Determining Your Truck’s Payload and Towing Capacities

Truck pulling a travel trailer down the highway.

With summer weather in full force, seasonal camping trips, boat rides, and off-road trips with friends are back in fashion. For many drivers, that can mean utilizing your truck’s hauling and towing abilities to ensure you can bring everything with you in one trip. But intuition alone won’t ensure your vehicle has the proper payload and towing capacities to support your next adventure under the sun. 

There are key mechanical differences between the terms “payload capacity” and “towing capacity,” and it’s crucial to understand both for safe and effective performance. Essentially, payload capacity is how much your truck can hold in and on the truck itself, while towing capacity is how much your truck is able to tow behind it, as when pulling a trailer or a car. Let’s take a closer look at each and how to calculate your vehicle’s capacities for reliable and strong capability wherever you go.

Your Truck’s Payload Capacity

Your pickup truck’s payload capacity includes all the cargo weight of your tools and other belongings in addition to your truck’s base weight (also called the curb weight). Generally speaking, a “payload” can be anything from a truck bed stocked with gardening soil bags to a small group of people to all your necessary travel items when taking a longer trip.

Your truck’s payload capacity is officially determined by your vehicle manufacturer and written in the owner’s manual. But it’s quite possible to figure out your truck’s payload capacity yourself with some simple calculations:

Begin by figuring out the maximum total weight your truck is built to handle, known as its Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). Luckily, GVWR is also calculated by the manufacturer and is documented in your vehicle’s owner’s manual. Simply subtract your truck’s curb weight from its GVWR, and you’ll have your pickup’s ultimate payload capacity!

The short version: Payload Capacity = Gross Vehicle Weight – Curb Weight

Let’s do a quick real-world example: if your truck’s GVWR is 8,000 lbs and it weighs 3,500 lbs empty, then your payload capacity is 4,500 lbs. Essentially, you can put 4,500 lbs of cargo, including people and everyone’s belongings, in your truck.

Your Truck’s Towing Capacity

Your truck’s towing capacity is how much weight it can safely pull with a trailer or other vehicle. Usually, a truck’s towing capacity is much more that its payload limit because the majority of the weight is set on the trailer’s axles and not the axles of your truck.

Your truck’s towing capacity will be noted in the owner’s manual, but you can also calculate this number on your own. To figure out your truck’s towing capacity, you just subtract the vehicle’s curb weight from its Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR). As you may have guessed, the GCVWR is similar to the GVWR, but not exactly the same. The GCVWR is the maximum weight of your fully-loaded truck combined with the weight of its attached trailer.

The short version: Towing Capacity = Gross Combined Vehicle Weight – Curb Weight

For example, imagine your truck has a GCVWR of 17,000 lbs. Let’s say it weighs 6,000 lbs on its own, and you already have 3,000 lbs of dirt in the truck bed. Your towing capacity would not exceed 8,000 lbs.

Importance of Payload and Towing Limits

Whether you’re prepping for the next adventure on the road or a hard day’s work, it can be all too easy to ignore your truck’s towing and payload capacities. But that’s also one of the easiest ways to damage your truck’s engine, tires, transmission, and more. It’s always a good idea to consult your truck’s owner’s manual before pulling or hauling any load.

If you’d like to learn more about Levan Machine and Truck Equipment’s repair and maintenance services to keep your truck running strong, contact us today. We also offer custom truck upfitting services to help you accomplish any kind of work you need. Across all our services, a member of our expert staff will be happy to help you.