Is GVWR the Same as Towing Capacity?

Is GVWR the Same as Towing Capacity?

I felt I had to answer this question this week, as the misinformation that is often offered up by truck owners in forums is frightening. I’ve seen so many wrong answers to this online, and wanted to set the record straight. If you get it wrong and don’t understand the difference between GVWR, payload, and towing capacity then you risk damaging your truck and having to foot a large repair bill.

Is GVWR the same as towing capacity? The simple answer is, no GVWR is not the same as towing capacity, and payload isn’t the same as towing capacity either. Payload, which you can calculate from your GVWR, is what you can carry, and towing capacity is what you can pull.

I think a lot of the confusion comes about because truck owners don’t properly understand what GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) actually means.

GVWR is the maximum safe weight of your truck once it’s been fully loaded (including the truck). If you know the GVWR, then you can calculate know what your payload is.

As an example, the payload of your truck, e.g. what it can carry and not tow, is calculated in the following manner, and it’s all based off the GVWR:

If you’re truck has a listed GVWR of 12,000 pounds and your truck weighs 7,000 pounds when empty, then the payload capacity is 5,000 pounds. In other words;

GVWR minus empty truck weight equals your payload capacity.

It’s that simple, but only when you know it!

As you can now hopefully understand, GVWR is not the same as towing capacity at all but is actually the maximum safe weight when you combine your truck and anything that’s it’s carrying, for example driver, passengers, and a payload in the bed.

But, and here’s where I think some of the confusion comes from; your truck’s towing capacity is also based off of the GVWR, plus how strong your truck’s frame is.

The easiest way in which you can understand the difference between payload and towing capacity is this:

Payload is what you can carry, towing capacity is what you can pull.

Let’s take a look at another real-life example, just in case you’re still not there yet!

Get it Wrong and You Could Damage Your Truck

You’re thinking about buying a new truck and see a beautiful looking vehicle with a towing capacity of 12,000 pounds.

A lot of the time, the towing capacity is going to be listed on the seller’s advert – don’t ask me why, but towing capacity always tends to get more attention compared to payload.

Handy Hint: Click here for my truck payload capacity calculator so you can figure it out.

You might think that payload and towing capacity mean the same thing, and there is no difference. It might be that you just think it’s a different way of describing the same thing?

It’s a big mistake to make.

You decide to buy the truck, knowing that you have 6,000 pounds of junk you need to shift.

You load it all into the bed, feel happy with yourself, then hear at ominous cracking sound.

That will be your truck’s frame cracking under the stress of the weight.


Because you didn’t realise that the actual payload, which can be calculated by the GVWR, was actually just 4,000 pounds, and nowhere near the towing capacity which was 12,000 pounds.


What Does Truck Payload Mean?

Payload is the weight of anything that you place into your truck.

That includes the driver, passengers, a bag on the front seat. In fact, anything that you put into that truck is going to form part of the payload weight.

In most cases, payload will much a lot less than the truck’s towing capacity.

Using the real-life example above, if you think your new truck can carry 12,000 pounds because you read that on the towing capacity, then you’re going to be in a lot of trouble.

And whilst you might not crack the frame, which is the worst-case scenario, you could end up damaging other parts of your truck such as the suspension, bed, chassis, and tires.

What Does Truck GVWR Mean?

Hopefully you should now know this, but just to clarify the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is the maximum weight of your truck, when taking into account the truck weight including chassis, body, engine, fuel, accessories, driver, passenger, and anything that you load and carry on it.

GVWR is specified by the manufacturer and is the operating weight that they have determined after intense stress levels testing, so never exceed the GVWR when carrying loads.

Handy Hint: GVWR and GCWR are very different. Click here to see what the differences are.

What Does Truck Towing Capacity Mean?

This one is easier to get your head around, as it’s simply the weight of what you can tow with a trailer.

Trucks are able to tow heavier weights than they can actually carry, and the towing capacity weight will depend on how strong the frame is, engine torque, and your transmission.


I hope that this very simple overview has helped you understand whether GVWR is the same as towing capacity, and how GVWR lets you calculate payload.

The driving force behind truck GVWR ratings is to keep people safe.

If your truck is overloaded then the truck can get damaged, but even more concerning is that brakes could fail once out on the road, or you won’t be able to slow down in time.

Understanding this concept and the differences between GVWR, payload, and towing capacity is critical if your pickup truck is going to last, and not run into expensive problems.

Josh Henderson

Hi I'm Josh and I'm a huge pickup enthusiast. I started this website in 2018 in order to share all my projects and custom mod tips that I've done with my own Ford F-150.

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