Pickup Trucks 101: Why Weight Capacities Are Important

2012 Chevy 1500 Double Towing II

By Matthew Barnes

Have you ever wondered what all those letters and numbers mean on the door tag of your pickup truck? Have you ever overloaded your vehicle so that the rear axle was touching the bump stops? How do you know how much weight you can put into your vehicle or how heavy a trailer you can pull?

Knowing a pickup's gross axle weight rating, gross vehicle weight rating, gross combined weight rating, the tongue weight rating and trailer weight rating will improve your safety, increase the longevity of your rig and make your trips more comfortable.

Pickup manufacturers are required to put some of those ratings on the door tag of every new vehicle. The numbers required to be listed on the door tag are GAWR and GVWR often along with tire sizes and pressures, rim sizes, date of manufacture and the vehicle identification number. Other ratings and numbers can be found in the owner's manual and/or online. For a short definition of each term and how they are measured, see the glossary at the end story.

The GVWR is divided between the two axles. The GAWR, front or rear, is the maximum amount of weight that can be carried on a single axle. This weight includes the vehicle, passenger(s), cargo and fluids (fuel, oil, etc.). For the rear axle this may include the tongue weight of a trailer if one is connected. When tongue weight is added to the tow vehicle, the GAWR of the rear axle must be watched carefully as the tongue weight of the trailer creates a potentially dangerous pivot point on the rear axle. By definition, this reduces the weight on the front axle by moving it to the rear axle. As a result, the rear axle carries the trailer tongue weight and the weight taken from the front axle, which can add up to a significant amount if not watched carefully.

On the Pickup

Using a properly set up equalizer hitch (or weight-distributing hitch) will help with weight issues as it will transfer some of that weight back onto the front axle. It can also send some of the tongue weight back onto the trailer axles, which significantly reduces the weight on the rear axle. You can measure the amount of weight on a given axle by placing the wheels of one axle on a scale. To weigh your pickup and any tow vehicles, find your nearest truck-stop CAT scale using this locator.

When weighing, be warned: Ratings can vary for different packages of the same model of vehicle, even with the same engine and transmission. The photo below of the door tag from a 2015 Ram 2500 with the 6.7-liter inline-six-cylinder Cummins diesel engine shows that the front GAWR is 2,722 kilograms or 6,000 pounds, and the rear GAWR is 2,949 kg or 6,500 pounds. Note that the GVWR of this Ram heavy duty is 10,000 pounds, not just the simple addition of the front and rear GAWR.

2015 Ram 2500 Door Tag II

Despite what the GAWRs may add up to, the GVWR is the maximum total weight for which a vehicle is rated. That once again includes passengers, liquids (fuel, oil and coolant, etc.), cargo and the tongue weight of the trailer if you are towing. To find out if you are exceeding your GVWR, place all the wheels of the loaded tow vehicle onto a scale — and if you are towing, you need to do this with the trailer attached but without placing the trailer on the scale.

If we add the two GAWRs from the 2015 Ram, we come up with 12,500 pounds. If we look at the GVWR, it is only 10,000 pounds. That's 2,500 pounds less than the sum of the two axle ratings. Manufacturers rate their vehicles for what the vehicle can consistently and safely handle, so although each axle can handle more than the truck is rated for, other components and systems may not be able to handle the sum of the gross axle weight ratings. These systems may include the powertrain, drivetrain, brakes, cooling system, suspension or other components. Probably more than in any other vehicle segment, a pickup is only as strong as its weakest link.

On the Trailer

The GAWR and GVWR can be found on trailer tags as well. Unlike motor vehicles, trailers do not have a standard location for these tags, but they will be on the trailer frame. The same cautions that apply to motor vehicles apply to trailers. The brakes, suspension, axles, bearings, tires, frame and other components are all designed to safely handle loads up to the maximum GVWR. It is unsafe to overload a trailer above its ratings.

Chinese Tractor II

One number that is not listed on a pickup's door tag — and we're not sure why — is the GCWR. This is the total weight of the vehicles connected together while towing: truck, passengers and its load, and the trailer and its load.

To measure GCWR, place the tow vehicle and any associated trailers on a scale, and get the readout for the total weight of all axles. Many scales are only large enough to pick up one axle, or two closely spaced, at a time. In that instance, take add the weight of all the axles of the tow vehicle and trailer after measuring them one at a time. To find out a vehicle's GCWR, you often have to look in the owner's manual. Much like GAWRs and GVWRs, the GCWR is not the sum of the GVWR and the maximum towing capacity of the tow vehicle. It also is not the sum of the GVWRs of the tow vehicle and attached trailer, even if the federal Department of Transportation requires commercial vehicles to be registered that way. This is done to protect the components of the tow vehicle.

