Begin RV

Payload Capacity

What Is Payload Capacity? 

Payload capacity is the manufacturer-determined maximum amount of cargo weight that can be safely added to a vehicle. A “payload” could be anything from two tons worth of old tires to three passengers and their luggage.

Pickup Truck

A simple equation to determine Payload Capacity is:



  • The amount of cargo weight that can be safely added to a vehicle.
  • Can be found in manufacturer specs or from dealership.
  • Payload Capacity = GVWR – Curb Weight
  • Don’t forget to include passenger weight in payload capacity.


Calculating Payload Capacity 

The simplest way to find a vehicle’s payload capacity is to review the specs in the owner’s manual or obtain the information directly from the dealership. To determine the payload capacity on one’s own, it’s key to understand the meaning of Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) and Curb Weight.

  • Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is the maximum loaded weight of a vehicle. The maximum loaded weight includes the weight of the vehicle itself (the curb weight) and any payload.
  • Curb Weight is how much the vehicle weighs when empty, which includes a full tank of gas and topped off fluids but no passengers or cargo.

To determine the payload capacity, subtract the Curb Weight from GVWR.  If a truck’s curb GVWR is 10,000 pounds and the curb weight is 4,000 pounds, the vehicle’s payload capacity will be 6,000 pounds.

*Important Note about Payload Capacity*: When determining payload capacity always include the weight of the passengers and additional cargo. Four passengers each averaging 150 pounds can add 600 pounds to your payload capacity that can easily be forgotten.

Dangers of Exceeding Payload Capacity

Surpassing the manufacturer’s payload capacity can compromise critical functions of the vehicle such as steering, handling and braking. It can also increase the chance of a roll over. It’s always safer to operate well under your payload capacity as it can be easy to miscalculate the cargo weight or forget about additional passengers in the vehicle.

Truck Accident
Photo Credit: Washington State Dep’t of Transportation from Flickr

Warning signs that vehicle is overloaded [1]Napa Online:

– Steering will feel heavier 
– Vehicle becomes difficult to control
– Bottom of vehicle scrapes the ground

What are the dangers of exceeding the payload capacity?

– The added pressure on the shocks, suspension system and wheels will make it more difficult to control the truck leading to accidents
– Increased risk of tire blowout
– Sudden movement of cargo could cause a rollover
– Swaying can cause loss of vehicle control
– Transmission blowout

Understanding the Difference Between Payload Capacity vs Towing Capacity


What Is Towing Capacity?

Towing capacity refers to the maximum weight that a vehicle can tow after factoring in the weight of the vehicle and the payload. To get a clearer picture on what Towing Capacity means it is important to understand a few more key terms to add to GVWR and Curb Weight:

  • Tongue Weight is the downward force that the tongue of the trailer exerts on the hitch that is connected to the vehicle. An acceptable tongue weight for any trailer is somewhere between 9 to 15 percent of the gross trailer weight (GTW).
  • Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) is the combined weight of the vehicle and all passengers and cargo pieces in total. This number refers to a vehicle’s weight at any given point in time.
  • Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) includes the weight of the vehicle, passengers, cargo, and trailer with a load. The GCWR number is your maximum allowed total combined weight with the trailer attached.


How To Determine Towing Capacity?

Towing capacity can be determined by using the following steps:

  1. Determine Curb Weight of the vehicle
  2. Add the weight of passengers, fuel, and cargo to the Curb Weight.
  3. Subtract this number from your vehicle’s GCWR
  4. This is your max towing capacity.

* Check to make sure the hitch can also handle this weight.


  1. Vehicle’s Curb Weight is 8,000 pounds. Passenger, Fuel and Cargo is 3,000 = Total 11,000 pounds
  2. Vehicle’s GCWR is 16,000 pound
  3. 16,000 pounds – 11,000 pounds = 5,000 pounds Tow Capacity

Related RV Terms

For related RV terminology, please reference the RV definitions below:

  • Travel Trailer: A non-motorized compact home on wheels that you can tow behind your personal vehicle.
  • Hitch: the primary connector between a tow vehicle and trailer.
  • Sway: when a trailer moves side to side behind the tow vehicle.
  • GARW (Gross Axle Weight Rating): The maximum weight that the front and rear axles can withstand on a vehicle. This will include two ratings: The FR rating for the front axles and the RR rating for the rear axles.


1 Napa Online

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