The Payload Rating: Why it’s Important for Truck Campers

Payload, payload, payload. When it comes to buying a truck to safely haul a truck camper nothing is more important than the payload rating of a truck. Unfortunately, too many shoppers focus on bed size, fuel economy, cab size, and other options and pay little attention to this truck rating. Why is the payload rating so important when buying a truck camper? Because it tells you how much weight you can safely carry without overloading your truck. When it comes to hauling a truck camper—or any other load for that matter—it’s important not to go over this number. Most already know this, of course, but do you know how this number is derived and what other ratings are used to determine it? That’s the purpose of this article. In it we will take a look at several terms and ratings that are used to not only determine the payload rating of a truck, but also how to safely load and tow with it.

Important Truck Ratings

Pickup trucks were built to haul heavy loads. The higher the payload, the more weight the truck can carry. Yes, pickup trucks are used to tow things as well, but that big bed in the back was meant to do one thing—haul heavy loads. Before we explain how the payload rating is determined and what things impact it, it’s important to understand the following terms:

  • Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR): The gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is the maximum weight rating of the truck established by the truck manufacturer. The GVWR includes the weight of the truck, cargo, fuel, and passengers. The GVWR is all about safety and preventing damage to the truck. When a vehicle manufacturer rates a truck for its maximum weight, it’s taking into consideration numerous things, including the suspension, frame, axles, wheels, tires, and other components bearing the load. The GVWR for your truck can be found on a sticker located on the driver side door jamb.
GVWR and GAWR sticker with tire ratings and pressures.
  • Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR): The gross axle weight rating (GAWR) listed by the truck manufacturer is the maximum weight rating that each axle is designed to support. The axle ratings are based not only on the axles, but also on the weight ratings of both the wheels and tires, the weakest part of the assembly. Since the rear axle will be bearing most of the truck’s weight when hauling a load, the rear axle will always be rated higher than the front axle. The GAWR ratings for the front and rear axles can be found on a sticker located on the driver side door jamb.
  • Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR): This rating has no bearing on payload, per se, but is important for truck camper owners who tow things like boats, Jeeps, and utility trailers. The gross combined weight rating (GCWR) is the maximum allowable total loaded weight rating of a truck (plus passengers, camper, and gear) and any trailer or vehicle being towed. GCWR minus GVWR represents the maximum allowable weight for the towed vehicle. The rating for gross combined weight or gross combination weight is determined for the vehicle based on the strength of its frame, suspension, axles and other towing-related components. This rating can usually be found in your truck’s owner manual. This rating, like the others, is all about safety for you and your family.
  • Tire Sizes and Pressures: The GVWR and the Tire and Loading Information stickers provide the tire inflation values needed to safely operate a truck at the assigned GVWR/payload rating. These pressures are vital because everything is riding on them, literally. As a result, it’s critical to ensure that your tires are properly maintained and inflated. Your life and the life of your family depends on it. The listed inflation values for the tires (typically 60 psi front and 80 psi back for 10 ply tires) allows a truck to carry the rated GVWR and payload. Hence, any pressures less than these will reduce the weight bearing capacity of the truck.

Payload: Why it’s important

Tire and Loading Information (Payload) sticker
KingStar Camino 88 on a Ram 3500 SRW

Nothing is more important when buying a truck to haul a truck camper. The payload rating is simply the maximum amount of weight a truck can safely haul, in terms of cargo and passengers, specifically in the truck cab, truck bed or cargo area. Manufacturers employ a simple formula to determine the payload rating of a truck by subtracting the truck’s curb weight from the truck’s GVWR. For example, the GVWR of our 2013 Ram 3500 4WD truck is 11,700 pounds. Subtracting the curb weight of the truck, which is 7,891 pounds, from this figure nets a figure of 3,809 pounds. This is our truck’s official payload rating.

The payload rating for your truck can be found on the Tire and Loading Information sticker located on the drivers side door jamb. This rating, which is expressed in both kilograms and pounds, is preceded by the statement, “the combined weight of occupants and cargo should never exceed…” Unfortunately, the payload rating cannot be raised officially by the owner though there are several upgrades that you can make to improve the ride of your rig.

When it comes to the payload rating, options can either hurt or help your payload rating. As a truck camper owner, you should always opt for the “max tow package” or equivalent as this option maximizes payload. On the other hand, the diesel option should be “weighed” carefully. Yes, having a diesel engine is great for climbing mountains and raising your testosterone, but it’s also heavier, nearly twice as much as a gasoline V8 (the 6.7L Cummins turbo diesel at 1,060 pounds outweighs the 6.4L V8 HEMI by 490 pounds). This means less payload for you (not to mention more emission hassles). Ditto for 4WD. That feature, while great for driving on rough roads, sand, and snow, isn’t so great for your payload rating—300 to 400 pounds extra over 2WD is typical. The same applies to cab size. A crew cab outweighs a standard cab by around 600 pounds, so weigh your options carefully.

