Overweight Motorhomes – How To Avoid This Too Common Problem

80% Of Motorhomes Overweight

A recent campaign of roadside checks by VOSA found that 80% of the motorhomes they stopped were overweight. Such roadside checks are normally applied to lorries but can be applied to any type of vehicle, including motorhomes and caravans. If your motorhome is found to be overweight, you are likely to be fined and prohibited from moving on until your vehicle is no longer overweight – even if you have to dump possessions by the roadside.

In addition, overweight vehicles can be dangerous – handling and braking can be badly affected and tyre blowouts may be more likely.

Why are so many motorhomes overweight?

I think there are several reasons for this, some of which the motorhome industry should take responsibility for:

  1. Motorhomes official payloads exclude commonly fitted extras, such as bike and scooter racks, roof-mounted air conditioning and extra batteries. These are fitted by dealers, who don’t always make the customer aware of how much payload they have left.
  2. Many motorhomers take a ‘head in the sand’ approach to weight – they pack everything they want to take and decide not to think about how much it weighs.
  3. Many motorhomes have very mean, if not completely unrealistic, payloads. Payloads of 300kg-400kg are not unheard of – excluding passengers. The reason for this is primarily to keep the motorhomes under the magic 3,500kg gross weight, above which different driving licence requirements, speed restrictions and toll costs apply. This is a deliberate design compromise that has gone too far, in my opinion.

So what can you do? The first step is to find out whether you have a problem with weight…

  • Load up your motorhome as you would for a trip (don’t forget water, gas & fuel), put all your regular passengers inside it, and then take yourself to a weighbridge to be weighed. Finding a weighbridge that will weigh non-commercial vehicles can be difficult, but try your local council as a starting point. If this fails, try asking local quarries, etc, if they will do it for a small payment.
  • When weighing, you need front and rear axle weights, as well as total weight. To measure individual axle weights, drive the van onto the weighing platform so that the axle being weighed is as near the centre of the platform as possible. For example, if you are weighing your rear axle, drive across the weighbridge and stop as soon as your front wheels are on solid ground.

Once you’ve got these three weights, compare these to the weights on your motorhome’s ‘plate’. This will be a metal plate, riveted to the van somewhere. Common locations include the passenger doorstep (as in my Transit) and under the bonnet. You will see four weights – this is what they mean, in order:

  • Maximum gross vehicle weight (the maximum permitted total weight for the vehicle)
  • Maximum train weight (the maximum total weight of the vehicle plus any trailer)
  • Maximum front axle weight
  • Maximum rear axle weight

You will notice that the maximum permitted front and rear axle weights total more than the maximum permitted weight for the whole vehicle. This is normal – but remember that if one axle is up to the limit, the other one has to be lighter so that the total vehicle weight doesn’t exceed the limit.

I’m Overweight? What Should I Do?

Leaving aside any cheap jibes about eating less, there are several options. Some of these may suit you and your motorhome better than others – these are just suggestions:

  • Get your motorhome replated to a higher maximum gross weight. This is often possible without any mechanical changes being made to the vehicle. The best people to contact for advice on this seem to be SVTech. Although replating is often just a paperwork exercise, remember that if you replate your ‘van so it has a gross weight above 3,500kg, you will need C1 entitlement on your licence to drive it and may pay higher toll charges, etc..
  • Travel with empty water and waste tanks. This may suit some people who spend all their time on campsites, but for me it is a complete non-starter. The whole point of a motorhome is that it is self-contained and self-sufficient – travelling with no water or waste seems ridiculous. However, 1 litre of water weighs 1kg, so in an emergency, emptying your water and waste tanks can be an effective way to instantly lose weight without dumping possessions or passengers!
  • Cut down on the ‘stuff’ you take with you – bikes, BBQs, awnings, scooters, all add weight, often at the very rear of the vehicle. This can cause the dreaded ‘saggy rear end’ and put your rear axle overweight. You have been warned.
  • Finally, the best plan may be to avoid buying a motorhome with a pathetic payload. Either go up in weight or down in size so that your motorhome will have a sensible payload for its size and for your requirements.

7 thoughts on “Overweight Motorhomes – How To Avoid This Too Common Problem

  • January 18, 2012 at 5:29 pm
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    I’ve just read your very useful article about re-plating motorcaravans(as I am considering this). I am just wondering does anyone know what is the fine likely to be for travelling overweight? Also, is it proportional to the amount you are overweight? Thanks.

    Reply
    • January 18, 2012 at 5:31 pm
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      Hi Jean,

      I’m not sure about the fines, but the other thing to remember is that you will probably not be allowed to continue on your journey until you are legal – i.e. until you have shed some weight.

      Regards, Roland

      Reply
    • January 12, 2017 at 6:59 pm
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      I spoke to the ministry (DVSA) people at Carlisle this week they said that in Cumbria they do not fine for being over the limit. But will not allow any onward travel until the vehicle is within the limit.

      Reply
    • May 6, 2018 at 12:21 pm
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      We have just been fined 400euros for being 300kg over in Belgium.

      Reply
  • March 20, 2017 at 6:07 pm
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    Would relating to a higher weight affect the resale value of a motorhome?

    Reply
  • May 1, 2018 at 6:16 pm
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    Great article, but is it possible to find out the unladen weight of a vehicle without taking it to a weighbridge? Let’s say you were looking at one to buy and wanted to know how much weight was left to play with?

    Reply
    • May 1, 2018 at 8:03 pm
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      The theoretical unladen/maximum laden weights of the motorhome should be marked on the motorhome somewhere or possibly in its documentation. Having only owned self-converted vans I’m not exactly sure where you’d find it. But it should be available somewhere – hopefully the dealer/seller would be able to help.

      Cheers,

      Roland

      Reply

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