Understanding vehicle tow ratings is critical to ensure safe and economical driving. With this guide, we explain in simple terms what every driver needs to know.
Awareness of towing capacity is something you may require to know for two main reasons:
- How much can my current vehicle tow?
- Which vehicles can tow my expected load?
So why is it important to match a vehicles tow rating with an RV or camping trailer? Primarily, it’s safety however there are also running costs to consider.
Let’s consider the safety aspect first – what could go wrong if a vehicle is hitched to a trailer or RV that is too heavy for its capacity? The worst-case scenario is loss of control; the momentum of a heavy load can result in a driver failing to control the vehicle, resulting in a collision and risk to life. Other factors can cause catastrophic failure, such as overheating of critical components, for example:
- and transmission
A failure in any of these components will result in a critical failure, usually at the worst possible moment.
With regard to running costs, these can spiral out of control if the tow rating is exceeded. This is a result of excessive demands being put on the towing vehicle, resulting in premature wear of components, or as explained – even critical failure.
Now that we appreciate the importance of understanding your vehicles towing capacity, and why it is important not to exceed the tow rating, let’s look at how you can avoid these risks.
Understanding Vehicle Tow Ratings
The first important lesson, is to understand vehicle tow ratings, and where you can find vehicle towing capacity charts. Luckily for you – you’ve come to the right place, so let’s get on with it!
Let’s start with the basics as it’s easy to misunderstand some of the terminology used when referencing towing.
Every car or SUV has a tow rating (towing capacity) specified by the manufacturer, and detailed in the vehicles handbook. This towing capacity is the maximum gross weight the vehicle (car or truck) can pull, which is the weight of the vehicle being towed including all the contents. The tow rating is the most important measurement to consider when planning, however there are 4 other specifications you will require to be familiar with. The second one you will come across in the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) – this is the weight limit of the towing vehicle including the passengers and cargo. If you take the GVWR and add it to the weight of the trailer (including the load), you will arrive at the Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR).
Stay with us, there are two more ratings to be aware of before we can go to a towing capacity chart!
Next, the tongue weight. This deals with the capacity of the trailer hitch and specifies the amount of the trailer weight that is borne by the hitch. This is an important specification as it will dictate how easy it is to drive while towing. If this is not calculated correctly, there is the potential for trailer sway.
Finally, the Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) is the weight that a single axle is designed to support safely. Both the towing vehicle and the RV or camping trailer will have a GAWR.
So, where do you find all this information? These specifications are all listed in the manufactures handbook for the vehicle and the trailer/RV. It is essential that drivers obtain this information before proceeding to purchase a vehicle, or hitch up a trailer or RV. If the driver’s manual is not available, please look online for VIN decoders, these will quickly list your vehicles specification with nothing more than the VIN number.
With the above information, drivers can use a trailer towing capacity calculator to ensure they will be operating safely. Both iOS and Android have trailer towing apps, making it quick and easy to assess your requirements and towing capacity. There are also several trailer towing capacity tables published online however it is important to check that the table is relevant to your own requirements, i.e. a trailer table, or perhaps an SUV table.
For comparison examples only, see the tow limit chart below where we have listed some popular 2016 3.6 and 3.5L vehicles and their vehicle tow ratings. Remember to check your own VIN plate and vehicle manual for your specific make and model!
Sample Towing Capacity Chart
|Engine||Vehicle Name||Towing Capacity|
|3.6L V-6||Cadillac SRX FWD||Tow Limit = 3.5t|
|3.6L V-6||Colorado Shortbed||Tow Limit = 7.0t|
|3.6L V-6||Chrysler RAM 1500||Tow Limit = 4.9t|
|3.5L V-6||Ford Edge||Tow Limit = 2.0t|
|3.5L V-6||Ford Expedition 4WD||Tow Limit = 9.2t|
|3.6L V-6||Grand Cherokee 2WD||Tow Limit = 6.2t|
|3.5L V-6||Honda Odyssey||Tow Limit = 3.5t|
|3.5L V-6||Navigator 2WD||Tow Limit = 9.0t|
|3.5L V-6||Nissan Pathfinder||Tow Limit = 5.0t|
From the above towing capacity chart you can see that there is a wide variety of towing capacities for vehicles with the same or similar engine sizes. This demonstrates the importance of not making any assumptions about the tow capacity of a vehicle – the manufacturers handbook must be checked, or in the absence of the book, use one of the resources mentioned above in combination with a trailer towing capacity calculator.
Some further considerations when towing lite travel trailers and vehicle tow ratings; these trailers can weigh up to around 2500 Ibs. making them comfortable towing capacity for most vehicles. However, being a light load, lightweight travel can lull some drivers into a false sense of security – it is therefore worthy of note that it remains mandatory to check the tow weight before hitching up even a lite travel trailer. Do not take risks, have a safe holiday with your small travel mobile home!
No matter what kind of vehicle you’ll be using, be sure to get a good brake controller such as the Prodigy P3.