How to Calculate Towing Capacity

The towing capacity of a truck or SUV refers to the maximum weight it can pull safely and legally. Pulling a trailer, vehicle, or caravan with a higher weight limit can cause strain to your vehicle’s components or cause the trailer to swing.

This can be dangerous not only to the driver but also other road users. It’s therefore, important to know the towing capacity of your vehicle before embarking on a journey where you’ll be pulling stuff.

How to calculate towing capacity

When you want to know how much weight your truck can pull, there are two main measurements you should know. The first is the Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR). This refers to the maximum weight of the truck when it’s loaded and attached to a trailer.

It can be found in your owner’s manual. The second measurement is the curb weight. This is the weight of the vehicle without any luggage or occupants. To get the towing capacity, subtract the curb weight from the GCVWR.

Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating – Curb Weight = Towing capacity

For example, if the Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating is 12,000 lbs and the vehicle weighs 4,000 lbs when empty, the towing capacity is 8,000 lbs. If you had 3,000 lbs of sand in the trunk bed, the towing capacity would decrease to 5,000 lbs.

The towing capacity should not be confused with the truck’s payload. This is a different but related measurement that you should also know about.

How to calculate payload capacity

Payload refers to the weight a truck or SUV can carry. It covers both luggage and passengers. You can determine the payload of your truck by consulting your owner’s manual or by doing the calculation yourself.

Start by determining the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of your vehicle. This is the total weight your truck can handle. It is usually listed by the manufacturer in your owner’s manual. To get your payload capacity, subtract the curb weight from the GVWR.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating – Curb Weight = Payload Capacity

For example, if the total weight your vehicle can handle is 10,000 lbs and it already weighs 5,000 lbs when empty, you can only carry luggage and passengers not exceeding 5,000 lbs in total.

You’re allowed to carry anything, whether firewood, sand, dirt, mulch, gravel, wood, or people as long as it does not exceed the payload capacity.

Does engine size determine towing capacity?

The towing capacity of your vehicle is largely determined by the horsepower and torque of the engine. This is reason why the same vehicle can have different towing ratings depending on the type of engine it has.

A Chevy Silverado riding on the EcoTec3 5.3L V8 will tow 2,000 lbs more than the base model. When equipped with a 3500HD Duramax 6.6L V8, it can tow up to 20,000 lbs. This is almost 13,000 lbs more than the smaller Chevy pickup models.

What happens if you tow over capacity?

Towing beyond the weight limit of your car can cause strain to the transmission and engine. This accelerates wear and tear and can cause severe damage to components. It can also cause your chassis to warp, brakes to wear, and tires to tear.

If any of the major components fail while towing, it can lead to serious loss of property and injury in the case of an accident. Always stay within your vehicle’s towing limit when pulling items. Consult your user manual to get an idea of how much weight it can handle.

How can I increase my towing capacity?

1. Buy a good hitch

The first step to increase the towing capacity of your truck, SUV, or RV is to get a hitch with the right weight rating. It should be able to handle the weight of whatever it is you intend to pull. A weight distribution hitch can come in handy where there’s a larger bumper-pull trailer.

It helps to balance the weight of the trailer on the car’s frame instead of the hitch alone. This releases most of the stress from the vehicle’s suspension and makes it possible to tow more weight.

2. Replace the Axles

When towing, the majority of the weight rests on the axles. The axles on your truck must be able to withstand it or else the vehicle will not move. It’s advisable to replace the existing axles with heavy-duty options as well as change the differential to accommodate the modifications.

Some experts also recommend using RV parts on your truck. They are made to handle more weight. It’s best to leave such modifications to the professionals. Beware that some adjustments can cause you to void your warranty.

3. Install better brakes

The braking system also needs an upgrade if you’re planning to increase the towing capacity of your vehicle. Replace the existing rotors and brake pads with stronger and stiffer options that can handle the extra weight. Ensure they are calibrated correctly for maximum safety when stopping.

4. Upgrade the suspension

The upgrades mentioned above work well, but they may not be enough. Replacing the stock suspension with stiffer and more robust options can add to the vehicle’s towing ability. More car enthusiasts opt for air suspensions that come with air bladders to help absorb shock. They help to balance the weight better and improve steering control.


When figuring out how to calculate the towing capacity of your vehicle, keep in mind that canopies, bull bars, roof racks, winches, under body protection equipment, and other accessories add to the weight of the car.

They must be added to the curb weight of the vehicle when calculating the towing capacity Once you arrive at the figure, ensure that you stay within the weight limit. Studies have shown that proper towing and hauling keeps the vehicle stable and prevents crashes.

Furthermore, it’s good to note that you may not be able to make an insurance claim in case of an accident if your insurer discovers that the vehicle was loaded beyond capacity.

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