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Towing Resources and Links

If you’ve started your trailer shopping recently you’ve likely come across abbreviations and phrases you’ve never heard before (GVWR, GAWR, Towing capacity, payload capacity, etc) which can be very confusing, so we’re here to take the definition confusion off your plate! Read on for our clarification of the definitions that will help you fully understand the most important factors to making the correct trailer purchase decision for your needs (Hint: they all have to do with weight)!

Towing Capacity

Towing Capacity is probably the easiest of these terms to understand. The car, truck, or SUV you’ll be pulling the trailer behind is called your Tow Vehicle. The tow vehicle will impose weight requirements on your trailer purchase decision because your tow vehicle’s towing capacity is the figure you’ll need to know in order to ensure you purchase a trailer with a GVWR under your vehicle’s maximum weight limit. The Towing Capacity is the Total Amount of weight your Vehicle can tow, and answers the question How much can my vehicle haul? Towing Capacity is not including any cab weight inside your vehicle: that’ll be defined by your vehicle’s GVWR sticker found on the sticker inside the driver’s door usually. Also important to know is the cab weight inside your vehicle doesn’t affect your towing capacity. You never want to risk overloading your tow vehicle by choosing the wrong axles on your trailer, so it’s necessary to determine your vehicle’s towing capacity before you fall in love with a trailer it won’t be able to haul!

GVWR

Regardless, which state you’re purchasing your trailer in the GVWR on the sticker is the Legal, Maximum Weight Limit of the trailer. GVWR stands for Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, and essentially means the Total amount of weight the trailer can weigh while it’s on the road. Typically *, the stickered GVWR is determined by adding together the empty trailer’s weight +plus+ the total weight of the cargo it was built to handle (Payload capacity).

*Exceptions: Many states have CDL (Commercial Drivers License) requirements when the trailer’s GVWR is over 10,001 lbs; to avoid the CDL requirement you’ll find many trailers de-rated by the manufacturer to just under the CDL weight requirement (9990# or 9900# in CA), so anyone can haul the trailer. Similarly, you’ll find single axle trailers de-rated to 2990# because any trailer with a GVWR over 3000 pounds requires brakes in some states like CA. De-rating a trailer reduces both the legal payload capacity as well as the GVWR.

Payload Capacity

The Trailer’s Payload Capacity is the total weight of the cargo you can add to the trailer safely. Payload capacity is also sometimes referred to as your cargo capacity. The Payload Capacity is usually stickered on the trailer near the VIN#. It can be found by Subtracting the Empty Weight of the trailer from the stickered GVWR.

Helpful Hint: Never buy a trailer with a Larger GVWR than your vehicle’s Towing Capacity! Unless you know the Exact weight of your maximum cargo payload (not just a guesstimate), plus the empty weight of the trailer will never make the trailer’s GVWR close to the towing capacity of your vehicle. Be careful with this buying strategy if you’re unsure about cargo weights though, because when you have free space to fill (and available the payload capacity to haul it) in the trailer, it’s too easy to load it up and then overload and stress your tow vehicle!

Example: Let’s say the SUV/Truck can tow 5000 pounds, but you want a 7000# GVWR Trailer expecting to load 3500 lbs. into the trailer. If the trailer weighs 2500 pounds, your desired 3500# of cargo will overload your tow vehicle’s towing capacity by 1000 pounds (stressing out more than just your engine…even though the trailer would still be capable of handling the cargo weight). However, if you have the same 5000 pound towing capacity and you know you’ll only ever load 1500 lbs. into the trailer, and it’s the same 2500 pound trailer, you’ll be under your vehicle’s towing capacity by 1000 lbs which should not pose any issues at all.

GAWR

A less common abbreviation you may have also come across in your trailer research is the GAWR (Gross Axle Weight Rating). GAWR is similar to GVWR but only represents the Maximum Axle Capacity of the trailer; not the legal weight rating for the road. A trailer may have tandem 6000# axles (12K total), but the GVWR sticker that determines the legal weight limit on the roads could either be rated at that max of 12,000# or it could be de-rated to 9990# (or a similar weight under 10K in CA) so anyone without a CDL can tow the trailer. If the GVWR is de-rated, the axles can still handle the 12K total weight, but you won’t be legal towing all that weight on the roads if your payload capacity exceeds your trailer’s stickered payload capacity resulting in you towing the trailer on the road while it weighs more than the stickered GVWR legally allows.

Example: Hypothetically, a dump trailer has two 7000# axles and weighs 4000 pounds empty. If the 14K GVWR gets de-rated to 9990# so anyone can haul this trailer on CA roads, the stickered payload capacity would only be 5990 lbs. Alternatively, if it’s stickered so a CDL is required to tow the trailer at 14K GVWR, it has a 9990 pound payload capacity.

The Trailer VIN Tag’s Important Info

  • The Manufacturer’s name is the top line of standard trailer VIN Tags.
  • The second line usually has the date the order or VIN was created and assigned by the Manufacturer. Along with the GVWR in both kg. and lbs.
    • Subtracting the Payload Capacity from the GVWR will tell you the trailer’s empty weight.
  • Then the GAWR will be listed for Each Axle, so you can do a tiny bit of math to get the true Weight Rating for both axles if it has more than one.
    • Sometimes this will be exactly the same as the GVWR and sometimes the GVWR will be smaller because it’s been de-rated.
  • The standard tires for the trailer are also listed as well as the rim size and recommended tire pressure rating.
    • R stands for Radial (rubber tire with steel threads), D stands for Bias ply tire (rubber tires)
  • The Payload Capacity sticker is another Crucial sticker you need to make sure is on your trailer. Because the Payload Capacity is one of the Most Important numbers you’ll need to know! Usually this sticker is positioned next to the VIN Tag; you shouldn’t have to search hard to find it once you’ve spotted the VIN tag.