• Buying Guides

What Can I Tow With My Vehicle? Complete Guide for Towing

By Michael O'Connor | December 7, 2021

People buy certain vehicles for all kinds of reasons and finding the perfect car or truck for your needs can be a daunting task. This is especially true if you need a vehicle that can tow your boat or camper trailer.

Not only do you need to make sure it can handle the load without damaging the drivetrain or chassis, but it is also a major safety issue that shouldn’t be taken lightly. If your vehicle doesn’t have enough power to handle the load you want to tow, you could end up in a very dangerous situation out on the road.

Knowing everything you can about vehicle towing capacity and how it affects a car or truck’s ability to haul a load can help you make the right decision. Being informed is a great way to ensure your safety as well as the safety of other drivers on the road.

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What Does Towing Capacity Mean?

When you are looking for a vehicle for towing, the first thing you should be looking at is towing capacity. This will tell you how much weight a vehicle can safely tow without damaging the frame or the engine. Many trucks and SUVs come with a towing hitch but not all of them can tow the same amount of weight. If you know what you plan on towing and what the approximate weight is, you can make the right decision when it comes to the vehicle you buy.

However, not everyone knows the weight of their potential towing loads. Luckily, you can approximate this with the list we have put together below. It is always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to towing capacity, though. If the actual weight of your loaded trailer is close to the maximum capacity of a vehicle, it might be a good idea to go with the next step up just to be sure.

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What Can I Tow With 1000 lbs Capacity?

  • 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)

What Can I Tow With 1500 lbs Capacity?

  • 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

What Can I Tow With 2000 lbs Capacity?

  • Bumper pull horse trailer containing one horse: 1,800 pounds
  • 17-foot camper: 2,300 pounds

What Can I Tow With 3500 lbs Capacity?

  • Bumper pull horse trailer containing two horses: 3,100 pounds
  • Gooseneck pull 16-foot livestock trailer: 3,500 pounds

What Can I Tow With 4000 lbs Capacity?

  • Gooseneck pull 20-foot livestock trailer: 4,000 pounds
  • Bumper pull horse trailer containing four horses: 4,500 pounds
  • 23-foot camper: 4,200 pounds
  • 30-foot camper: 4,800 pounds
  • Toy hauler 20 feet: 4,100 pounds

What Can I Tow With 5000 lbs Capacity?

  • 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
  • Toy hauler 28 feet: 6,600 pounds
  • Toy hauler 37 feet: 12,000 pounds

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What Determines Towing Capacity?

The manufacturer of your car, truck, or SUV will determine its maximum towing capacity based on how the vehicle is made and what kinds of components are used. They will determine the maximum gross combination vehicle mass, which is a combination of the weight of the vehicle itself plus however much extra weight can be added. By subtracting the maximum gross combination vehicle mass from the weight of the vehicle and everything that is in it, you get the towing capacity.

The towing capacity depends on structural and power elements. For example, the rear axle and suspension need to be able to bear around 10 percent of the weight of the trailer without putting undue strain on it. If your trailer and its load weigh 2,000 pounds, the axle and suspension must be able to handle the extra 200 pounds of downward pressure.

The brakes need to be able to stop the vehicle as well as the trailer if your trailer doesn’t have its own braking system. The tires also have to be able to hold the additional weight from the trailer without getting overheated. This is especially true of the back tires which will bear the same 10 percent of the trailer's weight as the axle and suspension.

One of the most important elements of the vehicle when it comes to towing capacity is the powertrain. The engine and transmission must be able to handle the extra strain of the weight, especially in the clutch if you have a manual transmission or the torque converter in an automatic. These components turn the power of the engine into the kinetic energy that moves the wheels, so they need to be rated high enough to pull a large load.

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How Does Torque Work for Hauling?

Torque is the force that moves the wheels on your vehicle and makes it move from a full stop. Torque is measured in pound-feet, which means the number of pounds applied to a lever that is measured in feet. With a vehicle, this is the amount of pressure that is applied to the wheels, which is why it is so important when it comes to towing capacity. While horsepower is the amount of power the engine produces, torque is the measurement of how that power is used.

Because torque is responsible for moving the vehicle, it is the best way to determine if a vehicle will be able to handle a towing load. That torque can also be managed by the vehicle’s gearbox. For towing, it is best to drive in a lower gear because this will decrease the load on the engine and increase the amount of torque that is going to the wheels. Many heavy-duty full-size, super-duty trucks from Ford, GM, and Ram have available turbo-diesel engines that will produce very high torque at a low RPM. Some trucks, such as the 2021 Chevrolet Colorado, have engines that are specifically designed for towing with relatively low horsepower but high specs for torque.

Towing Capacity Terms To Know

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

Some of the most common towing terms include:

  • Curb Weight - Vehicle weight without occupants or cargo.

  • Gooseneck Towing - A hitch mounting system that relocates the trailer ball mount to the middle of the truck bed. Many agricultural and heavy-duty trailers have a gooseneck that overhangs the bed. Towing this way can increase capacity, in some cases up to 30,000 lbs.

  • Fifth Wheel Towing - Another heavy-duty trailer coupling option, similar to gooseneck towing but more commonly used for recreational travel trailers. A large hitch is mounted in the truck bed, connecting to the trailer with a jaws-and-kingpin mechanism rather than a ball mount.

