A Weighty Issue: Calculating Real-World Payload, Towing Capacities

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Many readers noted that the 2015 Ram 1500 Rebel in our 2015 4x4 Challenge had just 900 pounds of calculated — the word "calculated" is key here — payload capacity. As we noted in the story, we weighed both of our test pickup trucks (the other pickup was a 2015 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro) at a recently certified truck scale. The Rebel had a full tank of gas and an empty bed and cab, and weighed in at 5,900 pounds. We then subtracted 5,900 from 6,800 pounds to get our 900-pound payload figure. Our test Rebel's door label showed 947 pounds of payload capacity. (You can find a midsize or half-ton pickup's manufacturer payload number on a label inside the driver's side door.)

All this is interesting because we were told the short-bed Rebel crew cab (with a Hemi V-8 and a RamBox) had a towing capacity of around 10,000 pounds. That seemed odd to us, because it doesn't follow the Society of Automotive Engineers' J2807 standard requirement of 10 percent of towing capacity for the recommended tongue weight. Following that formula, the Rebel's 10,000 pounds of towing capacity would have put us 100 pounds over our 900-pound max payload capacity, and that's before adding a driver, passenger or cargo. We should also note that SAE J2807 criteria recommends, before adding tongue weight, adding 300 pounds for passengers as well as 25 to 65 pounds for the receiver and trailer hitch or weight-distributing hitch.

Discarding a 9,000- or 10,000-pound trailer capacity for the Rebel and backing into what the real towing capacity should be based on the SAE requirements, here's what we get: Using 900 pounds of calculated payload capacity and subtracting 300 pounds for passengers leaves us with 600 pounds or so of payload. That means a maximum towing capacity of 6,000 pounds if we use the SAE-recommended 10 percent tongue weight number. But that assumes we can't or won't add any cargo to the bed or carry any passengers in the backseat. If we add a few passengers and cargo, we're down to 300 pounds or less of payload capacity. Does that mean real-world towing capacity — based on the SAE J2807 recommendations — of around 3,000 pounds for a full-size half-ton pickup truck with a V-8?

What does all this mean for pickup owners? It means you need to pay careful attention to your particular truck's capacities. We highly recommend, no matter which manufacturer makes your pickup truck, taking your pickup to your local truck stop or department of motor vehicles and getting the actual weight of your truck. Remember to take all the junk out of the bed and cab. Subtract that number weight from the GVWR posted on the door label. If your truck does not have a door label with that information, it may be in the glove box or the owner's manual. Calculating your truck's real-world payload capacity will help you learn exactly how much weight your truck can carry. That number needs to include tongue weight if you tow. Don't be one of those people who think they can hook up a trailer to their bumper or fifth-wheel and pull it safely.

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We also should note that the EPA allows manufacturers to list a maximum tow rating based on only a few simple criteria such as engine size, cab configuration and presumed weight. That's why a Ram 1500 Rebel crew-cab Hemi can get away with listing a towing capability of 10,000 pounds even though it's much heavier than just about any other four-door V-8 pickup Ram sells.

To be specific, our 4x4 Ram Rebel came with the four-corner air suspension (very heavy), the RamBox (also heavy), a spray-in bedliner (surprisingly heavy), much bigger wheels and tires (heavy), and lots of other optional equipment, all of which is not on a stripped 4x2 crew-cab Ram Express Hemi, which actually does and should have a max tow rating closer to 10,000 pounds.

With all that said, we thought it might be interesting to look at each of the three top-selling half-ton pickups — the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, Ford F-150 and Ram 1500 — to see what kind of GVWR and maximum towing capacity range they offer for 2016 models in their different cab configurations: regular cab, extended cab and crew cab. The results are interesting.

 

Gvwr chart

 

Again, what does all this mean? At the very least, it points to the need for truckmakers to more clearly communicate to their customers the appropriate weights they can expect their truck to safely carry and tow. We don't want anyone to find themselves in the position of finding out the new pickup they just bought can safely carry only half the weight they thought it could or only tow a boat half the size of the one in their driveway.

It's worth noting that Ford seems to have the widest GVW ranges of any half-ton maker, which seems to translate into a higher max tow rating range. Ram seems to have the narrowest GVW range (certainly for their extended and crew cabs), and some of the smallest max tow ratings. Of course, the range differences in both GVW and tow capacity have a great deal to do with what engine, axle gears, and driveline configurations are selected. 

What worries us is that even if this information is much less complicated than it seems here, we know you're not going to get a straight explanation from a sales person who might not have any idea what the difference is between a gross vehicle weight rating and a gross combined weight rating. To be safe, pickup owners need to arm themselves with the right information about their pickup. In the meantime, you can count on us to keep pushing truckmakers to do a better job.

Cars.com images by Evan Sears

 

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Comments

@ carl, i was wondering why he directed it at me too...

@ hemiv8, all i got to say is even if your Ram outhauls a ford or gm it actually doesn't, a broken down ram on the side of the road really doesn't haul too much. Where i have stated many times reliability is everything, seem to recall fiat was holding down all the last place finishes in those surveys.

does anyone even think they are going to haul or tow these crazy numbers anyways? the average joe won't, maybe some equipment haulers or farmers. People for the most part should be buying their trucks based on reliability, price, functionality, and i guess looks is always a factor. Obviously you have to buy the range you plan to tow/haul whether its a 1/2 ton range or a 1 ton range, but most 1 tons of any of the brands will haul mostly everything the average joe would ever dream of. The only thing i can think of that doesnt make sense is the ram 1500 which is terrible for hauling anything except maybe passengers, nice riding though - great grocery getter

You guys that get off on 1/4 mile times, hp ratings, and fancy packages are messed up, for a truck you should be looking for torque numbers, braking, suspension, handling etc

ram 1500 which is terrible for hauling anything except maybe passengers, nice riding though - great grocery getter.

