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GVWR Meaning Explained: Gross Vehicle Weight Ratings for Vehicles & Towing

GVWR Meaning Explained: Gross Vehicle Weight Ratings for Vehicles & Towing

If you’re new to the world of towing hauling or just loading a vehicle you might be wondering what the meaning and importance of GVWR is. GVWR is important to know for just about everything you’ll do while towing or hauling heavy.

We have a team of experts in trucks, towing, and motorhomes to explain the meaning of GVWR and other concepts and terms you need to know.

What Is the Meaning of GVWR?

GVWR stands for Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. Essentially, it’s the maximum weight (while loaded) at which a vehicle or trailer can safely operate. Your vehicle or trailer and the things inside it all count toward your GVWR, including your passengers, cargo, and even gas. 

GVWR is a very important number to know and not to exceed. Most vehicles will place a sticker with this information in the door jam. On trailers this sticker is usually somewhere near the front or tongue and in motorhomes its usually behind the drivers seat.

This R-Pod 193 Travel Trailer’s weight sticker shows it has a GVWR of 4,835 lbs.

How Do You Calculate Your GVWR?

Simply put, your GVWR is the total weight of the vehicle plus the total amount of cargo weight it can safely carry. However, you usually don’t have to calculate this by hand. The easiest way to determine your GVWR is to consult your owner’s manual or the vehicle itself. The manufacturer sets the GVWR based on the components that went into the vehicle at the time of construction.

Generally, you can find your GVWR listed on one or more points on the vehicle. You may find it on your vehicle’s driver’s side door, for example. On an RV, you will likely find it on the weight sticker attached to your RV somewhere.

If you can’t find your GVWR, check out any documentation you may have received about the vehicle or trailer. Or you can visit the manufacturer’s website. Keep in mind that many variables effect GVWR and not all vehicles of the same type have the same rating. Axle changes, engine differences and many more things will effect it, so just because you find the same vehicle, don’t expect the GVWR to be the same.

Pro Tip: Before you hit the road, make sure you know Do RVs Have to Obey Road Weight Limits?

What Happens If You Exceed Your GVWR?

It’s crucial to not just know the meaning of GVWR but to know the actual number for your vehicle. You risk serious trouble for your tow vehicle or yourself if you exceed it. Slightly exceeding your GVWR will lead to worsened handling and an increased risk of an accident.

If you’re significantly over your GVWR, your vehicle may show very visible signs of struggling. For example, slow acceleration, sagging springs, poor shifting, and high engine temperatures. These could damage the engine, suspension, or other systems. 

Can you get a ticket for being over GVWR?

Some states will issue a ticket to a private owner who is noticeably exceeding the weight limits of their vehicle. However, private vehicles are not required to be weighed and it’s unlikely that you will get a ticket. For commercial operators yes tickets can and are regularly issued. This includes semi-trucks, buses, and any other heavy-hauling vehicle. These vehicles are required to weigh regularly and meet the limitations of the vehicle and road.

You can also get a ticket if you are operating a vehicle with a weight limit beyond what your driver’s license is rated for. Most private driver’s licenses will have a weight limit on the license. To legally operate heavy equipment you usually need a license to prove you know how. These are usually commercial driver licenses or CDL’s. Below is a shot of my license that says I can legally operate a vehicle up to 26,000 lbs or any RV (which is good because our motorhome weighs 50k!) In some states, you need a special license even to operate a heavy motorhome. It’s important to know your local laws when hauling heavy.

Florida Drivers License Weight Limit

Can I Change My Vehicle’s GVWR?

The manufacturer sets your vehicle GVWR. Therefore, there’s no easy, legal way to change it. However, you can modify certain elements of your vehicle to increase your performance under high payload or cargo capacity. But remember, this does not change the official or legal weight ratings of the vehicle, despite better handling. If you cause an accident, you would still face repercussions if overweight.

The only legal way to change your GVWR is to appeal to a highway transportation board or the association for work truck industry but these are primarily for commercial vehicles. Private vehicles are almost never granted an updated GVWR even if significant modifications were made.

Is GVWR the Same as Towing Capacity?

No. While these concepts may seem similar, they represent different things. Only the weight of your vehicle and the things it carries count toward your GVWR, meaning it solely deals with what the vehicle itself can handle.

Towing capacity, on the other hand, relates to how much weight your vehicle can safely tow in a separate trailer. This capacity considers the power of your vehicle and your GVWR. Therefore, it’s important to know both to avoid exceeding either.

Most vehicles that are designed to tow will also provide another weight called the GCWR. GCWR stands for gross combined weight rating. GCWR will be higher than GVWR because it includes the towing limits in the number. You need to consider both GVWR (the weight of the vehicle only) and GCWR when towing.

How Much Can I Tow? - Towing & Payload Capacity Explained- MUST WATCH IF TOWING!

New to towing? Get our top towing tips here: How to Tow an RV: The Beginner’s Guide

How Does GVWR Work with RV Trailers?

