How to Determine Your Car's Towing Capacity

February 22, 2012

Underestimating your car's towing capacity is dangerous. Learn how to research car towing capacity from multiple sources.

No Safe Towing Capacity

The towing capacity of a vehicle is the amount of weight it can safely tow should it be required to tow a trailer or another vehicle. Staying within this limit will make for a much safer tow, as well as reduce the chances of damage to the vehicle. While determining a vehicle's basic towing capacity is somewhat simple, there are several additional variables that should be considered to help making a towing job as stress free and smooth as possible.

Check the Owner's Manual
The best place to look for your vehicle's tow capacity is the owner's manual. The owner's manual will put this information into language and a format that is easy to understand. The towing capacity is listed with the vehicle technical specifications at the front of the manual. You can also use the index at the back of the owner's manual to quickly find the section and page number for your vehicle's towing capacity chart. If your used vehicle doesn't have an owner's manual, there are still other options to find its towing capacity.

Check Door Jamb Specs
Open the vehicle's doors and look along the door jamb. All vehicles will have their technical specifications engraved on a plate that is attached to the door jamb just below the latch. If you do not see it on the door jamb, then look on the side of the door itself. Your vehicle's towing capacity should be listed here in both metric and imperial measurements.

Determine Base Towing Capacity
If the towing capacity is not listed, locate the vehicle's combined gross weight rating, which can be found printed on the door jamb of the vehicle, or in the owner's manual. Once you have this value, determine the combined weight of your vehicle plus all occupants, fuel and cargo by using an automotive scale such as those used by commercial truckers.

If a scale is not available, you can approximate this value by adding your vehicle's listed curb weight plus the weight of passengers and cargo together. Once you have this value, subtract it from the combined gross vehicle weight in order to find out the maximum weight your vehicle can safely tow. For most vehicles not specifically designed or prepared for towing, it may not be wise to tow more than 70 percent of the combined gross vehicle weight. While more load is technically possible, it may cause considerably more wear.

Consider Route of Travel
An important part of figuring out how much a vehicle can tow is the types of roads you will be traveling on. Traveling on well paved, level ground is a lot less work than traveling up and down steep inclines. While determining the tow capacity of a vehicle may give you an idea of what kinds of loads you can safely tow on flat ground with light traffic, towing these same loads up steep inclines can cause engine and transmission overheating, as well as problems with the suspension and brakes.

Look up Weight Capacity of Hitch
Regardless of your vehicle's towing capacity, the limiting factor may be the weight capacity of the hitch itself. While the load being towed cannot exceed the capacity of the hitch, this does not mean that a vehicle is capable of towing the maximum capacity of the hitch.

Call the Dealer
When all else fails, call the local car dealer and ask for the parts and service department. The service technician will have access to all of the technical data for all models and years with a particular make of vehicle. If your vehicle is a bit older, the service technician may have to look it up and call you back.

Ensure Proper Maintenance and Vehicle Condition
While most vehicles in good condition should be able to support occasional towing, if towing is to be done on a regular basis, a few modifications are generally required in order to better cope with the additional stress. Transmission and oil coolers, changes to final drive gear ratio, and upgraded radiators are mandatory upgrades for a vehicle that will be regularly used or towing. In addition, firmer, upgraded suspension components and increased power are also good ideas.

Towing is a hard job regardless of the vehicle used. Vehicles that are regularly used for towing will experience increased stress and accelerated wear. Proper maintenance is of extreme performance not just for continued performance, but also for safety.