Pickup Trucks 101: How Much Can My Truck Tow?

Ford Pickup Towing Travel Trailer

By Matthew Barnes

Looking to purchase a travel trailer? Getting a new boat to take friends and family to the lake? Need an excavator to dig a foundation for a shed? If you need to tow a trailer, it's a good idea to make sure your tow vehicle can handle the load. How can you figure out the amount a vehicle can safely tow? Follow this guide.

Terminology

First, here's a primer for the terminology involved in towing.

  • Gross vehicle weight rating: The GVWR is the maximum amount a vehicle can safely weigh when fully loaded.
  • Gross axle weight rating: The GAWR is the maximum weight that can be safely placed on a single axle of a vehicle.
  • Gross combined weight rating: The GCWR is the maximum allowable weight for the tow vehicle, the passengers and cargo in the tow vehicle, and the trailer and cargo in the trailer.

Know How Much You Can Tow

2017 GMC 2500/3500 Capacities Chart
2017 GMC owner's manual

The GVWR and GAWR are easy to find. These numbers are printed on a tag on the driver's doorjamb (see photo below). Knowing these numbers can help determine how much cargo a vehicle can hold and what tongue weight can be placed on the vehicle. After checking the GAWR and GVWR, look for the tow vehicle's GCWR in the owner's manual. You can find the GCWR for newer vehicles on manufacturer websites as well. Ratings will vary significantly depending on the vehicle's engine, transmission, cab configuration, bed configuration and axle ratio.

GM Pickup Door Tag
Door tag

Most trailers have a tag on the driver's side near the front that lists the GAWR for each axle and the total GVWR. As seen on the door tag above and in the three photos below, be aware that the sum of the GAWR for all the axles may not be the same as the GVWR. In the first photo below, we see a trailer with three 7,000-pound GAWR axles with a GVWR of 21,000 pounds. In the second photo, the trailer has two 7,000-pound GAWR axles with a GVWR of 15,000 pounds. And in the third photo, the trailer has three 7,000-pound axles with a GVWR of 17,000 pounds.

Forest River Trailer Tag

Outdoors RV Trailer Tag

Heartland Recreational Vehicles Trailer Tag
A variety of trailer tags

Once those numbers have been found, check the receiver on the tow vehicle to be sure that it is rated to handle the loads that will be towed. Be aware that some vehicles have different numbers for weight carry and weight distribution. Be sure to check the rating on the trailer hitch or ball mount as well. The lowest-rated piece of towing equipment will determine the most weight that can safely be towed.

Now that all the information has been gathered, it's time to load up and hit the scales. First, measure the tongue weight. The desired trailer tongue weight will vary depending on the type of connection between the tow vehicle and trailer. Conventional trailers, also known as bumper-pull, should have a tongue weight that is 10 to 15 percent of the total trailer weight. Both gooseneck and fifth-wheel trailers should be between 15 and 30 percent. This will be covered in-depth in a future story.

How to Calculate Tongue Weight

Next, with the trailer connected to the tow vehicle, measure the weight on each axle of the tow vehicle to get the gross axle weight for each axle and the gross vehicle weight. Then, weigh each axle on the trailer with it connected to the tow vehicle to get the GAW for each axle and the GVW of the trailer. Add together the GAW of all axles on the tow vehicle and the trailer to get the gross combined weight of the tow vehicle and trailer. Be sure these weights do not exceed the ratings for the tow vehicle, trailer or towing connections.

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If the GCW is not over the GCWR, but the rear GAW of the tow vehicle exceeds its GAWR, try redistributing cargo in the vehicle. If the trailer is far enough below its GVWR to handle the extra weight in the tow vehicle, consider shifting the extra weight to the trailer. However, remember that the type of trailer being towed determines how much of the total trailer weight can be placed on the tongue. And that can be as little as 10 percent of the total trailer weight. That means that any weight moved from the tow vehicle to the trailer can reduce the weight on the tow vehicle by as much as 90 percent of the weight moved. This may be enough to keep the loads below the weight ratings.

Once all of that is done, it's time to hit the road. While this might seem like a lot of work, once you gain experience preparation time will decrease. The more you tow, the more you get a feel for when your truck or trailer are improperly loaded.