In addition to the GVWR of your tow vehicle, every RV trailer and regular has a GVWR of its own. In this context, the meaning of GVWR is the maximum weight at which you can transport your trailer safely. This number reflects both the weight of the trailer itself, its contents, and any liquids in the holding tanks.

It’s vital to know this number to avoid loading up your trailer with too many possessions. That could make it difficult to handle or cause damage to the suspension. 

What’s the Difference Between GVWR, GVW, and GCWR?

While these terms may all appear similar, they represent three separate concepts that are critical to understand for safe towing.

Again, the meaning of GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) is the maximum loaded weight at which your vehicle can safely operate. Your GVW (gross vehicle weight) measures how much of a load your vehicle is under currently. It includes the total weight of your tow vehicle, passengers, and items you’re transporting.

Pro Tip: Your GVW should always be less than or equal to your GVWR. Learn why here: The Most Important Question New RVers Don’t Ask: RV Weight

GCWR stands for gross combined weight rating. In addition to your GVW, this measure considers the weight of any trailer you’re hauling. It also includes the weight of the contents of the trailer. This is the maximum weight at which your vehicle will operate safely. It includes the full weight of your tow vehicle, passengers, cargo, trailer, and trailer contents.

GCWR is a crucial concept for RVers to understand. It indicates how big of a trailer you can tow with your truck or SUV and how much stuff you can keep in the trailer. 

Other Towing Terms You Should Know

GVWR is not the only towing-related terminology you need to know. For your peace of mind, let’s look at the meaning of terms similar to but different than GVWR.

GAWR = Gross Axle Weight Rating. This refers to the maximum amount of weight you can safely place on each axle. 

GTW = Gross Trailer Weight. Your GTW is the total weight of any trailer you’re towing, plus the weight of anything inside.

Curb Weight: Your curb weight is the weight of a vehicle with no passengers, contents, or trailers attached. This measurement includes the weight of gasoline and similar necessary fluids and equipment. 

Dry Weight: In contrast to your curb weight, your dry weight is the weight of a vehicle without gasoline or other fluids.

Payload: Your payload denotes the amount of weight carried by your vehicle above its curb weight. This category would include you, all your passengers, and any items they’re carrying, or you’re transporting. 

Tongue Weight or Pin Weight: indicates the weight put on your vehicle’s hitch from the tongue or kingpin of any trailer you’re towing. Too little tongue weight can lead to dangerous swaying. However, too much can damage your tow vehicle or make it difficult to control. 

Pro Tip: A big truck doesn’t guarantee safe towing. Always know your truck’s capabilities before hitching a trailer to it. Learn more here: Think a One-Ton Truck Is Big Enough to Pull Your Camper? You May Be Wrong

What GVWR is Considered Heavy?

Vehicles are usually grouped into three categories, light, medium and heavy duty. The delineations between them is based on their GVWR ratings. Different organizations have different cutoffs but the general rule of thumb is light duty is anything under 10,000 lbs. Medium duty is between 10k and 20k. Heavy duty is over 26,000 lbs. So according to the federal highway administration, your big pickup is not really heavy-duty. If you really look at the axles, brakes, and drivetrains on a heavy-duty truck you will see that they really are built much bigger and stronger for heavier loads.

How Much Does You Rig Weigh?

So even if you have run the numbers and your vehicle and trailer should take the weight you still need to verify that you are within safe limits. Stuff you add to your vehicle can add up weight quickly and you may inadvertently still be overweight. The best way to figure out your weights is to weigh it! Yes you can put your vehicle on a scale.

Take a look at our article about weighing your vehicles at CAT scales, then head out and try it. Its worth the small cost of weight to know exactly how heavy you are and make sure you’re rolling down the road safely.

RV overweight weigh
This is a weigh that we did once where we found out we were overweight on a truck camper and had to make modifications.

Hit The Road Safely

Towing can seem complicated, and there are certainly risks to you and your passengers if you do it incorrectly. However, knowing the GVWR meaning and other weight definitions is a crucial step to understanding towing. By doing so, even beginners can ensure they’re hitting the road safely.

Do you know your GVWR?

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Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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Sunday 2nd of July 2023

50,000 lbs! No way.

Mortons on the Move

Saturday 15th of July 2023

Yea its stupid heavy, fully steel chassis and RV frame doesn't help, the 14L Detroit adds a lot of weight too.


Tuesday 25th of April 2023

I have a Ford F-150 with GVWR of 7200. What type of weight should I look for in a camper? I see dry weight, GVWR weight, etc. and it is confusing to know what to look for.

Mortons on the Move

Thursday 27th of April 2023

You need to look up your GCWR or gross combined weight rating. This will tell you how heavy a trailer can be. Ford is pretty good about publishing max trailer weights too. Also consider your hitch class. If you have a class 4 then you are limited to 6000 without changing it.