2005 Chevy Owner's Manual II

Maximum trailer weight, another number usually found in the tow vehicle's owner's manual, is the maximum weight the tow vehicle can safely tow. Use caution here, as this is the max tow rating for an unloaded tow vehicle, which is rarely the case. When passengers and gear are added, as you might expect, the total tow rating decreases. To standardize how manufacturers rate vehicles for towing, SAE International created the J2807 standard, which all manufacturers have agreed to use. Trailer weight is measured by placing the trailer on a scale when it is disconnected from the tow vehicle. Trailer hitch receivers often have maximum trailer weight capabilities and maximum tongue weight ratings. Keep in mind that these ratings may not reflect the actual numbers of the tow vehicle. A receiver may have a higher or lower rating than the vehicle it is attached to, so always consult the owner's manual to be sure you are within safe working limits. Remember to always use the lower of the two ratings as your limit.

2017 Ford F-350 Receiver Hitch Tag II

Trailer tongue weight, whether a gooseneck, fifth-wheel or traditional ball hitch, is the amount of weight that the trailer adds to a tow vehicle when attached. Tongue weights for conventional (bumper pull) trailers should not exceed 10 to 15 percent of the total trailer weight, while gooseneck and fifth-wheel trailers should be somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of the total trailer weight. This can be easily measured for conventional trailers with a scale ball mount or a tongue jack scale. For gooseneck or fifth-wheel trailers, it may be a little more difficult, but can be done by weighing the tow vehicle at a truck-stop scale when it is attached to the trailer — making sure the trailer axles are not on the scales — and then again without the trailer attached. The difference between those two numbers will get you pretty close to the actual tongue weight of the trailer.

All this is to say that if you plan on towing, make sure you do your homework and know what your rig is rated to carry and tow. The best way we know how to do that is to stay below your GVWR, GCWR and GAWRs.



Gross axle weight rating: This is the maximum weight that can be carried by a single axle; it should be identified as either front or rear. This rating can be found on tow vehicles and on trailers. It can measured by placing all wheels of a single axle on a scale.

Gross combined weight rating: The maximum combined weight of the tow vehicle and all towed units or trailers. This includes all cargo, fluids, passengers and vehicles in the train. This can be checked by placing the tow vehicle and trailer(s) onto a scale, or if a scale isn't big enough, then weighing each vehicle or axle individually on the scale and adding up the individual weights.

Gross vehicle weight rating: The maximum amount of weight that can be loaded on a vehicle; it should include the weight of the vehicle, all of its topped-off fluids, cargo, passengers and trailer tongue weight, if applicable. This is easily measured by placing all four (or six if you have a dually) wheels of the vehicle on a professional scale.

Tongue weight: Tongue weight is the amount of weight that a trailer places onto a tow vehicle through the hitch ball when connected. This can be measured in a few ways, but using a tongue weight scale or a ball mount with a built-in scale are the most common methods.

Trailer weight: This is how much a trailer weighs. This includes the weight of all axles and the weight on the tongue jack. The best way to measure this is to place the trailer on a full-length scale and disconnect it fully from the tow vehicle. Of course, you can also weigh the tow vehicle, then the tow vehicle and attached trailer, and subtract the weight of the tow vehicle to get the trailer weight.

Cars.com photos by Matthew Barnes; manufacturer images

Tongue Weight In Hitch II

Trailer Tongue Scale II



Thanks for this article, too many truck guys have no clue what their truck can actually tow. An important note, do not go off the actual door sticker as the actual tow rates. You need to weight the truck. As an example, my 250 sticker was off by 275 pounds, because I weigh more than the standard 150 pounds manufacturers use as driver weight, as well as the dealer added options, which do not reflect the sticker, the sticker is from when it left the line, and will not change even if the dealer adds 500 pounds of accessories and weight.

nice how the photos tell about the engines, especially that 8100 Vortec!

On the Ford sticker it reads V-5, which is what you get with a V-6 ecoboost running on five cylinders. Ouch!

When you put different rims, larger tires or alter the suspension in any way, those data plates mean nothing.

Heck, even adjusting your tire pressure and the data plates mean nothing.

It is all lawyer speak, to protect the manufacturer from lawsuits.

