What is GVWR? Towing Capacity and Weight Ratings Simplified

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What is GVWR GCWR and Towing Capacity

What is GVWR? GCWR, GAWR, UVW?? What does it all mean? Towing capacity and vehicle weight ratings are the most misunderstood aspect of RV, camper and trailer ownership. It can be so overwhelming and confusing, but it really doesn’t have to be. I am about to break it down for you in a simple, easy to follow guide that even my 8 year old son understands. I checked. He get’s it. So will you. 

The first thing you need to understand is what all of the “lingo” means. I find that visuals make things a lot easier to understand. So that’s how I’m going to help you learn them.

Curb Weight

Curb Weight Towing Capacity Weight Ratings

Curb Weight is simply the weight of your tow vehicle with nothing else added to it. This number is just the base weight of the tow vehicle.

Payload

Payload is going to be everything you put in the truck, including any other members of your family, friends, your dog, any gear, luggage, etc. Any aftermarket parts or accessories need to be added to this weight as well. For example, if you added a toolbox, truck topper or a Tonneau Cover, the weight of those items need to be added and accounted for. You will also need to include the added weight of your hitch itself, and the tongue weight of your RV.

Tongue Weight aka Hitch Weight, Pin Weight, King Pin Weight

Tongue Weight is also referred to as Hitch Weight, Pin Weight or King Pin Weight. All of these terms are referring to the downward weight the trailer exerts on the hitch of the tow vehicle, whether that be a fifth wheel hitch, ball hitch, weight distributing hitch etc. 

When towing a Fifth Wheel, the tongue weight should generally be 15%-25% of the loaded weight of the Fifth Wheel. When towing a Travel Trailer, the tongue weight is generally 10%-15% of the loaded Travel Trailer. As previously mentioned, the Tongue Weight does need to be included when calculating the payload of the tow vehicle.

This is extremely important, and one area that is often overlooked when determining the towing capacity of a tow vehicle. I see this quite a bit. All of the other numbers line up perfectly, but when examining the loaded tongue weight and adding it to the payload of the tow vehicle, it will push the tow vehicle over it’s GVWR or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, which we will discuss next. If I’ve lost you, don’t worry, we will look at an example of this in just a bit.

 

GVWR Gross Vehicle Weight Rating

GVWR Gross Vehicle Weight Rating Towing Capacity Weight Ratings

GVWR or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is the maximum allowed combined weight of the tow vehicle itself plus any additional gear, passengers, luggage, the weight of the hitch, tongue weight and any/all additional weight added to the tow vehicle.

Curb Weight + Payload = GVW Gross Vehicle Weight

GAWR Gross Axle Weight Rating 

GAWR Rear and FrontmGross Axle Weight Rating

GAWR or Gross Axle Weight Rating is the maximum amount of distributed weight that may be placed on the axle of your tow vehicle. This will include the dry weight of the axle itself plus any cargo, passengers, hitch or accessories weight. There will be a separate weight rating for your front and rear axle. Both of these gross axle weights added together will give you the GCAW Gross Combined Axle Weight. The GCAW cannot exceed the GVWR Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. You’ll need to pay close attention to all of these numbers. 

Where can you find the GAWR?

If you’ve already purchased your tow vehicle, the GAWR will be listed on a sticker on the inside of the door jam. If you haven’t already purchased your tow vehicle, these weight ratings can sometimes be difficult to find online, especially for half ton trucks. 

You might have to contact a dealer that has the exact vehicle you are considering, with the exact configuration, options and packages. Ask the dealer to give you the ratings off of the sticker on the actual vehicle. This is important because these ratings can be drastically different from one vehicle to the next, depending on how the vehicle is equipped.

Now we’re going to look at what you are going to be towing. You’re most likely going to be towing a Fifth Wheel, Travel Trailer, Folding Camper Trailer such as a Pop Up Camper or a Truck Camper.

Dry Weight or UVW Unloaded Vehicle Weight

Dry Weight Rating Towing Capacity

Dry weight, often referred to as Unloaded Vehicle Weight UVW, is simply the weight of the RV without anything added to it. No gear, clothing, food, tools, or liquids. Just the RV with the standard features and accessories from the factory. UVW is similar to the Curb Weight of your tow vehicle, but it is more commonly referred to as Dry Weight or Unloaded Vehicle Weight when referring to your RV. 

