Towing Capacity Guide: Everything You Need to Know

By Russ Heaps 09/07/2023 1:30pm

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Towing Capacity Quick Tips

  • Truck towing capacity can vary widely within a class or even within a single model with several engines and transmission options.
  • Published towing specs assume the vehicle carries only the driver, not the family, friends, or the associated gear for the trip.
  • We recommend you stay below 10% of the maximum towing capacity to account for miscalculations and shifting loads.
  • Using the right trailer hitch is crucial to safe towing.

There are few topics as complicated for car shoppers as towing. Automakers compete to claim the highest towing capacities. But it’s not nearly as simple as searching for the correct number.

Towing capacity is a series of calculations and a lot of safety margins, not a single number expressed in pounds. Whether you’re looking for a full-size truck to tow your boat or horse trailer or one of the best towing SUVs to carry your family on vacation and pull the camper you’ll stay in, there’s a series of terms and concepts you’ll need to understand to make the right decision. We’ll break them down.

What Is Towing Capacity?

Your vehicle’s towing capacity is the maximum amount of weight it can safely pull, which changes based on how it’s configured, how much weight it’s already carrying, and how you distribute and control the load you need to tow.

There is a single number that automakers use to best estimate towing capacity. Still, it doesn’t give you a hard rule that works in every situation. Calculating it requires knowing several things about both your tow vehicle and the trailer you plan to tow.

While manufacturers will publish a towing capacity for each vehicle they build, it’s important to note that calculations assume that the tow vehicle is carrying only a driver. If you plan to tow a travel trailer and bring along your family and all the associated gear they’ll need for a weekend away, the manufacturer’s calculations will not be accurate for your load.

How to Calculate Towing Capacity

To calculate your vehicle’s towing capacity, you’ll need to know the full GCWR, or the gross combined weight rating, of the vehicle you plan to tow with and the trailer you plan to tow, together with all the cargo each will carry, from people to wiper fluid.

Then you’ll need to know your tow vehicle’s curb weight – the weight of the tow vehicle itself when filled with gas and all the other fluids it consumes while driving.

Subtracting the curb weight from the GCWR gives you the vehicle’s towing capacity. Manufacturers will stress that you should never exceed your car or truck’s towing capacity. We would add that, for safety reasons, it’s best to never come within 10% of that total.

Loads shift. People miscalculate. And, cars brake suddenly. For many reasons, driving a vehicle that strains at the absolute limits of its capability isn’t a good thing.

What Is GVWR

Gross vehicle weight rating, or GVWR, is the maximum total weight of a vehicle for it to safely operate, including passengers, fuel, cargo, and tongue weight of anything you pull behind.

It’s possible to get pulled over by the police and get an expensive ticket if you exceed your vehicle’s GVWR. It’s also possible an overloaded vehicle exceeding its GVWR could cause an accident, and you could be held responsible if someone gets killed. So, check your owner’s manual or look inside the driver’s door side panel to find your vehicle’s gross vehicle weight rating and other information about towing.

GVWR vs. Towing Capacity

Your tow vehicle’s GVWR and its towing capacity are different numbers. The reason: The total weight the vehicle’s frame can support pushing down on it and the total weight it can withstand pulling horizontally on the frame through the tow hitch are different.

All the Towing Capacity Terms You Need

Towing comes with its own lingo, which can be intimidating at first. But all the terms boil down to simple measurements, and there’s no need to memorize them. You can always look them up again here.

Braked vs. Unbraked Towing Capacity

Some trailers come equipped with their own brakes, connected electrically to the tow vehicle so that stepping on the vehicle’s brake pedal activates the tow vehicle’s brakes and the trailer’s brakes at the same time. A vehicle can tow a much heavier load under control if the trailer operates with its own brakes.

Thus, braked towing capacity, or the amount your tow vehicle can tow if the trailer has its own brakes, is higher than unbraked towing capacity, or the amount your tow vehicle can tow if the trailer does not have brakes.

Curb Weight

Curb weight is the total weight of a vehicle and all the fluids it requires to function (including a full tank of gas) but with no people or cargo inside it. The measurement differs from GVWR, which is a measurement of how much a vehicle can carry.

Dry Weight

Dry weight is a measurement of how much a vehicle weighs with no cargo and none of the fluids it requires to function. Your tow vehicle’s dry weight is its weight when empty, without gasoline, oil, wiper fluid, or any other consumable. You don’t need to know your vehicle’s dry weight in most towing calculations.


GAWR stands for gross axle weight rating and means the maximum amount of weight one axle can support. This number will almost always show differences between the front and rear axles. The two can be different materials or diameters, and few cars have a perfect 50-50 weight balance between the two axles.


The gross combined weight rating, also known as gross combined vehicle weight rating, is the maximum weight your tow vehicle is rated to handle when fully loaded with a trailer and all cargo.


Gross trailer weight is the total weight of your trailer and its cargo. If you were to place the fully loaded trailer on a vehicle scale, the resulting measurement would be the GTW. If your GTW exceeds your vehicle’s towing capacity, you cannot move it safely. It is crucial that you never even attempt to tow a GTW higher than your towing capacity. While it might be technically possible to carry the load, you’re likely to damage the tow vehicle, the trailer, or both and be unable to control the vehicle properly.


