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Towing Capacity Guide

Towing capacity is the weight your vehicle can tow without compromising safety. Determining the towing capacity of a vehicle isn’t difficult, but there are many factors to consider which may initially seem confusing. Let us go through the terminology and calculate what your vehicle is capable of handling.


How to Find Vehicle’s Towing Capacity

Manufacturers are required to place essential towing information on a visible and easily accessible spot. Usually, it’s visible through the windshield from outside, near the VIN, on the driver’s door column, or underneath the hood. This makes it easy for both the driver and police officers to check the maximum payload.

The information plate is stamped with a series of weights, but not what they stand for. The first is gross vehicle weight, followed by gross trailering weight. The third and fourth represent the maximum front and rear axle loads. We’ll go through the meaning of these terms and make it easier to understand the math behind towing capacity.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating

First, we need to differentiate between curb weight, and gross vehicle weight rating, or GVWR. Curb weight is the base weight of the vehicle, fresh from the factory. As soon as you place anything in the vehicle, including yourself and your passengers, the vehicle now has a gross weight.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is the maximum weight your vehicle can safely handle. For compact cars, it’s not much more than the average weight of five passengers and some cargo, but SUVs and trucks can carry a lot more.

Gross Trailer Weight

Gross trailer weight combines the weight of the trailer with cargo on it. For example, if you’re towing two dirt bikes, take the weight of each bike, additional gas tanks, and the trailer to get the gross trailer weight. The trailer should have a plate with a towing capacity information plate just like a vehicle to make it easier to calculate gross trailer weight.

Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating

Gross combined vehicle weight rating is the most important factor in determining what is the safe towing capacity of a vehicle. Gross trailer weight and gross vehicle weight combined must be under the vehicle’s GCVWR for a safe and legal tow. The weight of the trailer and passengers is often neglected when calculating GCVWR, so make sure to add up everything.

Gross Axle Weight Rating

Gross Axle weight rating matters if you plan on towing a heavy trailer or place a lot of heavy cargo in the trunk or cargo bay. Going over the axle weight rating can seriously damage the suspension and even break the axle.

Tongue Weight

The weight distribution on the trailer determines how much weight will be put on the tongue. As the trailer itself is holding most of the weight, only a portion will be transferred forward. Not placing enough weight on the tongue can cause a loss of control as the trailer lifts the back of the vehicle. Place too much, and it could damage the suspension or even break the tongue, so finding the proper balance is important.

Payload Capacity

Payload capacity refers to the amount of weight that can be placed in the cargo bed of a truck. Trucks are divided into categories by the payload capacity with ½ ton, ¾ ton, and 1 ton being the most common.

Dry Weight

Dry weight refers to the weight of a vehicle without fluids. This measure is not typically used for cars and other passenger vehicles, as all of the fluids are necessary for its operation. Dry weight is mostly used to describe the weight of motorized or trailer RVs, without the accessories and fluids added in.

Wet Weight

Much like gross vehicle weight, wet weight refers to an RV with all the food, furniture, accessories, and of course liquids in it. If you’re planning on trailering a camping trailer, consider loading up with water once you arrive at the destination to stay under the limit.

Trailer Hitch Classes

Hitch classes can help you more easily determine the potential trailering capacity of your vehicle. The categorization takes into account maximum pull and tongue weight. Vehicle class and receiver size can give you a clue as to what hitch class your vehicle belongs to.

  • Class I vehicles are rated for up to 2,000 pounds of gross trailer weight, and 200 pounds of tongue weight. The main representatives are compact cars and hatchbacks.
  • Class II vehicles can tow up to 3,500 pounds with a tongue weight limit of 350 pounds. Small trucks, SUVs, and full-size cars belong in this class.
  • Class III has a pull limit of 5,000 pounds and a tongue weight rating of 800 pounds, with full-size vans, trucks, and SUVs as main representatives.
  • Class IV can pull up to 12,000 pounds and has a maximum tongue weight of 1,200 pounds. Full-sized trucks and vans with specialized towing packages can reach class IV.
  • Class V is reserved for the largest weight ratings: 20,000 pounds of gross trailer weight and 2,000 pounds of tongue weight.


Calculating towing capacity is not a problem as long as you know all the factors involved. If you’re planning on buying a vehicle with the intent of towing recreational vehicles, a camping trailer, or work equipment, estimate how much you’ll add on top of the vehicle’s curb weight, and make sure to factor in the weight of the trailer itself.

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