Because pickup trucks are frequently used to tow and haul, there’s perhaps no more important or confusing statistic to consider when purchasing one than its weight ratings. Accidentally overloading a truck can lead to a dangerous situation, not just for you but for others on the road. It can also lead to premature wear and tear, or damage to the truck’s powertrain, frame and running gear.
Here are the terms you need to know.
Curb weight: The weight of the pickup, including a full tank of fuel, engine fluids (coolant, oil) and all standard equipment. It does not include passengers, cargo or optional equipment.
Cargo weight: Cargo weight is any weight added to the curb weight, including cargo placed in the cab or bed, optional equipment and trailer tongue weight if you’re towing.
Tongue weight: Tongue weight refers to the amount of trailer weight pressing down on the trailer hitch. It's expressed in percent of total trailer weight, so when you see 10 percent tongue weight that means 10 percent of the weight of the trailer you're going to pull. Too much tongue load can push the vehicle down in back, potentially damaging or decreasing the effectiveness of the rear suspension and causing the front wheels to lift to the point where traction, steering response and braking can be severely decreased. Too little tongue weight can reduce rear-wheel traction and cause instability, leading to trailer sway or jackknifing.
Gross vehicle weight rating: The maximum allowable weight for a fully loaded pickup, including passengers, cargo and trailer tongue weight. A truck’s gross vehicle weight (measured by driving a loaded truck onto a scale) must never exceed the GVWR.
Gross combined weight rating: The maximum allowable weight for a pickup pulling a trailer, including cargo and passengers, that the truck can handle without risking damage. A truck’s gross combined weight (measured by driving a loaded truck and trailer onto a scale) must never exceed the GCWR. In some states, you may be required to have a commercial driver's license if you tow more than 10,000 pounds.
It’s important to know that a truck’s brake system is typically rated for operation only at the GVWR, not the maximum GCWR. Most states mandate trailers more than 1,500 pounds be equipped with separate brake systems that can be integrated with the truck, so the driver can control both the truck’s and the trailer’s brakes simultaneously or separately (see our story on trailer-brake controllers).
If you’re wondering where you can find these specs for the truck you’re considering, you should be able to find a truck’s GVWR and GCWR on the safety compliance certification label in the driver’s-side door area and in the owner’s manual.
Quick formulas to remember:
Curb weight + cargo weight + passengers = gross vehicle weight
Gross vehicle weight + loaded trailer weight = gross combined weight