Toyota Tacoma Towing Flatbed Trailer
Toyota Tacoma

State Towing Regulations

State laws vary, so it is always a good idea to look up your local state laws and the laws for any state in which you will be towing. Doing this will ensure that you have proper licensing and understand towing laws. Some states have different speed limits for vehicles that are towing. Other states require a Class A license for noncommercial use when the GCWR exceeds 26,000 pounds. If the state you live in that doesn't require a Class A license, then you can travel through other states without needing a Class A license. For commercial towing, federal law mandates that all vehicles with more than a 10,000-pound GCWR must be properly licensed and that the driver have a medical card. Federal law also mandates that a commercial driver's license is required to drive a commercial vehicle with a GCWR greater than 26,000 pounds.

Conclusion

It may take some time and a little bit of math to determine how much a vehicle can safely tow, but it only needs to be figured out once. With that knowledge, you can determine which trailers a vehicle can pull. While it's not plausible to weigh every trailer you tow, it's a good idea to measure the tongue weight and trailer weight of trailers you purchase or will be towing regularly.

Cars.com photos by Matthew Barnes

Comments

@TNTGMC
Last I checked “holding up” is not in the reliability engineers handbook and neither is looking up YT videos. Research is based on real data - of which we have access to ZERO, unless you work for Ford. I’m not defending Ford. I am being critical of your unscientific statements. Do you know the MTBF or MTBR on the EB vs an engine that “holds up” towing? You have a hypothesis but no emperical data to support it.

https://www.consumeraffairs.com/automotive/gmc_sierra.html

https://www.consumeraffairs.com/automotive/gm_silverado_brakes.html

https://www.consumeraffairs.com/automotive/dodge_ram.html

https://www.consumeraffairs.com/automotive/ford-f-150.html

TNT
so Gmc and Chevy 1500's combined have 928 good and bad reviews
Ram 1500 has 408 good and bad reviews
Ford F-150 has 244 good and bad reviews
so by what you're Ford should have the most complaints right?
but data shows otherwise
as for you saying the Eco Boost holding up because it's smaller or because it has turbos, turbos have been around a long time in diesels and gas motors and seem to be doing quite well, you can't put out all the HP and TQ and expect to blow all the competition away with FE it just is not going to happen, i have heard the early Eco boost did not do as well as they are doing now in FE
i am like you i won't buy an Eco Boost either (i'm old school) so i bought a 6.2 and my wife a 3.5 NA motor
i wish you the best of luck with you're 6.2 i think you made a good choice because it's a lot better than the 5.3 but it's also a complicated motor
P.S. i am not a fan boy i do a lot of research on trucks and i like to see facts

tnt
here another 122 pages of problems
http://www.gm-trucks.com/forums/forum/186-2014-2015-2016-2017-2018-silverado-sierra-issues-troubleshooting-recallsservice-bulletins/
don't miss understand me i know Ford Forums have pages like this and probably Ram to but to sit here and say one's way better than the other when all three are that close in competition pick the truck you like and want and go with it

TNT, that 12k is a good deal. Good luck with the new truck. I'm glad you get those FE numbers towing your boat, my Chevy cant touch those numbers, wish I had a chevy that had great FE towing.

OXI- just from your comment you proved the point you know nothing, as all you do is try to put down others, and add no value.

-CT

How are You tube videos not REAL DATA

They have people complaining about the issues they have with there trucks! I made a video when my truck was vibrating!!! I used it to take to dealership as backup to prove my case.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPmJDdFwMvo&t=589s

Here is one that isn't even towing....people are having these issues.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rtj3gS2p39I


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzLn9SWPuLY

@ Eatin Chevy's

I know Ill like my 6.2L but the economy I got with my 5.3L and the durability that motor has had since 1999, I am wondering if I should have gotten rid of it. I don't care about pure speed anymore in a truck...I had a fully modded SS trailblazer before that would smoke "alot" of things 0 to 60 with the old 4 spd tranny.
I just want reliable hard working V8 engine that I know can take 100K miles of towing my boat up the interstate 70 mph. And doing it with my truck compared to my stepdads ecoboost is night and day difference.

don't miss understand me i know Ford Forums have pages like this and probably Ram to but to sit here and say one's way better than the other when all three are that close in competition pick the truck you like and want and go with it
Posted by: Eatin Chevy's Shittin Dodges | Mar 19, 2018 12:32:44 PM

The problem with comparing the complaints at GM-trucks to complaints at Ford truck forums is that the most popular Ford truck forums do not have sections where guys can complain. GM-trucks has a whole section devoted to nothing but complaining. Also, a few of the most popular Ford truck forums have very little tolerance for guys that complain about the problems their truck has. The one exception is F150ecoboost.net's forum, which has a section devoted to Ecoboost issues and the volume of guys with major engine problems is really really large. No shortage of timing chain/cam phaser issues, blow turbos, thrown rods, misfires, overheating issues, master cylinder issues, etc.

