiest way to prevent any issues is to map your trip before you go. This way, you can account for low bridges or other obstacles that might get in your way.
  • Use an RV GPS System – RV navigation systems can automatically warn you about low bridges or other clearance problems. This way, you can make unplanned stops without worrying about damaging your rig (or someone else’s property).
  • Don’t Back Up or Turn Without Assistance – When driving a big vehicle, you need extra visibility to see where you’re going, especially when backing up. As a rule, you should never attempt these maneuvers solo. Instead, use a travel partner or someone else to guide you.

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