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How Much Can I Tow - Cover

How Much Trailer Can I Really Tow?

RV Dealers Could Sell You the Wrong Rig—Read This Before Buying

When it comes to RV and vehicle dealerships, the salespeople are usually knowledgeable about—well, selling you an RV or vehicle. But most lack experience in towing these massive trailers the way you'll have to. That is, across distance, over time, and in real-world conditions. This means that no matter how well-meaning your dealership is, they often gloss over some of the finer points of towing. The typical exchange when you go to an RV dealership is they ask about your tow vehicle; you give them a year, make, and model; and they give you a general weight capacity and trailer length to stick with. Or, you go to the vehicle dealership and say you want to tow a 9,000 lb trailer, and they sell you a truck you'll max out in no time. When my cousin was shopping for a camper for family road trips, she experienced this firsthand. She was told her Jeep could pull a 25' long, 10' tall camper. This information was technically true—she could tow a 25' camper. But would it be comfortable? Would it be safe? Not so much. The Jeep's short wheelbase would not be sufficient to haul a 25' camper—at least, not safely, at full highway speeds, over long distances. Any bounce or sway from the trailer could end up pulling the Jeep or even result in her losing control of the vehicle.
The truth is, there's more to choosing a vehicle/trailer combo than matching a vague idea of your max tow capacity to the largest trailer within this limit. Below, we'll go over a few important factors your dealership probably didn't mention: your vehicle configuration, your payload, and your wheelbase ratio. All of these factors are just as important in determining how big of a trailer you can safely tow.
Are You in the Comfort Zone?
IMPORTANT: You do not want to max out your towing capacities. Just because the truck manufacturer says you can tow 15,000 lbs doesn't mean you should tow 14,090 lbs and call it good. Most experts recommend staying at at least 20-25% below capacity. Let's call that the "Comfort Zone." Why? Overall, this is just going to result in a more comfortable ride for you. There will be less stress, wear, and tear on your tow vehicle. You will have a much easier time on hills. It'll be safer, and you won't have to worry that a bit of extra equipment will push you over your weight limit.

First of All, What is GVWR? (And Payload, and Tongue Weight...?)

There are a lot of acronyms in the towing world, and when you're starting out, it can seem like experienced towers are speaking a different language. Sure, you'd love to make sure your GTW is within proper limits by subtracting your GVWR from your GCWR...if only you knew what the heck those things even meant. Below, we've created a visual glossary of sorts to help you understand all these towing terms. Mainly, these are just different ways of weighing a tow vehicle, a trailer, and the stuff inside it. These are some of the most common abbreviations and terms you'll hear when talking about trailer towing:
Tongue weight illustration
  • Tongue weight: The downward force you're putting on the hitch ball/coupler with your loaded trailer.
Pin Weight Illustration
  • Pin weight: The downward force of a loaded trailer on a fifth-wheel hitch or gooseneck hitch.
Gross Trailer Weight Illustration
  • GTW (Gross Trailer Weight): The weight of your fully loaded trailer as you'll be towing it down the road.
Trailer + Fuel + Cargo
GVWR Illustration
  • GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weigh Rating): The maximum allowed weight of your fully loaded vehicle.
Loaded Tow Vehicle + Fuel + Passengers + Cargo + Hitch/Tongue Weight
Gross Combined Weight Rating
  • GCWR (Gross Combined Weight Rating): The maximum weight of your fully loaded vehicle and trailer combined.
Loaded Tow Vehicle + Fuel + Passengers + Cargo + Loaded Trailer Weight
Payload
  • Payload: Weight of cargo, passengers, and tongue weight/hitch weight. Your max payload is your GVWR minus your curb weight.
Passengers + Cargo + Tongue/Pin Weight
Towing Capacity Illustration
  • Towing Capacity: The weight you can tow behind your vehicle (differs between conventional and 5th-wheel trailers).
Curb Weight Illustration
  • Curb weight: Weight of your fully fueled vehicle with no cargo or people.
Vehicle + Fuel
Dry Weight Illustration
  • Dry weight: Weight of your unloaded vehicle without fuel, passengers, or cargo.
Vehicle
Now that you're familiar with the weight ratings and terms you'll come across, let's dive into how they apply to towing.

How Much Towing Capacity Do I Need, and How Do I Calculate It?