Posted by: Dean | Oct 31, 2015 6:21:30 AM

Sure thing Dean. obliviously you have never towed with a 1500 Ram. I have for the last 12 years so I don't know who you think your kidding. The new Rams out performed Ford and Chevy with a 1/2 ton payload. You might want to do some research. Looks good on paper though.lol

Ram KING OF BEASTS!!!!!

My truck has a 7350 GVWR
The empty weight with a full tank of gas is 5225
Its legal licensed for 7000
Legally I can haul 1775
Illegal haul by mfg. is 2125 lbs
But! if I change the tires from "C" to "E" load range I can haul almost any weight I want.

as someone mentioned above hemiv8 your 12 year old truck used to have rear leaf springs as was able to haul or tow a load, and yes i have driven a newer ram 1500, wasnt impressed, drove like a cadillac though.

Lou_DC - changing tires doesn't change cargo ratings as posted on the door tag by the manufacturer. I run "E" rated tires on my 1/2 ton because they are less prone to flats and hold up better on gravel roads. The added benefit is that they carry a load better than the stock "car" tires.

Once again the Ram brand is letting me down. I have a 2008 PW that has a door sticker stating 2132 lbs payload. The new 2015 Ram PW has a payload of around 1400 lbs. My wife's old cobalt TC had a payload of 960 lbs. The car only weighted 2800 lbs total. I wish someone with common sense would get a hold of Ram and fix it. And this HD SRW 3.42 gears with diesel is beyond me.

racyryan,
So, you are a fool for buying vehicle with little or no research.

Sort of like wanting ketchup and ending up with BBQ sauce because the bottles looked the same.

Seriously? I have a 2003 Ram Hemi 1500
Posted by: HEMI V8 | Oct 29, 2015 11:22:42 PM

Lots has changed in the past 12 years since your truck was built, HEMI V8. And the new Rams don't hold a candle to the older tough Ram trucks as far as strength, quality, or payload. the 1500's are built like cars. You have to get a 2500 to get a real truck now.


Posted by: Ford850 | Oct 30, 2015 6:25:11 AM

Well I have outgrown my 1/2 ton Ram 5.7 Quadcab 1500 4x4 with three YFZ 450's @400lbs each and a 25 foot toy Hauler@7,400lbs empty, Wife, kids, grand son, beer,whiskey,firewood,chairs shovel,BBQ etc...
I am looking to purchase 2016 Power Wagon stock or A.E.V. Prospector. Looking forward to the bigger cab,bigger 392 Hemi,bigger axles, front solid axle with lockers front rear,disconnecting sway bar, 12,000lb winch mud snow tires. Increased range with 35 gallon gas tank. Increased towing as well. Going to use it to tow off road in gravel dirt, soft dune sand and maybe some snow. It's a full size Jeep Wrangler Rubicon with a V8 and towing hauling. I will keep you all in the loop. Check is in the mail. ;-)

@ hemiv8, all i got to say is even if your Ram outhauls a ford or gm it actually doesn't, a broken down ram on the side of the road really doesn't haul too much. Where i have stated many times reliability is everything, seem to recall fiat was holding down all the last place finishes in those surveys.

Posted by: Dean | Oct 31, 2015 6:21:30 AM

"Toyota's top marks come because it relies on proven technology.

"Major updates turn reliability down," said Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports' director of auto testing. Toyota and Lexus, by contrast, "very rarely launch everything new. You look at Corolla and Camry, you know. The last few redesigns have been almost freshenings: carryover powertrain, sometimes even the same wheelbase."

That could make the redesigns seem like snoozers, but "being slow and conservative has paid off in terms of reliability," Fisher said.

"What we've seen in the last several years is [that cars are] not getting more or less reliable, but what goes on is changing," Fisher said. "We're seeing less major mechanical malfunctions. We're seeing less engine problems and fuel system problems and suspension problems. What we're seeing is more of the new technology having issues."

That means multimedia systems and — increasingly this year — transmission problems, he said. Dual-clutch automatics, nine-speed units and even continuously variable automatic transmissions are prone to bugaboos.

https://www.cars.com/articles/consumer-reports-reliability-study-toyota-thrives-fiat-fails-1420682551916/

"Tom Wilkinson, a spokesman for GM's pickup lines, said the automaker won't engage in a towing arms race "that is meaningless to 99.9 percent of customers" and will instead focus on "capability and confidence while towing."

Wilkinson said the average heavy-duty customer tows about 9,000 pounds, giving consumers a wide choice of heavy haulers. GM has instead focused on integrating cruise control, powertrain grade braking and its diesel exhaust brake to make it easier to climb and descend steep grades while towing."

RAM THE KING OF BEASTS!!!!

as someone mentioned above hemiv8 your 12 year old truck used to have rear leaf springs as was able to haul or tow a load, and yes i have driven a newer ram 1500, wasnt impressed, drove like a cadillac though.


Posted by: Dean | Nov 2, 2015 4:49:48 AM

Explain the class leader Ram 2500 with coils not leafs?

The simplest way for anybody to calculate realistic vehicle towing capacity is to use the free mobile friendly SAE J2807 compliant app at http://RVtowCheck.com



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