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Guide to Towing Capacity for SUVs and Trucks

By Autolist Staff | February 14, 2019

A vehicle's towing capacity can often be confusing to the average car buyer. Many elements go into determining the towing capacity of a vehicle (it’s not about horsepower). Most vehicles have the power to pull something small; even an average-size car can usually pull as much as 1,000 to 1,500 pounds while larger cars, minivans and crossovers can pull as much as 3,500 pounds. Trucks and SUVs are usually the heavyweights of the towing category.

What Determines Towing Capacity?

There's a long list of factors that go into determining a vehicle's towing capacity. Some of those factors include horsepower, torque, axle ratio, frame design, engine size and type, wheel and tire load ratings, brake size, suspension load ratings, oil and transmission cooling and whether the vehicle is rear-wheel drive, front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. The towing capacity is determined during the manufacturing process and is based on what the automaker believes the vehicle will be used for. For example, a vehicle’s tow rating needs to account for hot weather and or towing up a steep incline, factors that are obviously more difficult than towing on a level road. This is why low RPM torque is far more important to towing ability than raw horsepower.

How Does Torque Work for Hauling?

Usually, an automatic transmission with a torque converter is going to be able to tow heavier loads than a vehicle of the same type with a manual transmission. The easiest way to adjust torque for towing is simply to drive in a lower gear that is specified for towing. Manual and automatic transmissions both have overdrive gear ratios, which will reduce RPMs, which in turn increases fuel efficiency and provides a quieter ride, but they also reduce torque. In the case of a five or six-speed manual or automatic transmission, you can drive in fourth gear to tow heavy items. For a four-speed automatic, driving in third gear is the best way to decrease engine load and also increase torque. Many new trucks offer a specific tow mode that drivers can use to maximize the truck’s ability to haul its load properly.

Owners can also increase the tire size to reduce torque and decrease tire size to increase it. They can also spec their towing vehicle with a different axle ratio (a 4.10:1 axle ratio vs. a 3.7:1 will give you a 10 percent increase in torque).

Towing Capacity Terms To Know

If you're looking at towing capacities for various vehicles, you might come across a range of terms, so it's good to know what they all mean.

  • GVWR - 'Gross Vehicle Weight Rating:' Maximum weight the vehicle can tolerate for the driver, any passengers, cargo, accessories and components.
  • GTW - 'Gross Trailer Weight' The maximum weight for a trailer along with its contents.
  • GCWR - 'Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating:' The maximum amount of gross weight for the trailer, the vehicle and all its contents, including passengers and cargo.
  • GAWR - 'Gross Axle Weight Rating:' The maximum weight allowed on a single axle for towing purposes.
  • TW - 'Tongue Weight:' The amount of downward force placed on the towing vehicle at the trailer hitch (tongue). This depends on where then content placed and should be roughly 10% to 15% of GTW.

How to Find Your Vehicle's Towing Capacity?

Your owner's manual should clearly indicate both towing capacity and payload for your vehicle. It should give you instructions on how to tow as well as towing limitations. Most automakers provide downloadable copies of the owner's manual on their website. It’s important to remember that most rear-wheel drive vehicles have a higher towing capacity than their four-wheel drive counterparts. This is due to the latter vehicle being quite a bit heavier, which reduces the amount it can tow.

How to Find the Weight of Different Trailers

Once you know the weight and towing capacity for your vehicle, you'll want to look at your trailer weight. The GTW, GVWR and GAWR should be listed on the VIN plate. Some common trailer weight estimates are as follows:

  • Aluminum boat trailer, 12-15 feet: 200 pounds
  • Aluminum boat trailer, 16-20 feet: 300 pounds
  • Fiberglass boat trailer up to 17 feet: 200 pounds
  • Fiberglass boat trailer, 18-20 feet: 300 pounds
  • Fiberglass boat trailer, 21-22 feet: 570 pounds
  • 8-foot single-axle utility trailer: 320 pounds
  • 10-foot single-axle utility trailer: 360 pounds
  • 12-foot tandem axle utility trailer: 1,200 pounds
  • 16-foot tandem axle utility trailer: 1,300 pounds
  • 20-foot tandem axle utility trailer: 1,500 pounds
  • Bumper pull horse trailer containing one horse: 1,800 pounds
  • Bumper pull horse trailer containing two horses: 3,100 pounds
  • Bumper pull horse trailer containing four horses: 4,500 pounds
  • Gooseneck pull 16-foot livestock trailer: 3,500 pounds
  • Gooseneck pull 20-foot livestock trailer: 4,000 pounds
  • Gooseneck pull 28-foot livestock trailer: 5,000 pounds
  • 26-foot 5th wheel: 5,900 pounds
  • 31-foot 5th wheel: 7,800 pounds
  • 35-foot 5th wheel: 10,200 pounds
  • 17-foot camper: 2,300 pounds
  • 23-foot camper: 4,200 pounds
  • 30-foot camper: 4,800 pounds
  • Recreational vehicle trailer: 8 feet 350 pounds
  • Recreational vehicle trailer: 14 feet 980 pounds
  • Toy hauler 20 feet: 4,100 pounds
  • Toy hauler 28 feet: 6,600 pounds
  • Toy hauler 37 feet: 12,000 pounds

The Difference Between Payload and Towing Capacity

With many vehicles, you will see both towing capacity and payloads listed, and the two terms are not interchangeable. Payload refers to carrying ability while towing capacity refers to pulling something. This is a fairly important distinction as payload capacity is typically a lot less than the towing capacity. In other words, if your truck or SUV can tow 8,000 pounds, that doesn't mean it can carry 8,000 pounds in the bed or cargo area. In a specific example, the Ford F-150 can be outfitted to tow 8,000 pounds, but the most it can be fitted to carry is 2,309 pounds. That amount includes passengers and anything being placed in the truck bed.

The following is the payload and towing capacity of some of the most popular trucks and SUVs for the 2019 model year:

Popular Trucks

Ford F-150 Towing Capacity
Payload: 1,326 to 2,309 lbs
Towing capacity: 5,000 to 8,000 lbs

Ford F-250 Towing Capacity
Payload: 2,474 to 4,332 lbs
Towing capacity: 12,300 to 13,300 lbs

Toyota Tacoma Towing Capacity
Payload: 1,120 to 1,620 lbs
Towing capacity: 3,500 to 6,800 lbs

Toyota Tundra Towing Capacity
Towing capacity: 6,400 to 10,200 lbs
Payload: 1,440 to 1,730 lbs

RAM 1500 Towing Capacity
Payload: 1,528 to 2,302 lbs
Towing capacity: 6,280 to 7,520 lbs

Chevy Colorado Towing Capacity
Payload: 1,242 to 1,576 lbs
Towing capacity: 3,500 to 7,000 lbs

Popular SUVs

Honda Pilot Towing Capacity
Towing capacity for AWD models is 5,000 lbs
Towing capacity for 2WD models is 3,500 lbs

Subaru Outback Towing Capacity
Towing capacity: 2,700 lbs

Ford Explorer Towing Capacity
Towing capacity: 2,000 to 5,000 lbs

Toyota Highlander Towing Capacity
Towing capacity: 1,500 to 5,000 lbs

Jeep Wrangler Towing Capacity
Towing capacity: 2,000 to 3,500 lbs

Jeep Grand Cherokee Towing Capacity
Payload: 1,237 to 1,987 lbs
Towing capacity: 3,500 to 7,200 lbs