Buying & Owning - Weight and your motorhome
Motorhomes are sometimes stopped at a police/VOSA random check – on one such occasion last year, every single one was overweight. Don’t let this happen to you…WE all know that it is dangerous and illegal to overload your motorhome, but do we understand just how easily it can happen? Do you really know what your motorhome weighs with all you might put in it? Have you ever been to a weighbridge to check? Your local county council’s Weights and Measures department will tell you the location of your nearest one.
A typical mid-size coachbuilt motorhome may have a ‘user payload’ of 400kg, which might sound a lot. But what does this look like and how is it made up?
First thing to note is that the payload will be reduced by any extras you have fitted, such as comfort packs, air-con, TVs and the number of passengers carried.
The larger motorhomes may be presumed to have more payload, but it is not necessarily so.
One confusing aspect is that the term ‘payload’ is not the same as ‘personal effects’. The items in the table below are personal effects (if you are having trouble reading the table, click on it to download a larger PDF).
Payload is the difference between the maximum allowable weight of the vehicle and its weight in running order as it left the factory. Passengers, essential habitation equipment and any options have to be deducted, and what's left is for personal items.
Whether buying new or secondhand, check the weights in the handbook before you sign the cheque – and do some calculations to make sure the payload suits your needs.
British-built ’vans and most imports from the major manufacturers have minimum standards for the personal effects payload as a result of existing European standards, but this is due to change as type approval comes in – and this may well lead to lower minimums.
At present, for personal effects you should expect a minimum calculated from the formula 10L + 10N (where L is the length in metres and N is the number of berths), which for a six-metre four-berth works out at just 100kg – not nearly enough for four people on holiday. Fortunately, most motorhomes offer a lot more than the minimum.
If you are unable to find a payload figure, then have the vehicle weighed at a public weighbridge, driver on board and with gas cylinders, fuel and water tanks full but nothing else except standard fixtures. Subtract this figure from the plate on the vehicle showing its maximum allowable weight and you will have a good idea of the maximum payload left for optional kit and personal effects.
What does it weigh?The Caravan Club reckon about 150kg for two people, or 200kg for four, should be allowed for personal effects for normal touring. But there is no substitute for working it out for yourself by weighing what you normally put in you motorhome. Some examples of items you might take are shown in table 2 – your own kit could vary (if you are having trouble reading the table, click on it to download a larger PDF).
Note: just this modest list comes to over 260kg.
Items such as the gas cylinders, portable step, mains lead, batteries and 90% of fuel, oil and fresh water are included in the manufacturer’s essential habitation equipment figure, which should be quoted in the handbook and is included as part of the allowable total payload.
You need to think carefully about where you store the heavier items if you are not to compromise stability on the road and the motorhome’s maximum rear axle loading also has to be considered.
If you store all the heavy items at the rear there is a chance it can become overloaded, which will not only get you in trouble with the law, but can also seriously affect the vehicle’s handling. Try to even out the load across the chassis.
The law on weightsThe law on weights is a mixture of specifics and generalities. It is illegal to drive a vehicle for which either the maximum allowable weight, or any axle weight is exceeded. An overweight vehicle can be prevented by police from continuing its journey until the excess weight has been removed.
But it is the generalities which can catch you out. It is also against the law under Construction and Use Regulations No 100 to do anything to ‘cause, or likely to cause danger to anyone in or on a vehicle, or on a road.’ The rule covers the ‘weight, distribution, packing and adjustment’ of the load, and ‘the number of passengers and the manner in which they are carried’.
So unbelted passengers, an insecure load or even heavy items in an overhead locker could cause you trouble in a random check.
If you do go to the weighbridge, get a certificate (which should cost less than a tenner) to prove the fact, and keep it in the vehicle, as it shows you know what you have done your homework.
Even with mostly common EU rules, the method of enforcement can vary widely between countries, specifically in the imposition of on-the-spot fines.
For example, maximum speed limits for motorhomes are different and may depend on weight or size categories that are not the same as UK – see the table below (if you are having trouble reading the table, click on it to download a larger PDF).
Driving licence rulesIn the UK at present you can drive a motorhome up to 3500kg maximum weight on a car licence (Category B). Above that limit you will only be able to drive it if you passed your test before 1 January 1997 and have Category C1 on your licence.
When you reach 70 years of age this additional entitlement ceases unless you have a medical examination before applying for a new licence. If you want to tow something you will be limited to a trailer of maximum total weight including load of only 750kg, unless you have category C1 on the licence, in which case the maximum for motorhome and trailer is 8250kg.
So if you intend to buy, check that you can drive it before parting with your money. If you are not sure check with the DVLA.
What if you need more?If you have too little payload for your needs, it is possible in many cases to upgrade the chassis of your motorhome to allow more weight to be carried, but it is not always straightforward.
Sometimes it can be a simple matter of a change of tyre specification, or it could mean expensive work on the chassis by a specialist and checking with the Vehicle Certification Agency.
In any case you must follow the instructions given by the manufacturer, and make sure your driving licence will cope.
Engine, gearbox and trimNow you know how much everything weighs, you might consider going for the more powerful engine option.
But beware this too comes at a price.
If you want an automatic gearbox, this will usually have a penalty over the manual version, often by as much as 30kg, so be sure to include this too. Even a higher trim spec will have a weight.
How to avoid buying the wrong ’vanDo your homework! First decide clearly what kind of vehicle you want from a study of Which Motorhome road-tests, brochures, websites etc. Here are a few points for your checklist. Always see more than one vehicle before deciding what to buy and take a test drive.
- Is it the right size for your driving experience, comfort and licence details?
- Does it have all the fitted equipment you need?
- Do you need all the offered options?
- Is there going to be enough payload for what you will need to take?
- Is there sufficient storage - in the right places?
- Is there sufficient ‘moving about’ room in the living area?
- Is the bed conversion easy?
- Are the beds comfortable?
- Is the kitchen well laid out with reasonable workspace?
- Is the washroom area practical?
- Do you need automatic transmission or not?
- Is the dining area big enough for all to sit at the table?
- Are there sufficient seatbelts for all passengers?
(Information correct at time of publishing)
The full version of this article appeared in the April 2010 issue of Which Motorhome magazine. Click here to order a back issue, get the latest issue, and take advantage of our great subscription deal today.