Don has been an avid traveler and motorhome owner for most of his life. He shares his experiences along with valuable tips for RV owners.
The Common Tow Hitch Receptacle made specifically for Medium Weight Loadss
Vehicles and Their Towing Capability
Although there are several popular hitches in use in America, you will find that almost any vehicle can tow some amount of weight if it is connected to the load and then operated properly. But how much can they actually tow safely?
You would never consider attempting to tow a large heavy camper, of any kind, with a small under-powered vehicle, or over-load a vehicle with an obviously excessive weight.
Not only can these extreme conditions cause serious damage to your towing vehicle and even your towed trailer, but they could put you and anyone else on the road with you in serious danger.
The problem for so many of us RVers, whether a novice or an expert, is that we often do not know how to calculate the true and safe weight limits for what their existing vehicle can tow, or know how to quickly decide whether a vehicle they are about to buy can safely tow their trailer.
The things you'd need to first determine are
- Your state's rules for towing.
- Your camper's weight (both the GVWR and its true weight).
- Your towing vehicle's weight.
- The towing capacity specs of the vehicle you have or are considering buying.
- The weight your tow hitch (or tongue) can legally handle.
Each State Has its Own Towing Laws
First of all, if you are going to tow anything, regardless of whether it is a small trailer, a camper-trailer, or a big fifth wheel, you need to know your individual states' rules for towing.
Most states' requirements are very similar, but some are very different.
It is easy to use this quick reference by Brake Buddy on towing laws by state.
And of course, you can always check at your local DMV for more on your home state's specific rules and regulations for towing.
Understand the difference between Towing Capacity and Payload
GVWR? And Other Confusing Abbreviations?
Somewhere on every vehicle out there, you can find a label that includes specific data on the vehicle itself, including the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), the vehicle's Curb Weight, and its GVWR number.
Every towing vehicle and trailer should have a GVWR, or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, written on it. GVWR is the legal maximum gross weight of this vehicle and its contents, essentially passengers, and all of its cargo (but not of a vehicle it is towing).
You need this number in order to calculate what you can safely and legally carry and tow. Typically it's seen as a maximum, but the vehicle owner who travels in hilly country or mountains should take care to give themselves plenty of margin for a more enjoyable and safe trip.
How Things Work has a more detailed discussion of GVWR.
Gross Vehicle Weight is the weight at any given time of a vehicle and its contents. It changes when people and things go in or out of the vehicle. In contrast, the GVWR (the rating) never changes.
Curb Weight is what a vehicle weighs sitting at a curb, with little or nothing in it: some say only a driver weighing 150 pounds, others say a full tank of gas and other fluids needed to operate the vehicle.
GCWR, a characteristic of the towing vehicle, stands for the Gross Combined Weight Rating: the maximum allowed weight of a vehicle and its cargo including a trailer or camper and its contents.
GTWR, a characteristic of a trailer, is Gross Trailer Weight Rating, the maximum allowed weight of a trailer, by itself, and its various contents. Note that sometimes camper manufacturers will use GVWR or GTWR for a camper to indicate the empty weight of the camper.
GAWR stands for Gross Axle Weight Rating. GAWR is the maximum allowable weight on an individual axle of a vehicle or camper.
See also the National Highway Traffic Safety Association on how to use the towing ratings of a vehicle.
Vehicle Weight and Towing Abbreviations
|Abbreviation||Stands for||What it Means|
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating
The maximum legally allowed weight of the vehicle and all its contents, passengers, and cargo (but not of any attached vehicle)
Gross Vehicle Weight
What a vehicle happens to weigh including whatever is in it.
What a vehicle weighs sitting at a curb empty (may assume a single 150-lb driver and/or a full tank of gas)
Gross Combined Weight Rating
The combined weight rating of a vehicle and its cargo including a trailer or camper.
Gross Trailer Weight Rating
Weight of a trailer (including its cargo) that a towing vehicle is rated to tow. A motorhome may have a GTWR.
Gross Axle Weight Rating
Maximum allowable weight on a single axle of a vehicle or a camper.
What Is Your Camper's or Trailers GVWR?
