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Truck Towing Capacity: How Much Weight Can It Actually Tow?

How Big of a Trailer Can My Truck Tow?

Towing capacity and payload are hot topics for trucks. It’s hard to decipher just how much weight your truck or vehicle can safely tow.

Dealers naturally want you to think their trucks are tough as nails and can easily tow space shuttles. The truth is, your truck probably can’t safely tow as much as you’re being told.

Related Product: Easily hitch up your bumper pull trailer using the IBall Wireless Magnetic Trailer Hitch Rear View Camera (click to view on Amazon)

In this article, I’m going to explain everything you need to know about a vehicle’s towing capacity and how it’s going to help you when calculating if your truck can tow a travel trailer or 5th-wheel.

Hopefully, it will help you figure out what size of trailer or RV you can get and how much gear you can bring with you before going over the limit.

See Also: Difference Between Weight Distribution & Sway Control

truck towing a 5th-wheel rv trailer that is too heavy for it
Small truck towing a 5th-wheel trailer that’s too heavy for it.

The Info You Will Need To Calculate Towing Capacity

The first thing you need to do is find the right information about your truck and the trailer you own or the one you want to buy.

Most of the information you will need about your truck or tow vehicle is on the sticker inside the driver’s side door jamb.

Newer vehicles have more towing information on the sticker and it might be the only place you need to look.

Older vehicles can be a little more tricky. My 2004 Dodge Ram 2500 had very little information on the sticker and Dodge no longer posted towing information on their website.

I had to do quite a bit of searching online before I finally found all the information I needed.

Words You Will Need To Know For Your Truck

Curb Weight

A truck’s weight with no passengers, cargo, or load. Basically, what your empty truck weighs just sitting there.

Curb weight includes everything necessary to run the truck like the various fluids and fuel.

See Also: Find Cheapest Gas/Diesel Near You When Traveling

Many manufactures now add the curb weight to the door jamb sticker, but if it’s not there, you can sometimes find it on a sticker under the hood or online.

Curb weight is important because you need it to find your vehicle’s max payload rating. Curb weight can differ depending on your truck’s specific trim and model.


Gross Vehicle Weight. The GVW is how much your vehicle or truck weighs with all the cargo and passengers loaded.

It’s easy to calculate if you know the curb weight, the weight of all the passengers combined, and the weight of your cargo.

Add them all together and you will know your GVW. You can also load everything up and take your vehicle to a scale to be weighed to find out exactly what the GVW will be.


Gross Vehicle Weight Rating.

This is one of the most important numbers to calculate how much a truck or vehicle can tow.

It’s how much a vehicle or truck is rated to weigh before becoming unsafe. It’s important to remember that towing a vehicle is going to add a lot of weight to your truck, as well as passengers and cargo.


Gross Combined Weight Rating, or Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating.

This is another number you can use to determine how heavy of a trailer or RV you can tow.

The weight of your loaded truck and trailer cannot go over the GCWR.

See Also: Towing Cars Behind RVs – The Flat Towing Guide

Axle Ratio

The axle ratio is the number of rotations the driveshaft needs to make in order to spin the axle one time.

Lower axle ratios are better for fuel economy and higher axle ratios in the 3:73 – 4:10 are better for towing.

As an example, our Dodge Ram 2500 has the 3:73 axle ratio and has a GCWR of 17,000 lbs.

If I had the same truck with a 4:10 ratio, everything like the payload and GVWR would be the same, but the GCWR would go up to 19,000 lbs. That’s why it’s important to know the axle ratio.

Most vehicles have that information on the sticker. It will the labeled as AL on the sticker followed by some numbers or letters. That’s the axle ratio code. You can normally look it up online.

In older vehicles like ours, you can either find it somewhere near the rear axle or if you’re lucky on a paper on the inside of the glove box.


Gross Axle Weight Rating. The weight each axle can handle.

The back can always take more weight than the front. You won’t need this in your calculations, but it’s good to know what it means.


