Once you figure out what type of comfort features you desire, it’s time to really start learning the “specs,” or specifications, of the trucks.  The first thing you’ll want to consider is the curb weight, payload, GVWR, and towing capacity of the truck.

The “curb weight” is the weight of the empty truck itself, as it came from the manufacturer.  The “payload” is the recommended maximum weight of cargo the truck can carry–either in the passenger compartment or in the bed.  Theoretically, the payload should be all passengers, luggage, cargo, additions to the truck after manufacturer, etc.  However, when the manufacturer figures the payload, they often account for several passengers and reduce the payload by that weight.  Unfortunately, you don’t really know how much weight they are subtracting out for those passengers unless you look at the “GVWR,” or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating.

The GVWR is the curb weight plus the payload, any assumed passengers, or other assumed weights.   As an example, a common GVWR of a standard 2500 model truck is around 8,800 lbs.  The curb weight of the truck might be around 4,800, and the payload might be 3,300.  If you add the curb weight and payload, you get 8,100 lbs., which means the manufacturer has assumed an additional weight of 700 lbs. of passengers or cargo somewhere in order to reach the max. GVWR of 8,800 lbs.  In this case, it is simpler to just look at the GVWR, subtract out the curb weight, and know that anything else added must be less than 3,200 lbs. to keep the truck within safe limits.   The manufacturer can’t make any guarantees regarding the safety and reliability of driving the truck with any more weight on the truck than that.  Keep in mind, if you are towing a trailer using fifth-wheel or gooseneck hitch, the tongue weight of the trailer will have to be included in the payload weight you are adding.

Just how much can a truck tow?  What you will generally find are 2 numbers, the minimum tow capacity and the maximum tow capacity.  These numbers are based on not only the engine capability, which is a common misconception, but also the entire suspension of the truck, the weight distribution, and the braking system.   The numbers are set based on what all parts of the truck can safely handle.

When the truck is made, it usually has a factory set-up for a basic tow package on the back end of the truck, usually just below the bumper, but occasionally sitting on the bumper itself.  When you hook a “bumper pull” trailer to this rear-mount hitch, the weight of the truck must be able to support the weight of the trailer tongue pressing down on the bumper, without the front end of the truck lifting up any.  If the trailer is heavy enough to cause the rear of the truck to “squat” or sink under the load, thereby lifting the front end, you significantly reduce your ability to steer and brake properly, which increases the risk of driving as a whole.  The safest and most gas efficient setup is a properly set, properly balanced and stabilized, and properly attached trailer.  The trailer and truck will actually form a nice, straight, “line” parallel to the road surface.  Here’s a visual:

truck and trailer

The middle illustration of the front end of the truck lifting is generally considered the most dangerous, though if you happen to have rear-wheel drive, the last illustration of the back end lifting is equally dangerous.  You never want to set your tow vehicle up in any way that would decrease control of the truck and trailer.  The heavier the load, the more important this fact is.  It is important to know the vehicles limits so you know when you have maxed out these weights, and so you can prevent causing one of the above dangerous situations.

So, essentially, the minimum tow capacity is basically considered the maximum amount of weight you would want to hook to a bumper-pull hitch WITHOUT a stabilizer package or trailer brakes.  The maximum tow capacity is the maximum weight you could safely tow a bumper-pull trailer WITH a stabilizer package AND trailer brakes.  In most cases, these are the definitions, but read on, as the max. tow weight is occasionally interchange with the Fifth-Wheel tow rating.

The “Fifth-Wheel Weight” isn’t always easy to find.  Some manufacturer’s offer it, some don’t.  A fifth-wheel or gooseneck trailer’s tongue weight is centered directly over the rear axle of the truck, and therefore does not affect the truck the same way as a bumper pull.  It wouldn’t cause a tilt of the truck like an improperly-balanced bumper-pull trailer.  Rather, the weight of the fifth-wheel is limited only by the power of the engine/transmission, and the suspension of the truck.  If you overload those, you risk losing control of the vehicle, or, more likely completely destroying your transmission, engine, or both–very expensive repairs in either case!

If you are very lucky, you will be able to find this weight given–especially in current year models.  However, if you are looking at an older model, you may not find that weight as clearly.  In fact, at least one manufacturer doesn’t even give their dealers access to specs beyond 3 years.  (That was frustrating, let me tell you!!)  The good news is, you can calculate it using two other numbers.  The “GCWR,” or Gross Combined Weight Rating, is the maximum recommended combined weight of the truck pulling a fifth-wheel trailer.  The “Curb Weight” is the weight of the empty truck itself.  If you subtract the Curb Weight from the GCWR, that will give you your max. fifth-wheel tow capacity.

Keep the facts from these last two posts in mind as you look at trucks.  We heard some definitions of these ratings ranging from the simply incorrect to the completely absurd–the worst coming from a dealer himself who was supposedly the dealership’s “expert” regarding diesel trucks and towing!  I spoke with several customer service agents of the manufacturer who were clueless about these weights or what they meant.  Be sure to educate yourself so you don’t get stuck with something that won’t allow you to do what you had planned!  Stay tuned for another posts regarding a few other tid-bits we learned on our journey!