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Old 06-27-2016, 12:12 PM   #1
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Towing capability basics.

I see this topic come up quite often, asking about if this truck can tow that trailer or similar. Many people do not understand tow ratings, and its not their fault, they are incredibly confusing and even the sales guys don’t have a clue. So I want to try to break it down to help people out, and provide good info, not marketing/sales info.

Key things to look at:
GVWR
GCWR
Payload sticker in door on your specific tow vehicle (tells your actual payload capacity for your specific truck)
Rear axle ratio
Engine size

First things first, current published tow ratings are measure by the SAE J2807 standard. This assumes 2 people at 150lbs each and 70lbs of gear. Older ratings did not account for this, providing inflated numbers. Trucks used for testing must equate to 1/3 of sales. So consider the half ton market. 1/3 trucks are most likely 2wd, regular cab truck (a fleet vehicle) which weighs far less than crew cab luxury and tech loaded truck you drive every day with air-conditioned seats. This means the published “max towing capacity” and “max payload” numbers are higher than on a top of the line model.

To calculate payload, they use the GVWR and subtract the weight of the exact truck, meaning more options reduces payload. For example:
GVWR = 7000lbs. Truck weighs 5000lbs. Payload = 2000lbs.
The heavier the truck (more options, bigger cab), the lower the payload.

To calculate towing capacity, they use the GCWR (max weight of tow vehicle and trailer, plus all people/gear/fluid, ect.) and subtract weight of the truck.
GCWR = 15000lbs. Truck weighs 5000lbs. Towing capacity = 10000lbs.
Again, heavier truck = lower towing capacity.

To determine GVWR and GCWR, trucks need to be able to maintain certain speeds up certain inclines, brake within a defined distance, and basically remain safe. So engines, gear ratios, axles and transmissions are taken into account to determine the max weights

Another example. I am making these numbers up for simplicity and these do not represent actual numbers, just background on how to determine your weights.
A reg cab long bed 2wd f150, 5.0, with 3.73 rear end weighs 5000lbs. GVWR = 8000lbs. GCWR = 15000lbs. payload = 3000lbs. towing = 10000lbs.
A crew cab short bed 4wd F150, 5.0 with 3.73 weighs 6500lbs. Same GVWR and GCWR. Payload = 1500, towing = 8500lbs.
A crew cab short bed 4wd F150 with 5.0 and 3.21 gear rear end weighs 6500lbs, but has GVWR = 7000lbs. GCWR = 12000. Payload = 5000. Towing = 5500.

The higher rear end (3.21), put in many trucks for increase fuel economy always means a lower tow rating and payload than a lower gearing (such as 3.92 or 4.10).

Now heres another confusing part. Your truck may have a tow package, but that does not equal a max tow package. A simple tow package includes only a hitch receiver and trailer wiring. A max tow package as they are often called usually includes a HD trans cooler, lower rear end, towing mirrors, and now an integrated brake controller. Just because your truck has a tow package, does not mean it can tow the max. To a salesperson, a hitch receiver = must have max tow so you can tow anything smaller than the moon itself. Look for tall, extending tow mirrors on new trucks as signs they have a max tow package.

Also, regarding Weight Distribution hitches. They do NOT reduce your trailers tongue weight by any significant amount. What they do is spread that tongue weight out over both axles of the truck, rather than just the rear and send a little to the axles of the trailer. This makes the truck much safer as weight is transferred more equally onto the front tires to allow normal handling.
So if your tongue weight is 1000lbs, calculate it as 1000lbs of your payload. Do not assume that using 600lbs bars reduces it by 600lbs, it does not. Yes, some gets transferred back to the trailer axles, but in a perfect setup, that is less than 20%. So be safe and use that 1000lbs.

So to sum up. When looking at either a trailer or a truck. Look at your trucks payload listing (inside the door jam) that’s your actually payload. Now subtract from that number your tongue weight (of a trailer loaded how you tow it, proprane, fluids, and your belongings), extra people and gear in the truck and that number should be over 0. If it is, they are a good match to not only tow safely with, but also legally. If that number is a negative, you need a bigger truck or smaller trailer (I vote for the bigger truck).
For towing capacity, just subtract the weight of truck and trailer from GCWR on the door sticker and it needs to be positive.

Only way to know your trailer weight is checking it on a scale. It’s cheap and only takes a minute, but will keep you safe and legal. And yes, you can be pulled over and they can force you to stop and next weigh station. If you are over you can be ticked, and they will not let you leave with your trailer until an adequate tow vehicle shows up.

