Overloaded: a dangerous oversight, or a necessary evil?

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

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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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