How To Know How Much Your Car Can Tow

Imagine hitching up camper to your SUV or truck to head out for a cross-country adventure. Or backing up to a boat or a pair of watercraft to pull out for a fun day on the water.

Before you hitch up and go, you need to understand how much your vehicle can tow. When you look in your owner’s manual, you’ll see there are several weights that you need to consider. So what do they all mean? We’ll take a look at the weight capacities associated with vehicles and what you need to know.

Your owner’s manual and a label in the vehicle will usually list the following ratings:

Towing capacity – The total weight your vehicle is rated to pull.

Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) –This is the maximum total operating weight including the vehicle and all contents such as passengers, luggage, fuel, optional accessories and aftermarket parts but not including the trailer.

Gross combination weight rating (GCWR) –This rating combines the full weight of the tow vehicle plus the trailer and everything in them, including fuel and water for camping trailers. People often underestimate the weight of all the stuff they put in the trailer.

Gross axle weight rating (GAWR) –Depicts how much weight a single axle can safely support.

 Tongue weight: Experts recommend about 10 percent of the total trailer weight rest on the tongue. A weight transfer hitch systems can help manage the load properly for heavier trailers.

Your trailer will carry a label showing the unloaded vehicle weight or dry weight of the trailer. For travel trailers also add in extras such as water and propane loads as well as any accessories and gear.

While vehicle and trailer manufacturers are required to have labels, the only sure way to know how much your rig weighs is to use a scale. Load up your vehicle and trailer with a typical load, whether it’s the family, dogs and camping gear, or the horses ready for a ride, and run the whole thing over a scale. A truck stop, landfill, or other business that deals with weighty goods will have a scale you can use for a low fee.

Keep in mind the maximum towing capacity is an estimate from the manufacturer. Your vehicle’s towing capacity will be affected by how the vehicle is configured and equipped.

For instance, vehicles with four-wheel drive systems have less towing capacity because of the weight of the extra components needed to power all the wheels. But if you’re pulling a boat out of a lake on a slippery ramp, the four-wheel drive would be a useful feature to have.

You’ll notice the owner’s manual will usually say something like “when properly equipped” when listing the towing ratings. That means in addition to a hitch, the vehicle also has engine cooling and braking systems that have been upgraded for towing. So just bolting on an aftermarket hitch doesn’t make your Mini Cooper a mighty towing stud.

The “properly equipped” warning also means just because your buddy’s SUV will tow a double-axle boat trailer that yours will too. Your friend’s truck may be equipped with a factory tow package that includes the right gearing and brake system to handle the load. Pick up trucks and SUVs based on those platforms may be available with different axle ratios and other upgrades that increase the towing capacity. You don’t want to hitch up to a heavy trailer and have your transmission start blowing smoke on a steep hill.

If you have any doubts, check with an expert at your car or trailer dealership or a local tire shop before taking your trailer on a trip.


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