Payload is a word car buyers hear all the time in truck and SUV commercials but might not understand. It sounds like it has something to do with weight, right? And you definitely want more of it? Of course! Can’t buy a car with a low payload, whatever that means. 

Essentially, payload is everything that’s in your vehicle — you, your family, your 90-pound German Shepard, a few McDonalds meals and that week’s worth of camping equipment. It’s the combined weight of whatever’s in the cabin and the trunk/cargo area/bed. 

What Is Payload Capacity? 

Payload capacity, meanwhile, is how much payload your vehicle can handle. It’s the maximum amount of weight you can safely load in your vehicle. So before you pack that extra bag or order a double cheeseburger, you should know your vehicle’s payload capacity. Going above your vehicle’s maximum payload can put unnecessary stress on your vehicle. 

You should be able to find your vehicle’s payload capacity in the owner’s manual. It might differ from advertised numbers due to different vehicle trims and other add-ons, so make sure you check the payload of your vehicle before loading it to the brim. 

So how is payload calculated? Payload is the difference between a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating and a vehicle’s curb weight, or the weight of the vehicle without items or passengers. Payload capacity is this leftover amount, the difference between how much the vehicle weighs and how much overall weight it can handle.

Payload Capacity and Towing Capacity

So what, if anything, does payload capacity have to do with towing capacity? While payload capacity is the weight which a vehicle can carry, towing capacity is the weight that a vehicle can pull. Towing capacity numbers are usually much higher for this reason. After all, a truck or SUV is better equipped to pull 6,000 pounds behind it than it is to have 6,000 pounds placed on top of it. Check your vehicle’s towing capacity in the owner’s manual before towing the toy hauler on your next adventure. 

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