How to Determine Towing Capacity

Updated on Jul 20, 2023

Written by
 RealTruck Expert Team

If you tow with your pickup truck, it’s important to make sure you don’t exceed your truck’s towing capacity. Doing so can cause damage to or failure of vital drivetrain and suspension components. To determine how much weight your truck can safely tow, it’s important to first understand a few key terms.

  •  Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR): The maximum amount a vehicle and trailer can safely weigh including passengers and cargo.

  • Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR): The maximum amount a vehicle can safely weigh including passengers and cargo.

  • Gross Axle Weight (GAW): The amount of weight your vehicle’s axles can support independently. The rear number should be higher than the front since the rear will bear the brunt of payload and towing weights.

  • Curb Weight: The weight of your vehicle in a “ready-to-use” state including fluids. This does not take passengers, payload, or towing weight into account.

  • Tongue Weight: The amount of weight being supported by the coupling between truck and trailer.

Depending on your vehicle, the above information can be located in a few different areas including the door jamb and glove compartment. Your owner’s manual should have all of this information laid out clearly.

Now that you have this information, it may seem that the answer is simple: just don’t exceed your truck’s GCWR. However, there’s a little more to it than that. For instance, your trailer will have its own GVWR, so it’s just as important not to overload your trailer as it is not to overload your truck. This means you’ll need to incorporate the weight of your trailer as well as its payload to ensure that you don’t exceed your truck’s GCWR. To simplify things, let’s look at an example. A truck has a curb weight of 4,000 lbs. It also has a GVWR of 6,000 lbs. and a GCWR of 8,000 lbs. In this example, the truck can be safely loaded with 2,000 pounds worth of passengers and payload with no trailer attached. If a trailer is attached and the GVWR has already been reached, the combined weight of the trailer and its cargo must not exceed 2,000 lbs. We must also take the trailer’s GCWR into account. To keep things easy to follow, let’s assume the trailer weighs 500 lbs. and can be safely loaded with 1,500 lbs. of cargo for a total of 2,000 lbs. Under these circumstances, the truck can safely tow a 500-pound trailer carrying 1,500 lbs. of cargo.

Don't forget to check your trailer's GVWR.

Make sure your tongue weight is 10-15 percent of your overall towing weight to ensure stability while towing.

Another important factor in safe towing is tongue weight. The ideal tongue weight is not a fixed value, but rather a percentage of the overall weight of your trailer and its payload. Tongue weight should be approximately 10-15 percent of your trailer’s total weight. In our 2,000-pound trailer example, this results in a recommended tongue weight of 200-300 pounds. Anything below or over that number can result in unsafe handling while towing. If you find your tongue weight exceeds the 15 percent mark, you may need to use a weight distribution hitch to ensure safe towing performance.

If you have any questions about towing accessories such as hitches or suspension upgrades, chat or call our product experts.

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