To Tow or Not to Tow: The Importance of Knowing Your Truck’s GVWR

October 8th, 2021 by

A blue 2017 Ford F-150 is shown towing a trailer down an empty road.

When you set out to buy a used truck, there are a number of factors to consider. While it typically depends on how you plan on using the vehicle, it’s safe to say that most drivers browsing their local used truck dealership are looking for something with the ability to put in a little work, whether it be filling up the bed with mulch, an ATV or towing a boat. Manufacturers have found a number of ways to quantify their truck’s relative power, but this alphabet soup of insider jargon might be a little mystifying for the average driver. Between payload, curb weight, dry weight, towing capacity, and GVWR/GCWR, the terms can all start to run together. So what metric should drivers pay attention to when shopping for a new truck? How is towing capacity different from payload capacity, and does the GVWR matter? Read on to learn more.

Does GVWR Matter?

We won’t bury the lead here: GVWR does matter, but before we get into why, let’s define some terms. Simply put, the GVWR is the maximum loaded weight of your truck and everything in it, including passengers, fluids, and cargo. It might be the single most important number to consider when researching new trucks, as it’s used to determine both towing and payload capacity. Curb weight, on the other hand, is the truck’s weight without any passengers, cargo, or non-factory parts. Dry weight takes it one step further by calculating the truck’s weight without any of the above or the fluids required for operation (gas, coolant, oil, etc.)

Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) might also pop up in your research, so those planning to haul trailers take note: the GCWR is the maximum recommended weight of a vehicle with a trailer attached, taking into account any cargo in both the truck and trailer. GCWR is calculated by adding the GVWR of the truck to that of the trailer itself, so it can vary on the same truck based on the weight and sturdiness of the attached trailer.

At its core, the GVWR is all about safety. The figure is carefully calculated by factoring in the stopping power of the vehicle’s brakes, its overall weight, number of tires, suspension system, frame, axels engine power, and wheelbase. Determined by teams of experienced automotive engineers – and probably a fair number of lawyers – the GVWR is not a suggestion; it’s the absolute top end of where you should weigh in if you want your vehicle to keep performing at its best for any length of time. Exceeding a vehicle’s GVWR not only reduces performance and puts unanticipated stress on its suspension, frame, panels, and drivetrain, it can also turn into a much larger legal issue or end up voiding your vehicle’s warranty altogether. An overburdened truck is a liability on the road, with decreased handling and power generation putting you and all other drivers at risk.

Not sure where your truck stacks up? Your vehicle’s GVWR can typically be found on a sticker in the door jam of the driver’s side door, along with information on your vehicle’s specific paint color, trim package, VIN, and recommended tire pressure. The GVWR can also be found in your vehicle’s manual or online, but the sticker is always your best bet as it describes the exact model with its specific engine, trim, number of wheels, and transmission: all important factors when calculating GVWR.

A black 2021 Ram 2500 Laramie is shown towing a trailer after visiting a used truck dealership.

How to Calculate GVWR

GVWR is certainly an important and relevant number for any truck owner, but it’s not exactly the most useful metric to use when comparing different vehicles. It’s true that a truck’s overall curb weight typically factors into how much of a load it can haul, but it’s not a direct correlation. A high GVWR could mean that a truck has superior payload capacity, but it could also just mean it’s an exceedingly heavy truck. Let’s say you’re in the market for a Ram 2500 with a GVWR of 10,000 pounds. That’s an impressive number, but one that doesn’t factor in what the vehicle itself already weighs. With a curb weight of 5,998 pounds, you can calculate the Ram 2500’s payload to be somewhere around 4,012 pounds. Not bad, but less than half of the truck’s GVWR, so take note.

Payload, along with towing capacity, are better ways to measure a truck’s relative brawn. Payload is a rating of how much a truck can carry while towing capacity refers to how much the vehicle can pull. Put another way: payload is what you can haul in your truck, towing power is what you can pull behind it. Payload is an especially important consideration for road trips and weekend excursions, where the combined weight of supplies, outdoor equipment, and camper can start to add up. For example, an average motorboat will take up around 2,500 pounds of towing capacity, with the boat trailer itself weighing in anywhere between 300 and 1,500 pounds. That combination alone could max out the GVWR of some lighter-duty trucks, so make sure you have a handle on the combined weight of your gas-powered toys, or your next boating trip could be taking place in the breakdown lane of a nearby highway.

Those with trucks on the heavy-duty end of the spectrum probably don’t need to worry about exceeding GVWR or payload on a trip to the home improvement store, but for those driving lighter duty and compact pickups, it’s important to be cognizant of just how quickly the payload can start to add up. Half a cubic yard of dirt, for example, can weigh as much as 1,000 pounds, and gravel can add up to between 1,200 and 1,450 pounds; even water is sneaky heavy at 864 pounds per half cubic yard. This warning also applies to those planning to use their trucks as the increasingly popular 4×4 overlanders. While we certainly understand the allure of pitching a tent on the roof on your truck, the combined weight of the tent, along with extra gas, water, food, and supplies, can easily begin to max out your GVWR, especially given the harsh landscape and subsequent stress on your suspension.

How to Maximize Your Truck’s GVWR

There are a few steps you can take to ensure you’re shouldering the weight in the most efficient and safest way possible and making the most of your GVWR. First off, the heaviest cargo should be placed at the lowest point in the truck’s bed to ensure a low center of gravity. Spread cargo evenly across the bed to ensure good weight distribution and use a tarp and ratchet straps if your load rises higher than the truck’s bed rails. Take extra care when hauling liquids, as their tendency to slosh around can create some unexpected momentum when quickly accelerating/decelerating or taking tight turns.

It can be tough to get your pickup truck up on the average bathroom scale, but luckily there are some easy alternatives to help determine just how close you are to maxing out your truck’s GVWR. Found at truck stops from coast-to-coast, the bright yellow Cat Weigh Stations are typically used to help truckers calculate their load but work just as well for your average pickup. The day’s first weigh-in will cost you $12.50, with additional weigh-ins at $3 a pop: not a bad deal when compared to the potential repair costs on an overburdened vehicle.

GVWR is an important consideration when shopping for your next vehicle, but it’s not everything. Consider what you’ll primarily be using the truck for and let that inform your decision. While higher towing and payload capacity are a tempting benefit, they often come at the cost of fuel efficiency, so if you don’t plan on regularly testing the limits of your GVWR, consider a lighter-duty truck. Just remember, the GVWR isn’t emblazoned in your door jamb and driver’s manual for no reason: it’s a vital figure to consider if you don’t want to suddenly find yourself driving a low-rider.

A red 2017 Chevy Colorado is shown towing a corvette.

Still Have Questions? We Can Help Answer Them!

Still have questions about GVWR? The team at CBS Quality Cars is here to help. From our trusted sales team to our experienced service center staff, we’re excited to share our knowledge and excitement with our customers. Whether you’re looking for the perfect used truck to haul your new boat or RV, a dependable used car for your daily commute, or a family-friendly SUV with something for everyone, the new vehicle of your dreams is just around the corner at CBS Quality Cars. We’re constantly replenishing our stock with some of the best used cars around, from popular brands like Honda, Chevy, and Ford to high-end luxury vehicles and hair-raising sportscars, so stop in today and see what’s new.

With five locations across North Carolina, CBS Quality Cars is not your everyday used car dealership. Our flagship location serves customers throughout the Greater Durham area, but no matter where you are in North Carolina, you’re never too far from a CBS Quality Cars location. Stop by today and see why drivers throughout North Carolina keep coming back to CBS Quality Cars time and time again.