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Towing Basics 101

Choosing the Right Vehicle For Towing

The two most important pieces of information to know when selecting a vehicle for towing is the weight of the loaded trailer you intend to pull and the vehicle's tow rating. If your trailer weighs more than your vehicle can tow you won't be able to safely move the load, so the vehicle's capabilities absolutely have to match the trailer. Depending on the manufacturer and the vehicle in question that tow spec can get a little murky and here's why.

Not All Models are Rated Equally

Vehicle manufacturers will often hype the maximum tow rating for a particular vehicle but that doesn't mean every model in the range is rated to tow the same weight. It can be confusing to know which engine needs to be selected and which option packages need to be selected to get the highest tow rating. If you have specific towing needs it is best to spec out your new vehicle with a towing knowledgeable Salesperson.

You May Need the Tow Package

In some cases opting for the most powerful engine translates to increased towing capacity, but sometimes more equipment is needed. For example, the 2021 Dodge Durango has a wide band of capability when it comes to towing. The 6-cylinder models are rated to tow 3,500 pounds, but check the option box for both the V6 and a specialized Trailer Tow Group IV and your V6 Durango can now handle 6,200 pounds. That's a massive difference. Opting for that factory equipped tow package can be helpful if you plan to hitch up to a trailer. Some manufactures even require a factory installed hitch in order to get the maximum tow rating. Many of these tow packages not only include the trailer hitch itself but specialized wiring and often additional parts and equipment designed to handle the stresses of towing like a transmission cooler, trailer brake controller, and heavy duty engine cooling. Some of the more sophisticated models have a trailer sway control system, load-levelling suspension and camera's to help guide you when backing up. That can be money well spent.

4-Wheel Drive and All-Wheel Drive

There are other features to consider beyond opting for a specific tow package. To get the maximum tow rating some models require all-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive, having all four wheels pulling can make towing in poor weather conditions much less stressful. But even if you only tow in the summer 4 wheel drive has towing advantages. A 4-wheel drive or all-wheel drive tow vehicle can help maintain traction on a slippery boat launch or add a measure of confidence towing a trailer of ATV's down a rough dirt road.

What You Should Know About Towing Weight

Just knowing the maximum trailer weight rating for your vehicle is only part of the story. There are some important terms to know too and many of these are listed on a sticker that you will find in the door jamb of your vehicle.

Payload - The maximum weight the vehicle can carry including cargo, people, and trailer tongue weight. (GWVR - Vehicle Weight Empty = Payload)

Tongue Weight - The amount of weight the trailer is pushing down on the hitch.

GVWR - The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is the weight of the empty vehicle plus the payload added together. In other words, the total weight of  a loaded vehicle.

GCWR - The Gross Combined Weight Rating is the GVWR plus the maximum loaded trailer weight.

Axle Ratio - The ratio between the driveshaft RPM and the axleshaft RPM. The axle ratio is critical in the operation of the transmission, driveshaft, and axle system that transmits torque to the driving wheels. A numerically higher axle ratio number usually increases towing capacity when tow vehicles are equipped with the same engine, same transmission and same tire size. For example a 2021 Ram 1500 Classic Crew Cab 4x4 with a V6 engine, 8-Speed Automatic Transmission and a 33 Inch Tall Tire will tow 4,390 pounds with a 3.21 axle ratio but that same truck will tow 7,440 pounds with a 3.55 axle ratio.

Why Is The Payload Important?

It's important to know the tow vehicle's payload because it includes the tongue weight of the trailer. The tongue weight should be approximately 10% of the total trailer weight. So a vehicle towing a 5,000 pound trailer should have about 500 pounds of tongue weight on the hitch. How much payload is left after that for carrying passengers and cargo? Let's say the vehicle's payload is 1,200 pounds. It means you can carry 700 pounds of people and gear when towing that 5,000 pound trailer without going over the vehicle's payload rating. Most vehicles engineered for towing will have a reasonable cushion to carry people and cargo when towing but if you plan to carry lots of people and load the vehicle with heavy cargo be sure the vehicle's payload rating is up to the task.

Typical Trailer Weights

How much do average trailers weigh? They can vary wildly depending upon trailer construction and what specific things are loaded on them. Here are some very generalized weight ranges of popular trailers that you may tow. These are the loaded weights of the trailers.

Light Trailers

- Personal Watercraft/ATV/Dirt Bikes: 1,000 - 1,500 pounds

- Small Aluminum Fishing Boat: 2,000 - 3,000 pounds


Medium Trailers

- 18 Foot Camping Trailer: 3,000 - 4,000 pounds

- 18 Foot Fibreglass Boat: 4,000 - 5,000 pounds


Heavy Trailer

- Two Axle Car Trailer with a Full Size Car On It: 7,000 - 8,000 pounds

- 20 Foot Camping Toy Hauler: 8,000 - 9,000 pounds

Do Not Go Over the Vehicle's Tow Rating

It might be tempting to hitch up a trailer that has a weight that's just above the tow rating for your vehicle but that's a really bad idea. The manufacture makes sure their vehicles comply with the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) standard for passenger vehicle tow weight ratings. Every mechanical system on the vehicle has to work harder when towing. Exceeding the tow rating will bring excess heat and strain to those systems that could eventually cause failure.

Adding Tall Tires

Flashy aftermarket wheels and taller tires can be enticing for those looking to personalize their vehicle but if you plan on towing don't bolt on a new set of wheels and tires without doing some research. If the diameter of that wheel and tire package is taller than the setup that came from the factory the difference in height will affect the vehicles performance. Depending on the vehicle, taller tires can take more engine torque to get moving from a stop and cause the transmission to work harder to keep the engine in the powerband on the highway. Add a heavy trailer to the mix and effects could multiply taxing everything in the power-train and drive-line.

Tire Load Ratings

Even if those new wheels and tires are the same height as the factory ones they have to be rated to carry the same weight. Be sure to choose a tire with the same load rating as the stock tires and be sure they are inflated to the correct pressure to handle the extra weight. A lap through the owner's manual for your vehicle should provide some guidance. Many times the recommended inflation pressure is posted on a sticker inside the door jamb. However a vehicle loaded down with people, cargo, and tongue weight could require more inflation pressure and the wrong pressure could mean excess heat buildup in the tires and open up the potential for a failure. Be sure to check those tire pressures first thing in the morning before you drive when the tires are cold.

Adding Rear Air Bags

Airbags help in towing because they add support for the load, helping to prevent it from shifting rearwards and dropping the backside of your truck. By providing this additional support the steering, handling, and braking can improve and you may feel an increase in control. Please note that adding rear air bags to your truck does not change the payload that you can carry.


If you are purchasing a new vehicle and intend to tow please discuss your options with one of our qualified Sales Staff.