Skip to Content

What does Tow Rating Mean? (Travel Trailer FAQs)

What does Tow Rating Mean? (Travel Trailer FAQs)

When you’re preparing to take a travel trailer on a trip, the most important thing is to travel safely. Nobody likes having their adventures derailed by complications with their vehicles and trailers, which is why understanding tow rating is important.

So, what exactly does ‘tow rating’ mean?

The tow rating is the highest possible weight capacity that your towing vehicle can safely tow down the road. It must be outfitted with the correct towing setup and the correct type of trailer.

The highest possible weight capacity of your vehicle is an important factor, and it can be tricky to go about understanding it. In this article, we’ll not only cover what tow rating is but how it is determined, along with what equipment your vehicle might need to tow safely.

Definition of Tow Rating

To put it simply, your vehicle’s tow rating is just the highest amount of weight it can tow safely. Tow rating is also sometimes called the vehicle’s “maximum towing capacity.” 

The most important thing to remember about tow rating is that, once you know the maximum weight your vehicle can handle, you are responsible for making sure it never tows anything heavier than that weight!

How to Calculate Tow Rating

The manufacturers of your vehicle will likely already have an established tow rating for that specific vehicle: it may be found in the vehicle manual, or, if that isn’t available to you, on the manufacturer’s website.

However, tow rating isn’t just calculated based on your car’s model. There are a number of weights involved when towing a trailer, and these weights all add up when understanding the tow rate of your vehicle. Here’s a list of the factors:

  1. GVWR
  2. GTW
  3. GCVWR
  4. GAWR
  5. Tongue Weight
  6. Curb Weight
  7. Dry Weight
  8. Payload
  9. Braked and Un-braked Towing Capacity

Some of those factors are a bunch of abbreviations: let’s take a closer look at the meaning of these things to consider when towing.


GVWR stands for “Gross Vehicle Weight Rating,” and it means the maximum amount of weight a vehicle can hold when it is simply parked, or standing still. It combines the strength of your vehicle’s frame, its suspension, its wheels, and its axels.

Actually, both your trailer and your towing vehicle will have separate GVWRs. Remember, your overall tow rating and the GVWR are not the same numbers. The GVWR just refers to the weight your vehicles can handle pressing down on them.


GTW means “Gross Trailer Weight.” It is the combination of the weight of an empty trailer and whatever you want the trailer to carry. If the GTW of what you are asking your vehicle to pull goes beyond your tow rating, it isn’t safe to drive!


GCVWR means “Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating,” and it is the maximum weight of your towing vehicle loaded up with cargo added to the maximum weight of your trailer, which is also loaded up with cargo!

Basically, the Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating is just the number you get when you add the towing vehicle’s GVWR to the trailer’s GVWR.


GAWR means “Gross Axle Weight Rating.” It is the most weight one vehicle axel can handle. It will almost always be different when comparing the GAWR of the front axel of the car to the GAWR of the rear axle.

This is standard: very few vehicles are perfectly balanced. However, it is still important to know how much your vehicle’s axels can take when hitching up a trailer!

Tongue Weight

This is sometimes called TW (but we’ve had enough abbreviations for one article!) Tongue Weight is the term used to refer to how much force is pushing down on the trailer hitch thanks to the load your vehicle is pulling.

If you re-distribute what is in the trailer, check the tongue weight again; distribution can affect it!

Curb Weight

Curb Weight means the whole weight of your vehicle, plus all the fluids it needs to function. Yep, a full gas tank is factored into the curb weight! The cargo weight does not include the people or items you may have inside your towing vehicle.

Dry Weight

Dry weight refers to how much your towing vehicle weighs when it is carrying absolutely no additional cargo and also has no fluids, including gas, oil, or even windshield wiper fluids. Talk about “dry” weight! This isn’t always necessary for calculating your vehicle’s tow rating, but it can be useful to know if, for example, you’re towing another dormant car.


The payload capacity is how much weight a vehicle can handle inside its cab or compartment. 

For example, if you’re driving a pickup truck, the payload would refer to how many boxes the bed of your truck can carry as well as anything inside the cabin.

Braked and Un-braked Towing Capacity

If you’re using a trailer that comes with its own brakes and thus has “braked towing capacity,” you’ll know because there will be an electric cord to tie that trailer’s brake lights to your vehicle.

That way, when the driver steps on the breaks, both the towing vehicle and the trailer being towed will brake at the same time. This is useful because a vehicle towing a trailer with braked towing capacity can handle more weight than one with unbraked towing capacity!

What Equipment Does My Vehicle Need to Tow a Trailer Safely?

If you’re sure your vehicle’s tow rating matches up with the weight of whatever it is towing, the next step is to be sure it is equipped with everything it needs to tow safely! Check out the list below to see if you and your car have everything you need.

1. Tow Bar or Tow Hitch

A tow hitch or tow bar is the device that sticks out of the rear of the towing vehicle and attaches it to the one being towed. Usually, it looks like a horizontal metal bar with a ball pointing straight up. Many pickup trucks feature a tow hitch! 

2. Recovery Hook

A recovery hook or tow hook is used to attach the towing vehicle to the vehicle being towed, the same way a tow hitch does; however, many prefer the recovery hook because they are more versatile for pulling different types of vehicles.  


Closing Thoughts

In summary, tow rating means the amount of weight a towing vehicle can tow down the road during travels. It is usually determined by whoever manufactured your vehicle, but can be calculated by weighing various factors such as your vehicle’s dry weight or payload! 

The important thing to remember is that your trailer should not exceed the tow rating of your towing vehicle!


Up Next In Travel Trailers:

The 7 Best Travel Trailers Under 3000 Pounds

Small Camping Trailers with Bathrooms (7 compact favorites)

6 Travel Trailers with a Rear Slide Out Bed

Best Fiberglass Travel Trailers? (top 7 picks)

Share this article!