The lone exception to the “more options is bad for payload” mantra is the dual rear wheel (DRW) truck. When it comes to payload, the dually is king and it isn’t even close. Yes, having four wheels and tires on the rear axle makes the truck wider, but it also adds stability and more payload, a lot more. How much? In many cases 2,200 pounds and more for one-ton trucks. This puts one-ton dually payload ratings well above 7,000 pounds, making the truck appealing to those who are shopping for a long-bed truck camper with multiple slide-outs like the Lance 1172 and Host Cascade.

Host Cascade rear entry, double-slide on a Ford F350 DRW

As discussed, calculating payload and where to find the rating on your truck is easy, but the Truck Camper Certification Form or Truck Camper Loading Info Sticker has created some angst and confusion for some truck camper owners. This is due to the difference between the number found on the form/sticker and the official payload rating of the truck. This difference is due to the weight of the passengers, which must be subtracted from the truck’s payload rating. Most manufacturers use the 150-pound-rule per passenger, so a truck capable of carrying five passengers (750 pounds) will have the weight of those passengers subtracted from the payload rating of the truck. This means a 2018 GM Denali 2500 with a payload rating of 2,114 pounds and five passengers will net a cargo weight rating of 1,364 pounds (2,114 – 750 = 1,364). This form can typically be found either in your glovebox or on a sticker affixed to your driver side door jamb (the difference depends on the manufacturer).

In order to accurately assess where you stand when it comes to your truck and camper’s overall weight, we recommend a visit to the nearest Certified Automated Truck (CAT) Scale. It’s only about $10 bucks. The printout you receive after getting your rig weighed provides three numbers: the front and rear axle weights plus the total weight of your rig. Owners should take their truck to the scale first without the camper, then have their truck and camper weighed together later to determine the actual weight of each. Be mindful to duplicate important fluid levels like fresh water and diesel/gas when obtaining these numbers. That way, you’ll get an accurate picture where you stand with respect to not only the GVWR, but also to the front and rear GAWRs of your truck. You’ll be glad you did it.

What’s the bottom line?

It goes without saying that staying below your truck’s payload rating is important, though many truck camper owners often exceed it. The payload rating is designed to keep your passengers safe and to prevent damage to your truck. If you’ve ever seen frame damage on a truck with a truck camper mounted, it’s probably due to exceeding the payload rating. Yes, getting higher-rated wheels and tires can improve your safety margin to a degree, but other components on your truck—like the frame—were rated to handle the original payload rating and that’s it. Some of these, like the frame, cannot be improved. Not only that but staying below the payload rating is also important legally. Some states like California are cracking down on overloaded trucks. Worse yet, if you ever get into an accident and hurt somebody, your insurance claim can be voided because you exceeded this rating to say nothing of getting sued by those who you hurt.

A truck camper loading mega fail!
About Mello Mike 661 Articles
Mello Mike is an Arizona native, author, and the founder of Truck Camper Adventure. He's been RV'ing since 2002, is a certified RVIA Level 1 RV Technician, and has restored several Airstream travel trailers. A communications expert, he retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a CWO3 after 24 years, worked in project management, and now runs Truck Camper Adventure full-time. He also does some RV consulting, repairs, and inspections on the side. He currently rolls in a 2013 Ram 3500 with a 2021 Bundutec Roadrunner truck camper mounted on top and holds a Ham Radio Technician License (KK7FKQ).

2 Comments

  1. I pretty much agree to a point. My 2004 F350 SRW has the same frame and rear axle (bearings) as the DRW but 2300 lbs in ‘rated’ capacity. Compensating for what is truly different (springs, tires and wheels) is the difference. There are a lot of owners who don’t want to deal with understanding and improving those so just buy a DRW. I think the hard limit is tires and wheels. Having the option to improve two is always going to offer more capacity than improving one. If you can work within the capacity of what one wheel/tire can provide, you should be fine. I think if anyone gets inspected/ticketed, it’s the guy who is visibly sagging due to obvious disregard for compensating for the load in excess of the way the factory built the truck. I started my build knowing the truck had inadequate ‘specified’ payload (9,900 lbs GVWR) on a truck with a rear axle capacity of 9,750,lbs and front of 6,500 lbs. My front and rear axles, springs, wheels and tires are within the technical capacity of all my improvements at 13,300 lbs GVW (wet). While I could have started with a DRW and improved it to the same level, it would have cost a lot more (super single wheels are $$$$), been wider than small road track width and I would have still been improving it beyond it’s factory ‘rating’. Understanding and compensating are the necessary and practical limits, I don’t ever worry about the ,’bureaucratic’…

  2. Oh PUHLEEZE! Show just ONE case of someone being charged OR having their insurance claim denied in the United States for exceeding stated payload.
    There is NO difference between an F350 SRW or DRW frame but by your logic if I convert my SRW to the same DRW axle I’m just SOL for payload.

    PROVE IT!!!

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