One of the first questions RV dealers will ask you is what are you going to tow with? Most times, you'll give them your year, make, and model, and they'll give you a rough estimate of your max towing capacity. The important thing to remember here is that this is indeed a rough estimate—you can't pin down an exact weight capacity with this basic information. You also want to do more than take the dealer's word for it or run with the first number that pops up on Google.
RV Dealership Cartoon: "Sure, You Can Tow This Camper!"
Case in point: when my friend and coworker Jake visited his local RV dealer in search of a 5th wheel, the dealer asked him the usual "what do you drive?" question. Jake replied that he drove a 2013 RAM 2500. The dealer then informed him he could tow any fifth wheel on the lot with no trouble.Unfortunately, this wasn't quite true. Knowing Jake's year, make, and model was a good starting point, but these details alone don't determine a vehicle's towing capacity. There's also engine type, axle ratio, wheelbase, drivetrain...as you can see, it's a lot more complicated than simply knowing what type of vehicle you have. Were Jake's truck a diesel, for instance, it would be capable of towing several thousand pounds more. Also, don't overlook the fact that a "properly equipped" vehicle (which typically includes a tow package and available towing upgrades) can tow much more than a base model vehicle. The internet is chock full of stories of disappointed trailer enthusiasts who bought a tow vehicle or camper on the advice of a dealer who failed to get into the nitty gritty reality of vehicle weight capacities.So...how do you check your specific vehicle's trailer towing capacity? Well, you can start by checking the manufacturer's tow chart online for your year/make/model and matching up all your vehicle options. However, keep in mind that manufacturers give you the max trailer weight you can tow. In this equation, they're assuming you weigh about 150 lbs as the driver, that you got the base options on your tow vehicle, and that you're not loaded down with gear. If this perfect scenario describes your setup, then congrats — you can tow the max trailer weight listed in your owner's manual. (Note: Ford and GM have traditionally included separate tow capacities for conventional and fifth-wheel trailers, though RAM provides a single number for both. Make sure you're looking at the right number when checking out these tow charts!)But what about those of us who load up with gear and bring our families along? What if you added extra options to your vehicle? Well, in that case your real life towing capacity is going to be lower than what's listed. The best, most accurate way to check how much your trailer can weigh is to take the GCWR (Gross Combined Weight Rating) and subtract your GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight). Essentially, you want to know how much your entire setup is allowed to weigh, then take the real-life vehicle weight out of the equation and see how much trailer weight is leftover. Here's how to do that:
GCWR - GVWR = Max Loaded Trailer Weight
GCWR (a) - GVW (b) = Max Loaded Trailer Weight (c)
a) Finding Your GCWR - How Much Can Your Whole Setup Weigh?Your GCWR is the maximum fully loaded weight of your vehicle and trailer combined. This includes passengers, cargo, fuel, etc. If it's rolling down the road on, in, or with your vehicle or trailer, it counts toward the GCWR. You can typically find this magical max number in your owner's manual (most OMs can be found online these days if you don't have access to yours). The chart will look something like this:
Example of GCWR Information in Owner's Manual
Example of a GCWR chart in an owner's manual
Use your vehicle's identifying features to locate your GCWR. If you don't know information like your engine size, axle ratio, etc., you can typically find this by looking up your VIN online. (You can also check the sticker inside your driver's side door jamb for the axle code. Vehicle manufacturers provide online towing guides that match these codes to the correct axle ratio.)
Axle ratio code on door jamb sticker
Example of an axle ratio code on door jamb sticker
For example purposes, let's say our GCWR is 13,000 lbs.
b) Finding Your GVW - How Much of The Total is Taken By the Vehicle?The only way to know how much your vehicle actually weighs with fuel, passengers, and gear is to load it up, take it to a commercial scale, and weigh it. What's included in gross vehicle weight?
  • Weight of the vehicle
  • Fuel
  • Driver and passengers
  • Cargo
  • Tongue/pin weight (Tongue weight, or TW, should typically be 10% - 15% of your total conventional trailer weight, or 15% - 25% of your 5th-wheel/gooseneck weight. Since TW technically weighs down on your vehicle, it counts toward your GVW. Learn more about tongue weight here.)
If you're not ready to weigh your vehicle and want to get a conservative estimate, however, you can use your GVWR, or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. This is the maximum your vehicle should ever weigh, according to the manufacturer. (This is another weight rating you shouldn't surpass, by the way.) Where do you find this? Check the driver's side door jamb for the sticker with your GVWR listed. You can also find it in your owner's manual or online.
Door Jamb Sticker - GVWR
In this example, our loaded vehicle can weigh no more than 6,500 lbs.
c) Finding Your Max Loaded Trailer WeightIf you know what your loaded vehicle weight truly is after weighing it on a commercial scale, you'll use this number. Otherwise, you can be conservative and use the GVWR here. We'll subtract the vehicle weight (or our estimate of the weight) from the Gross Combined Weight Rating. Whatever is left is the weight of the heaviest loaded trailer you can tow. GCWR - GVW = Max Loaded Trailer WeightExample: If my Gross Combined Weight Rating is 13,000 lbs, and I use my GVWR of 6,500 lbs as a conservative estimate, that leaves 6,500 lbs for the trailer. 13,000 - 6,500 = 6,500 lbs.Now, this doesn't mean we want to max out our weight rating with a 6,500-lb trailer. Using our "comfort zone" rule above, let's take 75% of this capacity, which comes to 4,875. Ideally, we should tow a trailer around this size or smaller.
For example purposes, we've included a chart with common tow capacities by vehicle type along with what type of camper they can typically tow:
Average Vehicle Tow Capacities Chart

What Is My Payload Capacity?

