How Much Can My Vehicle Tow?: Towing and Payload Capacity

Have you been stuck trying to figure out how much your vehicle is really capable of towing? We have the answers!

Here is everything you need to know about towing and payload capacity. 

Towing Capacity & Payload Capacity

There is a common misconception that towing capacity and payload capacity are the same thing. However, it is important to know the difference between the two in order to know how much your vehicle can tow.

Both towing and payload capacity are determined by the manufacturer. Payload is the total amount your vehicle can carry while tow capacity is the amount of weight your vehicle can pull behind it on a trailer. The payload capacity is lower than the capacity for towing. 

What is towing capacity?

Put simply, towing capacity is the maximum weight that your vehicle can legally and safely pull. It is determined by the vehicle manufacturer, GVWR, GCWR, GAWR, and more. 

It is crucial that you do not exceed your car’s towing capacity in order to avoid damaging your vehicle and putting yourself and others at risk.

What is Payload Capacity?

Your payload capacity is how much weight your vehicle can hold on its axles, including passengers and cargo. The payload is the cargo in the truck (plus the trailer tongue weight if towing) while the payload capacity is the maximum amount of total cargo the vehicle can hold, not the weight of a trailer or anything you are pulling behind your vehicle.

Just like with towing capacity, it is important not to exceed your payload capacity. If you try to carry too much weight in your vehicle, it can lead to problems such as extra wear on tires, axle bearings, suspension, decreased gas mileage and an increased chance of getting into an accident.

What To Learn More?

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The Basic Weight Rating Terms

If you want to understand payload and towing capacity, knowing the following terms first is necessary and will help you tremendously. 

*Caution: Never exceed any manufacturer specified weight ratings*


The Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) is the maximum allowable weight of both the towing vehicle and the trailer combined. Any cargo, passengers or fluids can contribute to your Gross Combined Weight. 


The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is the maximum loaded allowable weight of any vehicle. GVWR can be referring to either the tow vehicle or the trailer, but does not refer to both combined. A trailer will have its own separate GVWR.


The Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) is the maximum weight that the axles can support. This rating takes into account the weight of passengers, cargo, fluids and a trailer if towing. The front axle (FR) will have its own GAWR, and the rear axle (RR) will have its own GAWR. Similar to GVWR, the tow vehicle and trailer will have their own separate GAWR. 

*Using a True Tow Weight Distribution Hitch is helpful when it comes to evenly distributing the weight between the two axles, and will provide a safer, smoother ride. 

Dry Weight

The Dry Weight of the tow vehicle is the weight of the vehicle without any fluids. Meaning that the weight of the engine oil, coolant and fuel for the vehicle will not be included in this number. 

Curb Weight

Curb Weight is the weight of a vehicle without any passengers or cargo. This includes the weight of the vehicle itself with fuel. Basically, it is the weight of the vehicle as it is taken off the sellers lot. 

Tongue Weight

The Tongue Weight is the downward force that the trailer puts on the hitch. The tongue weight should be 10-15% of the total weight of the trailer. Tongue weight is affected by the placement of cargo on the trailer.

For example, if the trailer weighs 4,000 pounds, the tongue weight should be 400-600 pounds.

What Bad Tongue Weight Looks Like

Or See Hitch Explain

How to Calculate Towing Capacity

Your vehicle’s tow capacity can be found in your owner’s manual. The manufacturer provides this information so that you can make sure not to exceed the safe limits of your car. If you do not have your owner’s manual, you can look up your car’s make, model, and year online to find the tow capacity.

*Check to make sure your hitch and trailer can also handle this weight.

6 Ways to Optimize Towing Capacity

  1. Install the correct trailer hitch: Not all trailer hitches are created equal. It is important to do your research and ensure that you have the right hitch for your vehicle. 
  2. Upgrade your tires: Good tires increase traction which will then make it easier on the vehicle to carry a heavy load.
  3. Add a weight-distributing hitch: This hitch distributes the weight between axels of the trailer and vehicle. This is also a great option to consider when it comes to anti-sway products. 
  4. Replace your shocks with heavy-duty shocks: These can help to improve the overall ride of your vehicle and makes it easier to tow a heavy load.
  5. Install a transmission and engine oil cooler: These keep your transmission and engine oil from overheating when towing.
  6. Optimize your payload capacity: You can do this by upgrading your suspension or by adding a leaf spring to your tow vehicle.

Also, Consider...

Also, consider choosing a vehicle that is designed for towing. Some SUVs and trucks come with a towing package that includes a bigger engine and upgraded suspension. If you plan on towing often, we suggest looking into a vehicle that was designed to do so.

And Keep in mind...

Keep in mind that even if you upgrade your vehicle, there is still a limit to how much weight it can safely tow. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. It is always a good idea to consult with your mechanic or dealership before making any changes to your vehicle.

Optimize Your Towing Capacity with Weigh Safe

At Weigh Safe, we specialize in creating a safe and efficient towing experience. We offer products like our drop hitch that helps to distribute the weight of the trailer evenly. 

Check OUt OUr Family Of Weight Measuring Towing Products