I know many tow more than rated for, good for you, I hope you never have a problem. I only mean for this to help answer questions and I hope it helps someone out.

Remember, it's not all hp and brakes. Just because your truck will pull it, does not mean it will be safe should things go wrong and you have to maneuver quickly.

Feel free to ask any questions.
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Old 06-27-2016, 12:23 PM   #2
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What a great summary of a very confusing issue. Several years ago, when we were acquiring our Airstream, I tried to figure all of this out in order to make an informed tow vehicle choice. You have succinctly laid it out. I particularly appreciate that you left it to the individual to draw their own conclusion on where this leads, and note that you did not discuss things like wheelbase of the tow vehicle and how that influences things, but instead just cleared up the calculation of these numbers. Thanks.


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Old 06-27-2016, 12:36 PM   #3
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Thumbs up Nice summary....

Also important.
GAWR

Bob
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Old 06-27-2016, 01:24 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ROBERT CROSS View Post
Also important.

GAWR



Bob



And this of course. But I suppose I tend to camp and simply as possible i.e. Less stuff.
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Old 06-27-2016, 01:26 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ntex View Post
What a great summary of a very confusing issue. Several years ago, when we were acquiring our Airstream, I tried to figure all of this out in order to make an informed tow vehicle choice. You have succinctly laid it out. I particularly appreciate that you left it to the individual to draw their own conclusion on where this leads, and note that you did not discuss things like wheelbase of the tow vehicle and how that influences things, but instead just cleared up the calculation of these numbers. Thanks.


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Glad to help. People like numbers. But numbers are too often used for marketing without explanation.
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Old 06-27-2016, 03:51 PM   #6
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Basics for sure, and a decent starting point. There's a lot more to a safe, good handling towing combination than GVWR and GCWR. A better start is considering a tow vehicle, hitch setup, and travel trailer with safe, good handling characteristics.

Our first Airstream setup met all the numbers, but it was only comfortable in the best of weather and traffic conditions. At times miserable to tow. We changed the hitch, modified the trailer, and changed the tires on the truck. It became a wonderful towing combination. We bought a new truck, went over GVWR but under GVAR due to temporary extra load in the truck bed; set the weight distribution to compensate and it was a wonderful towing combination (through the mountains).

We have learned that tongue weight scales do not accurately reflect the actual weight the trailer adds to the truck. We have learned you can be under GVWR and still overload the rear axle. We have learned the importance of loading the truck and trailer with heavy gear on or within the axles, nothing heavy behind the truck's rear axle. We have learned you can increase power to the truck's drive wheels with lower axle ratios, or smaller diameter tires. We have learned that stiffer sidewall tires add greatly to a tow vehicle's stability. We have learned low center of gravity on tow vehicle and travel trailer add to stability. We have learned that our truck loaded to GVWR with sand in the bed is a lousy handling and braking truck compared to when hitched to our Airstream and weight distribution set.

Not to mention, how are you going to use that vehicle when not towing? It's expensive to buy and maintain, best to get ore out of it than towing an Airstream to the Park now and then, or how will it perform as a retiree's daily driver when on the either side of the country from home.

I'm running out of breath, the point being simply looking at numbers to choose a tow vehicle and head down the road is quite incomplete. There are other choices to make, and modifications to Airstream and tow vehicle as well as hitch arrangement can make a world of difference.

Docster, the post is much, much better than anything we normally see here. Good points (except the part about the cops). I'm just one who likes to look at the whole package, weights and towing and use characteristics when choosing a vehicle; I catch 'ell for it all the time here and most probably will again soon.
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Old 06-27-2016, 05:08 PM   #7
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Newbie here just saying thanks to you both, Docster and Doug! Meaningful information that really helps a newbie get a slightly better understanding of this multivariable equation. Excellent info ... I really wish I had this thread two weeks ago.
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Old 06-27-2016, 05:30 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by dkottum View Post

Docster, the post is much, much better than anything we normally see here. Good points (except the part about the cops). I'm just one who likes to look at the whole package, weights and towing and use characteristics when choosing a vehicle; I catch 'ell for it all the time here and most probably will again soon.


I absolutely agree that there is more to it than just the numbers. I focused on the numbers as its what most sales people tend to pitch anyway. Proper set is still crucial, even if well within the limits.
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Old 06-27-2016, 09:21 PM   #9
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Great post. I have come to the same conclusions thankfully... It's a challenge to separate the fact from opnion presented as fact in the many topics here on the forum.

