Understanding Trailer Weight Ratings

Feb 6, 2019

Determining how much weight you can physically and legally haul with your trailer can sometime be a confusing task.

We say legally because, yes, it is possible to be issued a ticket if you exceed your trailer’s or vehicle’s GVWR. The reason behind this is, it doesn’t create a safe driving environment for everyone on the roadway. We are in no way giving you legal advice rather educating you on the importance of knowing all the different weight ratings and how to calculate what you can haul so you can travel safely.

Before we get started, let’s go over some definitions and how to determine or calculate each of them. Without knowing these definitions you will have no way of knowing if you are within the weight limits set by the manufacturer of your vehicle or trailer.

Note; please go to the conclusion if you’d like to skip over the definitions and figure out how to calculate your payload capacity fast.

Weight Rating Definitions to Know:

GVW- Gross Vehicle Weight. This is the fully loaded amount of your towing vehicle including all cargo, people, fluids.

*Determine this by driving over a scale. Or, estimate this total by first getting the vehicle’s weight through the vehicles manual or contacting the manufacturer then add all extra weight accordingly. (Passengers, Cargo, Fluids, etc)

GTW- Gross Trailer Weight. The same as GVW, but applies to your trailer’s fully loaded weight. When connected to the vehicle this includes the tongue weight.

*Determine this by driving over a scale. You can also contact the trailers manufacturer or ask us for your trailers weight and then add extra cargo weight accordingly

GVWR- Gross Vehicle Weight Rating.

This is the number your GVW or GTW should not exceed. So, it’s the maximum amount of weight the vehicle or trailer is capable of handling with everything loaded based off it’s design. Overloading beyond this number will cause excessive stress on your vehicle’s engine, brakes, transmission and other mechanical parts they were not designed to handle.

This is the most commonly used term you will see used throughout our site. Keep in mind your trailer and vehicle have separate GVWR’s. Trailer GVWR’s are sometimes determined by trailer manufacturer’s by your trailer gross axle’s weight rating (GAWR). So, if you had two axles rated for 7,000 lbs then your trailer’s GVWR will be rated at 14,000 lbs.

Sometimes they will add the weight into the equation to determine GVWR. So if we had two axles with a rating of 14,000 lbs and a trailer weighing 3,000 lbs then the GVWR would be

*You can determine this by contacting your trailer or vehicle manufacturer. We make it very apparent what the GVWR of the trailers are. You can also look at the VIN Number Tag

GAWR- Gross Axle Weight Rating. The total amount of weight you can put on each trailer axle, determined by the manufacturer.

*You can find out your GAWR from the axle manufacturer or from us

Payload Weight- Weight of the load hauled on the trailer. This is important to figure out so you know how much weight you are adding and you can stay within range.

*Coming up with this number may not be exact. However you can get weight estimates of the cargo you’re hauling from manufacturers, stickers, manuals, and scales. It is important to come up with a general ballpark number  

Maximum Payload Capacity- How much payload weight you are able to add to the trailer.

* Calculate this by taking the: GVWR-weight of the trailer = payload capacity . We recommend you load about 85% of your payload capacity to prolong the life of your trailer and stay within safe limits.

Tongue Weight- The amount of weight pushing down on the hitch ball of the trailer.

* We recommend you should have about 10%-15% of your total weight on a bumper pull trailers. Gooseneck trailers should generally have 20%-25% of tongue weight.

Overall Weight Distribution- It’s important to properly load your trailer to ensure safe driving conditions and less wear for your trailer and tow vehicle.

* We recommend that you load your trailer with 60% of the weight in front of the center of the trailer axle(s) & 40% behind the center of the axle(s)

Towing Capacity- The amount of weight your vehicle can pull.

*The best and easiest way to figure this out is by contacting your vehicle’s manufacturer or looking in the owner’s manual for more information.


Knowing and understanding these definitions will be beneficial for you in the long run. Instead of faithfully loading cargo on your trailer and hoping for the best, you now know important terms to properly load your trailer with the correct amount of weight and positioning.

This will keep you safe while hauling your trailer. It will also prolong the life of your trailer and vehicle if you treat it with care and are educated on how to do so.

Out of everything we went over you want to be sure you’re aware of your GVWR and payload capacity.

Overloading your trailer past its GVWR can not only cause a multitude of problems but can also get you in trouble with the law. So make sure you’re not putting too much stress on your axles and calculate your payload capacity.

Simple Calculation for determining Payload Capacity:

Payload Capacity= (Trailer GVWR - Weight of the trailer)

Once you’ve made this calculation you’ll know what weight limit to stay in. Remember, we recommend you load up to 85% of your maximum payload capacity just to be safe.

If at any time you get confused with some of the definitions or have any other questions that are trailer related, don’t hesitate to call 336-276-0329. We take pride in helping our customers and taking care of all their trailer needs. So, be sure you are in good hands! Reach out to us on Facebook or visit our Youtube Channel for product videos and more information on trailers.