The towing capacity of your tow vehicle is the limit of how much weight you can safely tow with it, and it depends on several things. Your towing capacity is, first of all, a function of how much your vehicle itself is capable of pulling in its current condition.
Pickup trucks and larger SUVs, especially if they are equipped with larger engines and upgraded components, will have a higher towing capacity as you would expect. Sedans, smaller SUVs and compact cars can still tow modestly sized trailers and small boats, but they would have a lower towing capacity in general.
If you are planning of towing a large boat or a heavy trailer with your current vehicle, then you will need to do a bit of research into the maximum tow load that it can handle. You may find that the towing capacity of your current towing setup or vehicle is too low for that shiny new boat or that horse trailer.
You don’t have to give up, though – there are several ways for you to increase the towing capacity of your tow vehicle, either by adding or upgrading your towing components to maximize the towing power available to you or by doing some upgrades to the vehicle itself.
Think About The Towing Capacity...
Before you think about towing a heavy load with your tow vehicle, you need to think about its towing capacity first – it’s a really bad idea to try and tow something that weighs more than the maximum weight that your vehicle can safely tow.
You need to have a towing capacity that can handle the maximum gross weight of the trailer that you plan to pull, and then some. In that way, you have a towing setup that’s a safe thing to drive on the road, not to mention being a setup that is a pleasure to travel with, as well.
Your trip will be a lot more pleasant if you don’t have to deal with an overloaded tow vehicle, which will cause you a lot of issues or even the possibility of an accident while on the road.
What Setup Do You Currently Have?
The first step to increasing the towing capacity of your vehicle and current towing components is to check for the actual towing capacity of your setup. First, you will need to determine the towing capacity of your car or truck.
This can be as easy as looking up the relevant information in your owner’s manual, where the towing capacity of your vehicle is usually listed along with other important towing information such as the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) and the Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) for the particular make and model that you have.
If you don’t have your owner’s manual with you, you can also easily check for the towing capacity of your vehicle by looking for the information plate that is usually installed in the driver’s side door pillar. This information plate will list the towing capacity of your vehicle, along with other useful information such as the recommended tire pressures for it.
Another place to look for the towing capacity of your car or truck is under the hood – many models will have yet another information plate, often installed on the engine bay, which lists the towing capacity for that particular vehicle along with other handy information.
You can also try looking online for some information on the towing capacity of your car or truck, as these are also usually listed on the manufacturer’s website.
The towing capacity listed for your car will usually come as a pair of values: the braked towing capacity and the unbraked towing capacity. The braked towing capacity is the limit that your vehicle can safely pull if the trailer being towed comes with its own brake system, which is usually connected by a trailer cable to the vehicle’s braking system.
Stopping distance is factored in when car manufacturers determine the safe towing capacity for their vehicles, so the more braking power you have, the higher the towing capacity you get. Braked towing capacity, then, is usually a good deal higher than unbraked towing capacity.
What Towing Components Are Equipped?
Now that you have the towing capacity of your tow vehicle, then it’s time to look at your towing components. The towing capacity of your current tow setup does not end with the tow capacity of your vehicle – you also have to consider the maximum load that the other components can safely carry, as well. To get a complete picture of the towing capacity of your setup, you also have to check at least three things: your trailer hitch, your ball mount, and the trailer itself.
Your trailer hitch may be an accessory that has been installed in the factory, or it could be an aftermarket addition that you or someone else have put into your vehicle to enable it to tow trailers. In any case, trailer hitches also have their own towing capacity that you will need to consider as well.
If you have the owner’s manual for your trailer hitch, then you can check for the towing capacity of your hitch accessory by consulting that. You can also read the information plate, label or imprint that is located on your hitch accessory and note this information down.
In the case of hitch receivers, the label may give you several values: the maximum weight carrying (MWC) tow capacity, the maximum weight distributing (MWD) tow capacity, and the maximum tongue load weight carrying (TW) capacity for your hitch receiver.
Depending on the trailer hitch that you plan to use with your hitch receiver, the values that you obtain tell you several things. A 2019 F-150 truck, for example, can be capable of towing 13,200 pounds with the right setup. If you use a weight carrying trailer hitch, however, then the maximum capacity of the whole setup is just 5,000 pounds, with a maximum tongue load of 500 pounds.
This already tells you that you have more than enough room to increase the towing capacity of this particular truck, simply by upgrading from a weight carrying trailer hitch to one that has weight distributing features.
The ball mount receives the weight of the trailer coupler, and it is another important piece to the puzzle. The ball mount and the tow ball itself, taken as a unit, have its own towing capacity rating, as well.
It’s all too easy to limit the towing capacity of your setup by choosing a tow ball mount and tow ball that is well under the Gross Trailer Weight rating of what your tow vehicle and hitch receiver are capable of, since there are very few ball mounts that are designed for specific vehicles.
If your tow ball mount is a Class II mount that is only capable of pulling a Gross Trailer Weight of 3,500 pounds, then it does not matter if your tow vehicle is a truck that can easily pull 10,000 pounds.
Your towing setup is limited to the lowest rated towing capacity of its weakest component. In this case, you can only safely pull 3,500 pounds – but this is an easy upgrade you can make, simply by replacing the ball mount with a Class IV mount that can pull a trailer weighing 12,000 pounds or more.