Those of us that have been modding trucks since the dawn of time know you can improve your towing, payload by simple additions and bolt-ons!

My 2010 SR5 Tacoma has a payload of 2,200 lbs., and she has hauled that much on long trips, expedition style with no issues.

papajim seems intelligent then he hits "post" and all bets are off.

Good article.

OXI, you can never LEGALLY do that. Yes you can add things to up payload, but the sticker will not change, lawyers dont care, they go by what the sticker is then weight the truck. Adding things only make it heavier....problem with this set up, you should be able to add leafs, for example to increase payload, then apply for new sticker.

OXI, you can never LEGALLY do that. Yes you can add things to up payload, but the sticker will not change, lawyers dont care, they go by what the sticker is then weight the truck. Adding things only make it heavier....problem with this set up, you should be able to add leafs, for example to increase payload, then apply for new sticker.

...seems intelligent then he hits "post" and all bets are off


It's hard to make some people happy, evidently. I was actually thinking of the V8 powerstroke diesel being a V5, but then I thought that would hurt the feelings of so many F Series guys who have already suffered enough!

You just cannot win sometimes.

Good article. I run crews that tow every day, so the liability can fall back on me.

I tend to use 3/4-ton trucks for towing, as the half-ton trucks really don't have too much capacity. As examples, Ive got an extended cab Chevy 1500 in the fleet with a payload capacity of 1700lbs, not too bad. The 4-door RAM sitting next to it has a payload of 1438lbs. Neither of these trucks have many options, as they are fleet vehicles. In comparison, a loaded Ridgeline has a payload of 1499lbs, and a base model Ridgeline has a payload of 1584lbs.

I don't have the payload numbers for the 3/4-ton trucks handy, and they are currently out towing, but they are above 2000, wanna say 23xxlbs.

If you want max towing, go with a standard cab truck with no options (except tow package). Many people buy loaded trucks and think they are getting advertised capacities (which are generally for models with no options). They don't think to check the door post sticker. If they ever get into trouble, lawyers will have a field day with them. Ignorance is not an excuse.

papa doesn't haul or tow so he is like an elitest liberal who doesn't know what he doesn't know.

Good article Mark.

From what I've witnessed the data plates info should be dumbed down if the quality of some comments on this site are used as a basis to determine the mental strength of the "average" pickup person.

Maybe a pictorial representation with stick figures (for the marshmellow cookers among us) and simple graphics illustrating the different load configuration of the pickup with the weights done in a bold text.

Then no one should make a mistake.


I have and always have been! Legality is not in question because nobody cares!

That is why so many trucks on the roads are lifted, larger rime, or tires, extra springs, beefier coils, etc...

According to you those are illegal, so why are they being sold on the market?

Where is your precious government to arrest all of those that buy them and manufacture them?

You are clueless, go away!

Another great article from PUTC. Great job Mark!

Thanks for all of your comments! I just want to let you guys know that I read every comment that is posted on my articles and I appreciate the knowledge and input that many of you add to the conversation. What else do you want to hear about in the Pickup Trucks 101 Series?

@oxi, only because I know someone who had that happen too. Just because the market sells doesn't mean you are smart to buy it....its always ok until it happens to you. Good luck.

way to go PAPA for draging down a great article with your jealousy over Ford rant. We all agree Ford is number 1, and GM needs work to get to number 1, again we agree with you there, but you keep bringing it up, by trying to defend the twins.

@gmsrgreat, agree great article, thanks for not doing what your Dad pap did by showing low intelligence

Good article. Papa's being a stooge... again.

My neighbor has a 3/4ton F250 jacked up, all I see him haul is 2 mountain bikes. My Canyon gets loaded down almost every year during elk season. All my gear and other stuff, Almost, as not every year do I haul several coolers full of elk meat home. I Deer season almost as loaded, lots of tree stands and more hunting gear...

There are many locations other than CAT scales where the entire vehicle can be weighed. Feed mills, trash transfer stations, sand and gravel companies, and moving van warehouses are a few examples. A phone call will let you know if their scales are available to the public.
One thing that should be noted is that the GVWR of the RAM 2500 is 10,000 lbs. At one time that was the GVWR of a 3500. The formerly used terms of 3/4 ton or 1 ton are no longer applicable to these vehicles.
A little known important issue is the DOT defines a commercial vehicle (CMV) as a vehicle exceeding a 10,000 lb. GVWR.
If an owner of a RAM 3500, Chevy 3500 or Ford F-350 uses their vehicle for business purposes the truck is subject to Federal regulation. The driver must pass a DOT physical, the truck must have a DOT inspection, and Hours of Service regulations. Records must be kept of vehicle maintenance and drivers' working hours. The truck cannot haul property belonging to anyone else unless he receives motor carrier authority. Drivers must be at least 21 years of age to cross state lines. These regulations don't apply if the vehicle is only for private use like pulling an RV but just making a business tax deduction for using the truck will cause it to be considered a CMV.
All this can be avoided if a truck has a maximum GVWR of 10,000 lbs. or less.

