When it comes right down to it, the pickup truck is built to really do one thing—haul cargo. Yes, some people use them to tow things like travel trailers and fifth wheels, but hauling cargo is what pickup trucks were built primarily to do. The ability to haul cargo is measured by a truck’s payload rating, which tells you how much weight you can safely haul without damaging your pickup truck or making you unsafe. The problem is that the payload ratings for most pickup trucks are limited. You can never have enough. One question we often get asked and see all the time on the forums is if there’s anyway to increase it? That’s a great question and one we’ll examine in this article that we simply call, “How to Raise Your Truck’s Payload.” While we’re on the subject, we’ll also take some time debunk a big myth.
First, it will help to understand how a truck’s payload is determined. Truck manufacturers typically employ a simple formula by taking a truck’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) and subtracting the truck’s curb weight from that figure. For example, the GVWR of our 2013 Ram 3500 4×4 with a diesel engine is 11,700 pounds. Subtracting the curb weight of the truck, which is 7,891 pounds, from this figure will net a figure of 3,809 pounds. This is the truck’s official payload rating. The payload rating for your truck can be found on a placard located on the driver’s side door pillar and on a payload certification form found in your truck’s glove box. The payload includes not only the amount of weight that can be put in the bed of your truck, but also includes the weight of the passengers and gear you may be carrying in the cab. It all counts.
If you need a large payload to haul something like a truck camper then you need to take a hard look at options. Yes, having a shiny, new diesel engine underneath that hood is great, but consider how much more weight that will place on your truck’s frame and how much having it will reduce your truck’s payload. For instance, the 6.7L Ford Powerstroke diesel weighs 1,100 pounds wet compared to Ford’s 6.2L V8 gas engine, which weighs nearly half that at 600 pounds. And if you’re considering getting four-wheel drive, think again. That feature, while great for driving on rough roads, sand, and snow, isn’t so great for your payload rating. The typical 4×4 drivetrain will add another 400 pounds to the weight to your truck. The same applies to other nice-to-have options like steel wheels, a crew-cab, a super hitch and a winch—all of these add capability, but reduce payload.
How to Raise Your Truck’s Payload
So how can you raise the payload rating of your truck? The most obvious way is to remove items from your truck like the tailgate (these usually weigh around 55 pounds), the rear seat, using lighter wheels and tires, etc. Removing items from your truck will increase payload, but you can only go so far in removing things before you’re left with a bare-bones truck. In spite of removing such items, however, the certified payload rating set by the manufacturer won’t change, at least not officially. The rating exists for safety because if you exceed it, components will eventually wear out and break. These components include things like the truck’s frame, the axles, the leaf springs, the brakes, and the wheels and tires. And while some shops claim they can increase your payload, only truck manufacturers can certify or re-certify the payload rating of their trucks.
While we discourage exceeding the GVWR/payload rating of your truck, there is one little-known trick employed by more knowledgeable pickup truck owner’s to squeeze out even more cargo hauling capability out of their trucks. This involves the Gross Axle Weight Ratings (GAWRs) of each truck. The GAWRs listed on each truck’s payload sticker are greatly limited by the OEM tires. If you research the actual GAWRs with the axle manufacturer you’ll probably be surprised to learn that you have several hundreds, if not thousands, of additional pounds of cargo carrying capacity (this is especially true with the AAM 11.5 rear axle found on our 2013 Ram 3500, which has a 10,000-pound GAWR rating, 3,000 pounds more than the GAWR given by FCA). You can tap into this additional cargo carrying capacity by simply buying better wheels and tires with higher load ratings. For example, the 275/70R18E Cooper Discoverer AT-XLT tires we bought for our truck have a 3,640 pound load rating; the Ion rims, 4,000 pounds each. Wheels and tires rated even higher than these can be purchased.
In spite of payload limitations, there are some other things that you can do to make your truck ride and handle better. Better wheels and tires with higher load ranges, an additional leaf spring, Torklift Stableloads, Timbrens, air bags, better shock absorbers, and a Hellwig Big Wig rear sway-bar are all great improvements, depending on your situation. But there’s always a catch with suspension modifications like these. Adding them may improve the performance and ride of your truck, but they may also reduce the payload of your truck and may make the ride of your truck much harsher when unloaded. In life there’s always some give and take, owning a pickup truck with options is no different.
In order to accurately assess where you stand when it comes to payload, you should take your fully loaded truck and camper to a local Certified Automated Truck (CAT) Scale. Three figures will be provided each time your have your truck and camper weighed. These numbers consist of the two axle weights plus the total weight of the 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 for your truck. Like most truck camper owners, you’ll probably be surprised at the results. Most truck camper owners are overweight.
So what’s the bottom line? If you find that you still need more payload and you aren’t comfortable driving the truck you have, sell it and buy the truck you should have bought to begin with. For those who own hard-side truck campers, that usually means getting a one-ton pickup like a Ford F-350, Chevy 3500, or Ram 3500. Depending on cab configuration, engine type, bed length (long-bed trucks have higher payloads than short-bed trucks), and rear axle configuration (DRW or SRW), a one-ton truck can net you a payload anywhere between 3,800 and 6,200 pounds. Going this route may cost you a little more, but in the long run will save you money, anxiety, and regret.