How to Measure Towing Capacity: Complete Guide

What Is My Towing Capacity?

What is my towing capacity?

Trucks are meant for moving things and getting stuff done. If you’re hauling a trailer or an RV, you want to know that your truck can handle it. If your truck can’t, you risk breaking your suspension, breeching your warranty or damaging what you are hauling. Wherever you go, you want to know that your truck can go the distance and carry the load. The first step in not pulling too much weight is knowing your truck’s towing capacity. This guide will be your go-to for information about what towing capacity is, how to calculate it and how you can increase it.

What Is Towing Capacity?

Towing capacity describes how much weight your truck can safely carry. Truck manufacturers publish a vehicle’s towing capacity as a single number. While this gives a rough estimate of the truck’s limits, it does not work in every situation. It tells you the best-case scenario. Your truck’s maximum towing capacity will change depending on how the truck is configured, how the weight of the load is distributed and how much weight the truck already carries. For example, if you and your family are going on a vacation with multiple suitcases, your truck will not be able to carry as much towing weight as the manufacturer says. Or, if you are towing bales of hay, your truck will not be able to carry as many pounds if the load is not perfectly balanced. Before you tow something heavy, it is important that you don’t go over your truck’s towing capacity. Exceeding your truck’s towing capacity:

  • Causes brake issues.
  • Makes U-turns challenging.
  • Reduces acceleration.
  • Increases your chance of getting into an accident.
  • Harms your truck’s drivetrain.
  • Reduces the life of your vehicle.
  • Nullifies your warranty.
  • Puts you at risk of getting a fine.

While you can use the towing capacity published for your truck as a jumping-off point, it is important that you calculate your actual towing capacity before taking on a large load. The National Highway Safety Administration is a great resource to ensure you follow best towing practices.

Terms to Know

As you begin to research towing capacity and how to calculate it, you may notice a lot of jargon. Let’s dig into what it all means. Here are some of the most common towing capacity terms:

  1. Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR): The GVWR is determined by the manufacturer and is the maximum amount of weight your truck can support while not moving. This is not the same as your truck’s towing capacity. You can find this number in your vehicle’s manual or on a sticker on the inside of your truck’s door.
  2. Gross combined weight rating (GCWR): The GCWR is the combined weight of a vehicle and trailer when they are both loaded as determined by the manufacturers. To find this number, add the capacity ratings of your truck and trailer.
  3. Gross axle weight rating (GAWR): The GAWR is the maximum weight that a single axle can carry. Since most vehicles use a different axle in the front and rear, they usually have different GAWR numbers.
  4. Tongue weight (TW): The TW is the weight of the force that pushes down on the trailer’s hitch. It can change if you adjust your load or if the load shifts while you are driving.
  5. Curb weight: The curb weight of your vehicle is its total weight after it is loaded with fluid, such as gas, but before it is loaded with passengers and cargo. This cannot be used as the weight of your truck in towing calculations because your vehicle will not be empty when you haul cargo.
  6. Dry weight: This is the weight of your vehicle without the fluids needed to operate it, passengers and cargo. You do not need this number to calculate towing capacity.
  7. Payload: The payload is all the cargo and passengers in your truck. This is not the amount of weight a truck bed can carry.

How to Calculate Towing Capacity

Once you know what the terms above mean, calculating towing capacity is easy:

  1. Calculate your truck and trailer’s total GCWR.
  2. Subtract your truck’s curb weight from the GCWR.
  3. The number you get is how much weight your vehicle can tow.

While manufacturers urge you to never go over your truck’s towing capacity, it is best to avoid operating within 10% of the number you find. It is never safe to drive a vehicle that toes the line of its capabilities. Loads shift, people miscalculate and vehicles brake suddenly. When these things happen, your truck’s towing capacity can change, putting you and your vehicle in danger. Always account for a margin of error.

Ways to Increase Towing Capacity

If your vehicle’s towing capacity is not as high as you want it to be, there are ways you can modify your vehicle to increase it. Before you alter your vehicle, make sure you consult a trusted and reputable mechanic. Some of the items listed below may need to be balanced with other new components. In addition, altering your truck may affect its daily performance, be costly or limit its appeal on the secondhand market. Some possible ways to increase your truck’s towing capacity include:

  1. Upgrading your hitch: Going up in hitch class will increase your vehicle’s towing capacity. If your vehicle can accommodate this upgrade, it may be the step up you need.
  2. Purchasing new brakes: One of the largest limiting factors on your towing capacity is the brakes. Upgrading your brake pads and your rotors may help your vehicle control a heavier load.
  3. Installing a weight-distribution hitch: This is one of the most cost-effective ways to increase your towing capacity. A weight-distribution hitch will use spring bars to level the load that a trailer puts on your truck and reduce sway.
  4. Replacing your axles: Some RV shops may be able to upgrade your standard axles with a beefier device. This swap will increase your vehicle’s GAWR, allowing you to tow more.
  5. Buying a new radiator: When your truck carries a heavy load, the engine has to work harder. Installing a larger radiator will help your engine maintain its temperature.

Maximize Your Towing Capacity By Purchasing a Trailer from Nationwide Trailers

For over a decade, Nationwide Trailers has been rapidly expanding to share its industry knowledge and expansive inventory with vehicle operators across the country. Since our company’s founding in 2009, we’ve prided ourselves on putting the customer first and providing the highest quality trailers. In every interaction, Nationwide Trailers goes above and beyond for the customer. Whether a customer is from out of state and can only meet on a Sunday or need help hooking their trailer to a hitch after hours, our staff will be there. We treat our customers like family. Visit our website to browse our inventory, or contact us today for more information about our products.      


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