When selecting a truck for towing – Don’t forget to check the Payload Rating [Op/Ed]

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TFLtruck gets several questions every week from people who are shopping around for a new truck to do recreational or other towing jobs.  The questions almost always focus on the maximum towing rating of this truck or another.  The other parts of the questions are related to power or fuel economy.  However, there is a common specification that buyers often overlook or forget, and it is the maximum payload of the truck.

Lets say that you settled on a nice Crew Cab 4×4 pickup with a few options and a powerful V8.  Naturally, you check the specifications for the maximum towing rating.  As an example, lets say the towing maximum is 7,750 pounds, and the travel trailer you are about to purchase has a maximum Gross Trailer Weight (GTW) rating of 6,500 lbs.  Are you in the clear?  No, you still have to check the trailer tongue weight and truck’s payload numbers.

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But first, make sure you understand the weight of your trailer.  A “dry weight” for an RV trailer does not account for propane, generator fuel, water, food, and the weight of your belongings.  The GTW is a better number to keep in mind, as it refers to maximum total weight allowed for the trailer including everything inside.  For example, the GTW of the TFL test boat trailer is 6,000 lbs, but the entire package: including the boat full of water-sport toys and fuel is right around 5,740 lbs.

Now that you understand the weight of your trailer, you need to get a handle on the tongue weight of the thing.  This is the weight your trailer is pushing down on your tow vehicle.  A general rule of thumb is: bumper hitch mounted trailers have 10% tongue weight, and gooseneck or 5th wheel mounted trailers push with around 25% tongue weight.

Getting back to our example of a bumper hitched travel trailer with a GTW of 6,500 lbs.  It will push on the truck with 650 lbs.  Next, you have to know the maximum payload capacity of your pickup.  For the sake of argument, lets say it is 1,250 lbs.  Once you hitch up the trailer, you have 600 lbs of payload available to you.  Does it still work for you?  If you are carrying two average adults and a couple of suit cases, then you should be good.  If you are carrying four people, a BBQ grill, four bicycles, and other stuff – then you need to look for another truck with a greater payload capacity.


This problem is further exaggerated if you are buying a 5th wheel or a gooseneck mounted RV trailer.  An 8,000 pound 5th wheel trailer will push with around 2,000 lbs of tongue weight.  Yes, it’s mounted over the axle and the weight is distributed better.  However, you have to calculate the tongue weight into the truck’s payload equation.

It’s not recommended to load your truck at the very limit for your entire road trip vacation.  You generally want to load it to a level where you have a decent safety margin left over.  You can decide what that safety margin should be.

Safe towing this Memorial Day!

Check out TFLtruck’s popular Ike Gauntlet extreme towing test series.

Andre Smirnov is an Automotive Enthusiast, Producer, Reviewer, Videographer, Writer, Software Engineer, Husband, Father, and Friend.