Do you know what percentage of towing capacity is safe? this is one of the questions our readers ask a lot. Well, we´ve got you covered.
You have to be careful when gauging your vehicle’s towing capacity.
If you overburden it, you could lose your trailer going down the road, damage your axle, damage your chassis, or lose control of the vehicle completely.
So, what percentage of towing capacity is safe? On average 80% of your towing capacity is safe. For example, if the towing capacity is 5,000lbs, then the maximum amount of weight that you should place on it is 4,000lbs. You can push it to 90%, but that is the absolute maximum recommended by experts.
Besides the actual weight, the forces of physics can exceed your vehicle’s capacity if you’re already close.
To stay on the safe side, you really shouldn’t exceed 80% of your towing capacity. Your towing capacity is, of course, the total amount of weight your vehicle is rated to tow.
Table of Contents
What Can Happen If You Tow Too Much?
There are several different things that can and will eventually happen if you tow more weight than your vehicle is capable of.
This is true even if you slightly overdo it from time to time.
- Brakes will wear out faster
- Tires may fail or wear out quicker
- Overheated Engine
- Worn out drivetrain
- Shortened transmission life
These are all long-term effects on a vehicle through the normal wear and tear of passing years, however, towing too much weight will speed it up to a large degree.
Not only that, but your ability to steer and to properly brake will be decreased, so you may rear-end someone or roll through a stoplight, putting you in far more trouble than you would with some transmission problems.
Your brakes will wear out faster simply because they aren’t designed to stop the increased level of weight. Everything is a cascade event when towing too much and your brakes are no exception.
The increased pressure on the brakes may lead to bursting brake lines, damaged rotors, or damaged calipers.
Your tires will certainly wear out faster and you’ll notice that the tread is disappearing rapidly.
The extra strain on the engine can cause it to overheat, which in turn will negatively impact the drivetrain. So, it’s a race to see which one fails first.
Even the act of switching gears under a heavy load will work terrible wonders on your transmission. Even in older vehicles, a transmission rebuild, or replacement is extremely expensive.
Read also: How to Measure Towing Capacity, GVWR, GCWR, Truck, Trailer
What Percentage Of Towing Capacity Is Safe For Your Hitch?
This is normally termed as the “tongue weight” of the hitch. Tongue weight is determined as a percentage of the total weight of the trailer, plus any additional cargo.
In other words, the tongue weight should always be determined at 10% to 15% of the total weight of whatever you’re towing.
If your vehicle has a towing capacity of 5,000lbs, you only want to tow up to 4,000lbs, which means that the hitch and ball you use should be rated between 400lbs and 600lbs.
The rule’s only exception is if you’re using a fifth-wheel.
With a fifth wheel, the tongue weight can be 15% up to a maximum of 30% of the total weight that you’re towing.
If you’ve exceeded the tongue weight, the first symptom you’re likely to experience is a fishtailing trailer.
There are two ways to measure the tongue weight on your vehicle and make sure that you are within the limits.
Using Weight Scales
You can use public scales for this method. When you pull onto the scales, make sure that the trailer is hitched but the trailer’s tires do not go onto the scales, just the weight of your vehicle.
This way, you get what is called a “combined weight.”
Unhitch the trailer and pull back up onto the scales with your vehicle alone in order to get your “solo weight.”
Tongue weight is your combined weight minus your solo weight.
Of course, public scales aren’t always easily accessible, and it kind of defeats the purpose to find out if your tongue weight is good by driving with an untested tongue weight to the nearest public scales.
Fortunately, there’s a second method as well, and it’s far easier. Tow Scales are available everywhere that auto parts are sold.
They aren’t exactly the cheapest thing in the world, but it’s better to be out a couple of hundred bucks than to have your trailer tear away and plow into an innocent pedestrian or through the front doors of a business.
- Sherline LM-5000:A simple tongue weight scale that uses hydraulics
- eTrailer Tongue Weight Scale: Same concept but for utility trailers and campers
- ORCISH 8” Adjustable Trailer Hitch Ball Mount: This is a drop-mount ball hitch that has a tongue weight scale built-in
The drop-mount hitch is a bit more on the expensive side—no matter what brand or manufacturer—but you’re getting two for the price of one item.
The best part is, you won’t find yourself depending on some public scales to determine your tongue weight.
Both the towing capacity and the tongue weight of your vehicle and hitch are important to know and understand.
The repercussions for not knowing can be extensive and even life-altering should someone get hurt.
You should never exceed 80% of your vehicle’s towing capacity and you should also remain within the tongue weight of your vehicle as it relates to what you’re towing.
Safety is paramount when you’re towing heavy loads but so long as you are doing it the right way, you should never have anything to worry about.
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