As mentioned above, gross vehicle weight rating is the maximum amount of weight a vehicle can hold and includes the weight of the vehicle itself. It takes into account the strength of the frame, suspension, axles, and wheels. Your tow vehicle and the trailer you are using to tow will each have their own GVWR. It’s possible to overload each one separately.


Payload capacity is the maximum amount of weight a tow vehicle is rated to carry in its cabin and bed. It is the weight limit for a truck’s bed and cabin. In contrast, towing capacity is the weight limit for any trailer it can pull.

Tongue Weight

Sometimes referred to as TW, the tongue weight is the force pushing down on the trailer hitch by the load being hauled. Tongue weight can change based on how the load gets distributed within the trailer.

Towing Capacity

The car, SUV, or truck towing capacity is the maximum amount of weight it can safely pull.

Trailer Hitch Classes

Once you know the various weights and capacities of your tow vehicle and trailer, you’re not done. The next step is to understand the device that connects them. Tow hitches operate with their own physical limits.

Trailer hitches are divided into five classes. Read on to find out more.

  • Class I — Generally used for small and midsize cars and crossovers, Class I hitches can pull up to 2,000 pounds and generally withstand a tongue weight of 200 pounds. You might use a Class I hitch to carry a small cargo tray or pull a small tent camper or personal watercraft.
  • Class II — Generally used for large cars, crossovers, and minivans, Class II hitches can pull up to 3,500 pounds and withstand a tongue weight of 350 pounds. You might use a Class II hitch to tow a small boat on a trailer.
  • Class III — Generally used for full-size vans, trucks, and SUVs, Class III hitches can pull up to 8,000 pounds and withstand a tongue weight of 800 pounds. You might use a Class III hitch to tow a medium or midsize camper or boat.
  • Class IV — Generally used on full-size vans, trucks, and SUVs, Class IV hitches can pull up to 10,000 pounds and withstand a tongue weight of 1,000 pounds. They are the smallest class of hitch usable with loads heavy enough to require weight distribution. You might use a Class IV hitch to tow a large boat, larger camper, or utility trailer carrying a load of lawn equipment.
  • Class V — These hitches can pull up to 20,000 pounds and get used only with full-size trucks or SUVs specifically configured for towing heavy loads. Class V can withstand a tongue weight of up to 2,000 pounds. You might use a Class V hitch to tow a horse trailer or multi-car trailer.

How Do I Know What I Can Tow?The sticker from a Ford F-150 door jamb showing towing specifications

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find the towing capacity of some vehicles. The amount of weight a vehicle can pull can be affected by its engine, transmission, and suspension. Most vehicles powerful enough to be used for towing heavy loads are offered a selection of each of those components. Truck manufacturers also offer towing packages that can change axle ratios and tire types and include factory-installed hitches.

Thankfully, many truck and SUV manufacturers today post a sticker on the driver’s door jamb that includes much of the necessary towing information, such as GVWR and GAWR.

Similar charts are almost always found inside your vehicle’s owner’s manual. But accurately reading them requires knowing which equipment package your car or truck has, which is not always clear when you’ve bought used.

Most truck and SUV manufacturers maintain websites that can provide that information based on your vehicle’s VIN, such as Ram’s Towing Calculator or the Toyota Vehicle Information Lookup tool.

Below, we list towing capacities for two typical examples of each class of car in a standard configuration this way:

Class of Vehicle and Towing Capacity

See below to locate the vehicle class and some of the typical vehicle towing capacities.

Subcompact SUV/Crossover

  • 2024 Subaru Crosstrek: up to 3,500 pounds
  • 2023 Jeep Compass: up to 2,000 pounds

Small SUV/Crossover

  • 2024 Toyota RAV4: up to 3,500 pounds
  • 2023 Ford Escape: up to 3,500 pounds

Midsize SUV/Crossover

  • 2023 Chevy Traverse: up to 5,000 pounds
  • 2024 Kia Telluride: up to 5,000 pounds

Large SUV/Crossover

  • 2023 GMC Yukon: up to 8,400 pounds
  • 2024 Ford Expedition: up to 9,300 pounds

Midsize Pickup Truck

  • 2023 Nissan Frontier: 6,720 pounds
  • 2023 Chevy Colorado: 7,700 pounds

Full-Size Pickup Truck

  • 2023 Toyota Tundra: 12,000 pounds
  • 2023 Chevy Silverado: 13,300 pounds

Heavy-Duty Pickup Truck

  • 2023 Ford F-350 Super Duty: 28,000 (conv.), 38,000 pounds (gooseneck)
  • 2023 Ram 3500 HD: 37,090 pounds (gooseneck)

Full-Size Van

  • 2023 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter: 7,500 pounds
  • 2023 Ford Transit 350: 6,800 pounds (cargo van)

How Much Towing Capacity Do I Need?