@Matthew Barnes, it would be beneficial to do an article on the different hitches, weight carrying and non weight carrying from different manufactures, as well as sway bars, fifth wheel hitches and so on. I really like the pics of the tongue hitches that show the weights, but do not see them around, even at camping world locally.

If you lighten your vehicle you can increase payload. There is an easy 60-70 pounds in most gas trucks you can get rid of. The exhaust systems running all the way back and in sometime dial configurations are very heavy. A short exhaust that dumps out right after the cat save a lot. Mbrp make a dump exhaust right after the cat. Saved 70 lbs on my 2014 raptor. Also tire and wheel combo is 7 lbs lighter per corner. With wheels and tires I have just over 100 lbs extra cargo capacity. If I had a ram or a new raptor their is any easy 100lbs of saving just in the stupid and horrible looking dual exhaust

Man, here is a story for a certain reader, and yet he still misses the point!

Nope, changing tires will not change your gvwr.

Are you an engineer? Not to be confused with one that often writes on here, and claims to be, in Australia.

Your wheels and tires have to meet the minimum standard that is posted.

For example, I removed 17x7 wheels off my Sentra, 2015. Installed 15x6.5s. The tire size was 205/50 R17, but I went 195/65 R15s, And I have about 50 or 80 pounds or so more capacity per tire.

And because my wheel and tire combination is actually about 7:00 pounds per wheel less then the factory one, I actually gained about 28 pounds of payload, But, due to the fact that I have a real proper size tire not a donut tire, I gained back about 10 pounds there.

So technically I still have a little bit more weight the car can carry, my replacement tires are a good deal cheaper, ride is better, and I don't have to use a stupid donut spare.

nice how the photos tell about the engines, especially that 8100 Vortec!

On the Ford sticker it reads V-5, which is what you get with a V-6 ecoboost running on five cylinders. Ouch!

Posted by: papajim | Jul 6, 2017 9:46:30 AM

It looks like papajim blinded himself again with all that glitter, stick to what you know...lip gloss.

Thats one lousy weld on that Ford frame,,look closely how cracked in the midle it is,,pathetic quality as usual..

Fifth picture from top

I recently saw a 2015 F-150 Scab with the 3.5EB loaded up to the maximum payload rating (1,833 lbs on sticker). It looked like it was going to do a wheelie.

Ford sucks!

Ford sucks!


GMS/Johnny/sierra/papa, so sorry you guys have to defend the twins. That bed bending issue, tells the real tell on these trucks......OUCH!
Posted by: Nitro | Apr 28, 2017 1:46:13 PM

I don't think Robert Ryan is an engineer or Australian.

He seems to miss the finer details of Aussie culture in his scribes.

As for an engineer out of Australia, I'm your man. But I've not written many comments often.

Cast aluminum wheels that weigh less than steel wheels will lower your towing and payload. Forged aluminum is what you want if your going aluminum. Have to raise the air pressure in the tires when hauling heavy as well. You want your truck and trailer level otherwise it's not going to handle correctly. Ram is the only brand with self leveling air bags.

I don't think Robert Ryan is an engineer or Australian.

He seems to miss the finer details of Aussie culture in his scribes.

As for an engineer out of Australia, I'm your man. But I've not written many comments often.

I don't think Robert Ryan is an engineer or Australian.

He seems to miss the finer details of Aussie culture in his scribes.

As for an engineer out of Australia, I'm your man. But I've not written many comments often.

You can special order a new F-150 with a GVWR of 8600 lbs that no other brand of 1/2 ton truck can match that.

eco-boost dreams !

I don't think that lighter wheels will contribute to payload capacity, since they are unsprung weight. The only way I could see them contributing is if the original wheels were the limiting factor in the first place (which is highly unlikely).

The other issue you may run into is if the aftermarket wheels you purchase were not designed to carry heavy loads, then the wheels themselves COULD become the limiting factor. This is particularly true if they are not engineered to the vehicle by the oem. You can also run into the issue of proper offset and if wheels need to be hub-centric.

