Curb Weight vs Gross Weight (What’s the Difference?)

(Updated on November 23, 2020)

Thinking about towing or hauling a heavy load with your new truck? There are some important terms relating to weight that you should keep in mind before you set out on your next adventure.

If you’re going to be buying a truck soon, it’s important to think through how you plan to drive, where you plan to go with it, and what you plan to bring with you. Not all pickup trucks are created equal; some trims are much more comfortable, capable, or cost effective than others.

There are several important specifications listed on the driver’s door jamb that will tell you how much your truck can carry. Read on to find out what each of them mean, and which may apply to you. 

How Much Does My Vehicle Weigh?

weigh station

Curb Weight

Curb weight is often used to refer to the weight of a vehicle as it sits on a dealership lot, with nobody sitting in the vehicle and no cargo. This includes the weight of any optional equipment that comes with the vehicle.

According to the US federal government, curb weight is defined as “the actual or the manufacturer’s estimated weight of the vehicle in operational status with all standard equipment, and weight of fuel at nominal tank capacity, and the weight of optional equipment computed in accordance with § 86.1832-01”.

More expensive trim levels tend to weigh more because they have more features, such as power seats, larger wheels, or a sunroof.

Unladen Vehicle Weight

Unladen Vehicle Weight is also called the Unloaded Vehicle Weight. This weight is often the same as curb weight. 

According to the US federal government, the unloaded weight of a vehicle is “the weight of a vehicle with maximum capacity of all fluids necessary for operation of the vehicle, but without cargo, occupants, or accessories that are ordinarily removed from the vehicle when they are not in use.”

Tongue Weight

Tongue weight is the weight of the trailer that rests on the hitch of your truck. Ideally, tongue weight should be about 10-15% of the total weight of the trailer. 

The placement of your load on or in the trailer will affect the tongue weight. Be sure your trailer is balanced, and avoid pushing the weight too far back in the trailer. A good rule of thumb is to have 60% of your load centered evenly over the front half of your trailer. 

If you’ve never towed before, have an experienced person double check your work before you set out on your trip. 

Payload

A truck’s payload is the amount of weight a truck can haul. That is, the combined weight of everything in the bed plus everything in the cabin.

The tongue weight of a trailer contributes to the payload. If you buy a heavier trim, your truck will likely have a lower payload and towing capacity because it weighs more.

Luxury features tend to be fairly heavy, and even four wheel drive can reduce your payload. This is especially true if the higher trim levels use the same powertrain and suspension components.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating

GAWR vs GVWR

The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is defined by the vehicle manufacturer. The GVWR is the maximum weight the vehicle is rated to carry, counting the combined weight of all cargo and people on board. The tongue weight of a trailer contributes toward a vehicle’s GVWR.

Gross Axle Weight Rating

Gross axle weight rating is the maximum amount of weight each axle is designed to hold. On the driver’s door jamb, there is likely a separate front (FR) and rear (RR) axle rating.

When loading your vehicle, keep in mind the weight distribution of your load. If your vehicle isn’t designed for heavy towing or hauling, you wouldn’t want to load one axle substantially more than the other. This may throw off the weight distribution of the vehicle, which could have a profound negative impact on the ride and handling of the vehicle.

Heavy duty trucks have stiffer springs than cars and half ton pickups. Three quarter ton and one ton pickups are designed to carry more weight safely over the rear axle.

Gross Combination Weight Rating

The gross combination weight rating or gross combined weight rating (GCWR) is the weight of the vehicle, the combined weight of all people and cargo on board, plus the weight of the trailer and its cargo.

How Much Truck Should I Buy?

Haven’t purchased your truck yet? A bit of planning before a vehicle purchase will help ensure you’re buying the right tool to meet your needs.

Heavy duty trucks have much higher payload and towing capacities than unibody SUVs and half ton pickups. The trade off is they are more expensive to maintain, have worse fuel economy, and are often harder to maneuver around town in tight spaces.

Not sure how much your payload will weigh? It may be prudent to do a bit of research on your trailer type and the weight of the cargo you plan to tow or haul.

If you live in a high altitude area, traverse mountainous terrain, or both, you may want to consider buying a truck with a much higher towing capacity than you plan to use.

A heavy duty truck will be strained less by the same load when compared to a half ton pickup, especially if the load is near the half ton’s capacity limit.

This means the components on the heavy duty truck are likely to wear less (such as brakes or the transmission), and the truck should hold up a lot longer under constant towing demands.

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