Are you being misled by 4WD tow ratings?

So, you’ve got a heavy caravan or boat that you want to tow? Don’t be misled by the manufacturers towing capacity advertising! Just because your 4WD has a certain ‘towing capacity’ doesn’t mean you can actually tow that under normal conditions.

Today, you can pick up a number of new 4WD’s that have a claimed 3500kg towing capacity. The thing is though, its all smoke and mirrors, and is completely misleading to the point where you are almost guaranteed to be overloaded towing something that’s 3500kg. How is that possible?

It’s actually really simple; the best towing vehicle is not measured in the same way that it is marketed, which is very misleading.

Weight requirements towing
Is your 4WD within the legal weight requirements?

How do they mislead you?

Any vehicle on the road must comply with a number of different weight requirements, whether they are towing or not. Lets keep it simple, and just look at the Gross Combination Mass (GCM). This is the maximum amount both your 4WD and trailer can weigh as a combined weight.

Whilst you might be able to get close to the 4WD towing capacity the vehicle is rated for, it can only be done under some pretty severe weight limitations. This is in relation to what the tow vehicle itself has on board in terms of weight; anything from passengers to extra fuel, 4WD accessories and general gear.

There are 32 ways to make your 4WD illegal, and weights form a decent chunk of that.

Towing with a 4WD
Don’t rely on the sales pitch for what you can tow

3500kg towing capacities are a lie

Take a dual cab Ford ranger, which has a GCM of 6000kg, and a claimed towing capacity of 3500kg. Remove the weight of the vehicle (with nothing in it!) from the GCM and you have 3800kg. Then, remove the 3500kg trailer you are towing, and you are left with a mere 300kg. 

Now, put 4 people in the Ford ranger, and there’s a good chance you are overloaded. Bear in mind this is without considering ANYTHING else in the 4WD, and not even the weight of a tow bar (which is not included in the weight of a new vehicle). No extra fuel, no bull bar, no drawers, no fridge, water, winch, recovery gear and the list goes on.

Let’s go the other way. The same Ford Ranger, decked out with lots of accessories and gear, weighing in at the maximum weight of 3200kg. Given you can’t exceed the GCM of 6000kg, you are left with a maximum 4WD towing capacity of 2800kg.

Now, how many 4WD’s have you seen, decked out with every accessory under the sun, loaded to the hilt and towing a trailer that’s over 3 tonnes?

There’s a huge number of 3500kg towing capacity vehicles, but only a tiny portion that can actually tow that at full GVM. You’ll find some variations between Space cab and dual cab Utes, but they all suffer the same problem.

If you want a complete, simple guide for ensuring you are legal, have a read of this – Towing Capacity; a simple guide to keep you legal.

4WD's make great tow vehicles
How much do you think this weighs?

How do other vehicles compare?

The Dmax has a 5950kg GCM, and 3500kg towing capacity. Take away the towing capacity and you have a maximum weight of 2450kg. Given the vehicle weighs 1930kg empty, you’ve got a capacity of 520kg, but your tow ball mass still has to come off that. You can see our detailed post on the Isuzu Dmax Weight here.

A Triton has a 5885kg GCM, and a 3100kg towing capacity. Remove the towing capacity and you have a maximum weight of 2785kg. With the vehicle weighing 1965kg, you are left with 820kg, minus the towball weight

The NP300 Navara has a GCM of 5910kg, and a 3500kg towing capacity. This leaves you with 2410kg. Minus the weight of the vehicle and you can carry 489kg. Then, take away the tow ball weight.

If you want to see how your vehicle compares, find it on here –

What does it mean?

As long as you are aware of the above, and you make sure you are within the GCM, towing capacity and pay load of your 4WD, you won’t have an issue. The problem though, is so many people are not aware of these things, and would probably be horrified if they did know. There’s a huge number of 4WD’s on the road today that are towing and would not be legal. Not good.

Remember that a 500kg pay load can get eaten up pretty easily. Have a think about What your 4WD weighs, and you might be surprised. Even better, take it over a weigh bridge and see for sure, but be prepared for a shock!

Perfect beach
Even a 4WD not towing anything can be surprisingly heavy

We had our 2016 Isuzu Dmax with a GVM upgrade weighed towing our light weight (2200kg) hybrid camper trailer, and we were just about over weight, despite being well under the 3500kg towing capacity, and well under GCM. You can read more about that here- Mobile weighing.

What if I am over?

If you are over your payload, or Gross combination mass, you are going to want to do something about it. In the event of an accident, you may be liable for the damage that happens, as you were not driving a vehicle that met the law. 4WD insurance can be denied, and you could end up in a world of legal pain if someone is hurt.

It’s not worth the risk; you are required to drive a Legal 4WD on the road, and are responsible as individuals.

Final thoughts

I think its shocking that vehicle manufacturers can proclaim such towing capacities without explaining that they come with severe limitations. It’s appalling, really. Whilst I understand ignorance is not an excuse, there is a certain amount of trust that you put into a 4WD manufacturer!

What do you drive and tow? Are you within the limits?

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  1. Hey Graeme,

    Yep, unfortunately many of the ‘professionals’ don’t actually know themselves, and if they do and still steer you that way its pretty poor behaviour.

    All the best

  2. When we went to buy a new caravan, the dealers would ask what vehicle did we have.
    My early model Prado’s advertised towing capacity was 2500 kgs. Every dealer bar one told me that I could tow 2500kgs. Having done my research I told them that was not the case and if they were to sell me a van it would be illegal to drive it out of their yard. It seems dealers could be responsible for selling vans knowing what vehicle will be used that don’t meet legal towing requirements. In my view that’s disgraceful and need to be taken to account

  3. Hey Rick,

    When you buy a camper trailer, they should give you the tare weight, and the ball weight, but as you state it is when it is empty. Look at the tow ball weight as a separate entity – as long as you don’t go over the tow ball weight, or the aggregate weight, or your vehicle’s tow rating, you are ok.

    Some camper trailers have a LOT of storage at the front, which can result in a heavy towball. Water tanks behind the axle can counter this, but you won’t know until you load it up.

    A good camper trailer dealer should help you out. A general guide is 10% of the weight of your camper on your tow ball, so you probably don’t want anything that is going to weigh more than 1200kg loaded


  4. Rick morse says:

    We have a front wheel drive hyundai tuscon and wish to purchase our first camper trailer,our vehicle details state towing unbreaked 750 kgs, breaked 1600kgs with ball weight at only 120kgs ,trailer manufacturers seem to base ball weight on their trailer tare weight so how do you work out what the ball weight level would be when trailer is loaded before you purchase ,for example
    Trailer tare 1020 inc tent,ball weight 110 kgs,registered weight as 1500 kg
    Obviously noone is goingto allow you to pack a camper and drive it to a weighbridge to find out and return to dealer before puchasing
    Hoping there is a formulae you can help us with,
    Many thanks in advance..sorry its not a 4wheel drive question
    Regards Rick

  5. Important warnings. It’s also worth taking your trailer to a weighbridge. The compliance plate on mine reads 920 kg tare. The actual weight proved to be 1240 kg! There was a bit of variation in the order spec from the basic model but no way was it a third more.