Pickup Towing Limits Explained

Pickup towing limits of 3.5-tonnes are rapidly becoming the industry standard but how do they achieve this capacity and will you be legal towing the full amount with a few pals on board? Not always…

How Are Towing Capacities Calculated?

Towing limits, like gross vehicle weights, have been devised to make sure each vehicle is safely operating within its capabilities. Various aspects of the vehicle are taken into consideration by the authorities when rating the maximum towing capacity like engine performance, braking force and suspension.

Vehicles that tow more the legal limit will take longer to stop and can become unstable, increasing the chance of an accident. It also causes excessive wear and tear on components such as the suspension, brakes and tyres.

Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW)

Manufacturers proudly state towing capabilities, but rarely mention the gross vehicle weight, or GVW. This is the maximum amount that a vehicle and its trailer (and all of its contents) can weigh.

This is important, as manufacturers will state the maximum payload in the brochure, usually alongside the towing capacity, but thanks to maximum authorised mass restrictions, there isn’t a single pickup truck that can pull its full towing capacity and carry its maximum payload at the same time.


Each of these is the same thing. Gross vehicle weight (GVW) means the weight of a vehicle or trailer including the maximum load that can be carried safely when it’s being used on the road. This is also known as maximum authorised mass (MAM) and will be listed in the owner’s manual. It’s also usually shown on a plate or sticker fitted to the vehicle, where it could also be called gross train weight (GTW) or even gross combination weight (GCW).

Nissan Reveals Striking 2021 Navara Facelift
A plate will detail the figures to work out pickup towing limits
Are Towing Weights Misleading?

No, but they don’t give the whole picture.

To give you an example, we’ll take a pickup truck with a gross vehicle weight of 5.7 tonnes (or 5,700kg), which is the second figure shown on the vehicle’s weight plate that’s usually located inside the driver’s door or engine bay.

According to the manufacturer, this vehicle has a maximum payload of 1,100kg, and a towing capacity of three tonnes (3,000kg). Its kerbweight (the vehicle without contents but including a driver, fuel and oil) is 1,900kg.

When towing a full load of three tonnes, this restricts the maximum weight of the vehicle and all of its contents to 2.7 tonnes – that’s the GVW of 5,700kg less the towing weight. Given the 1,900kg kerbweight of the vehicle, this leaves just 800kg for payload, which includes cargo and passengers, which is short of the 1,100kg stated payload.

Eating Into the Payload

While a 300kg difference can be managed, some pickup trucks run closer to the limits than others. The Toyota Hilux, for example, is approved to tow up to 3,500kg, but has a gross vehicle weight, or gross train weight, of 5,850kg.

With the vehicle itself having a kerbweight of as much as 2,105kg, your allowable payload is significantly reduced if the vehicle is towing the maximum trailer weight.

Taking the GVW as a starting point (5,850kg) and taking away the maximum towing weight (3,500kg) and the Hilux kerbweight (2,105kg), you could be left with just 245kg of payload.

Of course, any reduction in towing weight is then transferred over to the payload, but if you want to get the full 1,105kg payload of the Hilux in the back, your maximum towing weight would be reduced to just over 2.6 tonnes.

Toyota Tough: Czech Army To Take on Hilux Pickup
Golden Rules of Towing

A famous ‘golden rule’ of towing is that a trailer should never weigh more than the towing vehicle, which complicates the 3.5-tonne towing limits of a pickup.

Pickups, with their long overhangs, are especially prone to the handling and braking compromises that such a weight can have, even when mitigated by technology such as trailer sway control and weight distribution hitches.

Before you tow, check your pickup towing limits and ensure your own safety.

Even a caravan affects pickup towing limits