As I mentioned above, trailers and campers will have either a GVWR or a GTWR number assigned by the manufacturer.
As I said, in the world of campers, the number they give you is often the empty weight of the camper unloaded. This means no water or other fluids in the tanks, and no clothes, no food, no beach chairs, no unattached cargo of any kind.
Be aware that a typical RV couple can easily add 1000 to 2000 pounds of extra cargo before towing a trailer. Think about it;
- Your water holding tank might hold 60-100 gallons of fresh water and at 8-pounds a gallon that is 480-800 extra pounds by itself.
- Add another 400-500 pounds for canned goods, pantry items and all of the foods you packed into your fridge
- Then add another 100-200 pounds for clothes, linens, etc.
- And, all of those folding chairs, barbecue grill, tools, folding tables, lights, water and sewage hoses and connectors, and such you stuffed into your storage compartments could easily add another 400-500 pounds.
My little list ended up with over 1500 pounds and I didn't even try to add everything a couple might take on a vacation trip.
So my True Camper Weight will be significantly higher than the manufacturer's empty weight, which they may tell you is its GVWR.
Confirm Your Camper's Weight
After speaking with several sales people and getting several different answers from them, I realized that I needed to educate myself if I wanted to be sure I picked the right vehicle to tow my camper.
So, the first thing I did was crawl around on the inside of my fifth-wheel camper until I had found the right label and confirmed that the campers GVWR was 12,000 pounds. This is not a "dry" or "curb" weight, but the weight of a camper full of the amount of stuff it is rated to carry.
Now this is a big number but my fifth-wheel is a big camper, so I now knew that I had to get what was right for towing a camper of this size and weight.
Dump Your Holding Tanks before a Trip
Always remember that your water holding tank might hold 60-100 gallons of fresh water, and at 8 pounds a gallon, that is 480-800 extra pounds you may be towing around.
Look Up Your Vehicle's Towing Specs?
I had a relatively large fifth-wheel camper, and I was looking into purchasing a new pickup truck which would have the power, accessories, and safety items necessary to tow my camper safely.
I had to spend a while on the web to find the right data to compare the different trucks on the market today and find the right one for me. Since my wife and I were looking at a Ford truck, we found the Ford 2016 Vehicle Towing Guide useful.
Once I found this data sheet I was able to use its data in my own towing decisions and even my camper selection.
5th Wheel Towing and selecting the right Truck
Using Specs to Calculate Your True Towing Capability
My wife and I had already decided for personal reasons that our desired vehicle would be a crew cab truck, with a large diesel engine and a single rear wheel axle (SRW).
These personal preferences, plus cost, limited my choices to a 3/4-ton or a 1-ton truck. As it happened, the data sheet gave me the same towing specs for either truck, the 3/4-ton or the 1-ton, with the same drive train and engine.
I ended up with a Fifth Wheel towing weight limit of 15,900 pounds for either truck.
If I had wanted to take the next step up, I would have to move up to the DRW (dual rear wheel) option, which as I said earlier, I didn't want to be driving around town when I wasn't towing a trailer.
Either truck also had a towed trailer (fully loaded) weight maximum of 14,000 pounds.
As my trailer's GVWR rating was 14,000 pounds, I understood the trailer wasn't supposed to weigh more than 14,000 pounds loaded.
So this "loaded" GVWR of 14,000 pounds was 1,900 pounds under my allowable maximum towing limit for the fifth wheel; I concluded that the combination would work.
What Is Tongue Weight?
But, hold on, there is another spec to consider here and that is the Hitch Maximum Weight Load (or Tongue Weight).
Ford recommends that this number be 10%-15% for the loaded trailer, or 15%-25% for a loaded fifth-wheel camper.
You need to make sure that this number is also met when you make your hitch selection.
For instance, if you are towing a trailer that weighs 12,000 pounds, your hitch and its mounting must be designed to handle a "tongue weight" of at least 15% of 12,000, or 1800 pounds.
And with a fifth wheel hitch, it must be able to handle a "tongue weight" of at least 25% of 12,000, or 3000 pounds.
