" GVWR is a lot more important than you think "

Overloaded: a dangerous oversight, or a necessary evil?

I’ve been thinking about weight a lot lately. No, not my body weight, though I could gain to trade a few pounds of fat for muscle. I’m talking about vehicle weights, specifically gross vehicle weight ratings.

“The gross vehicle weight rating, or gross vehicle mass is the maximum operating weight/mass of a vehicle as specified by the manufacturer including the vehicle’s chassis, body, engine, engine fluids, fuel, accessories, driver, passengers and cargo…” — Wikipedia

A recent post on Overland Kitted pointed to unchecked weight as the single biggest mistake fledgling overlanders can make. It got me thinking about my still relatively stock Wrangler, which has a GVWR of 5,500 pounds.

With a curb weight of just under 4,300 pounds, that leaves me with 1,200 pounds to play with; that’s not a lot when  I can see why so many people overload their rigs so quickly.

My next question was what could be done to increase my Jeep’s GVWR. It turns out, not much. Yes, there are upgrades to the suspension that can be made that technically will make overloading the vehicle safer, but none actually change the GVWR.

Weight reduction bro

Weight reduction doesn’t have to be this extreme (its fun while off road though), but any little bit can add up quick.

It turns out, weight reduction isn’t just for race cars and it’s not as hard as you might think.

Many offroaders will chuck their back seats and spare tires to save a little weight. Considering a full-size spare can weigh more than 80 pounds, I can see why someone might think this is a good idea.

There other ways of saving on weight too. Here are just a few:

  • Switch out your steel cable for a synthetic winch line
  • Swap those heavy mud-terrains for lighter all-terrain tires.
  • Get rid of that heavy exhaust and improve the sound and performance of your rig at the same time.
  • Invest in lightweight or aluminum bumpers.
  • Try a soft top or canopy. The Wrangler Unlimited’s hard-top weighs nearly 180 pounds.

There are plenty of ways to save weight. Share how you’ve kept the weight off your rig in the comments.

Truck vs. Wagon

Weight reopens the age-old debate of truck versus wagon. Many argue the truck’s higher GVWR allows it to more comfortably carry more gear and heavier equipment, like roof-top tents, winches and heavy steel bumpers, without compromising on vehicle safety, handling and fuel economy.

Others argue the wagon’s better capability off-road and overall comfort outweigh the trade off of a lesser cargo capacity. It’s a hard decision to make, but Ronny Dahl from Four-wheeling in Australia does a pretty good job of breaking down the pros and cons.

Overloaded Overlander

While I don’t recommend or condone using a vehicle outside it’s rated capacity — I.E. don’t overload your vehicle in the first place — I recognize this isn’t always an option on extended trips. So, if you’re going to exceed your vehicles limits, at least try to be smart about it.

Anytime you exceed the GVWR, you risk breaking something and, on an overland vehicle, suspension components are often the first to go. Investing in better shocks and springs that are designed to manage the weight of heavy gear, like steel bumpers, roof racks and tire carriers, can make a heavy vehicle safer. But, before you do any of that you really should consider upgrading your brakes. When you start overloading a vehicle, your brake’s ability to bring it to a halt diminishes greatly.

Tires are an important consideration too. Running tires that aren’t designed to handle the extra weight is dangerous and could result in a blowout. The good news is most off-road tires are rated for some seriously heavy loads. A single load range E tire is capable of supporting more than 3,500 pounds.

Dan’s Jeep from Road Chose Me, (pictured above) is a great example of an slightly-overweight overland rig that keeps everything within reason. His Jeep runs about 6,000 pounds. That’s a lot of weight, but it’s actually only about 500 pounds over the GVWR. That’s actually not bad for how heavily built it is. To compensate for the extra weight, Dan fitted heavy duty springs from American Expedition Vehicles.

Finally, don’t forget to include passengers, gear, fuel and water. This is part of the equation too.  You’d be surprised how easy it is to overload a vehicle when you forget to include things like fuel and your passengers.

Further reading

Enjoy this post? We think you’ll enjoy these too.

Please Comment and Share

We want to hear from you, so tell us in the comments section.

  • Is weight an important consideration for your off-road or overland rig?
  • Did it play a role in the vehicle you chose?
  • What weight saving measures have you taken?
  • What do you consider acceptable when overloading your rig?


