How to Calculate Towing Capacity

If you’re new to towing, you may be unsure of how much weight your vehicle can handle. To help your next towing trip run smoothly, we’ll go over some common towing terminology and how to calculate important towing metrics, including towing capacity, hitch weight, and payload capacity.

A car towing a camper on the highway - Une voiture remorquant un campeur sur l'autoroute

Towing Terminology

These terms will help you understand how to calculate how much your vehicle can tow.


The axle is a shaft underneath the trailer that transfers the trailer’s weight and drive to the wheels. Spring axles are the most common and are best for heavy loads and standard road travel. If you’re going to drive through salty water environments, windy conditions, or very rough terrain, consider opting for a torsion axle.

Curb Weight

This is the weight of your vehicle when it’s completely empty (no cargo, passengers, etc.). It includes all the things that the vehicle needs to run, such as fuel and other fluids, tires, and the battery.

Your owner’s manual should list the vehicle’s curb weight. You can also measure it yourself with a vehicle scale or by subtracting the payload capacity of your vehicle from the GVWR.


GCVWR stands for Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating. The GCVWR is the GVWR plus the weight of your trailer. It should be listed on the driver’s side door jamb and/or owner’s manual.


GVWR stands for Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. This is the maximum total combined weight of your vehicle and everything inside it. This includes any passengers, cargo, fuel, and hitch weight. The GVWR should be listed on the driver’s side door jamb and/or in the owner’s manual.


A hitch is a device attached to the chassis of a vehicle that connects a trailer to the vehicle. The five most common types of hitches are receiver, weight distribution, 5th wheel, gooseneck, and pintle.

Most vehicles can use a receiver hitch. Gooseneck and 5th wheel hitches are for pickup trucks only. You can pair a weight distribution hitch with a receiver hitch for more stability. Pintle hitches are for heavy-duty vehicles.

A hitch/trailer ball is often required to connect the hitch to the trailer. Make sure you get the right size ball for your trailer and hitch.

Hitch Weight

Hitch weight, or tongue weight, is the amount of weight the trailer puts on the hitch it’s attached to.


Payload / payload capacity is the maximum weight your vehicle can haul. If you’re pulling a trailer, payload includes the hitch weight but not the weight of the trailer.

Towing Capacity

Towing capacity is the amount of weight your vehicle can legally and safely pull behind it.

Calculating Towing Capacity

You’ll likely find your vehicle’s towing capacity rating in your owner’s manual and/or on the driver’s side door jamb. If you want to calculate it yourself, you can subtract your vehicle’s curb weight from its GCVWR.

GCVWR − Curb Weight = Towing Capacity

If you push your vehicle past its towing capacity, the trailer can swing and pull your vehicle out of control. This’ll also put more strain on the brakes, making it harder to stop. This is very dangerous for you and everyone else on the road.

Finding Your Hitch Weight Range

Your hitch weight should be about 10% to 15% of your Gross Trailer Weight (GTW), which is the total weight of your loaded trailer. You can measure your hitch weight with a scale or by doing some simple math.

Multiply the weight of the loaded trailer by 0.1. This value represents the minimum target for your hitch weight. To find the maximum hitch weight, multiply the weight of the loaded trailer by 0.15. Your actual hitch weight must fall within this range.

Calculating Payload Capacity

Payload measures how much your vehicle can carry on its axles (not the trailer’s axles), and it’s usually much lower than your towing capacity. To calculate your vehicle’s payload capacity, subtract the curb weight from the GVWR.

GVWR − Curb Weight = Payload Capacity

Never surpass your payload or towing capacity by overloading your vehicle or trailer. This is both dangerous and, in some cases, illegal.

Towing Tips

Aside from falling within your vehicle’s towing capacity, hitch weight, and payload capacity, the trailer you pull needs to be in good condition. This means you need to do regular maintenance on it, especially when you bring it out of winter storage.

If you’ve never towed a trailer before, practise in a quiet area before hitting the main roads. When towing, leave more room than you normally would between yourself and other vehicles. Accessories like tow straps or extended mirrors can also give you more security and confidence during your journey.

For more towing tips and advice, visit your local NAPA Auto Parts store to speak with an expert.

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1 Reply to “How to Calculate Towing Capacity”

  1. David Cox says:

    Great article, very informative! As a truck owner myself, I’ve always been proud of its towing and payload capabilities. Knowing these metrics and understanding how to calculate them ensures safe and effective use of the vehicle, especially when towing.

    I recently stumbled upon a website,, that provides comprehensive information on vehicle specifications, including towing and payload capacities. It’s a fantastic resource, and after checking my truck’s specs, I found the details they provide to be extremely accurate.

    Your piece excellently breaks down the significance of various metrics and how to calculate them, which is incredibly valuable for anyone planning to tow. I wholeheartedly agree with your advice on practicing towing in a safe, quiet area before hitting the main roads – it does make a significant difference.

    Thanks for sharing this insightful information! It’s an excellent guide for anyone new to towing or even seasoned drivers who want to refresh their knowledge. Looking forward to more posts like this.

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