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Tips for Towing Vehicles – Tow Hitches for 4×4 Truck or SUV

Reprint of article from 4-Wheel Drive Off Roading with Jim Walczak

Basic Towing Tips

Determining what your 4WD SUV or 4×4 pickup truck can tow can be a difficult task. Perhaps you’ve spent an evening or two sifting through your vehicle owner’s manual, only to find the information to be as clear as mud. Add to this the fact that all manufacturers don’t use the same formula to determine a vehicle’s towing capacity, and it becomes apparent why consumers continue to be confused.

Here are some tips to make your towing trip a success:

Determine Your Tow Vehicle

If your needs are as basic as towing a small boat or transporting horses or 5th wheel trailers, having the right tow vehicle is one of the most important aspects. Before purchasing a tow vehicle, it’s best to determine the maximum weight you might tow and then match that weight to a vehicle of your choice.

To fine-tune your choices of which tow vehicle to use, consult a Tow Vehicle Guide like this one or this one first.

Basic Terms

Becoming familiar with the terminology can lessen the confusion in determining how much your vehicle is capable of towing. Sherline offers a Trailer Load and Balance worksheet that will help take some of the guesswork out of the formula.


After you have determined how much weight you will be towing and how much weight your tow vehicle can handle, the hitch will be the next tough choice. It’s often a choice that consumers unwisely spend too little time considering, however, the hitch is perhaps the most important factor in assuring that your tow vehicle and load make it to their destination safely. There are several types of hitches to choose from. In some cases, the trailer you are towing will determine the type of hitch you’ll need. Perhaps the most popular hitches today are the Hidden Hitch and Reese Hitches, but one of the most unique hitch systems are Air Hitches. Their one-of-a-kind design improves handling, braking, traction, and wear and tear on your equipment. Check out these videos showing Air Ride hitches in action.

Safety First

Although safety should always be a concern when driving a vehicle, you should have a heightened sense of awareness when towing before each trip take a few extra minutes to go over this towing checklist and give yourself peace of mind. The time spent checking safety concerns could not only save your equipment from damage but also reduce the possibility of accidents on the highway. And before you even hit the road, make sure to review these braking basics. You need to make sure you can stop before you even start!

Towing Terminology

(GVWR) Gross Vehicle Weight RatingThis is the maximum amount of weight that a given vehicle can weigh – including its passengers, fuel and cargo – without being overloaded.
(GCWR) Gross Combined Weight RatingThe maximum a vehicle plus its trailer – including cargo, fuel, and passengers – can weigh without being overloaded.
(GAWR) Gross Axle Weight Rating

Tow Rating

The maximum weight an axle is rated to carry. It includes the weight of the axle.


The manufacturer’s figure for the maximum trailer weight a vehicle is rated to tow.

Axle WeightThe weight of an individual tow vehicle’s axle, or the weight of a trailer’s axle (or axles), but does not include the trailer’s tongue weight.
Base Curb WeightThis is the weight of the empty vehicle (with a full fuel tank and the standard equipment)
Cargo WeightThe cargo weight is the base curb weight, plus any additional weight that is added to that (such as the trailer tonnage weight).
Maximum Loaded Trailer WeightThis is the maximum weight of your (fully loaded) trailer that your truck can tow.
Tonnage WeightThe amount of weight that pushes down on the trailer hitch.
Tow WeightThis is a rating by the manufacturer for how much combined weight the truck can pull with a loaded trailer. (tonnage weight and GCVR) If you have any doubts about the weight of your load, there are public scales used by truck drivers located at most truck stops. Be sure to have your loaded vehicle weighed before you begin

Types of Hitches & Cargo Weights

Hitches are rated as follows:

ClassGTW (Gross Trailer Weight)TW (Tongue Weight)
IUp to 2,000 lbsUp to 200 lbs
IIUp to 3,500 lbsUp to 300 lbs
IIIUp to 5,000 lbsUp to 500 lbs
IVUp to 10,000 lbsUp to 1,000 lbs