Towing Capacity Guide: What Your Tow Truck Can Handle

Towing can be an interesting job, but it can also be challenging at times. If you’re planning on towing a car or two, you might want to first consider what’s your towing vehicle’s towing capacity. This calculation will determine how much you can tow safely all while keeping your materials safe from harm. Exceeding over this maximum amount could spell trouble for you. In this towing capacity guide, you’ll learn all the terms needed to understand a towing job. You’ll be ready for your first towing job in no time.

What Is Towing Capacity?

In more detail, your vehicle’s towing capacity is the maximum amount of weight that it can safely haul. Though, this number can change based on factors like how much it’s currently carrying and how you’ll manage the load you plan to tow. You should consider other aspects as well to help you determine the Towing Capacity.

If you’re going on a weekend getaway and towing a camper trailer, you’ll have to take into account your family, your camping gear and the trailer itself before reaching that magic number.

Automakers have used shortcuts like a truck towing capacity chart to help calculate a vehicle’s Tow Capacity. In particular, companies will give an estimated towing capacity for each tow vehicle they build. Though, this number only accounts for the driver, not the weight of the cargo or trailer. In the end, there’s no easy or faster way to figure out the Tow Capacity. You must account for every aspect of your towing job to know what that amount will be.

Vehicle Towing Capacity Chart and Terms

Towing Capacity Guide - Infographic

Furthermore, here are a few towing terms and its meaning to help you understand more about Towing Capacity Chart for tow jobs. Let’s take a look:

Towing TermsMeaningDescription
GVWRGross Vehicle Weight RatingThe Maximum Loaded Weight of a Vehicle
GCWRGross Combined Weight RatingThe Maximum Towing Weight of a Vehicle
GAWRGross Axle Weight RatingThe Maximum Weight on Each Vehicle Axle
GTWGross Trailer WeightTrailer Total Weight
TWTongue WeightTotal Weight at the Coupling Point
Curb WeightCurb WeightEmpty Vehicle Total Weight
Dry WeightDry WeightTotal Weight of a Vehicle Without Fluids
PayloadPayloadTotal Weight of Cargo & Passengers (Including Tongue Weight)
GCVWRGross Combined Vehicle Weight RatingTotal Weight for Loaded Truck and Trailer

1. GVWR:

First on the list, comes the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), which refers to the maximum weight a vehicle can hold at a stationary position. You’ll have to consider the GVWR of both your tow vehicle and trailer. Though, the GVWR and Towing Capacity of your tow vehicle will always be different numbers. This is due to how much weight the vehicle’s frame supports and how much it can withstand being pulled horizontally through a tow hitch. Essentially, these calculations will produce two different numbers.

2. GCWR:

On the other hand, the Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCWR) is the maximum weight of all your towing materials, such as your tow vehicle, the trailer and your cargo. Your tow vehicle and trailer may have separate GVWR numbers, but if you add them together, you’ll get the GCWR.

3. GAWR:

The Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) is just as the name suggests. It represents the maximum weight that a tow vehicle’s axles can support. This number will differ between the front and rear axles of a vehicle since very few cars have a perfect weight balance between their axles. Furthermore, the GAWR factors in the passengers, cargo, and trailer being towed.


The Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR) refers to the maximum weight that a tow vehicle can safely haul. Similar to the GCWR, this measurement accounts for the truck itself, the passengers, your materials and the trailer. Additionally, the GCVWR factors in other aspects of your towing vehicle, such as the braking system, transmission, and suspension, all of which affect its Towing Capacity. Make sure the total weight of your trailer doesn’t exceed the GCVWR, as this could lead to poor performance from your tow car.

5. GTW:

Next comes the Gross Trailer Weight (GTW), which is the total of your trailer and materials. However, should your GTW go over your towing vehicle’s capacity, you won’t be able to haul it safely. If you ignore the GTW, you could risk damaging both your tow truck and trailer. Always watch for the weight ratings of your materials.

6. TW:

On the other hand, the Tongue Weight (TW) is the force exerted down on the trailer hitch by the materials being towed. Keep in mind that your TW can sometimes change based on how your cargo is distributed within the trailer. Make sure that the weight within your trailer is balanced. You’ll want to have good control of your truck and trailer during the drive.

7. Curb Weight:

This calculation refers to the total weight of your tow vehicle with all the fluids it needs to operate. However, the Curb Weight doesn’t factor in the passengers inside the truck or the weight of your cargo in the trailer. Some drivers may get the Curb Weight confused with GVWR but remember that the calculation refers to the total weight your tow vehicle can haul.

