How Do You Determine If Your Tow Vehicle Is Right For Your Trailer?

This is one of those “Mystery Questions” where everyone has an opinion.  Frankly, some opinions are, well, dangerous.  I can remember looking for a tow vehicle when we were thinking about upgrading our travel trailer to ‘Blue Streak‘, our International 25 CCD Airstream.  When we asked the “truck dealer” about towing capabilities they focused only on the pulling weight capability of the truck – i.e., “How much does your trailer weigh (6500#) oh, no problem, this truck can pull 7500#.”

The newbie part of my brain said, “great” – however, the been towing trailers for several years part of my brain said, “what about hitch weight, what about payload, what about brake controller, What about ??????”  Basically, there is more to matching your Tow Vehicle to your Travel Trailer than just what the trailer weight is and what the truck can pull!

Let’s consider what we did (Disclaimer: the following is my opinion, you are responsible to check the accuracy of all information):

First ‘Blue Streak‘ our International 25 CCD Airstream.  There are 4 important numbers to know about your trailer; 1) the UVW or Unit Vehicle Weight [empty], 2) the NCC or Net Carrying Capacity, 3) the GVWR or Gross Vehicle Weight Rate [equals UVW+NCC], and 4) the Hitch or Tongue Weight.  Obviously, items 1,3 and 4 are the key numbers.

 Next is ‘Red Dragon‘ our F-150.  Recall the Dealer discussion above – generally they were correct.  The basic F-150 has the towing capacity 0f 7500# and it does come with a factory brake controller and back-up camera options (nice right!).

I have seen pictures of an Airstream being pulled by a bicycle!  (just so you know I’m not kidding here is a picture) I read all the time in the Airstream Forum about people towing with all types of vehicles.  However, on flat terrain all things are possible but that does not mean it’s safe or smart.  The question is if you travel where there are hills and mountains what do you want your tow vehicle to accomplish safely.

When we looked for a Tow Vehicle there were 5 must things we looked for; 1) Vehicle Curb weight, 2) Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, 3) Gross Combined Vehicle Rating, 4) Payload Capacity, And 5) Towing Capacity.

Here are our truck specs:
What does this all mean?
  1. Curb Weight: The weight of the vehicle sitting at the curb with all standard options and no passengers, cargo or load.
  2. GVWR is the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. This is the Maximum Allowable Weight your truck can carry.
  3. GCVWR is Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating.  This is the Maximum Allowable Weight your truck and trailer can weigh combined.
  4. Payload or Cargo Capacity: This is the maximum weight of passengers + cargo + hitch weight (load) you can add to your tow vehicle (truck) with our exceeding your GWVR. (To find the payload capacity of your truck look for the sticker on the drivers side door frame or subtract the curb weight from your GVWR).
  5. Towing capacity is the maximum amount of weight you can tow. This can be found in your owners manual or on the truck manufacturers Official Towing Guide (often located on their website).


Let’s look at this as a complete picture.

It is important to know that most of this information is located on the sticker on the inside driver-side door pillar.

There are other aspects of a Tow Vehicle that are very important to consider.

As you can see from the data above our Tow Vehicle is more than capable to handle our Airstream in all driving conditions.  There are several other aspects of our Tow Vehicle which I deemed as important as well.

  1. Red Dragon comes with a factory installed Brake Controller.
  2. Has the factory Max Tow Package (11,300#).
  3. Optional 7700# GVWR (with the BFG tires safely adds 300# payload capacity = 1833#).
  4. Has the factory installed power Tow Mirrors (a must for towing a trailer wider than the truck).
  5. Red Dragon is an F-150 3.5L ecoboost which produces 365HP and 420ft/lb of torque (with great gas mileage).
  6. Red Dragon is a SuperCrew with 6.6 box @ 157in wheelbase with 3.73 locking rear end.
  7. Red Dragon is a FX4 – meaning 4×2 wheel drive with 4×4 high/low and locking rear wheels available.
  8. Red Dragon also equipped with Tow/Haul, Trailer Sway Control and Down Hill Assist.

Red Dragon also is equipped with the Off-Road Package. We upgraded this with BFGoodrich all-terrain ta ko2 lt275/65r20/e 126s 3750/3415 – the weakest link is always the tires. So we looked at load ratings and decided to go bullet proof with E Rated tires primarily because 90% of our camping is Boondocking (gravel/forestry roads).


We run Red Dragon at the Ford inflation specs of 35 psi without load and adjust up to 45 psi when towing Blue Streak (depending on the truck bed load).

[I should mention we have also upgraded the tires on Blue Streak to GoodYear Endurance which are also E rated.  We run them at 65 psi inflation according to GoodYear specs]

We tow ‘Blue Streak‘ using a Reese Straight-line Dual Cam Weight Distribution/Sway Control System.  This balances the distribution of weight on 4 axles between the Airstream and our FX4.

This was our journey to mate Blue Streak with Red Dragon.

Form concept by Mark of KYD which I give thanks