Tips on Towing in the Mountains
Types of Hitches
Different types of hitches include the ball hitch, tri-point or "tow bar" hitch, the "goose neck" hitch, and the fifth-wheel hitch.
Fifth Wheel Hitch Receptacle
A typical Tow Bar System With the Standard Two Towing Arms
Tow Bar Hitch With Ball Adapter
Even if Your Weight Is Under the Limits, Towing May Be a Slow Process
So, with my newly calculated towing capability numbers being 1900 pounds under the maximum, am I OK?
I am OK, but maybe not very speedy. My fifth-wheel towing friends say I should be able to tow my fifth-wheel camper easily and efficiently on flatlands, rolling hills, and coastal areas, but if I go into any serious mountains, I am going to be that slow truck and camper you always see trying to pull up and over every steep and long grade.
The truck I had picked would do the job, but it will be a noticeably slow process with each serious hill and somewhat more costly in fuel costs.
I had thought about using a "dualie" or DRW version of the same truck, because this configuration greatly increases the towing load capability. But I decided not to, because even with the dualie option, both of the trucks (SRW or DRW) would have the exact same drive trains and engines. So, from my perspective, all I would gain would be the added load carrying capability. Either truck would be slow on hills.
It is ultimately a personal decision.
Towing Safety Information
How to Tow a Trailer properly
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: My truck is a 2018 GMC Sierra 5.3 ,6 speed transmission, double cab Standard box with the Alltrain Z71 package GVWR is 7200 lbs. Can I pull my 5th wheel trailer with a GVWR of 11800 lbs?
Answer: GMC Charts for a 2018 Sierra 1500 Denali -show it can tow up to 9300 lbs if it is set up for towing. For larger engines, this weight limit would be higher, again if it is set up for towing. And remember that the rear suspension must be rated for towing a higher weight also. The smaller 5.3 engine, the standard load rated rear suspension, the standard brakes and the engine/transmission cooling systems would be my major concerns if I was looking at towing such a load regularly and in mountainous terrains. The cooling systems can be upgraded relatively cheaply, but you need to talk to a good mechanic that you trust about the other items I mentioned.
Question: Is there an online site where I can enter a year, make, model and engine to find the tow capacity?
Answer: If you're talking about motorhomes, you need to contact the manufacturer's customer service people; look online for the appropriate numbers. If you're looking for towing information about automobiles then you need to go to Campingworld.com and look under towing capability and you can look this information up there.
Question: I have an SUV with 5000 lbs towing capacity. The hybrid trailer I'm looking at has 4830 gvwr. Would you recommend this for vacationing in the mountains with long and winding climbs and descents?
Answer: Your SUV would be legal to tow this trailer but remember you are going to add several hundred pounds of personal gear in addition to fresh water (8-lbs. per gallon).
So, considering your SUV capability and the places you want to travel to, you might want to look at adding an additional transmission cooling system and even an additional engine cooling system. just to kick up your SUV's protection when it is towing your load.
Question: I have a 2011 Escalade with a rated tow capacity of 8100 lbs. Manual states 1100 lbs max hitch weight with WDH. Can I safely pull a travel trailer that has dry weight of 6600 lbs and a tongue weight of 820 lbs.? My family of 6, we weigh about 475 lbs. Will not carry full tank of fresh water.
Answer: From what you describe, it looks like your Escalade can handle the load of a 6600-lb travel trailer fine.
Pardon me if I mention that I always tell people that they should have a quality hitch system which includes; Sway bars, safety chains etcetera.
And, make sure your Escalade's Cooling system and transmission are operating properly and their cooling system (radiators) are clean and free of bugs. You could go to your service person and ask them to check this for you.
Question: I am thinking of buying a Jeep Wrangler. When I look at the tow capacity, all of these seem to have 3500 lb limit. But the Jeep I am looking at has a 383 stroker engine put in aftermarket. I currently have a Jeep Grand Cherokee with a tow limit of 6500 lbs. It seems to me that the Jeep Wrangler is grossly underrated. What do you say?
Answer: I owned a Wrangler myself for a while, and it had their V6 in it. And mine was automatic.
You need to realize that the transmission, as well as the engine, are the limiting factors of what you can tow.
