Five Things Anyone Who Tows Should Know

By Trevor Dorchies | September 01, 2011
Labor Day is the last chance people have to go camping, boating, or to hit the dunes with their ATVs before summer ends. Unfortunately, too many people buy trucks or other big vehicles thinking they're perfect for towing, but without knowing the details. What about payload? What does gross vehicle weight mean? Curb weight…what the heck is that? Before you hook anything to your bumper, it's important to know what you're getting into. Take a few minutes and review these five must-know facts about towing before you hit the road. Payload
Payload is simply the amount of weight your vehicle can carry. Think of payload like carrying groceries into your house: If you try to carry seven bags, your arms will get tired quickly, and you might drop your eggs. The same goes for a truck. Whether you're going down to the bike path or 500 miles away to camp, different trips require different gear. If your hauler is overloaded with gear it won't run properly, and might even be dangerous. Knowing your vehicle's maximum payload capacity is essential to carrying a load and expecting your engine to make the trip in one piece. To find out what your vehicle's payload is you need to know what your vehicle's gross weight and curb weight are. Gross Vehicle Weight Gross vehicle weight, or GVW, is the maximum amount of weight you can heap onto your vehicle and expect it to roll away on its own power. Besides gear, this number includes the weight of the vehicle itself, all of the essential fuels needed to make it run, and the passengers riding along. You can usually find the gross vehicle weight rating in your owner's manual or inside the driver's side door panel near the door latch.  The general rule of towing is to only pull 75 to 80 percent of your vehicle's GVW. Getting going isn't the problem, it's stopping all that additional weight, and if you're too heavy braking distance will increase exponentially. You will also go through brakes and rotors much faster too. Curb Weight Just like anything else, a vehicle has mass. Curb weight is how much a vehicle weighs without any gear or passengers, but including the necessary fuels and fluids needed to run. If you know your vehicle's curb weight and gross vehicle weight, you can figure out its payload capacity by doing some simple subtraction:

Gross vehicle weight rating - curb weight= payload capacity For example, if you have a vehicle with a GVWR of 2500 pounds and its curb weight is 2000 pounds you would have 500 pounds of payload capacity. Increasing Payload Of course, you're not stuck with the original ratings. Truck manufacturers almost always offer an optional towing package. A truck that comes ready to tow from the factory has a wiring harness, a specialized "Class III" trailer hitch—rated for 5000 pounds gross trailer weight and 500 pounds tongue weight—a bigger engine and brakes, and a cooling system designed to handle the additional load. Gross trailer weight is the total mass of the trailer when it's loaded to capacity and includes the trailer itself, cargo, and all the necessary fluids needed for operation. The tongue weight refers to the downward force of the trailer coupler resting on the hitch itself; it's usually 10 to 15 percent of the gross trailer weight. Be sure to check the height of your bumper before and after loading your trailer, if the height doesn't decrease by an inch or so, reposition your load closer to the front of the trailer. Know your vehicle's limits While this sounds simple, it's something that throws owners and professionals alike for a loop. Cars, trucks, and SUV's all have different GVW's, and just because your minivan has a Class III hitch doesn't mean it can haul a 5000-pound boat. Knowing your vehicle's limits will save both you and the professional an afternoon's worth of headaches. Besides, if your vehicle is overloaded and a sharp-eyed police officer notices, you could be looking at a ticket. Do you have any questions about towing that weren't addressed above? Post them below in the comment section to be answered.

R. Hiebert
R. Hiebert

1.) Boat trailers' axles that do not have water resistant synthetic grease will have the petroleum based grease washed out and will have no lubrication when you hit the freeway. Even if these axles are sealed, chances are that eventually the petroleum grease will not last. These wheels are smaller and rotate many times more than larger wheels. 2.) All trailer wheels, including 5th wheelers and tent trailers, should have synthetic grease. 3.) The pulling vehicle should be equipped with synthetic in the engine and transmission for optimum protection.