CCC or Cargo Carrying Capacity

Cargo Carrying Capacity is just like it sounds. It is the maximum amount of cargo weight you can safely add to the RV. It is similar to the payload of a tow vehicle. This will encompass anything and everything that adds weight to your trailer, including your camping gear, propane, any extra batteries, any liquid you may have in your holding tanks, clothes, food, tools, generator, any extras or upgrades you had added to your RV (washer/dryer combo, TV’s, upgraded fridge, 2nd A/C etc). It all needs to be accounted for here.

GTW Gross Trailer Weight aka GVW Gross Vehicle Weight

GTW Gross Trailer Weight or GVWR Gross Vehicle Weight Rating

GTW Gross Trailer Weight is also referred to as GVW Gross Vehicle Weight. This is simply the Dry Weight or UVW Unloaded Vehicle Weight plus all of the Cargo, any liquids, tools etc. Basically, it’s your loaded trailer.

GCWR or Gross Combined Weight Rating

GCVWR Towing Guide Infographic of GVWR Gross Vehicle Weight Rating

Gross Combined Weight Rating or GCWR is the maximum allowed weight of your loaded tow vehicle and loaded trailer combined. This number needs to include EVERYTHING. ALL OF IT.

Here is the formula for determining GCW Gross Combined Weight.

GVW Gross Vehicle Weight + GTW Gross Trailer Weight = GCW Gross Combined Weight

Shorter Version

GVW + GTW = GCW

Trailer Tires and Load Index Requirements

This is whole ‘nother conversation, but an extremely important part of towing safely. I have written an entire post dedicated to this topic alone. None of these weight ratings will even matter if you do not have the proper tires with adequate weight capacity and/or you are not maintaining them properly.

It’s like building a home on a crumbling foundation. No matter how well you build it, how many building codes you’ve followed or how many inspections you’ve passed, if the foundation is not adequate, it will all be for nothing. 

If you haven’t subscribed, you can sign up below. I’ve got some really great posts coming soon, and you do not want to miss them!

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Now that we have learned all of the terminology, let’s put it into action. There is no better way to learn, than to actually do it. I’ve chosen a tow vehicle and a travel trailer to pair up, and we will go step-by-step through the process of determining if this particular combo is a good match.

We’re going to look at the 2019 Dodge Ram 1500. We’ll also look at a Keystone Cougar Travel Trailer and determine whether or not our Ram has the towing capacity to safely pull our Cougar Travel Trailer. 

I just randomly chose these. I have no affiliation with Dodge or Keystone, and I am not necessarily recommending them either. This is really just to show you how to plug in all of these numbers, and the thought process behind it.

2019 Dodge Ram 1500 4×4 Crew Cab 5’7″ Box, 5.7L V8 Hemi MDS VVT Engine w/ BSG, 3.92 Axle Ratio, Trailer-Tow Group Package

2019 Dodge Ram 1500 Crew Cab 4x4 ST Box 3.5L V8 Hemi GVWR
Source: Dodge

Specs according to Dodge

Curb (or Base) Weight: 5,323 lbs

  • Front Axle Weight: 3,165 lbs
  • Rear Axle Weight: 2,158 lbs

Payload: 1,780 lbs

GVWR: 7,100 lbs 

Front GAWR: 3,900 lbs

Rear GAWR: 4,100 lbs

(Note that the GCAW Gross Combined Axle Weight is 8,000 lbs (3,900 + 4,100 = 8,000), but the GVWR Gross “Vehicle” Weight Rating is only 7,100 lbs. If one axle is at it’s max, we cannot max out the other)

Max Loaded Trailer Weight: 11,250 lbs

GCWR: 17,000 lbs

Max Tongue Weight: 1,045 lbs (with Class IV receiver & weight distribution hitch)

Differences in configuration can produce major differences in GVWR Gross Vehicle Weight Rating and Towing Capacity

Not ALL Dodge Ram 1500’s will have these specs. These are the specs for this particular vehicle. Changing up just one thing can drastically change it’s towing capacity and it’s GVWR. 

For example, if I were to choose the 3.21 axle ratio vs the 3.92, the GCWR just went down from 17,000 lbs to 13,900 lbs. The max loaded trailer weight just went down from 11,250 lbs to 8,150 lbs.

That’s a massive difference, so you have to carefully look at the specs and configuration of each individual tow vehicle and not just assume that all Dodge Ram 1500’s have the same, or even similar, towing capacities.