Of course, the suspension, and towing connections can also come into the equation, but the engine and transmission are your main worries.
Many people will add a larger engine cooling system as well as a transmission fluid cooling system to get a few hundred more pounds of towing capacity and protecting these from overheating damage.
Some people will even have the rear differential gears changed out to give them a little more towing capacity.
To summarize, from my perspective, I see a lot of Jeep Wranglers being towed, but very few towing any medium to large camping trailers.
Question: I have a Jeep Cherokee with the tow package. It says I can tow up to 4500lbs. What is the most my camper should weigh? (GVWR)
Answer: Well, if your Jeep GVWR is 4500 lbs then of course what you should tow must weigh less than that. But to tow safely most expert will tell you to make sure your full towing weight be around 80% of that as a max. When you stay within this limit, you can tow safely in hilly country and even mountain country when necessary.
Remember, your Jeep, its suspension, its engine, and transmission have been designed for this limit.
There are some things you can do to upgrade the engine and transmission cooling systems and other such modifications but overall that limit is it for your Jeep.
Question: I have a 2017 ram big horn 4x4 1500 5.7 Hemi Quad cab and I'm trying to find my towing capacity. Where can I find it?
Answer: You should check your owners manual for the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. This number includes; the chassis, body, engine, engine fluids, fuel, accessories, driver, passengers, and cargo, but not the weight of your trailer you want to tow.
Your manual should also list, somewhere, your maximum Towing Capacity.
If you can't find it there, go to the Ram website and search for "towing capacity" and then look up your specific model. If you still can't find it, go to their Customer Service people and ask them. They will lead you to the right data.
Question: I have a 2016 Chevy Traverse with a Towing Package. My car's max trailer weight is 5,200 lbs with a GCWR of 10,450lbs. My hitch says max trailer weight is 5,200 and max tongue weight is 600lbs. The trailer I am looking at buying is UVW 2,993 and GVWR 4,200lbs. with a base dry hitch weight of 420lbs. I don't want to be at max load. I want to be able to haul a trailer with no issues. Is this trailer too heavy for my Chevy Traverse?
Answer: The GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) says that you should NEVER exceed this Gross trailer weight including what you put in it, including; food, clothing, water and sewage and such.
If you are going to travel in mountains and deserts and pretty much anywhere in the USA, most experts recommend that you never exceed 80% of your maximum ratings. This would mean you should not tow more than 80% of 5200 or around 4200 lbs.
At the same time, you should get your Traverse's; engine, cooling, transmission, braking, and overall drivetrain systems into top condition. Pulling loads up and down mountains and across deserts can really stress these systems over time.
Anyway, your trailer looks to be right up there, but actually under the limits of your Traverse.
Question: I have a 2017 Kia Sorento LX all-wheel drive. Can I use a Blue Ox towing bar?
Answer: First of all, you should go to the site https://rv.campingworld.com/towguide) and there you will find the towing capacity of your 2017 Kia Sorento.
As to using a specific Tow bar such as Blue Ox, first, you must know the numbers for your tow hitch setup. and then, as to the specific Blue Ox tow bar you want to use.
Contact Blue Ox Customer Service and they can give you more specific information on the one you wish to use.
Question: I have a 2013 Chevy Tahoe that has a GVWR of 7100 lbs. My 2001 Tahoe transport trailer is 5100lbs dry. How do I find out the tongue weight? My hitch on my car says 1000lbs, how do I find it for my trailer? Will it tow my trailer?
Answer: Your Question is very confusing. Are you looking to tow your Tahoe in your trailer being pulled by your car?
I am going to assume this is wrong, and you actually want to pull your transport trailer with your Tahoe and are looking for the tongue weight?
If this is the case then the experts say that the proper tongue weight for a trailer should be between 9 and 15% of the GTW (Gross Trailer Weight).
You can find different ways to measure your actual Tongue weight on the web.
Question: I have a 2007 Honda Crv with hitch rating of 2000, hitch ball 5000, ball mount 3500. GVWR of Honda is 4560, how much cargo can I put in 5 x 8 U-Haul trailer?
