What is the 10% Towing Rule?


Understanding the towing capability of a vehicle plays a vital role in selecting the most suitable model for your transportation requirements and gauging the type of loads you can comfortably transport using your existing vehicle.

By deducting the curb weight from the GCVWR (Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating), you can determine the towing capacity of your vehicle. It is emphasized by manufacturers that surpassing your car or truck’s towing capacity should be avoided. Furthermore, for safety precautions, it is advisable to maintain a minimum 10% margin below the maximum limit.

Loads can shift, individuals can miscalculate, and unexpected braking situations may arise. Consequently, driving a vehicle that operates at the absolute edge of its capacity is ill-advised due to numerous factors. 


What Does Towing Capacity Mean?

When it comes to car shoppers, few subjects are as intricate as towing. Manufacturers strive to boast about having the highest towing capacities, but it is far from a straightforward matter of finding the right numerical value.

Towing capacity entails a set of calculations and extensive safety considerations, rather than a singular weight expressed in pounds. Whether you seek a full-size truck for towing your boat or horse trailer, or you desire one of the top-rated SUVs for towing, allowing your family to embark on vacations while pulling a camper for accommodations, there is a range of terms and concepts you must comprehend to make an informed choice.

The towing capacity of your vehicle refers to the utmost weight it can securely haul. This capacity is subject to variations depending on factors such as the vehicle’s configuration, current load, and the distribution and management of the load being towed.

Automakers rely on a single numerical value to provide an approximate estimation of towing capacity. However, this figure does not offer a definitive rule that applies universally in all situations. Calculating the towing capacity requires understanding multiple factors about both your towing vehicle and the trailer you intend to tow. 


Although manufacturers provide a towing capacity for every vehicle they produce, it is crucial to acknowledge that these calculations are based on the assumption that the tow vehicle carries only the driver. If your intention is to tow a travel trailer while also accommodating your family and carrying all the necessary gear for a weekend getaway, the manufacturer’s calculations will not accurately reflect the load you are carrying.

Methods for Determining Towing Capacity

In order to determine your vehicle’s towing capacity, you will require two key pieces of information: the complete Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR) of both the tow vehicle and the trailer, considering the combined weight of all cargo they will carry, including items such as people and wiper fluid. Additionally, you will need to know the curb weight of your tow vehicle, which refers to its weight when it is fully fueled and equipped with all necessary fluids for operation.

By deducting the curb weight of your vehicle from the Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR), you can determine its towing capacity. It is emphasized by manufacturers that surpassing your car or truck’s towing capacity should be strictly avoided. Additionally, for safety precautions, it is recommended to maintain a minimum 10% margin below the maximum limit.

Loads have the tendency to shift, people can make miscalculations, and cars may brake suddenly. Due to numerous factors, driving a vehicle that operates at the absolute limits of its capacity is not advisable.

Exceeding the listed towing capacity can pose significant risks, so it is essential to always adhere to the specified limit for your safety.

Glossary of Towing Capacity Related Terminology

To guarantee that you tow a safe and manageable amount of weight, it is beneficial to acquaint yourself with a few additional terms.

Tongue weight, also known as TW, refers to the downward force applied to the rear of a load or towed vehicle. Understanding this term is crucial, as it enables you to maintain better control over your vehicle.

Curb weight pertains to the weight of a vehicle without any additional passengers, cargo, or trailer loads. It includes the weight of gasoline and other essential fluids required for the vehicle’s operation. Knowing the curb weight provides an understanding of the vehicle’s baseline weight.

Dry weight is a term closely related to curb weight, as it encompasses the weight of a vehicle without passengers and cargo. However, what sets it apart is that it excludes the weight of fluids necessary for the proper functioning of the vehicle. Thus, dry weight provides a measure of the vehicle’s weight without the inclusion of operational fluids.

And if you intend to have a comfortable margin of safety staying at the 10% Tow Rule, you might want to consider increasing your vehicle’s towing capacity to improve performance.

Methods of Improving Towing Capacity

If you already possess a tow vehicle and require enhanced capability to accommodate heavier loads, consider exploring these modifications that could potentially enhance its towing capacity. However, it’s important to note that many of these modifications can be expensive, alter the vehicle’s everyday performance, and potentially reduce its desirability in the used car market when the time comes to sell.

Consider these modifications that can enhance your towing capacity:

Enhancing the Hitch – by upgrading from a Class II to a Class III hitch, your vehicle can handle a greater towing load. If your tow vehicle permits the upgrade, opting for a higher hitch class could provide the necessary boost. 


Installing a Weight-Distribution Hitch – a weight-distribution hitch utilizes spring bars to distribute the trailer’s load evenly and reduce sway. This cost-effective modification improves towing performance without necessitating any changes to the vehicle itself.

Upgrading the Brakes – the braking system often determines the maximum load a vehicle can handle. You may be able to enhance braking power reasonably by switching to larger brake pads and rotors. 


Replacing the Axles – some RV shops offer the option to replace your tow vehicle’s standard axles with sturdier versions designed specifically for the demanding loads involved in RV hauling.

Adding a Larger Radiator – towing exerts strain on the engine, and to prevent excessive wear and tear on powertrain components, increasing the engine’s cooling capacity with a bigger radiator can enable it to handle heavier loads more effectively.


Towing capacity can significantly differ among trucks or cars of the same class or even within a specific model that offers multiple engine and transmission options. The stated towing specifications usually assume that only the driver is present in the vehicle, without considering additional passengers, family members, friends, or the accompanying gear. To ensure safety and account for potential miscalculations and shifting loads, it is advisable to keep the towing weight below 10% of the maximum towing capacity. Using an appropriate trailer hitch is of utmost importance for safe towing.

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