--------------------------------------------------------
i wish you the best of luck with you're 6.2 i think you made a good choice because it's a lot better than the 5.3 but it's also a complicated motor
P.S. i am not a fan boy i do a lot of research on trucks and i like to see facts
Posted by: Eatin Chevy's Shittin Dodges | Mar 19, 2018 12:26:38 PM

Then maybe you should do a little research on the 5.3/6.2 before you go around making false claims about their complexity.

The 5.3 and 6.2 are identical in nearly every way outside of slightly different cam specs, intake manifold geometry, and slightly more fuel pump displacement on the 6.2. And both are MUCH MUCH simpler than a DOHC V8 or Ecoboost V6. The number of moving parts in a 5.0 Coyote is at least 50% higher than a 5.3 or 6.2 V8.

LT1 vs Coyote:
1 cam vs 4 cams
1 cam phaser vs 4 cam phasers
1 cam phaser solenoid vs 4 cam phaser solenoids
16 valves vs 32 valves
16 valve springs vs 32 valve springs
16 rockers vs 32 rockers
16 lifters vs 32 hydraulic lash adjusters
1 small timing chain vs 1 huge primary timing chain and 2 smaller secondary TC's
16 DI injectors vs 16 DI injectors+16 port fuel injectors

Not to mention the Coyote has two independent fuel systems (pumps, fuel pressure regulators, etc) and a variable geometry intake manifold (the 5.3/6.2 uses a standard fixed geometry intake manifold). The 5.3/6.2's AFM system is relatively simple, made up of an oil feed solenoid and 8 lifters with springs and pins to allow them to collapse. And unlike the complex valvetrain in the Coyote and Ecoboost, AFM can be turned off or replaced with regular lifters.

The Ecoboost has fewer rockers, valves, and lash adjusters, but is much more complex overall. The 2nd gen EB has two independent fuel systems, 24 DI+Port fuel, turbos with integrated BOV's (very prone to issues) with engine oil feed lines and leak-prone coolant lines.

There is absolutely no way that you could argue the 5.3 or 6.2 is "more complicated".

so Gmc and Chevy 1500's combined have 928 good and bad reviews
Ram 1500 has 408 good and bad reviews
Ford F-150 has 244 good and bad reviews
so by what you're Ford should have the most complaints right?
but data shows otherwise

Posted by: Eatin Chevy's Shittin Dodges | Mar 19, 2018 12:26:38 PM

That's not a reliable way to compare issue rates between brands. It's a terrible way actually. The Consumer Affairs website is a disorganized mess. It doesn't break down complaints based on which model year or even specific model of Chevy truck that people are complaining about. They lump nearly 20 years and 5 or 6 generations of Chevy Silverado 1500's, 2500's, and 3500's into one section. The F-150 gets its own category. The decade of horrors that was the Powerstroke 6.0 and 6.4 aren't even included. The whole website is a mess and they don't take any measures to make sure somebody isn't registering multiple accounts and voting multiple times.

If you want to compare reliability, I would stick to websites like True Delta. They take accuracy of their information much more seriously and control user registration much more tightly to make sure people aren't manipulating the data with fake accounts.

----------------------------------------------------------
as for you saying the Eco Boost holding up because it's smaller or because it has turbos, turbos have been around a long time in diesels and gas motors and seem to be doing quite well, you can't put out all the HP and TQ and expect to blow all the competition away with FE it just is not going to happen, i have heard the early Eco boost did not do as well as they are doing now in FE

P.S. i am not a fan boy i do a lot of research on trucks and i like to see facts
Posted by: Eatin Chevy's Shittin Dodges | Mar 19, 2018 12:26:38 PM