You need more towing capacity than the heaviest weight you plan to pull. Your tow vehicle must be capable of hauling its own weight, the weight of everyone and everything inside it, the weight of the trailer it’s pulling, and the weight of everything on the trailer.

It must be capable of pulling all of that weight combined and be equipped with a hitch that can do the same. And that load must be balanced, keeping in mind both the horizontal force required to move the load and the vertical weight that load places on the hitch and the assembly that mounts it to the vehicle’s frame.

There is no single chart that will tell you how much your specific load will weigh.

We’ll provide a rough guide to the weights, empty and full, of some common loads by trailer type this way:

Type of Trailer Empty Weight (est.) Typical GVWR (loaded) Typical Tongue Weight (loaded)
Canoe/Kayak Trailer 100 to 400 pounds 200 to 800 pounds 30 to 120 pounds
Motorcycle Trailer 100 to 600 pounds 800 to 3,000 pounds 120 to 450 pounds
Dolly for Towing Car 400 to 800 pounds 3,000 to 5,000 pounds 450 to 750 pounds
Open Utility Trailer 400 to 1,200 pounds 2,000 to 7,000 pounds 300 to 1,050 pounds
Pop-Up Camper 1,500 to 3,200 pounds 2,800 to 4,300 pounds 420 to 645 pounds
Large Travel Trailer 5,000 to 9,000 pounds 6,500 to 11,000 pounds 975 to 1,650 pounds
Fifth-Wheel Camper 5,000 to 15,000 pounds 17,000 to 20,000 pounds 2,550 to 3,000 pounds

How to Maximize Towing Capacity

If you already own your tow vehicle and need an upgrade to haul more weight, check out these modifications you can make that might increase the load it can pull. But many are costly, change the day-to-day performance of your towing vehicle, and can limit their appeal on the secondhand market when it comes time to sell.

Check out these changes that can increase towing capacity:

1. Upgrading the Hitch

The same vehicle can tow more with a Class III hitch than with a Class II hitch. If your tow vehicle can accommodate the upgrade, stepping up in hitch class may get you the bump you need.

2. Installing a Weight-Distribution Hitch

A weight-distribution hitch uses spring bars to help level the load a trailer places on your tow vehicle and reduce sway. This type of hitch is often the most cost-effective way of improving towing performance. It doesn’t require replacing any moving parts of the vehicle itself.

3. Upgrading the Brakes

Braking power is often the limiting factor on a vehicle’s load. You might be able to step up affordably to larger brake pads and rotors.

4. Replacing the Axles

Some RV shops can replace the standard axles that came with your tow vehicle with beefier versions built specifically for the demanding loads involved in hauling an RV.

5. Adding a Bigger Radiator

Towing is taxing on an engine. Improving your engine’s cooling capacity with a bigger radiator can enable it to pull more weight without causing undue wear and tear to powertrain parts.

How to Decrease Towing Capacity

Just as you can improve your tow vehicle’s performance under load with a few modifications, you can also reduce it. Be cautious of changes like:

1. Installing Bigger Wheels

Larger aftermarket wheels might look cool or even improve your vehicle’s ground clearance. But they invalidate the manufacturer’s calculations of towing capacity. Larger tires require more engine torque and change the transmission’s shift points. These penalties may not show much when unladen, but they can dramatically lower a vehicle’s towing capacity in towing.

2. Changing the Tires

You are likely to go through several sets of tires over the life of your tow vehicle. Be sure the tire vendor knows they are driving on a tow vehicle. Low-resistance tires that improve gas mileage might sound like a good investment, but they can reduce the amount of weight a vehicle can pull.

What Other Technology Helps You Tow Safely?

Manufacturers of trucks began a competition of sorts with one another. In recent years, they have responded with some unique and valuable technologies that help make towing safer.

If you’re considering a new tow vehicle, some features you might consider include:

Ford Pro Trailer Backup Assist and Ram Trailer Reverse Steering Control: Like a second steering wheel for the trailer, these systems give you a knob that steers the trailer when you’re in reverse. Since backing up is often the worst part of towing, with the trailer turning opposite the tow vehicle, this assistance can drastically reduce your frustration.

READ MOREHow To Use Trailer Backup Assist for Towing

GMC and Chevy Towing Cameras: The Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra are available with up to 15 different camera views, including a top-down view of the hitch to help in positioning and a “transparent trailer” setting that shows you the rear view unencumbered by the load you’re towing.

If your vehicle doesn’t make the grade on towing capacity for what you need to haul, consider trading it in for a new or used vehicle. Try our Kelley Blue Book Instant Cash Offer and Trade-In Values that can help you determine what your vehicle is worth at the same time as you get an offer for the vehicle with no obligation.

After you trade in your existing vehicle, you can also get a free dealer price quote for a new one.

Full-Size Trucks with the Highest Towing Capacity

Pickup Truck Towing Capacity
1. 2023 Ford F-150 Up to 14,000 pounds
2. 2023 Chevy Silverado 1500 Up to 13,300 pounds
3. 2023 GMC Sierra 1500 Up to 13,200 pounds
4. 2023 Ram 1500 Up to 12,750 pounds
5. 2023 Toyota Tundra Up to 12,000 pounds