How To Choose a Tow Vehicle for Your Trailer

To help ensure a problem-free towing experience, having the ideal tow vehicle is crucial. Regardless if you are purchasing from an auto dealership or via a private entity, your choice must depend primarily on the amount of weight you intend to tow.

Now remember that once you are in an automobile dealership, it isn’t hard to get side-tracked by all those fancy features and accessories (although they can add some aesthetics on your vehicle, you can go about without them and still enjoy a worthwhile ride). With that being said, always put all your attention on the most crucial element in choosing the appropriate tow vehicle and that is its capacity to tow your trailer safely to where you want it to go first and foremost.

Weight Ratings and Towing Capacity

To make sure that your tow vehicle is the right one for the task, it is necessary to discuss weight ratings and towing capacity and other definitions relevant on the matter.

  • GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating). The maximum weight of the tow vehicle and the trailer, including passengers and fuel. Typically, the CVWR is exhibited on a sticker within the tow vehicle.
  • GCWR (Gross Combined Weight Rating). Basically the GVWR combined with the maximum weight of the trailer and its load.
  • Towing Capacity – The trailer’s maximum weight (its cargo included) which can be towed by the tow vehicle.
  • GAWR – The gross axle weight rating. The maximum weight that the axle can carry. The front and rear axle has distinct ratings.
  • Payload – The amount of cargo weight the tow vehicle can carry. The number doesn’t cover fuel which means it’s under the assumption that the fuel tank is full.
  • Base Weight (or Dry Weight) – The trailer’s weight free from cargo and with unfilled holding tanks. The number gives you knowledge on the amount of cargo you can load inside your trailer prior to reaching the GVWR.
  • Tongue Weight – The weight of the trailer’s frontal area and is counted directly against the tow vehicle’s payload. Typically, it is around 10 to 15 percent of the trailer’s GVWR.

Weight Ratings and Towing Capacity: Considerations

Given the weight ratings and towing capacity you have just learned above, here are three important things that you should consider to ensure towing safety:

  1. Your tow vehicle’s towing capacity should be higher than the trailer’s GVWR. Although in theory the towing capacity and GVWR can be the same and still maintain code standards, it’s ideal to leave some buffer for your tow vehicle. The most common number is 20 percent although you can also see as much as 50 percent.
  • The trailer’s tongue weight counts against the tow vehicle’s payload. Regardless if your tow vehicle has sufficient towing capacity to tow your trailer, the residual payload can be reduced dramatically. In case you intend to carry plenty of cargo, this could be a factor.
  • Tongue weight is automatically placed on your tow vehicle’s rear axle, and you have the option to surpass the rear axles’ GAWR. You need to make sure that whatever you are towing doesn’t put too much weight on the rear axle and cause blow-outs. If there is hitch, the weight would be distributed between the tow vehicle and trailer’s axles.  

Knowing all these is very important when trying to set a baseline on what tow vehicle you can go with. The sole method in precisely measuring your trailer or tow vehicle’s weight (regardless if either one is loaded or unloaded), and axle weights is through a scale (like a CAT Scale which can be found throughout the United States). In addition, the scale will aid you in calibrating your weight distribution hitch with better accuracy than just simply relying on your eyes.