Terms To Know | Tow Rating | Tow Vehicles | Suspension | Tires | Mirrors | Hitching | Compliance Verification Program

The Right Tow Vehicle And Trailer Combination

Towing a trailer will impact how any vehicle drives. The larger the towed object in comparison to the tow vehicle, the greater the performance impact will be. Thus, knowing what your tow vehicle is capable of is just as important as selecting the right trailer. Vehicle manufacturers provide a “tow rating” which is the maximum weight of the towed trailer when fully loaded. The GVWR of the trailer should never exceed this tow rating, even if the trailer will not be fully loaded.

Terms To Know

  • Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) – can be in reference to both the tow vehicle and trailer, and is the maximum the vehicle can weigh when fully loaded.
  • Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR) - the maximum allowable combined weight of the tow vehicle and the trailer when fully loaded, including passengers.

  • Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) – the actual weight carrying capacity of each axle.

Tow Rating

Review your tow vehicle owner’s manual for specifics on its tow rating, Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR), and review your trailer owner’s manual or VIN tag to confirm the GVWR for your trailer. Do not use a tow vehicle with a max tow rating of less than the GVWR of your trailer. If you already have a tow vehicle, look up the tow rating, maximum loaded weight, and the maximum tongue weight that it’s capable of towing safely.

Trailers 10,000 Pounds GVWR Or Less

  • Locate the statement, “The weight of cargo should never exceed XXX kg or XXX lbs.,” on your vehicle’s placard.

  • This figure equals the available amount of cargo load capacity.

  • Determine the combined weight of cargo being loaded on the vehicle. That weight may not safely exceed the available cargo load capacity.

  • The trailer’s placard refers to the Tire Information Placard attached adjacent to, or near, the trailer’s VIN (Certification) label at the left front of the trailer.

Trailers Over 10,000 Pounds GVWR

(Note: These trailers are not required to have a tire information placard on the trailer and may not have one installed)

  • Determine the empty weight of your trailer by weighing the trailer using a public scale or other means.

  • Locate the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) of the trailer on your trailer’s VIN (Certification) label.

  • Subtract the empty weight of your trailer from the GVWR stated on the VIN label. That weight is the maximum available cargo capacity of the trailer and may not be safely exceeded. 


It is very important to know the full weight of the load you will be carrying to ensure you have the proper tow vehicle and trailer combination. The best way to determine that is to weigh your trailer and the load using a public scale.

Tow Vehicles

Cars and crossover SUVs can be used as tow vehicles, but their towing capacity is the lesser than that of a truck SUV. Light and medium duty trucks are effective tow vehicles for towing capacities ranging from 0-14,000 lbs GVWR, and 14,000-26,000 lbs GVWR respectively.

Locate the statement, “The combined weight of occupants and cargo should never exceed XXX lbs.,” on your vehicle’s placard.

  • Determine the combined weight of the driver and passengers who will be riding in your vehicle.

  • Subtract the combined weight of the driver and passengers from XXX kilograms or XXX pounds.

  • The resulting figure equals the available amount of cargo capacity. For example, if the “XXX” amount equals 1400 lbs. and there will be five 150 lb. passengers in your vehicle, the amount of available cargo capacity is 650 lbs. (1400-750 (5 x 150) = 650 lbs.).

  • Determine the combined weight of cargo being loaded on the vehicle. That weight may not safely exceed the available cargo capacity calculated in previous step.

  • If your vehicle will be towing a trailer, load from your trailer will be transferred to your vehicle. Consult the tow vehicle’s manual to determine how this weight transfer reduces the available cargo capacity of your vehicle.


The tow vehicle’s suspension must be able to support the trailer, and be able to keep the tow vehicle level to avoid creating negative stresses on the tow vehicle combination and making the trailer harder to control.


The tow vehicle’s front tire air pressure should be set to the tire manufacturer’s recommendation, and the rear tire air pressure may be slightly increased to assist with the additional weight of the trailer. Proper tire air pressure will provide the smoothest riding experience and give the driver the most control over the trailer. Review your trailer owner’s manual to confirm the recommended air pressure for your trailer tires.


The tow vehicle must have mirrors on both sides, which will make it easier to see what is behind you. Avoid mirror placements that create blind spots.


Ensuring you have the proper hitch for your load and properly hitching the trailer to the tow vehicle is imperative each time you tow a trailer. Read more here.

Compliance Verification Program

When considering what kind of trailer to buy, ensure you are buying the right trailer type for the job. Trailers not only vary based on connection, for example gooseneck or bumper pull, but also for their intended purpose. Talk to your dealer not only about the maximum towing capacity needed, but also the intended use of your trailer to ensure you have the right equipment for the job. Trailers that have an NATM compliance decal indicate the manufacturer has passed the NATM Compliance Verification Program which is based on Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, regulations, and industry best practices that govern trailer manufacturing.