Choosing a Tow Vehicle – Part 1

It’s getting to be that time again – time to pack up the kids and the campfire and head out for another season of adventures. If this is your first year towing a trailer, there are a lot of variables to consider that you might not have thought about. Fortunately, we’re here to help! We’ve put together a summary of the 2012 Guide to Towing from Trailer Life to make it easy to figure out just what you’ll need to do to tow your rig behind a car.


Weight in the towing world can mean a number of different things, and many new buyers tend to overestimate their vehicle’s tow ratings. The following is an explanation of the terms you’ll want to know which will help you figure out the tow rating for the tow vehicle you plan to buy:

Gross Combination Weight Rating (gcwr) – the total allowable weight of the tow vehicle, trailer, cargo, fluids and occupants.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (gvwr)–the total allowable weight for the tow vehicle itself, including occupants, fluids, options, hitch hardware, cargo and trailer-hitch.

Gross Axle Weight Rating (gawr) – the total allowable weigh on an individual axle, including the weight of the tires, wheels, brakes and axle.

Maximum Tow Rating – manufacturer’s weight limit for towed loads. For conventional trailers, this includes a hitch-weight limit; for fifth wheels, it includes pin weight.

You can find the gvwr and the gawr on your vehicle’s data plate, which is usually affixed to the driver’s door frame, the fuel door, the glove box, the end of the dashboard or another easy to access location. The trailer should also have a weight sticker, usually on the left front side wall and in an interior cabinet. This sticker lists the trailer’s unloaded vehicle weight, gvwr, the weight added by freshwater and LP-gas and the resulting cargo carrying capacity. Don’t forget that optional equipment, including AC units and generators, might not always be reflected on the sticker.

The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) weight label requirements are more inclusive than dealer-added options and make it much easier for buyers to have access to accurate weight figures. Of course, the best way to figure out your vehicle’s weight is to load it like you would for a normal trip and weigh it at a public scale. This will make it easy for you to get the hitch weight, the axle weight and the total weight. If the axle weight is lower than the gawr, the total is within the gvwr and the hitch weight is lower than the maximum tow rating, then you can start selecting a tow-vehicle.

When purchasing make sure you consult the weight sticker on the unit you choose and refer to the unloaded vehicle weight as well as the cargo carrying capacity. Estimate how much cargo you’ll be hauling and use that number to select a tow vehicle.

To a lesser extent, your tow-vehicle weight is variable as well. While brochures and tow guides may list tow vehicle weights, the number typically applies specifically to the most basic configuration, without any options added. As a result, numerous things can throw off the weight – different engines, transmission, drive system, cab or bed styles, etc. Diesel engines can add upwards of 700 lbs to the weight of your vehicle!

We’ll get into more detail next month. For now, stop by Beckley’s for more information about how to select a tow vehicle!

Click here to view the 2012 Towing Guide:

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