Home Car Maintenance What is the 80% tow Rule?

What is the 80% tow Rule?


Many RV enthusiasts adhere to the 80/20 or 80% Towing Rule as a safety precaution.

In essence, this guideline suggests that you should avoid towing loads that exceed 80% of your maximum towing capacity.

By allowing a margin for potential calculation errors, this rule helps safeguard both your vehicle and its longevity, preventing you from consistently pushing it to its limits whenever you tow a trailer. 


Comprehending Towing Capacity, Acronyms, and Trailer Weight

Towing capacity refers to the max weight a car or truck can safely tow. It is an essential consideration when hauling trailers or other heavy loads. To better understand this concept, it is helpful to familiarize yourself with some common abbreviations and terminologies associated with towing:

1. GTW (Gross Trailer Weight) – this refers to the combined weight of the trailer and its contents. It includes the weight of any cargo, equipment, and fluids loaded onto the trailer.

2. GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) – this refers to the maximum permissible weight of a fully loaded vehicle, encompassing both the vehicle itself, its passengers, and any cargo or contents carried within.It is determined by the vehicle manufacturer and should not be exceeded.

3. GCWR (Gross Combination Weight Rating) – this is the max combined weight of a vehicle and the trailer it is towing, including both their respective weights and contents.

4. UVW (Unloaded Vehicle Weight) – this “Dry Weight” represents the weight of the trailer when it is empty, as determined at the manufacturing plant prior to shipping it to a dealer. Once you have purchased a trailer, the UVW becomes relatively insignificant since you will never tow an empty trailer.

5. CCC (Cargo Carrying Capacity) – to determine the CCC for a specific RV, you can locate a sticker on the interior side of the door. For families who live in their RV full-time and have all their belongings on board, a CCC of at least 2,000 pounds is recommended. This allows sufficient space to accommodate their possessions within the RV. On the other hand, individuals who use the RV for weekend getaways and pack items for just a couple of days can manage with a CCC of 1,500 pounds or less. This lower capacity meets their needs for shorter trips.

Now, let’s delve into the concept of the 80/20 towing rule. This rule suggests that for optimal safety and performance, you should avoid towing loads that exceed 80% of your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity. By leaving this 20% margin, you allow room for potential errors in weight calculations and ensure that your vehicle is not constantly pushed to its maximum limits during towing. This precaution helps protect the longevity and overall well-being of your vehicle.

Remember, when determining the appropriate trailer weight to tow, always consider the specifications provided by your vehicle manufacturer. These guidelines should outline the maximum towing capacity, as well as any other relevant limitations or recommendations for safe towing. 

The Impact of the 80% Rule on Maximum Towing Capacity

If you possess a tow vehicle with a maximum towing capacity of 5,000 pounds, it’s natural to be hesitant about forfeiting 1,000 pounds of potential towing capacity by adhering to the “80 Towing Rule.”

Indeed, the loss of 1,000 pounds in towing capacity can significantly influence the range of trailers or campers that you can safely tow with your vehicle in terms of type and size.

Considering this, you might wonder why people opt to follow the “80 Rule for Towing” in the first place.

The reason why people rely on the “80 Rule for Towing” is because it serves as a reliable guideline due to the way maximum towing capacity is determined, while also providing a safety cushion.

The maximum towing capacity of a vehicle is the utmost weight that it can tow safely and dependably, as designated by the manufacturer. This capacity is determined by considering various factors such as the vehicle’s gross weight rating, gross combined weight rating, gross axle weight rating, as well as the suspension, engine type, transmission, and brakes.

Given that the manufacturer specifies a maximum towing amount, one might wonder why not tow right up to that limit.

The Benefits of Avoiding Maximum Towing Capacity for Your Vehicle

When vehicle manufacturers determine the maximum towing capacity for their vehicles, they often establish these limits based on ideal conditions, such as a 0-degree grade, absence of crosswinds, and smooth, level roads. However, these specifications do not account for real-world driving scenarios that can impact the vehicle’s towing capabilities.

While it is not suggested that vehicle manufacturers overstate towing capacities to unsafe levels, it is important to note that higher towing capacities are often marketed as selling points. Manufacturers have a vested interest in maximizing this number, leading to a significant difference between the stated maximum towing capacity and the vehicle’s actual comfortable towing capacity.

Typically, while you may know the dry weight of your trailer or camper, you are unlikely to know the precise weight when fully loaded. Without this information, it becomes impossible to determine how close you are to the maximum towing capacity of your vehicle.

Considering these factors, it is advisable to maintain a cushion and allow for a margin of error when towing a trailer or camper. One effective approach is to adhere to the “80% Tow Rule,” which suggests towing well below the maximum towing capacity of your vehicle. This provides an additional safety buffer and minimizes the risk of pushing your vehicle to its limits.

While it is technically possible to tow up to the maximum towing capacity of your vehicle, it is widely accepted and advised to refrain from doing so in order to prevent unnecessary strain on your vehicle.

The Consequences of Towing an Excessively Heavy Load

Exceeding the maximum towing capacity of a vehicle by towing a trailer of greater weight can significantly diminish the lifespan of the tow vehicle. This is primarily due to the heightened wear and tear it imposes on your car. Moreover, it poses a risk to the safety of everyone on the road.

Here are some issues that can arise from towing a trailer that exceeds the capacity of your tow vehicle:

  • Strain and potential damage to the engine and transmission of the tow vehicle.
  • Faster wear of the braking system parts.
  • Premature damage and uneven wear on the tires.
  • Potential warping or damage to the chassis and axle of the tow vehicle.
  • Significant decrease in fuel efficiency (gas mileage).
  • Increased risk of brake failure while driving, which can result in property damage and serious injuries.
  • Reduction in traction of the tow vehicle’s front tires due to overloaded weight on the rear bumper and hitch.


Safety should be the foremost consideration when making a purchasing decision. Can you confidently tow the trailer with your truck without any apprehension? It is crucial to bear in mind that safety extends beyond your own well-being. Other drivers share the road, placing their trust in you to drive responsibly and safeguard their safety too.

Numerous towing practices and viewpoints exist regarding towing and maximum towing capacity. The 80% Tow Rule seems to work remarkably well. Which tow rule would you apply?

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