There is often some confusion between the concept of payload and towing capacity. So which one do you need to pay attention to when it comes to towing?The answer is both. Your payload is defined as the load weight a vehicle can carry, including people, cargo, tongue and hitch weight, and vehicle options. Think of towing capacity as how much your vehicle can pull. Payload, on the other hand, is more about the downward force of your cargo in your vehicle; how much can your vehicle hold? Many vehicles these days (particularly trucks) have some truly monstrous towing capacities. However, even if you could tow a T-Rex, you're much more likely to reach your payload long before you reach your weight capacity. This is something many RV and car dealerships don't mention, and something many new towing enthusiasts don't consider. What counts toward your payload?
  • Cargo
  • Vehicle options
  • People (driver and passengers)
  • Tongue weight or pin weight (should typically be 10%-15% of your total trailer weight, or around 15%-25% for fifth wheels). Read more on TW here.
  • Weight of your hitch
Driver + Passengers + Cargo = Payload
How do you find your payload capacity? Most vehicles now list the payload capacity on the yellow sticker inside the door jamb (also remember to subtract any aftermarket options you've added, such as tonneau covers or bed liners). RAM also provides a VIN lookup and indicates the payload capacity of each individual truck.
Payload Listed on Vehicle
Payload listed on door jamb sticker
If for some reason you can't find your payload capacity this way, you can always figure it out by subtracting your curb weight from your GVWR. Your curb weight is the weight of your fully fueled vehicle with no cargo or people. (This is usually listed in your owner's manual or online.)
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating
Myth Buster: A common misconception is that you can increase your vehicle's payload capacity or other weight ratings with upgraded aftermarket suspension. This is NOT the case. Suspension upgrades (and other towing upgrades) will provide better support and a better ride for a vehicle towing at its load capacity. However, you'll still be limited by your vehicle's payload capacity and other max weight ratings.

What Is My Wheelbase?

Something else most dealerships overlook when selling you a camper or tow vehicle is the wheelbase ratio—that is, how long your vehicle's wheelbase is in relation to your trailer's. Why does this matter? It matters because a vehicle with a short wheelbase will have a much tougher time towing a long trailer. You need to make sure your tow vehicle can steer and maneuever your trailer—however, what happens when your wheelbase is too short is just the opposite. It's all too easy for your trailer to catch the wind or hit a bump and end up tugging your tow vehicle around the road. Not only is this a terrifying feeling, it's also extremely unsafe.There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to wheelbase ratios. However, a typical estimate is that you'll need a tow vehicle with at least a 110" wheelbase to tow a 20' trailer. For every foot of trailer you add after that, add about 4" to your tow vehicle wheelbase. For reference, my cousin's Jeep has a wheelbase of 114.8". Based on the chart above (which is backed up by our towing experts at etrailer.com), the Jeep can safely handle a trailer about 21' long. As I mentioned above, she was initially told that she could tow a 25' camper. It's possible that she could have found a trailer this size within the Jeep's tow capacity and payload. However, weight capacity alone fails to take into account the sheer size difference between the Jeep and a camper. To safely pull a 25' trailer, she'd be much better off with a tow vehicle wheelbase of about 130" (which is getting into large SUV/truck territory). If you're not sure what your wheelbase is (and let's face it, you've probably never had a reason to wonder about it before), you can either check that handy door jamb sticker or measure the distance between your front and rear tires (center to center).
Wheelbase Ratio Door Jamb Sticker
Tow Vehicle Wheelbase vs Trailer Length Ratio
So, now you know what you need to look out for. If your max trailer weight, payload, and wheelbase all check out and leave you in the "Comfort Zone," then you should be good to go! Happy trailering.
Amber S.
About Amber S.As a content writer for etrailer, I might spend my morning loading and unloading a bike on five different bike racks to figure out which is easiest to use. I might be in the parking lot, taking pictures of an impressive RV battery setup our techs came across in the shop and discussing the benefits of the setup with the owner. I might spend an afternoon in a manufacturer training classes for some hands-on experience with new products, and then sit down to assemble all this information into a coherent article.At etrailer, one of our core values is that we are always learning, and I learn something new every day. I start each morning with the goal in mind of taking all of this information and figuring out the best way to answer the questions people ask us (and the ones they don’t know to ask yet), and helping people get the solutions they need to make their lives easier, safer, and more fun. I’m a DIYer at heart, so it brings me great joy to help a fellow DIYer find what they’re looking for, whether that’s a product, an answer, or a community.
Related Articles Related ProductsWritten by: Amber S.Updated: 11/18/21

