When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a commission. Learn more here.

Trailer Weight vs Towing Capacity: What RV & Truck Owners Should Know

Every type of vehicle, including boats, trucks, and RVs, has a towing capacity.

Towing capacity is the total weight limit of what you can safely tow behind you. It is often referred to as the maximum towing capacity.

Some use the terms vehicle payload and towing capacity interchangeably, but that is incorrect.

They are not the same thing.

Towing capacity refers to pulling, while payload refers to what the vehicle can carry.

This article goes into detail about towing capacity and the importance of your trailer weight. 

Importance Of Knowing Your Towing Capacity 

rv towing a boat

It is critical to know the towing capacity of your vehicle because if you exceed it, you can cause a large amount of damage to your vehicle.

It may cause problems with your transmission because the vehicle that is doing the towing does not get enough lubrication and overheats due to the strain.

When you exceed your towing capacity, it may cause your trailer to sway and move uncontrollably.

This may cause an accident. In addition, you are not going to be able to brake as quickly.

The weight behind your vehicle makes it difficult to stop suddenly.

This puts you at risk for an accident. 

When you tow over the towing capacity limit, you are breaking the law.

suv pulling a camper

If you have to go through a weigh station and they determine you are pulling more than you should, that is illegal.

While it may seem logical that towing too much weight is dangerous, so is towing too little weight.

When you do not have enough weight behind you, it does not put enough pressure on your hitch, which causes your trailer to sway.

This sway becomes even worse when there are side winds.

When your trailer is lighter, there is a higher risk of loss of traction.

The trailer may not be able to grip the road.

It is easy to lose control over a trailer that begins to sway.


How To Get Your Towing Capacity

One of the easiest ways to obtain your towing capacity is to look at the owner’s manual for your vehicle.

It should indicate the maximum weight that you can tow with your vehicle.

If you do not have access to the owner’s manual, you can do an online search to find the answer.

Most likely, you will find a chart or a table with varying numbers.

In most charts, there are various factors that indicate the towing capacity amount.

These factors include the specific vehicle model, the length of the bed of the truck, gas or diesel engine, towing package, and type of hitch.

The type of hitch makes a significant impact on the capacity that you can tow. 

Vehicle Weight Ratings Explained (GVWR, GCWR, GAWR, GTWR) with HaulGauge founder Michael Hall

What About Payload & GCWR?

Payload is the amount of weight that your vehicle can carry.

This includes all of the items inside the vehicle, including the driver, passengers, gas in the gas tank, and all the gear you are carrying.

There are many RV owners that believe the payload is more important than the towing capacity.

Often when a manufacturer determines towing capacity, it is based on an empty truck without passengers and gear.

There are two aspects to take into account when it comes to the payload.

These include tongue weight and gross combined weight rating (GCWR).

The tongue is the weight that the tow hitch puts on the vehicle.

When you have a small hitch and a small trailer, you can weigh it the same way you would weigh a person.

You can even use your bathroom scale to determine the tongue weight.

Figuring Out Trailer Tongue Weight

This weight is part of your payload. 

The GCWR is the highest limit that your vehicle can pull when on the road.

This includes the payload capabilities, hitch, and tow capacity.

This also means that if your cargo and towing are at total capacity, then you are going to be over your GCWR.

How To Get The Weight Of What You Need To Tow?

It is critical to determine the weight of your trailer.

This can also include the weight of a travel trailer, pop-up camper, or a 5th wheel.

When it comes to determining this number, the weight of your truck, including cargo, oil, and gas, matters.

However, when focusing on towing capacity, this refers to the weight behind the vehicle that is doing the towing.

This includes the trailer and the tongue or hitch being used to tow. 

image: Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It is essential that you know how much your trailer weighs.

RVs and trailers come in different weights, shapes, and sizes.

One of the best ways to not go over your maximum towing capacity is to know how much your trailer weighs.

Typically, the manufacturer tells you how much your trailer weighs.

It would be best if you kept in mind that this is the dry weight.

It would be best if you also determined how much your water and cargo weigh to get the actual weight of your trailer. 

Camper trailers, on average, weigh a bit over 5,000 pounds and bigger trailers weigh between 6,000 to 7,800 pounds.

A smaller trailer may weigh about 3,700. A 40 foot long trailer can weigh as much as 15,000 pounds.

This weight is just the trailer with no water or any other items included, so you must add those.

To the above weight, you must include:

  • The weight of the fresh tank water when it is full.
  • The weight of the black and gray water tanks when they are full.
  • The weight of all generators with propane in them.
  • The weight of all cargo. This includes anything else you are carrying with you.

The best way to determine the weight of all your cargo is to make a list of everything you are taking with you.

Then you want to weigh each item.

This gives you an accurate weight of all the items you are going to carry.

How Much Can I Tow? - Towing & Payload Capacity Explained- MUST WATCH IF TOWING!

When thinking about the weight, you need to tow, remember, this includes the total weight of the trailer plus the weight of the hitch or tongue.

This also means you are going to have to do some calculations to figure out the weight of everything.

This article should help determine which numbers you need to figure out your towing capacity.