Truck Payload vs. Towing Capacity: What You Need to Know

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It is essential to know both your truck’s payload and its towing capacity. Unfortunately, these two things often get confused with one another. What exactly are they? 

The payload rating and towing capacity are two separate things. Payload capacity refers to how much your truck can hold, in and on the truck itself. On the other hand, towing capacity refers to how much your truck can tow behind it, whether pulling a trailer or a car. 

In this article, we will explain the difference between your truck’s payload and its towing capacity. We will also help you figure out both the payload and towing capacity, and help you understand why each one is important in its own right. Let us get into it. 

Payload Rating vs. Towing Capacity: Are They the Same Thing?

Towing capacity and payload are two completely separate things. It is a common misunderstanding that they are simply synonyms for each other, especially among people who are new to trucks. They are not. 

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What Is a Payload Rating? 

Your truck’s payload capacity is how much your truck can carry – on the truck itself. In other words, how much weight can you put on the truck? Whatever that amount is, that is your payload capacity. Your truck’s payload capacity is calculated after already calculating your vehicle’s weight, known as the curb weight. The curb weight is what your vehicle weighs when it is empty. 

The payload capacity is the additional amount of weight you can put on it, including passengers and cargo. 

Here is a short but awesome Youtube video that gives an honest explanation of what your truck’s payload capacity is:

What Is Towing Capacity? 

As the term suggests, your truck’s towing capacity is the amount it can tow. The towing capacity is measured after considering how much the truck weighs and the cargo you have on it. We will go over how to calculate your truck’s towing capacity later in this article. 

Carrying vs. Pulling

An easy way to understand the difference between your truck’s towing capacity and its payload capacity is to think of carrying vs. pulling. You might be able to pull a certain amount of weight, but that does not mean you will be able to carry it in your hands. 

Have you ever traveled? If so, you have probably used a suitcase with wheels. If you have used both suitcases and backpacks, you will know how much easier it is to pull a suitcase than to carry a heavy backpack on your back. 

The same applies to trucks. The amount of weight your truck can pull is its towing capacity. On the other hand, the amount of weight it can carry is its payload capacity. When you think of it that way, it might be easier to remember which is which and the difference between them. 

Understanding Truck Weight Terms

There are so many confusing terms related to trucks and weight that it can get hard to keep track of all of them. What does curb weight mean? What does GVWR stand for? And what is GCVWR? Is it the same thing as GVWR, and if not, how is it different? 

These terms can be confusing even for experienced truckers – imagine how they must be for beginners. Fortunately, we will go over these terms in this article so you can better understand them. 

Knowing these terms will help you calculate your truck’s payload rating and towing capacity. 

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What Does Curb Weight Mean?

Curb weight is what your vehicle weighs when it is empty. Being empty means that your vehicle has nothing in it – there are no passengers and no cargo. There are no extra tires on the back or any tents on the roof, either. 

However, curb weight is measured when your truck has a full tank of gas, hence the term “curb weight” – your truck is on the curb and ready to drive. It also means that your truck has all the seats installed and intact – they are included in the curb weight, just like the engine is. Include engine oil and brake fluids too. 

What Does Dry Weight Mean?

Dry weight differs from curb weight only slightly. Dry weight is measured when your truck is empty and dry – there are no fluids inside. In other words, your truck has an empty gas tank. The difference between dry weight and curb weight is not very significant. It will depend on how big your gas tank is, but gas is only a fluid, and it does not weigh that much – even if you have a larger tank – in the greater scheme of things. 

You will not see dry weight used a lot for trucks. The reason manufacturers do not use it often is that it can be very deceptive. Most manufacturers and dealers will use curb weight to help you understand how much each truck weighs. If another dealer or manufacturer uses dry weight instead, it can make the truck seem a lot lighter than other trucks when it is not the case – it is just the dry weight vs. the curb weight. 

Besides, there is no set standard for what can be considered “dry weight.” Do you measure dry weight when the truck has brake fluids and engine oil but does not have any gas in the tank? Or does the vehicle have to be completely dry, with no fluids in it whatsoever, including brake fluids and oil? Because of this grey area, you can have two dry weights for the same vehicle. 

