What can I tow? A real world example

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Image courtesy of TrailerTraveler.net
credit: TrailerTraveler.net's 4Runner towing a Lance trailer

My in-laws have gone camping with us a few times these past couple of years and have gone to the RV shows with us (first as we were looking to buy a camper and now as we go to oogle the campers and lust over accessories). We’ve walked around and they are interested in getting something.

Their current vehicle is a 2006-ish Toyota 4Runner with a V8 engine and advertised 7,000 lb. towing capacity. My father-in-law has heeded my warnings of, “That’s in a best case scenario” to “That’s unlikely realistic” and asked me outright, “So, what can I tow?”

Similar to my page on the same topic, here’s what I sent to him:


 

Long story shortest, you should be able to tow a trailer with a maximum weight of between 4,000 and 4,600 pounds (depending on what all you carry in the 4runner with you).

Read on if you want to figure out how I got to there and what to look for as you look at campers.

Here’s a photo that I took of your placards on the doorjamb:

Toyota 4Runner Maximum Cargo Sticker
Toyota 4Runner Maximum Cargo Sticker

The important part of this one is where it says, “The combined weight of occupants and cargo should never exceed 950 lbs.” This assumes a full tank of gas and a 150 pounds passenger. (Note, as of posting this, I realize we have to check his manual to see if this is a true fact or not.)

Travel trailers are best behaved on the road when they have between 10% and 15% of their entire weight on the tongue. This weight counts toward your cargo carrying capacity and is the true limiting factor. To hit the theoretical 7,000 pounds of towing capacity – you would have to be 150 pounds, carry no passengers or gear and have a tongue weight of 13.5% (7000 * .135 = ~945). You have to be careful with tongue weights as going to low can induce trailer sway. You can combat that somewhat with friction control devices and fancier hitches, but they all come at a cost of their own weight. Our pop-up required a sway bar, I had a harrowing experience my first trip out I-70 by myself with it. Be aware of it and don’t go too light for the pure basis of getting a bigger trailer. For me, I would plan for as low as 13% but no lower.

So now, looking at your real world guesstimates:

  • You and passengers will be about 250 pounds
  • You’ll carry a cooler, some clothes, some random other stuff for another 75 pounds
  • The hitch receiver and various hitch hardware is maybe 25 pounds

Best guess ballpark is 350 pounds. That leaves you with 600 pounds of remaining cargo carrying capacity.

Doing the math backwards at different tongue weights gives you:

  • 15% tongue weight = maximum trailer weight of 4,000 pounds
  • 14% tongue weight = maximum trailer weight of 4,285 pounds
  • 13% tongue weight = maximum trailer weight of 4,600 pounds
  • 12% tongue weight = maximum trailer weight of 5,000 pounds
  • 11% tongue weight = maximum trailer weight of 5,454 pounds
  • 10% tongue weight = maximum trailer weight of 6,000 pounds

Now, the next challenge is what number do you pick from the RV manufacturer to go off of. Every manufacturer describes and tries to sell on the “dry weight” (or even the dry hitch weight) – both of these numbers are fallacies. Many times, these are measured before propane tanks are added/filled or battery is added, etc. It’s just not a realistic number. The most definite number is the “Gross Vehicle Weight Rating” (or “GVWR”). This is the absolute maximum that the trailer can/should ever weigh. This is a more constant number and if you go off of this, you know you won’t overload your vehicle.

Many manufacturer websites stink and aren’t up to date/fully filled out. See this screenshot from the Rockwood MiniLite website:

2306 Mini-lite Specs

I’m not sure why they haven’t filled in the GVWR as it should be simply the unloaded vehicle weight (aka “dry weight”) plus the cargo carrying capacity (CCC) – 3,630 + 1,088 = 4,718 lbs. Which puts it just a bit higher than you may be willing to go (depending on what tongue weight your end up with).

What was nice about this exercise is that it will help us dial in a specific trailer that matches his tow vehicle and they both can be happy with.

(Note: a special thanks to TrailerTraveler.net for the beautiful image at the top.)

6 COMMENTS

  1. I am able to tow my Rockwood Roo 183 just fine with my Chevy Suburban 1500 until I get out on the Interstate. The wind resistance causes my RPMs to cycle up and and down, driving me nuts and probably using a lot of gas on the up cycles. My next tow vehicle will be a 2500. I rented one out of necessity once for a camping trip and couldn't even tell the truck was towing anything out on the highway. Then again, it was a 6.0 diesel.

  2. Thank you for your informative blog. We just bought a 2015 Chevy Traverse thinking we will be able to pull a camper, but now I'm not so sure. It claims it can tow about 5000 lbs. and we had hoped to buy a small camper, but now I'm worried that we may not be able to even tow a pop-up!!

  3. Generally speaking, a pop-up or tear-drop or maybe even an R-Pod might be doable. I know I was surprised at the numbers when I considered my 2003 Durango. I thought it was huge back then. 🙂

  4. Hi,

    Can you help me on how to figure this out. I know you worked very hard on explaning this, but I am still new and this is a bit confusing. I have not baught a trailer yet, therefore I want to buy one that I can tow. What is the maximun I can safely tow?

    I have a 2005 2wd Automatic Toyota Sequoia.

    Sticker on the driver door jam says:
    GVWR: 6600 LBS.

    The manual says:

    – "The maximum gross trailer weight (trailer weight plus cargo weight) must never exceed (6500 lb.)".

    – "The combination of the gross trailer weight added to the total weight of the vehicle, occupants and vehicle cargo must never exceed a total of (11800 lb.)".

    – "Weight carrying hitch or distribution hitch (650 lb.)".

    I hope I provided enough info. So, what's the maximum I can tow? Can I tow a TT dry weight 5800 LBS. ?

  5. Unfortunately, it's impossible to say without additional information. Your best bet is to load the truck up like you were going camping and weigh it. Then, you can use a tool like this for figuring out what you can tow and still stay within ratings:
    http://www.towingplanner.com/Calculators/TowingScaledWeights

    Barring that, try filling out this calculator to get an idea (use the sticker that looks like the one, "Toyota 4Runner Maximum Cargo Sticker" above for the first field):
    http://www.towingplanner.com/Calculators/TowingPayloadEstimate

  6. Excellent post! Thank you. It helped a lot to get an idea what we can tow until we get an actual weight of our loaded pickup.

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