If you are planning to tow any kind of vehicle, it is crucial to learn how to calculate towing capacity for your vehicle specifically. In order to legally, and more importantly – safely – tow another vehicle, you must determine the maximum towing capacity beforehand. You don’t want to be responsible for jeopardizing other people’s lives, including your own.
When you exceed your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity rated by the manufacturer, not only are you creating an unsafe driving situation, you are also exposing your vehicle to possible damage, especially its:
- Rear axle
- Wheel bearings
Basically, everything crucial for your car to be able to go (or stop). Plus, you are most likely to void the manufacturer’s warranty!
How to Pick a Towing Vehicle
In case you don’t have a tow vehicle and you are currently looking to buy one, here are some useful tips:
- AWD and 4WD cars tend to have a lower towing capacity than a 2WD vehicle from the same class.
- The same goes for pickup trucks that have extra-cab and/or crew cab sections built in. We recommend you go with a standard cab design.
- Always do a thorough research on towing capacities of the vehicle you are intending to buy, and make sure to buy one with a much larger towing capacity than you actually need. It is always best to be on the safe side.
NOTE: If a vehicle is not capable of towing at all, this information should be stated explicitly in the owner’s manual. In case you have a car but you lost your owner’s manual, you should be able to download a copy for free from the Internet.
How to Calculate Towing Capacity
STEP 1: Check the owner’s manual first as it should be able to provide you with detailed instructions and towing limitations of your vehicle. Some also include useful tips for safe towing.
STEP 2: Find the vehicle data sticker (typically located somewhere in the driver’s door sill area) and compare it with the info from the owner’s manual. This data tag usually has several fields marked with acronyms like:
STEP 3: Look at the GCWR (or CGWR) field. GCWR stands for “Gross Combination Weight Rating” and gives you the info on the maximum safe weight of both your towing vehicle and trailer COMBINED. This number typically includes:
- all the people in the vehicle
- other materials
It is crucial that your combined towing setup doesn’t exceed this weight, otherwise, the transmission, engine, and brakes will be operating beyond their normal limits, which may lead to your car breaking down, or worse.
STEP 4: Determine the weight of your vehicle when it is loaded with passengers, luggage, fuel, etc. This is best and most accurately done using a public scale found at truck stops. In case you cannot locate a public scale, you can estimate the weight of your vehicle by adding the weight of all the passengers and cargo to the curb weight of your vehicle.
STEP 5: Subtract the weight of your loaded vehicle from its official GCWR rating, and the number you get is actually your real towing capacity. For safe and legal towing, make sure you keep the weight of the vehicle you are towing under this number.
NOTE: In case you don’t have access to data plates or other weight information for your vehicles, you should load your trailer and take it to a public vehicle scale. This way you will be able to find out the actual weight of your loaded trailer and calculate the towing capacity more accurately.
Help is on the way!