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Payload & Towing Capacity: What's the Difference?

Payload and Towing Capacity - What's the Difference?

Pickup truck models come in all weights and sizes, making each unique in how much they can haul or tow. With varying payload and towing capacities, some assume a truck's payload and towing capacities are the same or at least similar enough, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Before putting your truck to the test or purchasing a new hitch, we'd like to discuss the unique differences between the two and break down some of the more common misconceptions.

What is Payload Capacity?

Payload capacity is the total amount of cargo weight you can add to your truck's empty weight. The vehicle's manufacturer determines the payload capacity and lists it in the owner's manual. However, your payload capacity can also be calculated with a simple equation:

Gross Vehicle Weight - Curb Weight = Payload Capacity

Your Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is determined by the truck's manufacturer. You'll find your payload capacity if you take this number and subtract the curb weight (your truck's empty weight).

An important thing to remember is that payload capacity does include passengers. Passenger weight should be factored in when utilizing your truck's full payload capacity. So, if you're planning to bring home a large amount of firewood, sand, gravel, mulch or dirt, you will want to drop off your passengers first.

What is Towing Capacity?

Towing capacity is the weight you can securely and safely pull behind your truck with a trailer. The bulk of this weight is supported by the trailer axles rather than the axles on the vehicle. This means that the towing capacity easily surpasses your payload capacity. Your truck's towing capacity can often be found in the owner's manual, and similar to payload capacity, you can use a simple equation to determine it:

Gross Combined Vehicle Weight - Curb Weight = Towing Capacity

Your towing capacity can also be slightly altered by the configurations and gear you add to your truck. For example, suppose you have a towing capacity of 5,000 lbs., then you add on a receiver-style bumper mount hitch along with a weight distribution system. In that case, you can significantly increase your towing capacity.

Common Misconceptions

  • My truck can handle more than its towing capacity. If you were to attempt to tow something that outweighs your towing capacity, like an oversized RV camper, you are more likely to damage your truck and the trailer while also sacrificing control over both. This not only puts you at risk of expensive damages, but it can also put you and other drivers in harm's way. It is never advised to tow more than your towing capacity.
  • All hitches can be installed on a pickup truck. Hitches come in different classes based on their maximum weight capacity and receiver opening size. Class I has the lowest capacity and is often used for cargo carriers and bike racks. In contrast, Class V is reserved for super-duty receiver hitches that can tow up to 20,000 lbs. and are only used on heavy-duty vehicles and commercial trucks. If you had your eye on a 5th-wheel hitch, but your truck lacks the proper requirements, we may need to look at alternative options. Your truck's size, towing and payload capacity all impact the hitch options available to you.
  • Once I add a hitch, I can tow a trailer of any size. Towing a trailer is not quite that simple. This is also where your towing capacity comes into play. The hitch you install should be based on the towing capacity of your vehicle, as there are numerous options and variations.

Discover Your Truck's Capacity

Although it can be easy to confuse towing capacity for payload capacity and vice versa, it's essential to keep the two separate. After all, both can impact your vehicle's performance and overall safety. Ensuring you remain in control of both your vehicle and the object(s) you are towing is essential to keeping you and other drivers safe.

If you don't have access to your owner's manual or want to work with a professional to determine your vehicle's towing and payload capacity, come visit us at Southside Hitch. Our experts can help you not only determine how much your vehicle can carry and tow, but we will also provide you with options to increase or improve your towing capacity.

Whether you're planning a family camping trip, need to transport your livestock from point A to B, or simply need the ability to tow whatever, whenever, we can help.