The maximum amount of people, cargo, and load you can add to your truck.

This is one of the biggest factors in calculating if your truck can handle a certain travel trailer or 5th-wheel.

You can sometimes find the payload on the door jamb sticker or online, but you can also figure it out by subtracting the curb weight from the GVWR.

Words You Will Need To Know For The Travel Trailer or 5th-Wheel


Unloaded Vehicle Weight. More commonly known as the “dry weight.” It’s how much your trailer weighs without any cargo or full tanks.

It rarely includes the weight of the batteries or propane tanks.

This is the most deceiving number in RV marketing. Most dealers are going to tell you the UVW because it’s the lowest number, and it makes it seem like you can tow any RV with any size of a truck or SUV.

It’s a good number to know, but the weight of the RV when loaded down is more important.


Any travel trailer or 5th-wheel will also have a GVWR. This is how much the trailer can weigh in total. That includes full tanks and all your camping gear.

Normally, the sticker on the side of the trailer where the GVWR is located will also tell you what the max weight of your cargo can be and how much a full water tank will weigh.

It may not seem like it, but stuff weighs a lot.

Unless you know exactly what you are going to be bringing with you, it’s always safer to assume that your trailer is going to be as heavy as the GVWR when it’s finally loaded and the fresh water tank is full.

See Also: Best Weight Distribution Hitches With Sway Control

Hitch Weight/Tongue Weight

This is the second most important number for calculating the towing capacity of a truck or vehicle.

The hitch weight is how much weight is being put onto the truck. Add this number to the final payload and GVW to find out if you are overweight or not.

It affects how much cargo you can load into your truck and the number of passengers allowed.

A properly loaded travel trailer needs to have around 10% of the total weight on the hitch.

You can find your hitch weight a few ways, but the easiest is to get a specialized scale (click to view on Amazon).

If you don’t own the trailer yet, you can do a quick calculation by taking the trailer’s GVWR and multiplying it by 0.1. This will give you a rough estimate of what the max hitch weight of a trailer could be.

For a 5th-wheel, you will need to times the trailer’s GVWR by 0.2 (20%) because the hitch/tongue weight of a 5th-wheel is much more than a travel trailer.

But you probably won’t have as much cargo in the truck bed, which means your truck may be able to handle a 5th-wheel anyway.

Passengers, cargo, and hitch weight all affect the towing capacity of a truck.
Passengers, cargo, and hitch weight all affect the towing capacity of a truck.

How To Calculate Your Truck’s Towing Capacity For A Trailer

The easiest way to do this is to write out all the specs and estimates, then do the math part.

To make it easier to understand, I’m going to show you the numbers for my 2004 Dodge Ram 2500 5.9L Diesel and my Heartland Prowler 27 BHS travel trailer.

Truck Numbers In Pounds

Curb Weight – 6,860 (what the truck weighs without cargo or passengers)
GVWR – 9,000 (how much it can weigh in total)
GCWR – 17,000 (how much the total weight of the truck and trailer combined can be)
Payload – 2,140 (found by subtracting curb weight from GVWR)
Maximum Trailer Weight – 10,000 (this number was found on the spec sheet online, it helps to give a general idea of how much a towed trailer could weigh but as you will see later that number isn’t always going to be a safe trailer weight)

Estimated Payload In Pounds

Passengers – 320 (2 people)
Cargo – 700 (We found our cargo weight by weighing our truck with us and all our stuff loaded onto it then subtracting the final weight from the curb weight and how much the passengers weigh.)
GVW (without trailer hitched up) – 7,880 (add curb weight with passenger and cargo weight)

RV Numbers In Pounds

UVW – 6,278 (dry weight of the trailer with no cargo or liquids)
GVWR – 9,000 (how much the trailer can weigh in total when loaded down)
GVW – 8,580 (found by weighing it on a scale, if you are looking at a trailer you want to buy, use the GVWR to calculate instead)
Hitch Weight – 850 (online the spec sheet for our trailer says it’s 750 lbs, but we took 10% of the GVW to calculate more accurately. We suggest finding it out exactly on a scale, but for doing calculations, this is the next best thing. If you are looking at a 5th-wheel, use 20% since the hitch weight will be more.)