Dodge Ram 1500’s have max trailer weight ratings ranging from 6,250 lbs all the way up to 12,750 lbs. The engine, cab size, whether it’s a 4×2 or 4×4, towing packages, axle ratio, torque etc, all play a huge role in a tow vehicle’s towing capability. This is a huge misunderstanding among the majority of first-time “towers.” Is that a word? Hmmm…you get the point. We can move on now.

Towing Capacity Worksheet or Tow Check Worksheet
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2019 Keystone Couger 29BHS Travel Trailer

Source: Keystone

Specs according to Keystone

UVW: 7,008 lbs

CCC: 1,792 lbs

Tongue (or Hitch) Weight: 765 lbs

We now have everything we need to make an educated decision on whether or not this particular Dodge Ram 1500 can tow the Keystone Cougar 29BHS Travel Trailer. 

Step 1: GTW Gross Trailer Weight

We need to assume we are going to load the Travel Trailer to capacity. Trust me, you will eventually. 1,792 lbs of CCC Cargo Carrying Capacity will add up very quickly. With that being said, our loaded trailer or the GTW Gross Trailer Weight of our travel trailer is 8,800 lbs. How did I come up with that number?

UVW Unloaded Vehicle Weight + CCC Cargo Carrying Capacity = GTW Gross Trailer Weight

We just need to plug in our specs.

7,008 lbs UVW + 1,792 lbs CCC = 8,800 lbs GTW

Make sense? Easy peasy right.

Source: GMC

Step 2: Tongue Weight

Remember that our tongue weight is 792 lbs right? This is without any of our added cargo, so we need to account for this. Our loaded travel trailer or the GTW is 8,800 lbs. Our loaded tongue weight needs to be at a minimum of 10%-15% of that 8,800 lbs in order to evenly distribute the total weight. 

If we don’t do this, the rear set of tires on the travel trailer will carry too much weight, causing a multitude of dangerous situations. Also, the rear tires of our tow vehicle will not have enough weight to provide needed traction, level towing will not be achieved and the entire rig will be extremely unstable. 

In order to achieve our minimum 10% loaded tongue weight, we need to load up the front of the travel trailer with our cargo so that our loaded tongue weight is a minimum of 880 lbs (8,800 x 10% = 880).

Step 3: Payload

Now let’s calculate the truck’s payload, since we know what our loaded Tongue Weight will be. Remember that payload includes passengers, any added accessories or upgrades, cargo, hitch weight and tongue weight. 

Our max payload is 1,780 lbs. Subtract our loaded tongue weight of 880 lbs, and we are left with 900 lbs. Let’s subtract another 120 lbs for our Weight Distributing Hitch, shank and ball (a weight distributing hitch is required for any trailer over 5,000 lbs). That now leaves us with 780 lbs of available payload. Now let’s assume we have two adults and subtract 150 lbs for the second adult. Dodge has already accounted for 150 lbs for the driver. That leaves us with 630 lbs of available payload. So far so good. If you have more people and are loaded up with gear, this number will quickly decrease. So our total payload is 1,150 lbs (880 + 120 + 150 = 1,150), Well under the max payload of 1,780 lbs.

Step 4: GVWR Gross Vehicle Weight Rating

With our current calculations, let’s look at where we are as far as our total weight, or GVW Gross Vehicle Weight, of our tow vehicle.

In order to calculate our tow vehicle’s GVW, here is our formula.

Curb Weight + Payload = GVW

5,323 lbs + 1,150 lbs = 6,473 lbs

We know our truck’s payload is now at 1,150 lbs, and the Curb Weight of our truck is 5,323 lbs. Add our calculated payload of 1,150 lbs, and we are at 6,473 lbs GVW Gross Vehicle Weight. Well under the max GVWR Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of 7,100 lbs.

2020 Cherolet Silverado GVWR and Towing Capacity
Source: Chevrolet

Step 5: GAWR Gross Axle Weight Rating

Now we need to look at our GAWR Gross Axle Weight Ratings. Our Ram has a Rear GAWR of 4,100 lbs, and a Front GAWR of 3,900 lbs. 

Rear GAW Gross Axle Weight

The dry weight of our rear axle is 2,158 lbs, so we need to add the loaded tongue weight and any other weight that will predominately fall on the rear axle, to the dry weight of the rear axle. Here’s what that formula will look like.

Dry Axle Weight + Hitch Weight + Tongue Weight + Cargo = Rear GAW

2,158 lbs + 120 lbs + 880 lbs = 3,158 lbs Rear GAW

Front GAW Gross Axle Weight

For the front axle weight, we will need to add it’s dry axle weight of 3,165 lbs + the 2nd passenger’s weight of 150 lbs. If you have any other weight added that will predominately fall on the front axle, you will need to include it here as well. This is what that will look like.

