Utility trailers are probably one of the best investments that you could possibly put your money into. It’s one of those sneaky investments too, where the value of the expenditure just kind of sneaks up on you. You never know when you will need to haul something after all and, speaking of hauling, how much weight can a single axle trailer hold?

It depends on the axle since they are rated differently. What that means is that depending on the rating of your lone axle, the trailer could hold anywhere between 1.000 lbs and 10.000 lbs. For what it’s worth, if you happen to have two axles, the combined rating is the total weight limit of the trailer.

So, it all boils down to what your axle is worth in terms of ratings, and not how much money you dumped into it. If you have no idea what your single axle is rated for, don’t worry yourself too much over it because there is a way to find out.

How to determine what weight your axle is rated for

A stack of orange kayaks on a trailer.
Photo by Nareeta Martin / Unsplash

If you’re just hauling some excess furniture and a bit of trash to the dump, knowing the weight limit on your axle is probably not all that important. If you’re considering hauling concrete, brick, other masonry, or even stacks of soil (which can reach surprisingly heavy weight rather quickly), that’s a different story.

There are two ways to determine your trailer’s weight rating:

  1. Check the trailer data plate
  2. Measure the axle

Let’s dive in.

1. Check the trailer data plate

If your trailer is rather new, this shouldn’t be a problem and you will most likely find the plate somewhere on the frame or it will have been bonded to the trailer tongue with rivets. It’s not likely that the manufacturer would place the plate somewhere difficult to find because the information on the plate is extremely important.

If you overload the trailer and the axle gives way like a wet piece of cheese, not only can you create a dangerous situation for yourself, but also others on the highway with you. If you happen to have insurance on the trailer that you overloaded, your insurance agent is liable to laugh you right out of their office or off the phone.

So to make a long story short, you’re probably going to find the plate somewhere along the frame or next to the tongue, assuming your trailer is new. If you have an old hand-me-down that once belonged to uncle joe bob’s mother’s pawpaw’s distant cousin, you’re probably going to have to find your axle rating the hard way.

2. Measure the axle

That’s right. You can measure the axle and determine what weight it is rated to handle. All you have to do is measure the diameter with a tape measure then come back here and check your weight rating according to the diameter.

Diameter of axle Weight rating
1.5″ 1.000 lbs
1.75″ 2.000 lbs
2.375″ 3.500 lbs
3.0″ 6.000 lbs
3.5″ 8.000 lbs
4.0″ 9.000 lbs
5.0″ 10.000 lbs

Fortunately, it is as simple as that. So long as you know the diameter (in inches) of your axle, you can determine the weight limit for that axle. This is also the “rating” that everyone speaks of so often. It’s not as if they classify these things as “class 2” or “class 3,” which might make these things a little simpler than having to chase down the info over the web.

As a side note, if there happens to be more than one axle to deal with, you just need to measure the diameter of one, determine the weight capacity of that one, and multiply it by the number of axles to get the maximum weight rating for the whole thing.

For example, if you have two axles and they’re 3.0” each, then you simply multiply 6.000 lbs by 2 and your weight capacity is 12.000 lbs.

Types of trailer axles

There are a handful of different axle types on trailers and more than a handful of different types of trailers out there but, for our purposes, there are only two to be concerned with as they are the most predominant and usually the ones that you are going to be dealing with.

There’s something else to consider as well. Although there are two types of axle predominately found in utility trailer axles, there are three lengths (more on that later), in case we weren’t throwing enough information at you all at once.

The drop axle

If you were to look at a drop axle straight on, it would look like a flat bar that had each end capped by an upside-down and inverted “L”. The most notable difference when using a drop axle over a straight axle, at least in terms of the observer who is loading or unloading the trailer, is the drop axle holds the trailer bed lower to the ground.

This makes the unloading and loading process a little easier. The drawback is the clearance from the road or ground beneath. If you approach some roadkill while driving down the highway and strategically place the roadkill between your vehicle’s tires when you pass over it, your vehicle will probably clear it while your low clearance drop axle picks up a bloody new passenger.

The only other noticeable difference between the two is purely aesthetics.

The straight axle

As you probably gathered from the information above, the straight axle holds the bed a little higher off of the ground, so you have much better clearance over the ground or the roadway but its more difficult to unload and load the trailer since gravity becomes less of a friend when you’re lifting and lowering the weight from a higher position.

If you looked at a straight axle head-on, it would resemble a straight bar that you lift weights with and nothing more.

Does the weight of the trailer count against the axle’s weight rating?

It sure does. In other words, if you have a 1.75” axle and the trailer’s weight is 700 lbs, then you can only carry an additional 1.300 lbs before you exceed the axle’s specs. Of course, the trailer itself will probably be rated to carry less, and for good reason.

The average weight of a teardrop camper is around 1.700 lbs. That means that it is probably going to have an axle large enough to give it plenty of leeways to add on a significant amount of weight, on top of the fact that most teardrop campers shouldn’t exceed a recommended 700 lbs of additional weight.

Determining the amount of weight on each axle

3 colorful kayaks on a trailer
Photo by Nareeta Martin / Unsplash

When you are towing a trailer, the trailer’s axle isn’t the only axle under load. The towing vehicle’s axle also takes a fair share of the weight and you can determine your trailer’s GTR (Gross Trailer Weight), your vehicle’s GVR (Gross Vehicle Weight), and the GCWR (Gross Combined Weight Rating).

These numbers will give you a clue as to how much weight is sitting on each axle. The GCWR is calculated by adding together several determined weights:

  • Vehicle’s listed curb weight
  • Allowable payload
  • Driver and passenger weights
  • Trailer weight

When you combine all of these weights together, you get the Gross Combined Weight Rating, which you can then divide up over your axles to determine how much weight is on each axle.

Keep in mind that when you include passengers, each passenger technically only counts as 150 lbs, though it is perfectly reasonable to add in the exact weights if you prefer to do so, especially if you are cutting it close.

Can you increase the trailer load capacity?

You can indeed, however, the original axle will have to go. No matter how much you strengthen the deck floorboards of your trailer or the rails around it, it simply cannot carry more weight than the axle can handle.

Torsion axles are often the choice to go with if you are going to strengthen the framework of a trailer, especially when it comes to larger beams and the metal framework. This is usually an upgrade from a leaf spring axle, which is the most common axle you will find in utility trailers.

Since a torsion axle increases the stress on the framework of a trailer, its usage is negated when you upgrade the framework of the trailer, so the two go hand in hand. The biggest thing that you would need to worry about if you wanted to upgrade the axle and the weight rating, is that you will end up spending as much money as you would to just buy a new trailer that’s a better one than before.

Unless, of course, you just enjoy the work for the sake of work. In that case, more power to you.

Final thoughts

A single axle trailer is generally going to hold between 1.000 and 10.000 lbs, depending on the size of the axle. Knowing your weight limitations is important, especially if you are about to tow a heavy load. It’s important for both your safety and the safety of those who share the road with you.