8. Dry Weight:

Given what you’ve learned so far, you can probably guess what the Dry Weight of a tow vehicle refers to. It’s basically how much your tow vehicle weighs without anything in it, including a tank of gas or wiper fluid. The best part, you don’t even need to know your tow truck’s Dry Weight on most towing jobs.

9. Payload:

This refers to the maximum weight your tow vehicle can haul from within its bed and cabin. Though, the Towing Capacity isn’t to be confused with the Payload Capacity, which is the weight limit for a truck’s bed and cabin. If you remember, the towing capacity is the total weight of all the materials your tow truck can haul safely.

How Is A Tow Vehicle’s Towing Capacity Calculated?

Now that you know all of the terms associated with towing, you’re probably wondering how to actually calculate your vehicle’s Towing Capacity. In order to get that number, you have to know the (GCVWR), which refers to the total weight of basically everything you’re towing. You’ll need to subtract this number from your tow vehicle’s Curb Weight in order to get the Towing Capacity. Again, don’t go over your truck’s towing capacity. In this Towing Capacity Guide, we strongly suggest you don’t even come within 10% of the Towing Capacity. Driving a tow vehicle that’s past its full limit could lead to dangerous road conditions.

Ways to Increase Your Towing Capacity

In any case, your tow truck must always be able to carry itself, along with any additional materials, including yourself. Remember, that your tow truck or SUV must have more towing capacity than the heaviest weight you’re planning to haul. Unfortunately, there’s no single trailer towing capacity guide that can tell you outright how much a specific load will affect the overall weight of your tow truck. Though, there are a few steps you can take to ensure you safely increase your towing capacity.

We recommend that you opt for a higher hitch class and even invest in a weight distribution hitch. It’s an affordable option for someone looking to save money on replacements and can enhance your towing performance. Additionally, you can invest in larger brake pads, replace your axles for more sturdier ones at an RV shop and even get a bigger radiator. All of these replacements and components can help your tow truck carry more weight without putting too much tension on it.

Essential Equipment Needed to Handle Towing

Below are some other materials that can help enhance your towing truck. Here’s a list of towing equipment needed for a towing job:

Hitch Receiver:

The trailer hitch receiver latches onto the underside of your tow vehicle. It also comes equipped with a receiver opening of 1¼”x1¼” or 2”x2”. Furthermore, their attachment points should fall right in line with the pre-installed holes in the vehicle’s frame.

Ball Mount:

You’ll also need a Ball Mount to help establish a secure connection between your tow truck and trailer. It’s crucial that you select the Ball Mount that’s just right for the job. Even better, they’re sold in both standard or adjustable styles. Also, they’re commonly available in sizes 1¼”, 2”, 2½” and 3”.

Hitch Pin with Lock:

Similarly, a Hitch Pin with a lock is used to secure a trailer hitch to your towing truck or car. A hitch pin is inserted into the premade holes in the hitch receiver and the trailer hitch, thus keeping them connected. With this device, you’ll be adding an extra level of protection for your trailer.

Trailer Hitch Ball:

A Trailer Hitch ball or tow ball also helps your trailer and tow truck maintain a secure connection throughout a towing job. It’s mounted onto the back of your tow truck and acts as an attachment point for the trailer’s coupler. The most common sizes they’re sold in are 1⅞ ″, 2″ and 2 5/16″. Whatever size you choose, make sure it matches the dimensions of your trailer’s coupler to ensure a sure fit.

Weight Distribution Hitch:

Another critical towing accessories that can improve your towing experience, is a weight distribution hitch. This particular hitch can evenly distribute the weight between your trailer and the tow truck’s axles. By investing in a Weight Distribution Hitch, you can rest assured knowing that your trailer won’t sway on the road or lose any of your materials.

Wiring Package:

Most importantly, any tow vehicles that are towing a trailer are required by law to have a wiring harness. This tech helps power up your trailer’s lighting system, which includes brake lights, running lights and even your turn signals. A wiring package could even be useful when traveling in hazy conditions or at night.

Safety Chain:

Safety chains are especially useful in towing situations. They’re mounted onto your tow truck from the trailer frame. They make sure to keep the trailer close in case the coupler detaches from the tow ball. Moreover, the safety chains give the driver plenty of control over their trailer. It’s a good idea to have these chains on standby, especially since most states require them for a towing job.

Towing Takes Skill

Towing takes some serious skill. Once you understand the terminology, you’ll be prepared to handle your first towing job. You have to talk the talk before you walk the walk. If you know what a trailer hitch ball is or how to calculate the Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating, then you’re on the right track.