What Is Your Trailer's Limit?
Finally, there is the weight capacity of the trailer itself. Trailers also have their own maximum weight ratings as recommended by the manufacturer, and this is the safe limit of what they can carry, regardless of how much the tow vehicle can pull.
Trailers with their own brake system have higher towing capacities than those that do not come with one. To increase the maximum load that you can tow, another way to do it is to go for a stronger trailer with a higher Gross Trailer Weight rating.
One of the easier ways to increase the towing capacity of your setup is by upgrading your towing accessories. You can replace them with ones that have towing capacities that are equal to, or even exceed, the towing capacity of your car or truck.
What Is Included On Manufacturer's Towing Packages (Upgraded)?
Typically when you order a vehicle that can tow any amount of weight, there will be options that come with that vehicle that can increase the towing capacity. These are different from manufacturer to manufacturer but will be the same upgrades in a sense and these can give you a better idea of what you can upgrade to increase your towing capacity...
- Upgraded Radiator: This will give your vehicle the upgraded cooling capacity it needs when towing heavy loads on hills and is often overlooked.
- Transmission Cooler: Another critical element of cooling the extra heat that is generated caused by towing.
- Upgraded Alternator: The alternator is another overlooked element when it comes to added towing capacity but is another option for some manufacturers when adding a towing package.
- Higher Axle Ratios: Higher axle ratios are another element that can add a little more towing capacity to a vehicle and are usually factory installed but can be an aftermarket install if you have the available funds or are mechanically inclined.
- Upgraded Engine: An upgraded engine is obviously another element that can increase your towing capacity.
Here is an example of the different towing packages available for Ford/Lincoln trucks and SUV's. Take note of the options available on the left hand side of the table.
Does A Weight Distribution Hitch Increase Towing Capacity?
A weight distribution hitch can increase the towing capacity of a tow setup. While adding one will not increase the tow capacity of the vehicle itself, it allows the trailer hitch to evenly distribute the weight between the tow vehicle and the trailer’s axles. This eases up the load on the hitch and the rear axle, which improves stability and control.
Hitch trailers have significantly higher towing capacities when they are equipped with weight distribution features.
Do Trailer Brakes Increase Towing Capacity?
Trailer brakes can increase the towing capacity of a tow setup since the maximum load that a tow vehicle can safely pull is significantly higher if the trailer also comes with its own brake system. This fact is reflected in the tow vehicle’s towing capacity values itself: the braked towing capacity of a vehicle is much higher than the unbraked towing capacity.
A trailer that has its own brake system, and which is connected to the brake system of the car or truck via the trailer cable, is a trailer setup that is safer to steer and brake. Thus, you can load more into that trailer while still having a towing setup that is easy to control – and that is reflected in a higher towing capacity value for braked trailer setups.
Do Air Shocks Increase Towing Capacity?
Air shocks will not allow you to carry heavier trailers or even tow heavier trailers – simply put, they do not increase the towing capacity of your towing setup. What they do offer, however, is added driving comfort and stability when carrying the same load.
The current suspension system of your tow vehicle is designed to safely support the vehicle and improve its handling characteristics. If you have a truck, then the suspension design for it takes into account safe hauling and towing as well.
Heavy loads on the trailer hitch can load the rear axle and shift the balance of your vehicle rearward, which can cause the rear suspension to bottom out while the front axle “floats”, making steering somewhat unresponsive and braking a bit more unpredictable. Air shocks, airbags, or helper air springs provide an answer to this, either by assisting the current suspension or by replacing the factory installed suspension platform entirely.
Air shocks help the tow vehicle pull heavy loads by keeping the vehicle well balanced and stable even if the heavy load of the trailer presses down on the rear axle. This makes all four tires evenly bear the load, which can make a huge difference in the steering and overall control of your tow setup.
Does A Fifth Wheel Hitch Increase Towing Capacity?
Trailer receivers and bumper hitches can only pull so much, that’s why you don’t really see heavy duty commercial trucks using them to pull cargo trailers. Hitches that go over the rear axle, however, have much higher towing capacities compared to tag along hitches.
While a fifth wheel hitch or a gooseneck hitch does not change the towing capacity of the tow vehicle itself, it can increase the tow capacity of your whole towing setup by bringing the tow capacity of your hitch accessory closer to the limit of what your vehicle can tow. In many cases, fifth wheel hitches have towing capacities that exceed the towing capacity of the truck they are installed in.
Do Sway Bars Increase Towing Capacity?
A set of sway bars, or any sort of sway control, are some of the features that usually come with a weight distribution hitch.
While sway bars do not increase the towing capacity of the tow vehicle itself, they do contribute to the towing capacity of the trailer hitch – they are part of the reason why a particular weight distribution hitch will have a significantly higher towing capacity compared to one that does not come with sway control. That difference can be enough to bring up the overall towing capacity of your towing setup.
Will a Transmission Cooler Increase Towing Capacity?
A transmission cooler does not increase the towing capacity of the tow vehicle. What it does, however, is to ensure that your vehicle can continue towing within its rated towing capacity, by ensuring that your transmission stays in good condition. In a way, this helps you ensure that you get the towing capacity you need from your vehicle over the years.