Overloading a Vehicle

by Lori Straus

When shopping for a car, you may be tempted to focus only on obvious features like all-wheel drive vs front-wheel drive, a vehicle’s look, and if there’s space for all your family inside. But also make sure you’re evaluating the payload capacity of the vehicle. That means check that the car can carry enough weight—including all passengers—before you buy. Bigger cars don’t automatically mean more payload.

Different Ways to Measure Cargo

You’ll find different weight ratings for each vehicle on the market: payload weight, towing weight, gross vehicle weight, and curb weight.

  • Payload weight: the maximum weight you can add to the vehicle itself, i.e., without towing anything. This includes passengers and cargo.
  • Towing weight: the maximum weight you can tow with your vehicle.
  • Gross vehicle weight: the full weight of your vehicle, including the vehicle itself, passengers, and cargo.
  • Curb weight: the weight of the vehicle without passengers and cargo.

Consequences of Driving Overloaded

Fully loaded with luggage.

If you’ve packed too many people and too much cargo into your vehicle, you can run into some very serious consequences.

On the not-so-serious side is reduced gas mileage. But forcing your vehicle to carry too much puts extra pressures on the shocks, suspension system, and wheels. Driving in this situation becomes dangerous—especially in wet and icy conditions—because controlling the vehicle becomes harder.

Too much weight inside the car can also lead to tire blowouts.

Weighing Down Your Vehicle for Better Winter Driving

You’ll often read tips suggesting that adding several 40-lb bags of sand or similar substance to your trunk will help improve traction. The logic goes that weighing down a vehicle flattens the tires a little, which creates a larger surface of contact with the road and therefore improves traction.

We don’t recommend this tactic in most situations. For starters, putting more weight on your tires than that they’re certified to carry can lead to a blowout and potentially serious accident. Second, depending on the payload weight of your vehicle, you risk exceeding it and increasing your chances of causing an accident.

The Honda CR-V, for example, has a maximum payload weight in Canada of 395 kg, or 869 lbs. The average weight of a Canadian man between 18 and 25 is 87.3 kg (192 lbs), and for women, 72.4 kg (159 lbs). Two average men and two average women in Honda’s compact SUV already add up to 319 kg (702 lbs). You don’t have payload capacity for an additional 120 lbs of sandbags.

Pay Attention to Payload Weight When Buying

When you’re researching your next vehicle purchase, pay attention to payload weight and look for the car’s actually rating. Payload weight isn’t just about the strength of the engine or the size of the vehicle. How much a car can carry is about the extra weight that goes inside it. If you underestimate that number, you could be setting yourself up for an accident down the road.