We might not be able to take it all with us when we die, but some of us nomads try to take as much as we can while we still roll on the earth. Whatever your mobile abode might be, from a compact car to a travel trailer or Class A motorhome, there’s a limit to how much you can take. It’s not simply a matter of space. It’s also about weight.
Does the rear of your rig sag? Do your springs bottom out over mild bumps? Is the handling squirrely? Do you need to really mash the brakes to stop? You might be overloaded.
MEASURING VEHICLE WEIGHT
All vehicles and trailers are rated for maximum weight. The numbers are on a sticker in the frame of the driver’s door or in a prominent place on a trailer. They are also in owner’s manuals and online.
Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW): Sometimes called dry weight or curb weight. This is the weight of a vehicle as it rolls off the assembly line. This can vary between different vehicles of the same brand and model, depending upon the factory installed options.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR): This is the maximum total weight of the vehicle, fuel, passengers, owner-added parts, and cargo. This is your weight rolling down the road. The whole enchilada.
Maximum Load Capacity: This is how much weight your vehicle can safely carry. This is the GVWR minus the GVW. In addition to whatever you might load into or onto the vehicle, it also includes the tongue weight of whatever you’re towing.
Gross Axle Weight Rating (front and rear): These numbers give you a rough idea of how to—or not to—distribute the load in your vehicle. In the case of trailers (single or multiple axles) it serves much the same purpose as GVWR.
Tire Load Rating: This is the maximum weight each tire can safely carry when properly inflated. The rating is on the tire. The inflation numbers are also on a door frame sticker. Front and rear tire pressures may vary since front and rear axle weights also vary. The tire load rating, times the number of tires, should be greater than the GVWR.
Trailer Tongue Weight: This is the amount of downforce a trailer places on the hitch. It will vary depending on how heavily you load the trailer and where you distribute the weight. Think of a teeter-totter.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
This isn’t the preaching of radical minimalists condemning the amount of soul corrupting stuff you lug around. Exceeding weight ratings invites trouble.
- Bad or even out of control handling
- Bad braking
- Lower fuel mileage
- Faster tire wear
- Loss of suspension travel
- Worn or broken suspension parts
- Shorter engine and transmission life
- Criminal liability in the event of an accident (See out of control handling and bad braking above.)
No, we don’t want any of that.
Just because you are currently able to drive without incident, it doesn’t mean you are safe or that your rig is happy.
WHAT TO DO
To make sure you’re not overloaded, or to learn you can carry more after all, weigh your rig at a public scale. Compare that number to your GVWR. Adjust accordingly and have one less thing to worry about.
Since I try to practice what I preach, I weighed my 2007 Chevrolet Express 2500. The sticker on my door lists the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating as 8,600 pounds. The Gross Vehicle Weight is 5,195 pounds. The Maximum Load Capacity is 3,405 pounds. The public scale in Blythe, California registered 6,914 pounds. That means I’m carrying 1,719 pounds of stuff (measured weight minus GVW)—a little over half of what I could. Looks like I’m good to go. What about you?