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, but hauling cargo is a pickup truck’s raison d’être. 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. The problem is that most payload ratings are limited. You can never have enough. One question I often get asked and see on the forums is if there is anyway to increase it? That’s a good question and one I’ll examine in this article.
First, it will help to understand how a truck’s payload is determined. Truck manufacturers typically employ a simple formula by taking the truck’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) and subtracting the truck’s curb weight from that figure. For example, the GVWR of a 2011 F-250 is 10,000 pounds. If you subtract the curb weight of the truck, which is 6,686 pounds, from this figure you get a net figure of 3,314 pounds. This is the truck’s official payload. The payload rating for your truck can be found either 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 that 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 Boss 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 four-wheel drive will add another 400 pounds of 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.
So how does one increase the payload of a truck? The most obvious way is to remove items from your truck like the tailgate (these usually weigh around 90 pounds), the rear seat, using lighter wheels and tires, etc. Removing items from your truck will increase its payload, but you can only go so far in removing things before you’re left with a bare-bones pickup truck. In spite of removing such items, however, the certified payload rating set by the manufacturer won’t change. 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 exceeding the GVWR/payload rating isn’t advisable, there is one little-known trick employed by more savvy and knowledgeable pickup truck owner’s to squeeze out even more cargo hauling capability out of their trucks. This involves the truck’s Gross Axle Weight Ratings (GAWR). The GAWR’s listed on each truck’s payload sticker are greatly limited by the OEM tires. If you research the actual GAWR’s 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 rear axle. You can tap into this additional capacity by simply buying better tires with higher load ranges. Going this route, however, comes with a dual warning: one should never exceed the real GAWR’s of your axles nor should you ever exceed the weight ratings of your tires.
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 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 determine where you stand when it comes to payload, you should take your fully loaded truck and camper to a local CAT scale. In addition to the entire vehicle, weigh each axle. That way, you’ll get an accurate picture where you stand with respect to not only the GVWR, but also the front and rear GAWR’s for your truck. Like most truck camper owners, you’ll probably be surprised at the results. Many 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 that you should have bought to begin with. For those who own truck campers, that usually means buying a one-ton pickup like the Ford F-350, Chevy 3500, or Ram 3500. Depending on cab configuration, drive train, and rear axle configuration (DRW or SRW), a one-ton can net you a payload 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 and regret.