Ultimate Guide to Towing: Everything You Need to Know

Guide to Towing

If you’ve ever had to tow a little UHAUL trailer, you know that even the most simple of towing jobs can be anxiety-inducing.

So how does it work? And what does it all mean?

We’ve got all the answers in this guide, and we'll also highlight what everyday objects you can tow for some of the most popular models.

Common Towing Terms You Should Know

Common Terms for TowingAlright, let’s cover some of the most common terms you may come across.

Dry Weight

Dry weight is the weight of all of the parts of a vehicle or trailer without any fuel, fluids, passengers, cargo, or accessories.

This is also sometimes known as “shipped weight.”

Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW)

Gross vehicle weight (GVW for short) is the weight of the fully-loaded vehicle.

This includes cargo, fluids, passengers, and optional equipment.

Gross Trailer Weight (GTW)

Gross trailer weight (GTW) is the same thing as GVW, but for trailers.

The gross trailer weight includes the weight of the trailer plus all cargo and optional equipment.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR)

Gross Vehicle Weight RatingThe gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is the maximum total gross vehicle weight set by the manufacturer.

This is the hard limit on how much your vehicle plus cargo, equipment, passengers, and fluids should weigh at any given time.

This term is used for both vehicles and trailers, but you might see trailers’ ratings as “Maximum Loaded Trailer Weight.”

Cargo Weight

Cargo weight refers to the weight of the cargo and passengers in the vehicle or trailer.

Curb Weight

Curb weight refers to how much the vehicle or trailer weighs with fluids but without passengers or cargo.

Tongue Weight

Tongue weight refers to how much weight the trailer tongue exerts on the hitch ball. The tongue is the part of the trailer that attaches the trailer to the vehicle towing it.

Tongue weight is important because it defines the level of connection that the trailer/vehicle being towed has with the truck towing it.

Tongue weight is usually 10-15% of the trailer weight.

Pin Weight

Pin weight is the same as tongue weight but is typically used when referring to a fifth wheel.

Pin weight is a bit heavier at 15-30% of trailer weight.

Gooseneck Towing

Gooseneck TowingGooseneck towing refers to towing that uses a gooseneck hitch.

A gooseneck hitch connects to a gooseneck trailer via a hitch ball on the truck bed and a round tongue on the trailer.

This form of towing is popular because it has a higher towing capacity than fifth-wheel towing at up to over 30,000 lbs. It’s also compact in size and simple to use.

Fifth Wheel Towing

Fifth-wheel towing uses the type of hitch that you will typically see on the back of a semi-truck.

This type of hitch uses a locking bar or jaws to secure the kingpin of a fifth wheel to the bed of the truck.

Though it has a lower towing capacity, it’s used because it provides a smoother, sometimes more secure towing experience.

What Does Towing Capacity Mean?

Towing capacity refers to how much total weight, whether it’s another vehicle or trailer, a truck can tow.

To put this into perspective, let’s see a few examples of what kind of items you can tow at different towing capacities.

What Items Can I Tow With 1,000 lbs Capacity?

With a 1,000 lbs capacity, you can tow lighter, smaller items.

This includes any canoe or kayak, a 4’ x 8’ or 5’ x 8’ UHAUL trailer, or a small motorcycle or scooter.

What Items Can I Tow With 1,500 lbs Capacity?

At 1,500 lbs capacity, you can tow any jetski, gas golf carts, and the average truck camper.

What Items Can I Tow With 2,000 lbs Capacity?

You can tow a teardrop camping trailer, a utility ATV, and electric golf carts with 2,000 lbs capacity.

What Items Can I Tow with 3,500 lbs Capacity?

With a 3,500 lbs capacity, you can tow a pontoon or fishing boat, a compact or mid-sized car, or a small travel trailer.

What Items Can I Tow with 4,000 lbs Capacity?

If you have a vehicle with a 4,000 lbs capacity, you can tow a large car, compact truck, or small SUV.

What Items Can I Tow With 5,000 lbs Capacity?

With 5,000 lbs capacity, you can tow a bumper-towed, slang load, straight load, or gooseneck horse trailer (depending on the weight of your horse). You can also tow a mid-sized truck or SUV.

What Determines Towing Capacity?

What Determines Towing CapacityHow do we come up with these numbers? How do you do the calculations to figure it out yourself?

It may be easier than you think.

How Do I Find My Vehicle’s Towing Capacity?

It’s as simple as looking at the VIN.

You’ll start with the curb weight of your vehicle then add up your total trailer towing weight and subtract that from your GCWR.

How to Calculate Towing Capacity?

To calculate towing capacity, first locate your curb weight (on the VIN sticker, usually on the inside of your front driver’s side door.)