It's widely acknowledged by engineers and engine builders that the higher the specific output (HP per liter), the greater the wear and therefore shorter lifespan of the engine. Engine designers can compensate for that by building the engine "heavier" to handle the increased pressures, temperatures, piston velocities, and various forces. The downside of building an engine heavier to handle that higher specific output is that it will also reduce the fuel efficiency of the engine (more drag as piston rings are made thicker and fit tighter, increased parasitic losses due to larger journal area and tighter tolerances, tighter seal tolerances, connecting rod mass, crank mass, greater oil pump drag with increased oil pump pressure/flow requirements, etc). It also increases the cost to manufacture it (always been an important factor, otherwise Ford wouldn't use plastic timing chain guides and inverted tooth timing chains). Some guys have even claimed that the 3.5 Ecoboost is "built like a diesel engine" so it "lasts longer" despite the higher specific output. I've seen dozens of Ecoboosts torn down to the block. There's nothing "built like a diesel" in these engines. Ford uses lots of sensors and complex engine controls to help the engine lasts longer. That doesn't mean that the engine isn't experience greater cylinder pressures, temperatures, piston velocities, greater blow-by contamination of the engine oil, etc. Especially when you're pulling 10k pounds up a long 7% grade in 100F heat day in and day out.

When it comes to truck duty, a high specific output engine is going to experience greater wear than a lower specific output engine. That's why Ford uses the big old 6.2 V8 in their Superduties instead of the much more powerful and efficient 5.0 Coyote or 3.5EB.


----------------------------------------------
my wife a 3.5 NA motor

P.S. i am not a fan boy i do a lot of research on trucks and i like to see facts
Posted by: Eatin Chevy's Shittin Dodges | Mar 19, 2018 12:26:38 PM

It's a shame you haven't noticed that the 3.5 Duratec has some pretty serious issues. The worst one being the internal water pump that's famous for quietly failing and leaking coolant into the engine oil. The weep hole was supposed to allow coolant to leak out of the engine instead of into the oil but like many other Ford engine designs, it doesn't normally work that way. Not to mention, since Ford decided to cut costs and make the engine more compact by putting it inside the engine and driving it off the timing chain, when the pump goes, you have to tear the entire front of the engine off to get to it. And that's if the engine wasn't destroyed by all the coolant that leaked into the engine oil.

MoparMan,
Good analysis. Still no MTBF or MTBR data. That would be the true empirical indication of reliability. I’ll even Agree with you further in that more parts = less reliability. However, you can have complexity and relability. The internet is not anyplace you’d find the data to make any meaniful analysis on reliability unless there is a systemic issue across a meaniful number of units. Only the manufacturers truly know. How does one define reliability for a motor? 100k, 200k miles? Most of us base our opinions on what we personally expirence. We find nuggets of facts to validate our positions. Auto engineers have a tough job. More, more, more for less cost.
I will disagree that higher the output per liter the lower the reliability or lifespan. Can you state a data source besides widely known? I think what you mean is small displacement, high output motors generate more HEAT than a larger displacement of similar output. Heat is the mortal enemy of all things automotive. Therefore if you can engineer an effective way to midigate the effects of heat, you preserve relability. Having personally owned an eco boost and coyote with over 100k miles, I’d say they were pretty reliable based on my very small sample size and personal expirence. The future is DOHC boosted motors - even from GM. I saw a GM leak on the Corvette Forum that by 2020 GM will no longer offer pushrod motors in new vehicles.

Like Northern Dave I'm completely happy with my Titan XD gas. Economy is great, it has significantly more payload that the 1/2 tons. I'm getting 15-17 highway unloaded depending on temperature. Going a bit slower I managed 15 mpg pulling the 25' sailboat in freezing conditions.

I saw a GM leak on the Corvette Forum that by 2020 GM will no longer offer pushrod motors in new vehicles. .. Posted by: Grnzel1 | Mar 20, 2018

It all depends on whether or not they continue to offer a V8. If GM's half ton trucks and big SUVs move to V6 twin turbo configuration, your Corvette Forum's prediction might be on target.

In fact, GM's decision in the late 1990s to commit to the basic V8 design was a smart move. Building 32 valve V8s is a big expense compared to a 16 valve motor. An inescapable fact.

Papajim
Agree. GM SB is cheaper to mfg than a DOHC. The Gen 3 coyote is a complex V8 - but.. makes more power per Liter than an equlivent displacement factory pushrod motor. This latest Gen Coyote punches above its class nearly equal to the 6.2 L86 in HP/TQ. Ford will kill it shortly...

@ Grnzel1

It equals the 6.2L in HP but still down on TQ and the camaro still whoops it pretty good. The camaro is a supercar in sheeps clothing!!

I agree the 5.0L is a very good motor, but there is no replacement for displacement!!

I'm old school like my father who is a mechanic. "Keep it simple stupid" You don't have to reinvent the wheel when the wheel is doing fantastic things!! GM's small blocks do everything "better" or "as good as" Fords "boosted motors", and more complex V8!