The only place dry weight is used often is for motorcycles. Motorcycles have less fluid, so the difference is not that big. However, it is not used often for trucks. 

What Is Shipping Weight?

You will rarely see this term being used. It is even less common than dry weight. Neither dry weight nor shipping weight are used often. If you do see it, however, it is useful to know what it means. Shipping weight is an alternative to the dry weight that manufacturers use to be a bit less ambiguous. It refers to trucks ready to be driven by potential customers after being moved off the assembly line. 

These trucks need to be in an operational mode. As such, they will have brake fluid, engine oil, and at least some fuel inside. Otherwise, it would not be operational. As such, shipping weight is a little more than the dry weight but less than the curb weight – remember, curb weight is when the vehicle has a full gas tank. 

What Is the GVWR?

GVWR stands for Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. The gross vehicle weight rating refers to the total amount of weight the vehicle can handle, including the vehicle’s weight in addition to any added weight. The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating will include the vehicle itself and any fluids (such as fuel, brake fluid, and oil), the maximum amount of passenger weight the vehicle can have, and the maximum amount of cargo weight the vehicle can handle. 

How can you figure out your vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating? It is pretty easy, and you do not even have to look in your owner’s manual to figure this out. Instead, your vehicle’s GVWR should be stated on a plate attached to the side of your vehicle. This plate might be on the driver’s side door. If you can not find it, you can also look at your owner’s manual – there, you will find the GVWR. 

It is interesting to note that the government in the United States classifies trucks based on their GVWR. The lowest class is Class 1, which is vehicles with a GVWR of up to 6,000 pounds. Class 2 includes vehicles that have a GVWR of up to 9,000 pounds. Class 3 includes vehicles that have a GVWR of up to 12,000 pounds. And so it goes on – each class includes vehicles with a GVWR of 3,000 pounds more. 

In the United States, vehicles with a GVWR of more than 6,000 are not allowed on certain city roadways. Knowing the GVWR of your vehicle is important as it will help you calculate other metrics and weight limits. 

What Is the GCVWR?

The GCVWR is your vehicle’s Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating. Unlike the GVWR, this does take the trailer into account. In other words, it refers to the maximum capacity your truck can handle, including the truck’s weight, any passengers inside, any cargo it is carrying, and any trailer it is hauling. 

The GCVWR will depend on things such as your engine’s torque, the capacity of the transmission, the ratios of the transmission, the capacity of the vehicle’s tires, and other factors. Knowing your vehicle’s GCVWR and the GVWR will help you figure out things such as your truck’s towing capacity. 

What Is the GAWR? 

GAWR stands for Gross Axle Weight Rating. It refers to how much weight the axle of your truck can support. You might see GAWR-FF and GAWR-RR. GAWR-FF refers to how much weight your truck’s front axle can handle, while GAWR-RR refers to how much weight your truck’s rear axle can handle. 

It is important to know your vehicle’s GAWR. Loading more than your truck’s axle can handle can lead to damage. By keeping the weight you load on your truck’s axles well below the actual GAWR limit, you can reduce or prevent damage from occurring. 

What Is the GTWR?

GTWR stands for Gross Trailer Weight Rating. The gross trailer weight rating refers to the trailer’s gross weight when it is loaded to capacity. For example, if the trailer weighs 500 pounds and the cargo and fluids weigh 200 pounds, the gross trailer weight rating will be 700 pounds. 

Why is this important? The gross trailer weight rating is important because it will impact the trailer tongue weight, which I will discuss in the next section. In turn, the trailer tongue weight will impact the payload capacity of the vehicle. You will have to deduct this weight from the payload capacity of the vehicle. 

What Is TW?

TW stands for Tongue Weight. Another way to refer to this is Trailer Tongue Weight. You might even see TTW used for this. However, they are both the same thing. 

The trailer tongue weight refers to how much weight the trailer – or whatever else your truck is towing- exerts on the truck’s tongue. The tongue weight is usually around 10 or 15 percent of the trailer’s weight. A trailer that weighs 500 pounds will exert a weight of around 50 to 75 pounds on the tongue of your truck. 