Adding It All Up

Now it’s time to make sense of those numbers.

To see if your truck can tow a certain RV safely or if your current RV is an ok weight, you need to do a little math to make sure everything checks out.

First, check the GCWR by comparing it with the GVW of the truck and the trailer added together.

Using my truck and trailer as an example: 7,880 + 8,580 = 16,460

If I compare that to the GCWR which is 17,000, I’m below the maximum combined weight rating but not by much.

This is a quick and easy way to get a general idea of how big of a trailer you can get, but this isn’t the most important calculation.

The one that really starts to mess with the highest weight of a trailer you can safely tow is this next one that looks more closely at payload and your tow vehicles GVWR.

See Also: The 5 Things You Must Do When A Trailer Starts To Sway

The final and most important calculation is:

Truck GVW (passengers + cargo + curb weight) + Hitch Weight = GVW When Towing

As an example, I’ll use the numbers from my RV and truck combo: 7,880 + 850 = 8,730

That number is how much your truck weighs in total when towing. It’s the number that cannot go over the GVWR of your truck.

For my truck, it’s 9,000 lbs, which means I’m just 270 lbs under what my truck and trailer combo can weigh before I’m entering unsafe towing conditions.

How To Calculate If Your Truck Can Tow A Trailer You Don’t Own Yet

If you are trying to find a trailer your truck can safely tow, you can use the GVWR of the travel trailer or 5th-wheel you are looking at to get a rough estimate of whether or not your truck can tow it safely.

Compare Truck’s GVWR with Truck GVW + Hitch Weight (Trailer GVWR*0.1)

As an example, if I look at the Imagine 2970RL by Grand Design, I see its GVWR is 8,995 lbs.

I can estimate that the hitch weight, if loaded down properly to the max weight, will be around 900 lbs (9,000*0.1).

If I add that to what my truck currently weighs when loaded down with passengers and camping gear, my truck’s GVW will be 8,780 lbs.

That’s still under my truck’s GVWR so I can technically safely tow that trailer.

5th-wheels have a much heavier hitch weight, but they also make it harder to put a lot of cargo in the truck bed because that’s where the hitch is.

If I look at one of the smaller 5th-wheels made by Grand Design (Reflection 150 Series 240 RL) I see the GVWR is basically 10,000 lbs.

When properly loaded, 20% of that weight should be on the hitch, which means the hitch weight will be around 2,000 lbs.

See Also: Best 5th Wheel Hitches (Reese, B&W, Curt, Andersen, Blue Ox)

I already know I’m going to have to reduce the amount of stuff in my truck and take into account the heavy 5th-wheel hitch that will most likely weigh around 200 lbs.

That’s 2,200 lbs from the 5th-wheel alone. The payload of my Dodge Ram is only 2,140. That means I’m already overweight before I even put any passengers or cargo in the truck.

Of course, I could still tow the Imagine 5th-wheel safely if I make sure I don’t load it down to the max and limit the amount of cargo and passengers in the truck.

My estimate is just when fully loaded to the GVWR.

Payload is an important factor when it comes to towing capacity.
Payload is an important factor for towing capacity.

Conclusions About A Truck’s RV Towing Capacity

It’s a lot of values and numbers, but getting a good idea of what your truck or tow vehicle can tow is a good place to start when shopping for a new travel trailer or 5th-wheel.

You may not be able to safely tow the exact RV you want.

If you already have an RV, it’s a good idea to weigh your truck and trailer fully loaded to make sure everything is where it needs to be.

You might have to limit the cargo in your truck bed or reload your trailer to get the hitch/tongue weight to 10% of the total trailer weight.

See Also: Best RV 5th-Wheel & Travel Trailer Tires Review/Buying Guide

Why is it important not to go over the weight your truck and trailer are rated for?