Tntgmc
The Coyote has 40 hp on the 6.2, and down 30ftlbs. It’s indicative of its high rev nature. I was comparing engine designs not their vehicle application. Drivetrain engineering adds yet more complexity. The Coyote “almost” invalidates the replacement for displacement. I will be very curious to see the specs on the next Gen 5.3 and 6.2. I’ll go out on a limb and say modest power increases but improved fuel efficiency will be the focus with the 10spd and new cyl deactivation. Well see...

Its rated at 10 more HP, now have seen some dyno figures on "SOME" of the motors that read more than that but that is what Ford is claiming..470! So that's 10 HP.

Ya, I'm curious on power figures of new GM twins engines. I truly believe they can get 400 HP out of the 5.3L and get great economy, and 475 HP out of the 6.2L.

We shall see.....

Agree. GM SB is cheaper to mfg than a DOHC. The Gen 3 coyote is a complex V8 - but.. makes more power per Liter than an equlivent displacement factory pushrod motor. This latest Gen Coyote punches above its class nearly equal to the 6.2 L86 in HP/TQ. Ford will kill it shortly...
Posted by: Grnzel1 | Mar 20, 2018 9:36:15 AM

Horsepower per liter is a meaningless measure of an engine. Engineers don't use it to measure fuel efficiency (that's what engineering measurements like Brake Specific Fuel Consumption are for). The 2nd gen Coyote in a lighter aluminum F-150 barely matched the fuel economy numbers Gen V 6.2 in a heavier steel half-ton truck, all while making significantly less power. So despite having 3 extra cams, completely independent intake and exhaust valve timing, and a variable length intake manifold --- not to mention the truck having an 800 lb weight advantage -- all that added complexity without any real benefit. Ford made a huge mistake 20 years ago when they went all-in on DOHC V8's for their trucks. I know I wasn't impressed with their engine strategy when my Triton killed itself in spectacular fashion.

Brick & MoparMan
thanks for info was good reading

Ford made a huge mistake 20 years ago when they went all-in on DOHC V8's for their trucks. I know I wasn't impressed with their engine strategy when my Triton killed itself in spectacular fashion.


Posted by: Brick | Mar 20, 2018 1:00:00 PM

1. They were not DOHC, they were SOHC, a lot of 4.6L, 5.4L & 6.8L engines are still running til today.

If your Triton killed itself, I'd bet it could have been user error.

2. DOHC V8 was only used in the Mustang Cobras, we all know how well they turned out. Stellar.

3. Not being biased here, but bragging rights showing off that if a car maker can make more horsepower per liter, then that will say a lot about engineering. Any carmaker can make an immense amount of horsepower using high displacement.

The real challenge, use the smallest displacement and squeeze the most HP out of it, this is why Ferrari and other supercars use small displacement engines.


In the end, buy what you're happy with owning, just down go on every post and dog other makers, it makes you look futile and very unintelligent.

But then again, all post have been useless.


WHY would anybody buy anything else?


Posted by: Ecoboost Rules | Mar 17, 2018 10:47:21 AM

Because i already have and it burnt to the ground from one of its multi million FIRE RECALLS!

Over half a million Ford vehicles just got recalled for FIRE risk!
bgr.com/2017/03/30/ford-recall-2017/
Mar 30, 2017

That was in 95 so i see nothing has changed at Ford.

Ford's Recall Woes Continue with 200K Vehicles at Fire Risk 2018.

Built Ford Flammable, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_puRqvSoCA

@HEMI V8

Yeah rams never catch fire /s
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQvuK7b16dQ

NoWayHosEH, Stay thirsty. lol

@brick
Exactly! I was comparing a Ford and GM V8 for sake of a conversation on engine design. I wasn’t debating drivetrain application or fuel economy. The +/- of each engine on a stand - so to say. In fact I was comparing the power output of similar displacement engines. So in that argument HP per liter is a very appropriate metric. The current 5.0 is much better in power density than engines of equlivent size and even some larger. 4 valve motors will always make more power or are capable of more power than a 2 valve motor of equal displacement - increased valve surface area = greater volumetric efficiency = more power. Engines are air pumps after all.
Fuel efficiency is a whole separate and arguably more complex debate.

4 valve motors will always make more power or are capable of more power than a 2 valve motor of equal displacement
Posted by: Grnzel1 | Mar 21, 2018

Tell that to the builders who make those insane 2 valve NASCAR Cup engines.



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