Answer: The limiting factor for your Honda is that low 2000 lb. hitch rating. This the recommended MAX that it is designed to handle. So, to be safe, you should never tow a load higher than around 80% to maybe 85% of this limit.
Your Hondas GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) is the maximum weight rating for the car itself loaded with people and any items you are carrying in the vehicle, and this is not the Towing Capacity of the car.
Question: I have a 2004 Chevy Tahoe, 5.3L, looking to buy a 24ft Fleetwood Prowler, dry weight 4780, GVW 6000. The Tahoe tow weight is listed 7500lbs and GCVW of 11000lbs or 12000lbs, depending on where you look. Will my Tahoe pull this camper safely? I've tried so many sites trying to calculate and I'm unsure.
Answer: Your GVWR of 6000 is what it says the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating or maximum towing weight including the cargo, fluids, and anything else you put in the trailer.
Your Tahoe GCVW (Gross Combined Vehicle Rating) is the combination of the trailers weight and the towing vehicles weight combined when hooked together.
SO, with your example, the Tahoes max TOW WEIGHT of 7500 means it can tow the trailer with a GVW of 6000 lb and the combination of GVWR's (6000 + 6000) barely meets your GCVW of 12000 combines weights. So, the numbers indicate that your combination should be OK.
Question: I have a 2010 Dodge Ram 2500 Diesel and I want to buy a 5th wheel toy hauler. I am not sure what weight I can pull / should be looking for?
Answer: Your RAM has a GVWR rating, and you should find it in the owner's manual or call the Customer Service department and ask them.
Then when you start shopping for a Toy Hauler, you can check each one for its GVWR rating.
Once you have these numbers you can check if your truck is capable of towing this total or Gross weight.
I suspect that if your engine and transmission are not the largest available then you may not be able to tow a very large trailer.
Question: My truck is a 2015 Nissan Titan. Tow capacity 9300, payload 1488, and GVWR 7200. Can I safely pull a travel trailer in Colorado that has a GVWR of 6995? Passenger weight is 600#.
Answer: With your max Tow capacity being 9300 lbs and your travel trailer having a max GVWR of 6995 lb, you will be lowing a max load that is around 75% of your towing capacity, so your truck should have no problem with this.
Of course, you should have the following towing accessories to keep your trip a safe one. You should have a quality tow hitch installed that is rated to handle your trailer weight, You should have anti-sway bars to cut down on trailer sway in windy conditions. You should have a good trailer brake assist system installed in your truck. And a good spare tire for your travel trailer. You will appreciate your thoughtful and good preparation when you get on the road.
Question: Why is the receiver hitch so high on on a Chevy Tahoe?
Answer: Every truck, Car and other towing vehicle will have their towing hitch receiver at a different height.
That's why you can purchase tow-ball adapters built at different heights.
You should purchase a tow-ball hitch that puts the ball at a height where the towing vehicle is sitting normally when a trailer is being hitched to the towing vehicle; not sitting with the rear being pushed down or lifted up.
Question: I have a 2011 Chevy Silverado 1500 Z71 4x4. It is a 4.8 V8, but recently I added a 4.56 Gear Ratio, 9” lift, a tune for the gears and lift, and it has 37” tires. What kind of weight could I tow?
Answer: Although the changes you made to your Silverado may look nice, none of them changed your trucks Towing capacity.
Check your owners manual and it will list your maximum Towing capacity. Your towing capacity is limited by the power train, which you did not change and the limits of the suspension. In fact, you should make sure that the lifts are as strong as your original suspension.
Otherwise, check your owners manual for your maximum towing capacity.
Question: I have a 17 ram rebel w/395 hp, 3.92 rear axle ratio. My towing capacity is around 10,140 lbs. We are looking to buy a travel trailer. How much weight can my truck carry and tow?
Answer: Actually, that Towing Capacity number is a MAX for you, and it includes whatever you are putting into the trailer as well as what you put in that truck bed.
I know everyone wants to really "load up" their truck, but that 10K is a lot of weight for your rear suspension and transmission, just to mention the top potential weak points in a towing truck.