He most important takeaway I have from your thread is what's gonna keep you and others safe on the road in an emergency maneuver that will most certainly occur given enough travel milage.

I want a vehicle that has been tested at these extremes and engineers have been able to study and mitigate issues before you ever encounter the need.

One should also take their trailer to a closed course and perform emergency maneuvers to understand how their vehicle will react to emergency stops, sudden lane changes, and acceleration for merging.
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Old 06-28-2016, 12:12 AM   #10
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Those numbers are great. i will look at them more closely later.

What puzzles me, I saw some videos, can't remember where, I think it was something CAM, anyways, I saw what looked like a Chrysler 300 towing a three axel AS. I don't know if that was an example of what NOT to do. If not, how does a sedan tow a three axel AS?
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Old 06-28-2016, 06:42 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by cazual6 View Post
Those numbers are great. i will look at them more closely later.



What puzzles me, I saw some videos, can't remember where, I think it was something CAM, anyways, I saw what looked like a Chrysler 300 towing a three axel AS. I don't know if that was an example of what NOT to do. If not, how does a sedan tow a three axel AS?

Some believe that a sedan will maneuver better with a trailer than a large heavy truck. And while that may be the case, it's just too small to really be safe.
While a big sedan with a large engine can easily get a trailer moving, think about it this way. Who really cares how fast they can get their airstream through a slalom course? The car may turn around cones at a faster speed, but it's severely outweighed.

If you are pulling an 8000lbs trailer, would you rather be in a 5000lbs or 6500lbs vehicle. For me I pick the heavier. Because in an emergency situation (like the wind blowing the trailer, ice, wet roads where trailer slides, emergency stops for bad drivers, braking down a mountain pass, the list goes on) I want the weight of my tow vehicle to help counter anything bad happening with my trailer. A heavier vehicle helps reduce the pendulum effect and will also make a roll over more difficult. Even with a perfectly set up hitch, the heavier vehicle is the safer one. It will have brakes made for stopping loads, suspension to handle the load, etc. I won't even get into the liability of towing with a vehicle not intended to tow something that large, both legally and with your insurance should something happen.

That 300 also probably had significant work done to the unibody to reinforce it for the hitch and added tongue weight.

Bottom line, a car may pull it at speed and go through a slalom faster, but that's not what makes it safe. People think a slalom course with cones is equivalent to an emergency maneuver, it's not. In an emergency you are not swerving back and forth at a steady arc and speed (like in a slalom). Often brakes need to be applied and several caring degrees of steering input are needed.

Give me the truck.
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Old 06-28-2016, 06:59 AM   #12
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I would prefer the European style SUV with full independent suspension, large brakes, lower center of gravity, more precise steering capability than our truck. Stability of the tow vehicle is much more important than weight. We bought the truck because it costs thousands less and still does the job for us.

Docster, you ought to spend more time researching the sedans and SUV's Can-Am has set up for towing. You're guessing. There are thousands of them on the road, they are very safe, and many forum members here use them.

Andrew Thomson at Can-Am runs the best rv hitch shop in North America, has researched and tested combinations, and written extensively about towing. Here's a start.

http://www.canamrv.ca/towing-expertise/
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Old 06-28-2016, 07:29 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by cazual6 View Post
Those numbers are great. i will look at them more closely later.

What puzzles me, I saw some videos, can't remember where, I think it was something CAM, anyways, I saw what looked like a Chrysler 300 towing a three axel AS. I don't know if that was an example of what NOT to do. If not, how does a sedan tow a three axel AS?
What are the weight ratings of a 3-axle Airstream... empty and max.? Somewhere close to our Avion? 6850 dry, 9500 max?

For me, those videos are a fine example of what not to do.

I cannot imagine towing a 3-axle trailer with any sedan. Might be good in the flatlands, but I would not want it in the hills.

I'm with Docster on this one. For that setup, give me a 3/4-ton pickup (Ours has great brakes, plenty of pulling power, and heavy duty cooling system), a 3/4-ton Suburban, or an Excursion (diesel or V10), something in the neighborhood of a 4.10 rear end, a good set of LT tires (on the truck), and a good WD system properly set up (I like our Curt Mfg. #17063), then take your time learning to drive and handle the rig. Ideally, find someone knowledgeable who is willing teach you.
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Old 06-28-2016, 07:35 AM   #14
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Not so many years ago most Airstreams were towed with sedans, now people can't imagine it. Don't be fooled, we have been oversold on the need for trucks to do this.
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