  • 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. The total weight is challenging to know after adding a load to the trailer. Still, it must not exceed the maximum towing capacity.

  • GCWR - 'Gross Combined Weight Rating' - The maximum amount of 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's tongue or trailer hitch. It should be roughly 10 percent of the Gross Trailer Weight.

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How to Find Your Vehicle's Towing Capacity

Your vehicle’s towing capacity should be in your owner’s manual. However, if you have bought a used car, it may not have come with one. You can also look up your vehicle’s VIN to find the individual specs, which should include towing capacity. If you can’t do either of those, you can figure it out using a simple formula.

First, you should find the curb weight of the vehicle, which will be on the sticker located on the inside of the driver's side door. Then, add the weight of the passengers, the fuel, and the cargo that is on the actual vehicle. If you have to approximate this, be sure to round up as high as you can to ensure that you don’t overload the vehicle. Then, subtract this from the gross combined weight rating of the vehicle, which should be on the sticker or available to look up using your vehicle's make and model.

One important thing to remember is that rear-wheel-drive vehicles often have a larger towing capacity than the all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive versions of those same vehicles. This is because a rear-wheel-drive vehicle is going to be lighter, and that extra weight can be transferred to the towing capacity instead of being taken up by the vehicle itself.

Choosing the Right Trailer

Before buying a trailer, you should find out what its empty weight is as well as what its payload capacity is. This will allow you to figure out whether or not it will be a good fit for your particular vehicle. Before you go shopping for a trailer, you should know the weight of the payload you intend on towing. Knowing the weight of your boat, motorcycles, or jet skis will allow you to make the right choice when buying a trailer and know whether or not your vehicle will be suitable for towing them.

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The Difference Between Payload and Towing Capacity

Most SUVs and trucks will have published specs that include a payload capacity and a towing capacity. It is important to know the difference between these two numbers before deciding whether a vehicle can handle the towing jobs you need to do. While towing capacity is the amount of weight a vehicle can pull behind it, the payload capacity is the weight limit that a specific vehicle can handle loaded onto it.

The payload capacity will usually be a much smaller number and is very important to take note of, especially with a pickup truck. For example, the Chevrolet Colorado can tow up to 7,000 pounds, but its maximum payload capacity is 1,550 pounds. The bed of a truck usually has the space for much more weight than it can handle, so it is important to know how heavy the items are that you are trying to haul in the bed.

Max Towing Capacity of Popular Pickup Trucks and SUVs

Popular Pickup Trucks

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Ford F-150 Towing Capacity

Payload: 1,745 to 2,238 lbs

Towing capacity: 5,000 to 14,000 lbs

Ford F-250 Towing Capacity

Payload: 2,462 to 4,323 lbs

Towing capacity: 12,300 to 20,000 lbs

Toyota Tacoma Towing Capacity

Payload: 1,120 to 1,620 lbs

Towing capacity: 3,500 to 6,800 lbs

Toyota Tundra Towing Capacity

Payload: 1,520 to 1,730 lbs

Towing capacity: 8,800 to 10,200 lbs

RAM 1500 Towing Capacity

Payload: 1,242 to 2,322 lbs

Towing capacity: 6,150 to 12,560 lbs

RAM 2500 Towing Capacity

Payload: 1,564 to 4,012 lbs

Towing capacity: 10,520 to 19,780 lbs

Chevy Colorado Towing Capacity

Payload: 1,285 to 1,550 lbs

Towing capacity: 3,500 to 7,700 lbs

Chevy Silverado 1500 Towing Capacity

Payload: 1,750 to 2,280 lbs

Towing capacity: 7,200 to 13,300 lbs

GMC Sierra 1500 Towing Capacity

Payload: 1,570 to 2,280 lbs

Towing capacity: 7,400 to 11,800 lbs

Nissan Frontier Towing Capacity

Payload: 1,316 to 1,867 lbs

Towing capacity: 6,250 to 6,750 lbs

Jeep Gladiator Towing Capacity

Payload: 1,080 to 1,200 lbs

Towing capacity: 4,000 to 7,650 lbs

Popular SUVs

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Ford Explorer Towing Capacity

Towing capacity: 5,000 to 5,600 lbs

Honda Pilot Towing Capacity

Towing capacity: 3,500 to 5,000 lbs

Subaru Outback Towing Capacity

Towing capacity: 2,700 to 3,500 lbs

Toyota Highlander Towing Capacity

Towing capacity: 3,500 to 5,000 lbs

Jeep Wrangler Towing Capacity

Towing capacity: 2,000 to 3,500 lbs

Jeep Grand Cherokee Towing Capacity

Towing capacity: 3,500 to 7,200 lbs

GMC Yukon Towing Capacity

Towing capacity: 7,500 to 7,900 lbs

Final Thoughts

If you are buying an SUV or truck because you need something to tow a trailer, you should be able to get all the information you need from the dealership. They will help you figure out what kind of torque and tow rating you should have for your particular needs. However, if you are buying that vehicle used, knowing how to determine whether or not it will work for your towing requirements is incredibly useful. Not only will you know if a vehicle is right for you, but you can also tow your trailer confidently and securely with the knowledge that your truck or SUV can handle it.