What Happens When You Exceed Towing Capacity?

It’s the weekend. Your friends have talked about going fishing throughout the week, and finally, it’s time. But, that boat your friend told you about? It’s bigger than you expect. So, for a second or two, you ponder. It’s just one time. But, the question still roams in your mind, even if your buddies are pressuring you to tow that boat. So, let’s answer that question.

What happens when you exceed towing capacity?

When you exceed your vehicle’s towing capacity, you are putting additional strain on the engine, brakes, transmission, and chassis. Having to work extra will shorten your powertrain’s life. Due to the exceeding weight, your vehicle will struggle to adequately stop in the event of an emergency. The transmission will experience deterioration due to increased temperatures and friction from the additional pounds. Your vehicle’s frame could bend or buckle, and, finally, you can put others at risk since you’re sacrificing stability and handling.

All manufacturers limit their vehicle’s towing capacities, be it sedans, crossovers or trucks. So, the best way to avoid putting any additional effort into your ride is by reading your user manual. In it, you will find valuable information, and you must understand what it means. We’ll explain it further down in the article.

These towing capacities are specific to each make and model; they consider aspects like the power output and type of transmission, the vehicle’s drivetrain configuration, and the braking strength. All of these components are designed with operating and maximum loads in mind to operate safely.

When you exceed towing capacity, you’re making each of these parts work extra. If you think doing this just once won’t damage your vehicle, you might be wrong. Yes, your car won’t blow up, but the frame might buckle, the transmission might overheat, and the differential can fail.

One of the most crucial aspects of exceeding towing capabilities is braking. When a vehicle pulls a trailer, it now has to deal with additional mass, making the car heavier. This added weight causes the brakes to take longer to slow a vehicle down, which is especially critical in an emergency situation. For example, if you’re towing a boat and a pedestrian walks in front of you, the braking distance will be far longer, and you might not be able to stop in time.

So, what can you do to avoid these dangerous situations? The first step, as we said before, is understanding your vehicle’s towing capabilities.

What are my vehicle’s towing capabilities?

The manufacturer defines your ride’s capabilities, and you can find them in the user manual. We’ve written about how some SUVs can even tow a car. But, if you plan to tow anything, even only once, it’s best that you know them. They are:

  • Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR): usually expressed in pounds or separated by class. It’s the vehicle’s maximum total weight.
  • Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR): usually expressed in pounds or separated by class. It’s the recommended maximum loaded weight of your vehicle and your trailer.
  • Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW): usually expressed in pounds. It’s your vehicle’s weight, alone, without the trailer, when fully loaded.
  • Gross Trailer Weight Rating (GTWR): usually expressed in pounds or separated by class. The maximum recommended weight for a fully loaded trailer. This number is the maximum towing capacity.
  • Tongue Weight (TW): usually expressed in pounds. This is the maximum weight that can be exerted onto the back of the vehicle. It concerns the hitching point between the trailer and the truck. It’s an essential value for stability.
  • Curb Weight (CW): usually expressed in pounds. This is the vehicle’s weight when there are no passengers or cargo. But it does take into consideration fuel and the fluids necessary to operate.
  • Dry Weight (DW): usually expressed in pounds. This is similar to the CW but removes the weight from fuel and the fluids necessary to operate.

Your loaded trailer must never exceed your GTWR. Your tow vehicle, when fully loaded, must not weigh more than the GVW. And your trailer and vehicle combined must not exceed the vehicle’s GCVWR. But, don’t forget about the hitch.

How to safely use a hitch for towing.

The hitch is the primary connection between the vehicle and the trailer or load. This element has a defined set of limits and, to guarantee safety, you shouldn’t exceed them at any point. Interestingly, this limit might not be equal to your vehicle’s towing capacity.

If, for example, you have a 5000-pound trailer and your truck can tow 7500 pounds safely, but your hitch is only rated to carry 3000 pounds, you cannot load more than the latter. It’s common to see hitches failing at highway speeds, posing a threat to the driver and other vehicles around.

But, the same applies the other way around. If your vehicle can tow 7500 pounds and your fully loaded trailer weighs 8000 pounds, you can’t buy a hitch rated for 8000 pounds because you will exceed your vehicle’s towing capability.

The ideal conditions are as follows: the total load (trailer and cargo) must not exceed the hitch rating. In turn, the full load and the hitch rating must be lower than the vehicle’s towing capability.

Always keep in mind that there are hitches specifically designed for different jobs. The ideal hitch for towing a boat might not be the same as a hitch for a camper van.

Some hitches have weight distribution, which assists the driver in more stability, as long as you don’t exceed any of the variables.

Especially as of late, more and more people are venturing into camping and spending time in the wilderness. We’ve written about how it’s no longer unusual that you ask yourself if your SUV can pull a camper.

Perhaps, you’ve considered towing a boat, a topic that we’ve also covered. For this job, you’re also going to need a specific hitch.

And, just as some people believe that installing a stronger hitch can lead to more towing, there are plenty more misconceptions about towing.

What are some misconceptions about towing?

One of the most common misconceptions is that trailers, in general, don’t need maintenance. And that’s a mistake. Always inspect your hitch before using it and abstain from any use if you find damage.

Trailers also need maintenance because they have braking systems, wheels, and bearings, which can deteriorate in the elements. Proper care includes a yearly inspection, cleaning, greasing, and repacking, if necessary.

Another mistake some drivers make is believing that improved suspension will increase the vehicle’s towing capability. As we have stated before, the manufacturer defines your truck’s maximum towing capacity, and no modification will improve it safely.

The suspension might help in improving the vehicle’s stability, which is an added benefit. Some packages increase balance and handling when towing but, in turn, might change the way your truck drives when it isn’t carrying a load.

Then there’s the transmission. Sticking to your maintenance routine is recommended if you use your vehicle in normal conditions. But if you frequently tow and put your ride to the test, then the gears inside your transmission might be subjected to higher temperatures. Installing transmission coolers might be a good option for you.

Finally, and perhaps the most fundamental misconception, you might think if you exceed your vehicle’s towing capacity just once, nothing will go wrong when, in fact, the opposite can happen. As we have explained, the hitch can fail, the frame can bend, and elements within the transmission and differential might fail with the first attempt.

Closing thoughts

This article aims to explain what happens when you exceed your vehicle’s towing capacity. Suppose you go over the manufacturer’s guidelines for any variables, such as the full trailer and load weight or the maximum load in the hitch. In that case, you might damage your vehicle beyond repair.

We also spoke about how towing above the vehicle’s capability affects aspects like handling and braking. The heavier the load is, the more distance your truck will need to slow down and the more unstable it will be at speed. This combination makes emergency maneuvers dangerous.

The way you load your trailer is critical too. If you put too much weight near the hitch, then the trailer will cause the vehicle to raise the front and lower the back, affecting traction and handling. When there’s too much weight on the back, the trailer lifts the rear and the front drops. This situation also hampers grip.

With all that we’ve learned in this article, we can safely say that towing requires that you consider all safety requirements for your trailer, hitch, and vehicle. As tempting as it may be to exceed the towing capacity just once, it’s best not to because your car or truck can suffer costly damages, and you can put yourself and others at risk.

But if you follow guidelines and know your vehicle’s capability, you can safely and frequently haul plenty of stuff.

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