It is important to note that the trailer tongue weight is not set in stone. You have to consider the weight of the trailer itself and any cargo you load on the trailer. Let us use our example of a trailer that weighs 500 pounds, as before. If you load it up with stuff that weighs 100 pounds, the total weight your truck will tow will be 600 pounds. 

Since the trailer tongue weight is 10 to 15 percent of the weight your truck tows, your trailer tongue weight will be 60 to 90 pounds. If you load an additional 100 pounds on the trailer, your truck will be towing 700 pounds. As such, the trailer tongue weight will be 70 to 105 pounds. 

Why does this matter? Because the trailer tongue weight uses up your truck’s payload capacity. If you have a trailer tongue weight of 100 pounds, you will have to subtract that from your truck’s payload capacity. Even though your truck will be carrying 100 pounds less of cargo than your usual load, the weight exerted by the trailer will make up for that. 

Other Terms You Might See

Here, we will talk about some other terms you might see online or in the owner’s manuals and explain what they mean to understand them. 

  • GVW: GVW stands for Gross Vehicle Rating. People sometimes use it to refer to the GVWR – the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. They are the same thing. 
  • GVM: GVM stands for Gross Vehicle Mass. Again, it is the same thing as the GVWR – it is just another term used for it. 
  • GCWR: GCWR stands for Gross Combination Weight Rating. It is an alternative way to refer to the GCVWR (Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating). It refers to how much the vehicle can handle, including its weight, fluids, passengers, and cargo. 
  • GCM: GCM stands for Gross Combination Mass. It is an alternative term used to describe the GCVWR. 
  • GTW: GTW stands for Gross Train Weight. It is not to be confused with the GTWR – Gross Trailer Weight Rating. They are two entirely different things. GTW – Gross Train Weight – is an alternative term for GCVWR, and it refers to the weight of the vehicle and its cargo/passengers combined, as opposed to GTWR, which refers to the weight of the trailer and its cargo. 
  • GTW: Sometimes, GTW is used to refer to Gross Trailer Weight. Used this way, GTW is an alternative term for GTWR. As such, the term GTW can be confusing. It is important to look at the context to figure out what is being referred to. 

Why a Truck’s Payload/Towing Capacity May Be Wrong

One way to figure out your truck’s payload capacity is to look at the owner’s manual. Usually, the owner’s manual will let you know both the truck’s payload capacity and its towing capacity. 

However, this can be wrong. It may not be technically wrong, but it might be realistically wrong. 

The manufacturer may be listing the truck’s payload capacity and towing capacity in terms of the maximum possible amount. Remember that it was said your truck’s towing capacity depends on things such as the tires and how good they are? Bad tires can not handle more weight. The same goes for things such as your axle – if it is old, it will have a lower GAWR, and it will affect your truck’s towing capacity, bringing it down. 

The manufacturer might say the payload capacity or towing capacity is a certain amount, but if you have great, new tires. The same goes for the axle. The same goes for the engine – it must be working great to haul whatever the towing capacity is. However, this might not be realistic. After using your truck for a while, the tires and axle are bound to get worn out. The performance of your engine might decrease in quality. 

Also, you might have things decreasing the payload and towing capacity that you did not even think of. For example, you might have extra cargo that you are not considering that you keep in your truck all the time. This extra cargo can be an extra tire on the back. 

The manufacturer talks about an empty truck with just one driver when they say that your payload capacity is such-and-such. If you always drive with a work colleague, that automatically decreases the payload capacity. 

That is why we will teach you how to calculate your truck’s payload capacity and towing capacity yourself. With knowledge of all the terms mentioned above, this becomes much easier. 

How to Calculate Payload Capacity

Calculating the payload capacity is fairly easy if you know your truck’s curb weight and GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating). Remember, the curb weight is your vehicle’s weight without any passengers or cargo (though fluids are included). The GVWR is how much weight your vehicle can handle. The GVWR includes the weight of the vehicle itself as well as passengers and cargo. 

Your payload capacity is how much weight your vehicle can handle, not including the vehicle’s weight and only including additional passengers and cargo. As such, to arrive at the payload capacity weight, you will have to subtract the curb weight from the GVWR. The result will be your payload capacity. 

