How Much Can My Truck Tow?

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A pickup truck towing a boat

Understanding the payload and towing capacity of your truck is essential, especially if you have big plans with friends or need to lug around some cargo for work. There are a few ways you can uncover the tug-and-go power of your vehicle. But if you want to work out the answer for yourself, then there are a few calculations to consider. From Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR) to what counts as cargo, here’s everything you need to know.

How Much Can My Truck Tow?

Let’s start from the top and remind you that you can probably find an estimation for your truck’s towing and haul capacity by checking out your user manual or making a rough estimate based on what you’ve towed before. The only problem with this strategy is that you may not be using the right numbers. That can have a detrimental effect on the health of your truck.

If you consistently tow more than your truck can handle, then you may be placing stress on the mechanical bits under the hood or the axles. Over time, this can cause significant vehicle damage that can be costly to repair and replace. There are also major safety concerns to consider. Your truck’s powertrain and braking systems are designed to handle everything up to its tow rating. Once you surpass those numbers, you’re putting yourself and others at risk.

The Formula

To calculate the towing ability of your truck, you will need to gather some information. The first step will be figuring out the curb weight and the Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR) of your truck. These may be listed on the sticker inside the driver’s side door or in your owner’s manual.

If you can’t find them, you can also get this information using the VIN sticker. There are a number of sites available that will decode your Vehicle Identification Number for free. Here’s one provided by the NHTSA.

You’ll subtract the curb weight from the GCVWR to get your vehicle’s towing capacity. This tells you how much weight you can safely hitch up to the truck. Remember, this is a maximum. You really shouldn’t come within 10% of this total, just to be safe.

Important Words and Concepts

Of course, just like any other math calculation, knowing the formula is only useful if you understand all the elements of the formula. Let’s break down some of the vocabulary words you need to know and why these elements matter for your calculations.

Payload vs Towing Capacity

The basic difference between hauling and towing capacity is whether you are carrying or pulling the weight. The total weight your truck can carry is called the payload capacity, whereas the total amount of weight your truck can tow behind it is called the towing capacity. In general, your towing ability will be much greater than the haul your truck can carry by itself.

Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR)

The Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR) is a number that is determined by your truck manufacturer to represent the maximum weight of the tow vehicle and trailer combined. The simplest way to find this number is to open your owner’s manual. You can also look this number up online or find it by searching for your precise VIN.

Do People Count as Cargo?

Several things can contribute to your truck’s hauling ability. For example, weight such as fuel, cargo, and even people can count toward the total combined weight that your truck can safely handle. While you don’t need to ask your passengers their exact weight every time they get in your truck, you may want to be prepared to lose some cargo if you’re carrying multiple people.

What Factors Can Affect Towing Capacity?

Your truck’s towing ability is affected by other factors as well. Therefore, it’s important to understand the precise limitations of your vehicle. The specific VIN for your truck will usually have the most accurate number, but if you have modified the vehicle at all, there may be an impact on towing capacity. For example, the type of engine you have and the load rating for your tires can change your towing capacity.

These are just the basics. For heavier loads and more commercial use cases, you’ll need to understand things like tongue weight, Gross Axle Weight Rating, and braked vs. unbraked towing capacity. When it comes to towing particularly heavy loads at a vehicle’s limits, it’s a great idea to consider training. Do your homework before setting off on that cross-country road trip with a massive camper trailer you’ve never towed.

As a driver, it’s essential to understand the tug-and-go ability of your truck, particularly if you spend a lot of time hauling things around. You can calculate this capacity by looking up your VIN and making estimates about the weight of your cargo. If you find that your current vehicle just can’t do what you want it to, we know where you can find one that can…

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