Many aftermarket wheels do not publish their load ratings. I may sound like a bit of a nanny here, as I know there are many combinations running around out there with no apparent issues. However, if the feces ever collides with the turbine, it is nice to know if you've done your part to prevent damage and liability.

@richard gaskill- that DOT requirement only applies to commercially used vehicles. Many order sheets actually have a 9990 GVWR option for 1-ton trucks for that reason.
@Tom3- you sure about that? AFAIK, 7700 is the highest GVWR you can order on the F150.

7850 is the highest on the F-150 with Heavy Duty Payload.

@Nitro - I argued with oxi a long time ago about GVW. He claimed he could carry more because of his modifications. He went on and on about Deaver springs so for sh!ts and giggles, I sent Deaver an email. They said that adding their springs doesn't change the payload ratings on a truck.

The only way you can up your payload without getting your truck re-certified by an engineer is by making it lighter.

It looks like papajim blinded himself again with all that glitter, stick to what you know... Posted by: Frank | Jul 6, 2017

Apart from its un-civil tone, Frank has actually written a comment on PUTC that isn't brimming with idiotic misspellings and lousy grammar/punctuation.

A first!

Take a photo or something. He must have taken my advice and tried some mackeral or or tuna fish or something.

Lets get some facts straight. There's legality and there's reality. Adding things such as add-a-leafs does not legally improve or gain you capacity but it does improve and gain you some capability, that is a fact.

We can see what can occur if you eat to much of a top ocean predator like tuna and it's pelagic brethren. What is it called again, or, better still what is the correct spelling?

Hmmmm ................. popojam, spelling and grammar, or in you case GRAMMER.

The heavy metals can affect your cognitive abilities. Just look at your comments and you are critical of others?

OH NUMPTY!!!!!!!!!!!!!! How do you spell MACKEREL?

Yup you ate to much seafood, especially the pelagic ones.

papajim, please don't be critical of others when you are in fact proving how stupid you really are.


Mackeral? Google it Al!

You'll get over 300k matches on that spelling in a half second or so.


Sorry but it's only spelled that way in whatever backwater food-stamp trailer park your family's laying about it these days. If you don't want to look completely illiterate, try spelling it g-r-a-m-m-a-r



Check it out! Your own glorious Australian government spells it Mackeral. The irony is so rich!

So there are 300 000 idiots like you! Wow!

That's a lot less than the 17 800 000 that can SPELL!!

And yes it's Google.


17,800,000 resultsDate Language Region

Mackerel - Wikipedia


Mackerel is a common name applied to a number of different species of pelagic fish, mostly, but not exclusively, from the family Scombridae. They are found in both ...

Monterey Spanish Mackerel · Japanese Spanish Mackerel · Yellowtail Horse Mackerel

Ad hominem attacks

@Big Al

Not sure if your Latin is very good, but look it up. PUTC expects its commenters to be "civil." I know you want that too.

Well, you have been forewarned.

If you want to be respected, then you must play fair as well.

You can't go around belittling others and not expect to be corrected.


This site should change its name to bottomfeederswithtrucks dot com

I learned a long time ago. If I'm toeing a trailer allow myself 30% longer to get anywhere. People that drive as fast with out without a trailer are negligent.

papajim, you have been forewarned.

@Big Al

What sort of "warning" did I receive exactly.

YOUR obligation as a commenter on this site is to be "civil."

YOU agreed as a condition of using this site to respect that requirement.

I'm not required to fulfill any requirements that YOU decide. PUTC will let me know directly if they have any other requirements for me (not you).

Then behave and stop submitting comments that are going to create issues.

You are dissenting and divisive in your actions. Your comments create negativity in the threads.

Please play with others and be positive.

As I stated I will monitor your behaviour and when I see comments that are designed to create dissent and division I will act accordingly and in accordance with PUTC guidelines.

If you are critical of others and someone responds, don't act as if you are a victim.

You are a victim of your own making.

I do believe your behaviour has deteriorated since I last graced the 'pages' of PUTC.

"I will monitor your behaviour"

@Big Al

In a pig's eye!

Nobody missed your bonehead remarks and your whiney-baby hurt feelings during the time that PUTC was lucky enough to avoid your noisy crap.

I sense aggression in your retorts. Please refrain from such behaviour as it is unbecoming for a gentleman of your age.

Project the mature wisdom you profess you have.

Its been great dialogue, thank you.

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