In fact, if you are planning on towing for any distance in hilly or especially mountain areas, you should probably try to keep your max load at about 80% of your truck's maximum or in your case, keep it down to around a max of 8K.
Question: I have a 2016 Toyota Tacoma, will it be safe to tow a 1986 Kit Companinon?
Answer: Typically a 2016 Toyota Tacoma will have a towing capacity of 3500 lbs. But that is with the standard drive train and suspension. You should check your owners manual for and differences that may raise this limit if you have a special drivetrain or suspension.
As to your KIT camper, you should check the owner's manual for the GVWR rating. This number is often on a label mounted on the wall of campers somewhere inside.
The GVWR should be less than the Toyotas Towing capacity. In fact, it is often recommended that this be around 80% or less of the towing capacity.
Question: I have a 2019 Toyota RAV4 Adventure, Looking at a 17 Rpod. Can I tow this?
Answer: The simplest way to quickly check this is to check the owners manual on the towing vehicle for its towing limit. If you can't find it there, call your dealer and they should be able to tell you.
If they can't help you, the search for it on the web.
Once you have this number, remember that this is a MAXIMUM limit and it is usually recommended to only tow a tow vehicle that has a GVWR of 80% of this number. The GVWR is the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating and includes the gear a typical camper will have in it.
I would suspect that unless your RAV4 has been specially equipped, it will have a towing limit of only 3000 lbs, or possibly as low as 2500 lbs. But check to make sure, and make sure you get the appropriate towing accessories such as; tow adapter, ball hitch, safety tow cables, tow electric cable, and possible anti-sway bars.
Question: I own a 2012 Nissan Titan with Crew Cab? Can I haul a 5000-pound trailer with a 1040 pound tongue weight? I have a heavy duty weight distribution hitch.
Answer: Your truck could have one of several size engines and transmission combinations. Each of these combinations will have a different maximum towing capacity.
Search "Nissan Titan crew cab towing capacity 2012" on Google, and you will find several ratings for this truck. I saw the first two mention 9300 lbs maximum towing capacity, which seems high to me, but you should check for yourself.
Question: I have a 1500 Silverado 2001 5.3l V-8. It is the LS model 4 wheel drive extended cab, how much can I tow?
Answer: You should search on the web for "What is the towing capacity for 2001 Silverado, 1500" for more information but what I saw was a limit around 8700 lbs if your truck is outfitted properly.
Question: 2017 BMW m240i does not have towing capacity or a gvwr. Nor does it list a payload. Uhaul put a hitch on for me. But how do I calculate what I can tow? Someone told me 80% of the curbside weight, but that sounds too simple.
Answer: It seems that your BMW braked towing capacity can be as low as 0-kg on up to 1200-kg. depending on the model. You can go to the "Carguide" site on the web and look up your specific model to check this.
Question: I have a 2010 Lincoln Navigator, it says 6000 to 9800 on the data chart. Is it safe to pull my imagine camper with a rating of 6900 to 7500 safely?
Answer: From what little information you have given me, and the age of your Navigator I would say that if your Navigator was in perfect condition it would still be towing at the very maximum limit of what it could tow.
As far as safety is concerned, and considering the unwritten towing rule that you should never tow a load that exceeds 80% of your towing vehicles limit, I would not recommend that you tow this size trailer with what is essentially a 10-year-old vehicle.
Question: Have a 2017 Nissan Frontier Pro 4x with a towing capacity of 9200... looking at 4th wheel with dry weight of 7900lbs, 400lbs passenger and 55 gallons of water. Will my truck handle this?
Answer: I assume you meant 5th wheel? Anyway, Sure, you can tow that camper, but I would not recommend it for your Nissan. You would actually be over your weight limit by the time you added passengers, dishes, linens, clothes, groceries and water.
It is usually not recommended to tow a total weight of over 80% of your towing capacity. And, even at that, your drivetrain would be loaded down dramatically when you go into hilly or mountainous country.
For the size 5th wheel you are considering, you would need to get one of the big 3/4 or 1- ton trucks with towing capacities up to 12,000 pounds. With this combination, your towing vehicle can safely tow your trailer and go pretty much anywhere from flatlands to mountains.
© 2013 Don Bobbitt