Close up of a trailer attached to a towing hitch on a vehicle.

Important Things to Know About Towing Capacity

Towing in Tyler

If you find yourself needing to haul large, heavy objects anywhere, you’ll likely need to tow the goods to their destination. Before you get started, it’s important to know some key information to ensure you can safely tow your belongings.

The first thing you need to know is what your vehicle’s towing capacity (the cargo weight that your vehicle can tow safely). Your vehicle’s owner manually will usually show the towing capacity of your vehicle. If you do not have a manual or if there is no mention of the towing capacity of your vehicle in the owner’s manual, you can calculate the towing capacity of your vehicle with some other information.

Important: If you’re unable to find the correct weight information (outlined below) of your vehicle, you should rent a vehicle designed for towing or contact local towing experts to ensure safety.

Calculating Towing Capacity

When the towing capacity is not mentioned in the owner’s manual, you can calculate how much your vehicle can safely tow. You will need to know the curb weight of your vehicle. This is the weight of your vehicle when it is filled with gas, oil and other fluids used when driving. You will also need to know the Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR) of your vehicle, which tells you the maximum weight your vehicle can handle: including the curb weight, the weight of your trailer, the cargo, and the weight of all the passengers that will be in the vehicle during the tow.

To get the towing capacity of your vehicle, you need to subtract the curb weight from the GCWR. If the items you’re going to be towing weigh less than this number, you should be good to go. However, it’s imperative that you ensure your vehicles brakes are in good working order, as the added weight associated with towing can put additional strain on them.

How Much Towing Capacity is Required

The towing capacity of your vehicle should be higher than the load that you plan to pull. You should also take into consideration the weight of the hitches when calculating the weight of the heaviest load. Making sure that the towing capacity is more than the load is a safe way of driving a vehicle with a trailer.

Trailer Brakes

There are many variants of towing trailers, but they can be categorized into two main types: trailers with brakes and trailers without. Whenever possible, try to use a trailer that has its own brakes to assist with slowing down and stopping. Not only are these types of trailers safer, but they’re required by law in certain states and under certain conditions (more on that below).

Electric Trailer Brakes

Some trailers use an electric brake system, which are connected to the towing vehicle’s brakes via an electrical connection. When you step on your vehicle’s brake pedal, it automatically senses the pressure and activates the trailer’s brakes to help tackle some of the workload added by the trailer.

Hydraulic / Surge Trailer Brakes

Surge brakes work with hydraulics and need no electricity to operate. Instead, these brakes work automatically by using air pressure created by the movement of the vehicle. The surge brakes are activated whenever the vehicle slows down, allowing the trailer to slow down at the same time. A downside to surge brakes is that they work against your vehicle when you need to reverse, so you’ll need a free-backing system that releases your trailer’s brakes when backing up or wire a reverse solenoid to your vehicle’s reverse lights.

Towing Hitches

Trailers come in different shapes and sizes, so each type requires a specific hitch to attach to the tow vehicle, and there are five classes of hitches. The right class off hitches for your needs will depend on the size of your vehicle, and most hitches work with specific vehicles (i.e. you can’t install a Class 5 hitch on a normal car). Each class of hitches can tow different load weights. Higher classes offer higher towing capacity, and have larger receiver tubes.

Towing Hitch Terms

Before we break down each class, it’s important to know a few key terms:

Gross Trailer Weight (GTW): The gross trailer weight is simply how much the trailer weighs in total, including the cargo in the trailer.

Tongue Weight (TW): This is simply the weight of the trailer where it attaches to the hitch. As a rule of thumb, this weight is usually around 10%, but can go up to 15% or so.

Important Note: These hitches do not add to your vehicle’s towing capabilities, so always plan your towing around the lower number (your vehicle’s towing capacity or the trailer’s capacity).

Towing Hitch Classes

Class 1 hitches are best for cars and crossovers, and have a GTW capacity of up to 2,000 lbs and a TW of up to 200 lbs.

 Class 2 hitches work for some cars, crossovers, and minivans – they have a GTW capacity of up to 3,500 lbs and a TW of up to 350lbs.

Class 3 are usually attached to trucks, SUVs, and some crossovers and vans – they offer a much higher capacity than the previous two classes – up to 8,000 lbs and a TW of up to 800 lbs.

Class 4 hitches are designed for trucks and SUVs, and allow up to 10,000 lbs of GTW, and have a TW of up to 1,000 lbs.

Class 5 hitches are designed for large trucks and commercial vehicles and offer a GTW capacity of 16,000 to 20,000 lbs. The TW capacities for these hitches can range from 2,400 to 2,700+ lbs.

Towing Laws

Laws regarding towing capacity vary from state to state. Some states do not have laws or regulations when it comes to towing, or they don’t strictly enforce the laws in place (though you still risk legal issues if they do decide to enforce any laws you may violate). Other states have laws that require electric brakes for trailers weighing over a certain amount (surge brakes are not legal for heavier trailers). In addition, most insurance companies will not cover damages if your vehicle is overloaded and causes an accident, so it’s important to verify this information before you begin towing.

Towing Safety

Knowing the towing capacity of your vehicle is an important safety measure. You cannot effectively control an overloaded vehicle. It is not easy to maneuver, accelerate, brake or, steer an overloaded vehicle, which puts the cargo and passengers at risk. In many states, costly fines are levied on overloaded vehicles. If you tow a carefully secured load in a trailer below the rated capacity of your car and trailer, you can keep your vehicle, your passengers and, the cargo in the trailer safe.