Add the weight of the cargo, fuel and other fluids, passengers, and the weight of the trailer to your curb weight.

Then, subtract that from your GCWR (you may have to look this number up) to find out just how much you can tow.

What Happens If I Exceed Tow Capacity?

If you exceed tow capacity, you could put a heavy (pun intended) strain on your vehicle.

Things like brakes and tires can experience damage and wear, you will put a staring on your engine and transmission, and you could even warp your chassis, which will essentially ruin your car.

Trailer Hitch Classes

Trailer Hitch ClassesTrailer hitches are broken up into different classes depending on their weight limits and intended uses. The five classes and their limits are:

Class I

Tongue weight of up to 200 lbs, towing capacity of up to 2,000 lbs, intended for towing bicycle racks and personal watercraft like kayaks or canoes.

Class II

Tongue weight of up to 350 lbs, towing capacity of up to 3,500 lbs, intended for towing small boats, utility trailers, and 2-wheel campers.

Class III

Tongue weight of up to 800 lbs, towing capacity of up to 5,000 lbs, intended for towing medium-sized utility trailers, boats, and campers.

Class IV

Tongue weight of up to 1,200 lbs, towing capacity of up to 10,000 lbs, intended for towing large utility trailers, campers, and boats.

Class V

Tongue weight of up to 2,000 lbs, towing capacity of up to 20,000 lbs, intended for towing horse trailers, fifth-wheel campers, and multi-car trailers.

Helpful Tips for Towing

Tips for TowingA few tricks of the trade to make the task safer and seem less daunting.

Proper Packing

No matter what you’re towing, a load shift is the last thing you want.

Make sure the weight of your cargo is balanced and secure.

Don’t Exceed Your Limits

Overdoing it and trying to tow more than your towing vehicle can handle is a great way to cause damage and disaster.

Stay within the tongue weight and towing capacity of your trailer hitch and vehicle.

Check the Tires and Keep a Spare

Treat your trailer tires like your car’s tires. Check them for damage before a tow, and keep an extra on you just in case.

Make Sure the Towing Vehicle is Well-Maintained

Whether you’re towing something with your compact SUV or a huge truck, the vehicle doing the towing should get a tune-up before any serious towing takes place.

This protects the health of your car.

How to Increase Towing Capacity

How to Increase Towing CapacityIs there any way to increase that towing capacity?

There are a few steps you can take to maximize how much weight you can tow.

Get the Right Hitch

First and foremost, you have to make the connection right.

Make sure that the hitch you’re using is the right class and type for what you’re towing. This prevents damage to both your vehicle and trailer.

Change Your Brakes

Since you’re dragging more weight when towing, it takes more time to stop. This leads to an increased risk of getting in a wreck.

Changing out your brakes and upgrading your braking system gives your vehicle the strength it needs to stop in a timely manner and can protect the brakes themselves from accelerated wearing.

Upgrade the Suspension, Intake, and Exhaust

Lastly, you’re going to need some upgrades.

Your suspension helps with balance, which is important since your vehicle’s center of gravity is thrown off when it’s towing something behind it.

For this reason, many people opt to upgrade to an air suspension system, which has air bladders in it that absorbs shock from maneuvering, giving you a smoother ride.

Likewise, the intake and exhaust systems can be upgraded to increase overall engine performance.

Helpful Towing Technologies

Just like cars have advanced technologies, towing has, too.

These can make your towing experience safer and easier.

Trailer Backup Assist

Backing up with a trailer is, understandably, one of the more stressful parts of towing.

With trailer backup assist, you can put in the measurements of the trailer, and the vehicle’s camera makes it easy to use a knob to direct which way you want the trailer to go. The system does the steering, so you don’t have to.

Towing Cameras

Towing cameras work similarly to backup cameras, but are instead placed behind the trailer.

What Can You Tow for Popular Models

What Items Can I TowCheck out these useful links to see what objects you can safely tow:

Popular Truck Models

Popular SUV Models

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I safely exceed the GVWR?

Though you can improve your towing capacity, you cannot safely exceed the GVWR.

Are dually trucks better for towing?

Yes, dually trucks are better for towing and have a higher capacity.

Does curb weight include the driver?

Curb weight does not include the weight of the driver or cargo.

Where can I find the weight of my vehicle?

You can find the weight of your vehicle next to the VIN in the door jamb of your front driver’s side door.

Which truck has the highest towing capacity?

As of this year, the 2022 Ford F-150 Max has the greatest towing capacity at 14,000 lbs.

Can I tow a trailer with my car?

Depending on what type of car you have, yes, you can tow a trailer with your car.