For example, let us say that your truck weighs 4,500 pounds, and it has a GVWR of 6,000 pounds. The difference between these two numbers is 1,500 pounds. Subtract 4,500 (your vehicle’s curb weight) from 6,000 (your vehicle’s GVWR), and you will get 1,500 (your vehicle’s payload capacity). 

Your calculation will look like this: 6,000 – 4,500 = 1,500

However, remember that we also said that you have to subtract the TW, or Trailer Tongue Weight, from the payload capacity. You should do this, of course, only if you have a trailer attached to your truck. 

If you are not towing anything, you have done your work at this point – you already know what your payload capacity is. If you have a trailer, you will have to add a step – subtracting the tongue weight from the payload capacity. Let us use a TW of 100 as an example. 

Your calculation will look like this: 6,000 – 4,500 – 100 = 1,500

There may be one more step you have to do before arriving at the payload capacity. If your truck has any added aftermarket parts, you will need to subtract them in the first step. For example, if you added a lift kit that weighs 75 pounds, you will need to subtract that to arrive at the payload capacity. 

Your calculation will look like this: 6,000 – 4,500 – 75 = 1,425

How to Figure Out Your Truck’s Towing Capacity

Figuring out your truck’s towing capacity becomes easier once you know what your vehicle’s GCVWR is. Remember, GCVWR refers to the combined weight capacity of your vehicle, counting the trailer. By subtracting whatever your truck and its cargo weigh from the GCVWR, you will figure out how much you can tow. 

So, if your GCVWR is 10,000 pounds and the total weight of your vehicle plus the passengers and cargo you have in/on it is 6,000 pounds, your towing capacity is 4,000 pounds. 

To make this a bit simpler, you can subtract your vehicle’s curb weight from the GCVWR as a first step. If your vehicle is empty, you have almost done your work here, as you just need to subtract your weight in the next step. However, if your vehicle has cargo or passengers in it, you will have to subtract them in the next step. 

Your calculation will look like this: 10,000 – 4,500 – 200 = 5,300

If you have cargo and/or passengers that weigh 1,500 pounds combined, however, your calculation will look like this: 10,000 – 4,500 – 1,500 = 4,000 

If you loaded your vehicle to the max, then you can simply subtract your GVWR. Remember that your GVWR is your vehicle’s weight plus as much weight it can hold in cargo/passengers. So, if your GVWR is 6,000 and you loaded your truck to the max, your calculation will be as follows:

10,000 – 6,000 = 4,000

As before, you will have to calculate aftermarket parts as well. If you leave them out, you will be incorrectly calculating your truck’s towing capacity. Let us take our previous example, in which the truck has a lift kit installed, which weighs 75 pounds. In that case, you will have to subtract that as well. Let us also consider two passengers inside, weighing 150 pounds, and cargo weight of 225 pounds. The calculation will be as follows: 

10,000 – 4,500 – 150 – 150 – 225 – 75 = 5,000 

Can You Increase Your Truck’s Payload Capacity?

Whether you can increase your truck’s payload rating is a common question. The answer is not really. The only real way to increase your truck’s payload capacity is to remove items from your truck. If the payload capacity is 1,500 and you have things weighing 500 pounds, your leftover payload capacity is 1,000 pounds. But you can remove those things weighing 500 pounds and replace them with other things. 

There are some ways you can marginally increase the payload capacity or towing capacity. However, you can not increase them beyond what the manufacturer set them to be. 

If you have weak tires, for example, and a weak axle, this can decrease your truck’s towing capacity. If you replace those tires and axles with newer ones or replace your regular axle with a thick, heavy-duty axle, you might be able to slightly increase the towing capacity. Don’t expect miracles.

You may also be able to make some modifications to the transmission or engine to improve their performance. In turn, this can increase your towing capacity by a bit. However, it is hard to give hard figures here in terms of how much it will increase. The increase might not be very significant. 


In this article, we discussed the difference between your truck’s payload capacity and its towing capacity. We also learned what various terms mean and how to calculate your payload capacity or towing capacity based on your GVWR, GCVWR, and curb weight. 


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