The first reason is safety. Overloading trucks and trailers causes moving parts like bearings, suspension systems, and tires to take more weight than they were designed to.

Tire blowouts, broken leaf springs, and bad bearing may happen more frequently, which can be hazardous, especially when you’re driving fast.

Warranties might also be an issue. If your truck has a warranty and it becomes known that you are towing way over the limit, that warranty may become void.

There are also legal reasons. It’s illegal to load a vehicle over the weight rating. If you are caught towing more than you’re supposed to, you will most likely get a large ticket.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry when towing heavy RVs.

Worst case scenario, you could end up hurting yourself or others on the road. Being safe and avoiding breakdowns is always more fun anyway.

Have questions about RV & truck towing capacity? Leave a comment below.

by Jenni
Jenni grew up in a small town in Idaho. With a family that loves camping, she has been towing trailers since a very young age.

6 thoughts on “Truck Towing Capacity: How Much Weight Can It Actually Tow?”

  1. I ordered an F150 with a tow capacity of 13800#. The fifth wheel that I like the most is 10800 #. Would like to get an unbiased opinion on whether that is going to be too heavy before I pay $70k.

    • Hi Julie,

      It depends a lot on what the truck’s max payload is.

      Looking at the chart released by Ford, the 5.0L Ti-VCT V8 and the 3.5L EcoBoost V6 F-150s that can tow 13,000 lbs have a payload of 3,325. If 10,800 is the maximum the 5th-wheel can weigh, and not the dry weight, those two F-150 models should be able to handle it.

  2. I’m a newbie at trailering a travel trailer and could really use some double checking on my situation. I’ve gathered all the info together and found some good calculators on-line and plugged them in, but I’m still not 100% convinced. Would you be open to giving me your professional opinion of what I’m looking to do and reviewing my numbers? Thanks.

  3. Hi: I have 2022 RAM 1500 limited 4×4 crew cab with 5.7” bed and 3.92 rear axle. I also put in a decked storage system and have an A.R.E cap on my truck.

    I am looking at a 2023 ORV backcountry 20 bd trailer with a dry weight of 6156 lbs.

    Can I safely tow this trailer with a weight distribution and sway control hitch ?

    Thank uou

    • Hi Vijaya,

      Looking at the spec sheet for a 2022 RAM 1500 Limited 4×4 crew cab with the 5’7″ box, the payload is 1,620 lbs and the towing capacity is 8,060 lbs.

      The payload of your truck is the most important number. The 1,620 lbs weight rating will include everything you put into or on your truck. That includes passengers, the cap, and storage system.

      I don’t know how many passengers you will have or how much the gear stored in the truck will weigh, but if we count two passengers plus the weight of the cap and storage system you’re looking at around 600 lbs, that’s without anything inside the storage system yet.

      After loading up some camping gear you’ll maybe be left with 800-900 pounds for the tongue weight of your RV.

      The ORV Back Country travel trailer you’re looking at spec sheet says the dry hitch weight is 755 lbs. That’s with absolutely nothing in the trailer and the water tank empty. If you fill up the 100 gallon water tank, that will add 834 lbs to the trailer and about 80 lbs to the tongue weight.

      That gets the tongue weight of the trailer up to 835 lbs. Once you add the basics to your trailer like food, dishes, bedding, and camping gear, the trailer does start to get a little heavy for your truck.

      I’m going through all the numbers because I think that your truck can tow that trailer, but it’s pretty close to being too heavy.

      You’ll need to think more about how you load the truck and trailer since it’s a smaller truck. To maximize the truck’s payload you should try and load most of your camping gear in the trailer and let it take the most of the weight.

      Also, if you can fill up the water tank at or near your campsite that’s going to make travel a lot easier. If you are going to be driving up some steep inclines you should pack light.

      Hopefully this was helpful, I’m guessing a little bit since I don’t know how much camping gear you have or how many passengers. Good luck with the truck and trailer!


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