Shelby

2/12/2024

Hi, I read this article 100 times and not sure I understand so I have a 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 X-Dynamic S specs here - https://carbuzz.com/cars/land-rover/defender/2021-land-rover-defender-90-x-dynamic-s . So with that said I can tow a trailer that is about 18 ft but I am confused on what trailer weight I can safely pull.

Etrailer Expert

Mike L.

2/13/2024

@Shelby Per the owner's manual, your Land Rover Defender can tow up to 7716 lbs when equipped with the 3.0L gas engine.

Davidj

11/18/2023

I have a 2022 ford F250 platinum 4x4 with the 7.3 gas engine. Trying to see if it’s enough truck to pull A 2021 Montana 295RL.GVWR IS 10000

Etrailer Expert

Mike L.

11/20/2023

@Davidj I consulted the 2022 Ford Towing Guide (find it online). Your truck has plenty of capacity for towing a 2021 Montana 295RL 5th wheel.

Davidj

11/20/2023

@MikeL I found out the Montana is about 12700 loaded my tow capacity is 14700 is that enough margin?
Etrailer Expert

Mike L.

11/20/2023

@Davidj I'd be concerned if you're planning on towing in hilly or mountainous areas. If not, you should be fine.

Joshua

3/11/2023

I have a Nissan Frontier pro4x equipped with everything regarding suspension and brakes with a Towing capacity of 6,700, I know this doesn't mean I can tow more, but RV Dealer said I can town a travel trailer with a dry weight of 5,500 is this true?

Etrailer Expert

Mike L.

3/17/2023

The dry weight of a trailer is the weight of a trailer that's empty of water, propane and gear with empty gray and black tanks. Because the RV manufacturers frequently make additions and subtractions during the build process, you'll want to confirm that 5500 lb weight of yourself. I would also verify the truck's capacity, instead of going by anything an RV salesman tells you regarding capacity. You'll want to confirm that for yourself. Once loaded up, you'll be much closer to that towing capcity. If you'll be towing in hilly or mountainous areas, do yourself a favor and install a transmission cooler if you don't already have one. I can recommend one if you reply with the model year truck you have and tell me which engine it's equipped with...

Adam W.

1/1/2023

I have a 2012 f150. GVWR of 7200. With a 9600 lbs max tow rating. My GCWR is 15,500. 15,500-7200= 8300 lbs. 75% of that is 6225 lbs of towing. Dry weight of my truck is 5615 lbs. That puts my curb weight at 5900 lbs. The sticker on my truck says max payload 1299 lbs. My wife, 2 dogs and myself weigh 510 lbs. Gear 50 lbs. Weight distribution hitch 75 lbs. That means my max tongue weight is around 650 lbs. With being in the 10%-15% tongue weight. That means I can tow around 6500 lbs trailer?

Etrailer Expert

Mike L.

3/24/2023

When the weight of the passengers and cargo in the truck is deducted from the payload rating, you're left with about 664 lbs available for tongue weight which would be cutting it pretty darn close for a 6500 lb trailer. If the 6500 lb figure you mentioned is the as-towed weight (including gear, house batteries, water, etc), if the tongue weight is any greater than 664 lbs, you're going to be over your payload. If you read the forums, you'll see that many folks simply ignore this. The decision is yours, but we can't go on record endorsing exceeding the vehicle manufacturer's listed capacities. A truck with a higher payload capacity or a lighter trailer would be the safe way to go here.

Andrew Q.

9/9/2022

I'm wanting to buy an Intech Horizon camp trailer. 3,400 lbs dry - 4,000 GVWR. Add 25% margin for comfort (mountain passes) and I should be looking at a tow vehicle that can pull 5,000 lbs. The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4x2 says it can tow 5,000 lbs OR 6,200 lbs with a weight distribution hitch. Is my math sound? I've watched videos on the install and operation of weight distributing hitches and would prefer NOT to use one if I didn't have to. They seem like a pain. Any thoughts?

David B.

9/12/2022

If you are going to be towing at your max capacity(I wouldn't tow at max for safety reasons) or within 20% of it. You will need a weight distribution(WD) hitch. Also looking at the tow vehicle I suggest using WD. You are good though 4k lbs will be in the safe zone if you use WD


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