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How To Tow? Know Everything With This Towing Guide

How to tow while respecting the parameters established by the manufacturer? This handy guide to towing tells you everything you need to know.

The tow is an activity that engaged several owner’s SUV or truck. But how to see clearly? Is towing as easy as respecting the vehicle’s towing capacity? Even though it is popular belief, it is not. You also have to consider the weight of luggage, occupants and equipment!

In fact, towing capacities are, for trucks at least, governed by a standard set by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). The purpose of this standard, named J2807, is to configure the capacities of a specific model according to the options. Arrived a few years ago, he came to put some order in the real capacities, since previously they established on the fly by the car manufacturers.

In order to popularize everything and make calculations that are not obvious, we have made this little practical guide. It applies to owners of small SUVs as well as users of pickup trucks, and it aims to give you the tools to determine if your vehicle is suitable for the type of towing you want to perform. Following it will allow you to travel in complete safety, both for your family and for other road users!

To tow safely, in addition to the towing capacity itself, several parameters must be considered that are specific to each vehicle. These can be found in the world’s most published but least read book: the owner’s manual. This is your reference book for everything related to your vehicle or the one you want to buy. Some data may also be found on the label stuck to the B pillar which is visible when the driver’s door is open.

Here is the meaning of each of the data to be considered.

Vehicle weight

This data refers to the weight of the vehicle you are driving, while it is in running order. It includes the filling of all the liquids made, without there being any occupant on board. You can usually find this information on your registration certificate or in the owner’s manual.

Maximum loading capacity

This is the maximum weight you can add to your vehicle. It includes the weight of the occupants, their luggage and any other merchandise in the trunk or on the roof, as well as any accessories or options. It also includes tongue weight, definition of which follows.

Maximum tongue weight

The maximum weight that the trailer and its load or bike rack can carry on your vehicle’s trailer hitch. In the case of several vehicles, the maximum authorized tongue weight is 10% to 15% of the maximum towing capacity of the vehicle.

CAUTION: this is not the weight of the trailer as such, but the vertical weight that the coupling hand of the trailer places on the trailer hitch.

Maximum towing capacity

This is the maximum trailer weight that the vehicle can pull, as established by the manufacturer.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR)

This is the maximum total weight allowed for your vehicle. It includes the weight of the vehicle itself as well as that of the occupants, luggage, cargo on the roof. The tongue weight is also included in this data.

A subcategory of the GVWR is the Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR). It corresponds to the maximum authorized weight on each of the axles of the towing vehicle. This information is usually available on the label affixed to the B pillar when opening the driver’s door. As it is implicitly included in the GNP, we will focus on the latter.

Combined Gross Weight Rating (GNC)

This data corresponds to the maximum weight of your convoy. It includes your vehicle (with luggage and occupants) in addition to the weight of the trailer and its contents. It is known in English as the Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR).

How to navigate among all this data? To do this, nothing better than a few examples:

Full size truck

This is a typical example of a full-size truck, typically used to haul a bundle of stuff, either in the cab, in the bed, or with a trailer.

Vehicle: 2019 Ram 1500 6ft 4in Double Cab Box. 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine, eight-speed automatic transmission, regular suspension and 3.92 differential ratio.

It is the combination of the weight of the trailer with the waste in the body and the weight of the occupants that exceeds the capabilities of the vehicle. It should therefore be kept in mind that the maximum towing capacity, here of 11,300 lbs, is not valid in all circumstances. It is therefore important to calculate the total weight of the convoy when it comes time to tow, to ensure that it does not exceed the GNP.

Mid-size three-row SUV

Here is another situation that may be of interest to camping enthusiasts. Let’s go for a 7-8 passenger SUV that claims a 5,000 lb towing capacity. This is interesting for people who want a family vehicle for the week, but also a vehicle capable of towing the trailer on the weekend.

Vehicle: 2020 Honda Pilot Touring. 3.5-liter V6 engine, nine-speed automatic transmission, iVTM-4 all-wheel drive, eight seats and optional 5,000 lb towing package.

Suppose you are a family of 5 who occasionally tows a 4,700 lb trailer (with equipment), which technically does not exceed the towing capacity intended for your vehicle. Let’s see if you’re in good standing.

Surprise! Your convoy exceeds the authorized GAWR of 245 lbs! So, even if your vehicle seems legal for your trailer, it’s the added weight in the Pilot that turns everything upside down. This confirms that the more material or passengers you put in a vehicle, the more the towing capacity decreases!

Moreover, the Honda Pilot is particularly sensitive to the addition of weight on board, as Honda specifies in the owner’s manual. When we add passengers on board, the capacity drops drastically. For example, if you have 5 people aboard the Honda Pilot, Honda recommends a maximum trailer load of 4,250 lbs, and a tongue weight of only 375 lbs.

Other mid-size SUVs, such as the Toyota Highlander, Subaru Ascent or Chevrolet Traverse, are not as affected by on-board weight. Consult the GNC of these models to see more clearly and choose the vehicle that best suits your towing needs.


The best recommendation is this: before hitting the road with a trailer, do your research. The owner’s manual and the manufacturer’s website are invaluable resources for knowing what the actual capabilities of your car are. Information is not always easy to find, but it is worth it.

Then, take out your calculator and check if your load remains within the parameters recommended by the manufacturer. If it is not, you have several options: remove luggage on board, unload your trailer or, more drastically, replace your vehicle. There are no quick fixes, only numbers that speak for themselves.

Happy towing!



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