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8 Comments

  • Cary

    Some good thoughts here. As pointed out in your initial definition, don’t forget to include you and your passenger(s) in your weight estimate. That’s a common mistake I see folks make. As I progress on my build, I’ve built a GoogleDocs spreadsheet to keep a running tab of the real-world (as opposed to published) weight of the parts I add so I know where my rig stands. Note I differentiate between real and published weights. My wheels and tires came in a combined 30 pounds lighter than their published specifications. That’s not a figure to sneeze at when you have as little wiggle room as these Jeeps leave us. Get a little anal about things, and weigh your parts before you mount them, then weigh what you’ve taken off so you have a true net weight gained/lost.

    November 17, 2017 - 12:06 pm Reply
    • tobiasmann

      Thanks Cary, you bring up a lot of great points. Keeping track of our build has become a high priority. I am actually considering a new bumper/winch combination that will cut out a lot of weight from the front end. You bring up a good point about keeping track of real-world weights. I hadn’t considered that tires might be that far off. 30 pounds, like you said, is a lot of weight when you start adding things up. So now I’m off to Google Docs to create a new spreadsheet. After that I just need to drop a few more pennies into the build fund.

      November 18, 2017 - 1:53 pm Reply
  • One man and his Mustang

    Nice writeup.

    November 17, 2017 - 4:55 pm Reply
    • tobiasmann

      Thanks! Weight is probably not as big a concern for your Mustang build, but that might change if you start towing it to shows.

      November 18, 2017 - 1:54 pm Reply
  • lupus lefou

    As Ronnie Dahl mentions in his video, the tire weight capacity and the PSI you inflate it to effects it’s potential capacity. In other words, the weight rating on the side of the tires just shows the maximum capacity at its maximum PSI. So, (assuming each PSI carries 45 lbs), while my 32×11.5r15 BFG KO2’s state that they can handle 2,250 at 50 PSI, at more typical highway PSI’s of 35-37 the actual weight capacity has decreased to 1575 lbs, per tire. So, 6300 lbs total. That’s plenty to handle all that I typically carry in a Overland kit. Here’s the kicker, deflating PSI should be commonplace when hitting the trails. So, deflating to, say 20 PSI, for a somewhat rough trail further reduces that tire weight capacity to approximately 900 lbs per tire, or 3600 for everything. That’s MUCH less than the 5000-5200 lbs for a stock 2004 xterra, which is about what my fully kitted out xterra runs at on the trails. 1400 – 1600 difference seems pretty sketchy of a reduced weight capacity. I may be wrong about that assumption in my calculations that shows each PSI can carry 45 lbs. I’ve done a lot of googling but can’t find any concrete source whether PSI is logarithmic, exponential or something else entirely,

    November 17, 2017 - 6:17 pm Reply
    • tobiasmann

      Lupus, you are not wrong, tire capacities vary depending on PSI, but tires aren’t the only consideration.The tires load rating is also connected to its speed rating and the material make up of the tire. For example, a tire with a speed rating of Q and a load rating of 2500 pounds at 60 PSI is designed to support that load at speeds of no more than 99 miles per hour. Off road, you are probably going at most 25 miles per hour at low pressures and so the load rating isn’t as much of a consideration. This is especially true if you are running tires appropriate for your vehicle’s weight when properly inflated.

      The GVWR has much more to do with axle capacity, suspension tolerances and geometry, braking and safety measures like anti-roll bars. I mention tires because they are a common upgrade for vehicles and readers may not consider the consequences of buying a tire with a lower rating until they are already installed.

      Where the weight is placed on the vehicle is actually a more important consideration that I didn’t get into in this post. You vehicle likely has GAWR for each axle. On most independent-front suspension vehicles, those numbers can be wildly different. That’s because the solid axle in the back is likely designed for higher loads (thats why the load bay or trunk is there), while the front suspension is designed only to support the engine transmission and occupants.

      In general, no matter how much weight you are carrying, keep it low and in between the front and rear axles. This is why roof racks should only be used to carry light loads. Placing more than 150 pounds on a roof rack can serious affect the vehicle’s capability and handling on and off road.

      November 18, 2017 - 2:23 pm Reply
  • Customs -N- Classics

    Good article. Well written, thanks for the info.

    November 26, 2017 - 7:02 pm Reply
    • tobiasmann

      Thanks Dennis.

      November 27, 2017 - 1:19 pm Reply

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