3,165 lbs + 150 lbs = 3,315 lbs Front GAW

GCAW Gross Combined Axle Weight

Now we to make sure the GCAW Gross Combined Axle Weight (front and rear) does not exceed our GVWR Gross Vehicle Weight Rating.

3,315 lbs Front GAW + 3,158 lbs Rear GAW = 6,473 lbs GCAW

Since our GVWR Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is 7,100 lbs, we are good on the GCAW Gross Combined Axle Weight, however, we only have 627 lbs of available payload before we are at our max weight limits.

Step 6: GCWR Gross Combined Weight Rating

We are almost at the finish line, but we still have one more important number to take a look at. The GCW Gross Combined Weight of our loaded tow vehicle and our loaded trailer. Our truck’s GCWR Gross Combined Weight Rating is 17,000 lbs, so we know we cannot exceed that amount. Here is our formula.

GVW Gross Vehicle Weight + GTW Gross Trailer Weight = GCW Gross Combined Weight

6,473 lbs GVW + 8,880 lbs GTW = 15,273 lbs GCW

The GVW Gross Vehicle Weight of our truck 6,473 lbs + the GTW Gross Trailer Weight of our travel trailer 8,800 lbs, gives us the GCW Gross Combined Weight of 15,273 lbs. That is well under our truck’s GCWR Gross Combined Weight Rating of 17,000 lbs.

What is the GVWR for Dodge Ram 1500
Source: Dodge

Can a properly equipped Dodge Ram 1500 safely tow a Keystone Cougar 29BHS Travel Trailer?

Yes, it is capable of towing this Cougar Travel Trailer, but I want to caution you if you are considering a similar pair. I used very conservative numbers when calculating payload. I only accounted for 2 adults, and I didn’t add any additional cargo, luggage, camping gear, supplies etc to the tow vehicle. This pair may not be doable if you have a family of 4 with a good bit of added cargo/weight. I don’t recommend getting super close to your max weight ratings either, and that is extremely easy to do. 

So now you see the thought process involved in determining whether or not a tow vehicle is a good match for a particular trailer. And, now that you know what GVWR is, you have the knowledge to make an educated conclusion on any tow vehicle, travel trailer or fifth wheel combination.

Source: Fifth Wheel St

What happens if you exceed your tow vehicle’s GVWR and towing capacity?

For those of you that are thinking about pushing your luck and exceeding any of these weight limits, let me fill you in on just a few of the consequences of doing this.

If you get into an accident, and your insurance company finds out that you exceeded any of your tow vehicle’s weight ratings, they will drop you like a bad habit and will not cover the damages to your vehicle and/or camper. THAT in itself should be enough to convince you not to even think about it.

Pulling a trailer and stopping a trailer are two very different situations

I hear a lot of people say “Oh, my truck can pull this fifth wheel just fine” or “Yeah my truck pulls this trailer without any problems.” The issue is not always “Can your tow vehicle pull the trailer?” But more importantly, “Can your tow vehicle stop your trailer?” A tow vehicle that is being pushed to the limit or exceeding it’s weight limits, may not be able to stop your rig when you need it to the most. That is a dangerous game to play.

Damage and wear

Another thing to think about is the fact that you are going to wear your vehicle out very quickly, and that is money out of your pocket. Destroying a $50K or 60K truck es no bueno! Don’t do it. You will tear up your axle, springs, your engine, your transmission, and every last dollar your vehicle may be worth.

Your tow vehicle needs to be the one doing the “towing”

If you are exceeding your vehicle’s towing capacity, and you get hit by a heavy gust of wind, your tow vehicle will be the one being towed, not the other way around. Just one heavy gust of wind can send your rig rolling, take you off the side of a mountain, into a lake, or cause you to seriously injure others on the road.

Hopefully I have convinced you not to consider doing this, as tempting as it may be. Your safety, your family’s safety and the safety of all of the other people around you are not worth jeopardizing. 

Click on the photo above, and read the story of the family that was towing above their towing capacity. This was the result.

Ok lecture over!

Check out my FREE Towing Capacity Calculator here!

If you have any tips or information that might be helpful to others, feel free to leave them in the comments below! Be sure to subscribe, follow me on Pinterest, and pin this for later reference.

See you again soon!

~Erin

What is GVWR GCWR and Towing Capacity
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What is GVWR? Towing Capacity and Weight Ratings Simplified
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