He’s Not Heavy, He’s My Brother – A Guide to Overloading

Recent changes in the legislation governing the use and speed restrictions of 7.5t lorries have meant that many operators are downsizing to 3.5t vans – still blessedly tacho and speed limiter free.

This is especially true of companies whose workers simply use the vehicles to transport their own equipment, not for commercial transport.

The problem is that a growing number of 3.5 tonne vans are being overloaded by their drivers and operators – whether knowingly or unknowingly. 55% of vans stopped by VOSA in 2006/7 were overloaded (obviously a skewed statistic because some would have been chosen to be stopped because they looked overloaded). All the same, that figure is up from only 38.7% in 2005/6 and 30% the year before.

Overloading carries a fine of up to £5,000 – ouch – so what do you need to know to avoid it?

Why’s It Happening?

It’s easy to see how this can happen – vans used as mobile workshops, sheds and storage facilities gradually get heavier – and then you have to add perhaps 200kg for 2/3 people and their ‘stuff’, as well. Unfamiliar loads can be heavier than they look, and so it goes…

3.5t vans keep on getting bigger, too. Transit Jumbos and XLWB Sprinters are positively cavernous inside – and try telling the boss you can only use half that space because his stuff all weighs too much.

Our ‘What Size Van‘ page includes typical approximate payloads for all the most common types of vans, but what else do you need to know?

How Do I Know the Maximum Load Weight I Can Carry?

All goods vehicles should have a ‘plating certificate’ issued by the manufacturer on vans and the Department for Transport on heavier vehicles. It’s a metal plate fastened in the cab somewhere, often around the door wells – in my Transit, it’s on the passenger side below the seat.

This states the legal ‘Maximum Authorised Mass’ for the vehicle – also known as the maximum gross weight or something similar. Problem is, it won’t tell you the unladen weight – so how does it help?

If you think there’s a risk that you may be overloaded, the thing to do is to find out the ‘Tare’ – or empty – weight of your van.

If You Carry Different or Unpredictable Loads

If you carry varying loads, that means taking it to a weighbridge and having it weighed with you, a full tank of fuel and your standard (always with you) tools or equipment but with no load.

Take the weighbridge weight and subtract it from the MAM (maximum authorised mass) for the vehicle. That will give you the maximum load weight you can legally carry.

Now you just need to find a way of knowing how much all the stuff you need to carry actually weighs – easier said than done, sometimes.

If You Always Carry the Same Load

If you always have the same set of equipment/load in your van, take it to a weighbridge fully-loaded (including people and packed lunches) and see what it weighs. If it’s more than your maximum plated weight (MAM) – you need to shed a few pounds, somehow, before VOSA do it for you.

See here and here for two useful guides on commercial vehicle weights (although they are biased a bit towards lorries). If in doubt, check your information with VOSA or on the government’s Transport Office website.

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