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Towing Terms - Know Your Numbers

Purple Dodge Dually hauling white enclosed trailer

Does anybody really pay attention to numbers like GVWR or payload capacity? You should. Knowing and working within these limits will help protect you, your towing vehicle and others on the road. Common towing terms include:

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) - Maximum amount of weight a trailer can hold while sitting still. It takes into account the strength of the frame, suspension & wheels.

Curb Weight - Weight of the trailer when it is empty of cargo.

Payload - Maximum allowable weight of cargo that a trailer is designed to carry. Payload is typically GVWR minus trailer's base curb weight.  This takes into account the amount of weight the axles can handle as well as the frame. You'll also want to pay attention to how your trailer is loaded. Cargo should be balanced as much as possible. 

Tongue Weight - Force pushing down on trailer hitch by the load being hauled. For most trailers with ball-mounted hitches, proper tongue weight is roughly 10-15% of total loaded trailer wieght. Why does it matter? Safety and handling of the trailer. Too much on the front can negatively impact braking. Too much on the rear, can cause the trailer to sway and put too much strain on the coupler. Consider weight distribution when loading trailers.

Trailer Hitch Class - Once you know weight of trailer and capacity of towing vehicle, make sure you have the right hitch for the job. Tow hitches are divided into 5 classes:

  • Class I pulls up to 2,000 lbs
  • Class II pulls up to 3,500 lbs
  • Class III pulls up to 5,000 lbs
  • Class IV pulls up to 10,000 lbs
  • Class V pulls up to 20,000 lbs

Towing capacity can vary widely within a class or even within a single model with several engines and transmission options. Check your owner’s manual to find the towing capacity of your vehicle.

*Information from Kelley Blue Book kbb.com