One of the questions I get all the time is if a particular vehicle can tow a certain trailer and most of the time I can not answer that question for the person. There are several factors that go into whether or not a particular vehicle can tow a specific trailer. I think one of the most confusing things is tow weight and for good reason. A vehicle company may advertise a product as having a 3500# towing capacity but can it actually safely tow a trailer rated up to 3500#? The answer is probably no. Why not you ask? There are actually several factors that go into determining how much trailer a vehicle can actually tow and tow rating is just one of those factors.
Let's start by looking at what weights you should be looking at and what they mean.
In regards to a tow vehicle:
Curb Weight: This is what your vehicle weighs empty before passengers and cargo.
Payload: This the weight of passengers and cargo in your vehicle.
GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating): This is how much total weight your vehicle is rated for. The weight would include the vehicle, passengers and any cargo. Curb weight plus cargo = gross vehicle weight.
GCWR (gross combined weight rating): This is how much total weight your vehicle can handle with towing a trailer. This would include the vehicle, passengers, cargo and the trailer.
GAWR (gross axle weight rating): This is how much weight your axles on your vehicle are rated for and yes each axle may have a different weight rating.
GTWR (gross trailer weight rating): This is how much weight your vehicle is rated to tow and tends to be the number that most people look at when choosing a trailer and vehicle.
TWR (tongue weight rating): This is how much tongue weight the vehicle is rated to handle.
In regards to a travel trailer:
Dry Weight: How much your trailer weighs before adding cargo & liquids.
CCC (cargo carrying capacity): How much cargo including fluids such as fresh water you can put into your trailer. It is determined by subtracting the dry weight from GVWR.
GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating): This is how much your trailer can weigh including the trailer and the cargo.
Tongue Weight: This is how much your trailers tongue weighs. This can change as cargo is added to or removed from the trailer.
Alright....now that we have all of the main weights defined, what does it all mean? Well let's look at our situation to try and explain it to you. We had a 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD OffRoad that had a tow rating of 6400# with a tongue weight rating of 650#. We purchased a 2020 Lance 1985 that had a dry weight of 4900#, a gross vehicle weight rating of 5700# and a tongue weight of 600#. This might be a good time to mention that numbers advertised in manufacture brochures may not be the actual weights. Lance advertises their model 1985 with a dry weight of 4245# yet our trailers MSRP shows the dry weight at 4865# with the options added to it. The same is true with tongue weight. Advertised tongue weight is 550# yet with options and fluids, we weighed in at 601# at the dealership.
Based upon the actual numbers, our Tacoma could pull the Lance travel trailer. We were 700# below the tow rating and 50# below the tongue weight rating so most people would say this is a perfect combination. But this is based solely upon only looking at the tow rating and tongue rating. Let's look at some other weights.
Once we took the Tacoma and the Lance to a CAT Scale to get it weighed, we quickly realized that we were pushing the truck to its limits and in some cases we were over weight ratings. The first area that was an issue was GCWR or gross combined weight rating. Our Tacoma had a GCWR of 11,280#. The scale showed we were at 11,460# which was 180# over weight and we didn't even have our trailer fully loaded. We did however have some cargo in the bed of our truck. The scale reading also showed a rear axle weight of 3380# while the rear axle for the Tacoma was only rated for 3280#. We ultimately dumped our fresh water tank which brought us back down under the combined weight rating and we knew that in order to stay under the rear axle rating, we would have to loose cargo out of the bed of our truck when we got home.
Ultimately we decided to upgrade our tow vehicle to our new to us 2017 Toyota Tundra Limited OffRoad. It has a V-8 engine in it vs the V-6 engine in the Tacoma. It has a tow rating of 9100#, a tongue rating of 950# and a GCWR of 15,360#. The rear axle on this Tundra is rated for 4150#. So what did the CAT Scale show us with our new set up? Our total weight was 12,700# which was 2660# under the max. Our tongue weight was still 600# and our rear axle weighed 3980# which is 170# under the rating. And this was with a trailer that had a full 45 gallons of fresh water on board, fully loaded for our summer trip to Montana and some cargo in the truck bed.
Another thing to be aware of is every truck will have varying specs based upon things like engine size, trim levels, options, etc. One 2017 Toyota Tundra may have 10,500# towing capacity while ours only has 9100#. Things like 4 wheel drive and a larger 38 gallon fuel tank are just a couple of reasons why our Tundra is rated lower.
In addition to our Tundra being a better fit from a weight stand point, there are also other benefits to enhancing the towing experience. Its beefy 5.7 liter V-8 engine gives us more power for towing up steep grades and its oversized brakes gives us better control coming down those grades. Its longer wheel base than the Tacoma also provides for more stability with trailer in tow. In fact, it pulls our Lance so well that Patty is now towing our trailer on trips for the first time ever and she is loving it!
So where can you find the specifics for a vehicle? The owners manual will list all the ratings in it for each engine and package. You can find a sticker typically inside the drivers door that will list the specific vehicles axle ratings. I would recommend you find and verify the numbers yourself before buying a vehicle or trailer.
How do you weigh your tow vehicle and trailer? We use CAT Scales which you can find along most major highways. In September, we will be posting a video on YouTube showing you how easy it is to visit the CAT Scales so you can find out your numbers. Watch for that video coming soon!
So will a SUV rated for 3500# tow a trailer rated at 3500# fully loaded? I would not recommend it because most certainly your vehicle will be strained and your towing experience will not be enjoyable and could even be unsafe for you and others around you on the road.
Although this in not designed to be an all inclusive education in tow ratings, hopefully it will at least give you a bit more to think about as you look at vehicles, trailers and your own situation.