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Understanding the Language of Used Pickup Trucks

What Do GAWR, GVWR and GCWR Mean Anyway?

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Understanding the Language of Used Pickup Trucks

2010 GMC Sierra Pickup is a good example of a hard working truck with nice touches of luxury.

(c) GMC

There's a language peculiar to used pickup trucks that I don't profess to understand but I wanted to help you with if you are in the market for a used truck.

The good folks at GMC, who are trying to sell new trucks, inadvertently helped used pickup buyers when they released some information recently that could be considered a glossary of used pickup terms that could come in handy when shopping for a truck.

As explained by GMC, "Some of the most important truck acronyms for owners to know are gross weight ratings. Exceeding any of a truck's weight ratings is unsafe, and it's a driver's responsibility to know and avoid exceeding them." OK, maybe now is a good time to plug GMC's certified pre-owned program. Seems like the decent thing to do.

"Nearly every vehicle performance attribute is designed and tested to one or more gross weight rating," said Robert Krouse, General Motors trailering engineer. "Body and chassis structural durability, powertrain and driveline durability, handling, braking, thermal and propulsion performance are all validated to specific ratings. That's why it's so important for owners to understand those limits."

  • GAWR, or Gross Axle Weight Rating, is the maximum amount of weight that can be placed on either a truck's front or rear axle, including the weight of the truck, driver, passengers, equipment and cargo. A higher front GAWR generally means more capacity for accessories like plows, while a high rear GAWR relates to a higher payload.
  • GVWR, or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, is the maximum amount of weight for the entire truck and everything in it. This number isn't simply each axle rating added together; for that to work, the owner would have to precisely load so that each axle weight rating is met just as the overall vehicle rating is met, which isn't possible in real world conditions. As a result, GVWR is always lower than the sum of each axle to account for changes in weight distribution.
  • GCWR, or Gross Combined Weight Rating, is the maximum weight of a truck and an attached trailer, plus everything in each of them. Some of a trailer's weight is supported by the truck - this is known as tongue weight - a GCWR isn't simply the GVWR plus the trailer's weight. When attaching a trailer, an owner should factor tongue weight into a truck's payload capacity.

"It's very important that drivers observe these limits to maintain safe stopping distances," said Krouse. "Not only that - overloading a truck causes excessive wear on suspension and brakes and could lead to engine or transmission failure."

(As an aside, I was talking to somebody who was selling a Mazda MPV because it had too many mechanical problems. She said, "It's surprising because we just use it around town and to haul our trailer." I asked how much the trailer weighed and what the two rating was for the vehicle. She didn't know, which answered the question on what the culprit was for poor mechanical performance.)

Let's allow GMC to use one of its new products to demonstrate its point. The 2013 Sierra's highest GCWR is 30,500 pounds for a 3500HD Duramax DRW model. DRW, another truck acronym, applies only to 3500HD one-ton pickups. It implies a "dual rear wheel" option, as opposed to a "single rear wheel," or SRW. (Truck folks refer to those kinds of trucks as "dualies" - so there's another term I taught you.)

The option adds not only higher payload and weight limits, but also better stability with a large trailer attached. For a 2013 Sierra 3500HD 4x4 Crew Cab, a DRW option adds 5,700 pounds of available trailer weight rating and 1,011 pounds of payload capacity.

When buying a used pick up truck, you can get some great advice from Dale Wickell, our guide to pickup trucks. By the way, Dale has a great piece of advice in his article. Be happy with what you bought and don't experience buyer's remorse!

So, here's hoping this guide to the mysterious acronyms of used pickups helps you make a better purchase. Buy the right used pickup and enjoy your time with it!

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