Overweight Motorhome? DANGER! How Much Can You Carry Safely?

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An overweight motorhome can cost you more than big fines! Excess weight will burn more fuel, and your tyres will be put under pressure. But, most importantly, an overweight motorhome can cost you your life!!

How much can a motorhome carry? A “spring” blog post!

It was the realisation that our motorhome was struggling and could potentially become dangerous that made us empty almost everything from it and seek custom springs for the rear suspension.

We were within the laws governing Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass (MTPLM). But our springs had sagged in just two years and were clearly not going to be up to the job in hand for much longer. Being technically legal is one matter but the knowledge that we were on the verge of NOT being entirely safe is something else!

MTPLM is the Mass In Running Order (MIRO – the vehicle plus fuel and driver fresh from the factory shop floor) plus the Payload (all the little bits that you simply cannot live without, including passengers!).

Sometimes, those extra little bits weigh a whole lot more than you realise!

Are all your motorhome items essential?

Gav and I had had conversations about downsizing my copious list of necessary items. And a table and chair set he deemed as required. Now we realise that it was not just differing opinions but a serious matter of common sense. NOT that I am conceding anything there!!!

After a spring had broken (potholes most likely!) we had both sides renewed with replacements we were assured were applicable for our T4 Cree. Initially they held her back end up but there was a noticeable sag after a few months.

Still being informed that the suspension was the appropriate type, we had spring assisters fitted. Again, they did the trick to begin with. But then we began getting comments on our social media photographs that we looked overloaded.

Fact is, we were not. But we realised that we would soon fall foul of the law as well as endangering ourselves.

The problem exacerbated when we needed recovering – it was difficult for the vehicle operator to get her up onto the loader without breaking the back bumper. Read about that time here.

Something had to be done!

We asked our “master of all trades” and he said that he was certain that we had incorrect springs. He also knew where custom springs could be obtained. And joy of joys, he could fit them.

What we actually had in situ WERE the correct springs for a T4 van. However, this is a motorhome. There is a terrific difference in weight at the back end!

Fitted with the new ones, Cree looks like she has had cosmetic surgery on her butt! She sits up another couple of inches and should hold that. The ride is tighter and the roll much reduced.

We are now aware of the dangers of an overweight motorhome

In fact, this has made us aware of the effects of poor suspension and overloading. Plus the danger of uneven loading.

It is tempting to fill every nook and cranny in a motorhome with things that might come in handy. Then when you take to the road, to simply put the suitcases onto the bed or sofa because the cupboards are full.

And don’t forget the extra passenger or two if you load up the kids! Even the dog is adding to the weight in the vehicle.

extra passengers add weight to an overweight motorhome

If, like us, you have handy storage under the settee, remember that by loading everything under there (no, not the kids or the dog!) you could potentially have uneven weight distribution. Spread loads evenly, side to side and back to front.

Water tanks, gas bottles, fuel tank, bike racks, roof rack, solar panels are all unseen, but they add significantly to the weight too.

Overloading and uneven loads all affect the handling, traction and stability of an already cumbersome vehicle. Braking distances can be almost doubled and the back end can sway alarmingly. Think about the “ammunition” that would come hurtling out of the cupboards should you roll it!

Then there are the tyres…an overweight motorhome will need replacements far more often. There is a vastly increased risk of blow out too.

So how do you know how much your motorhome can carry?

Firstly, apply common sense! Everyone on board has to accept that they will need to travel light or empty the food cupboards.

Emphasise that travelling in a motorhome is a chance to get away from everyday stuff. If your passengers are old enough, explain the risks of overloading and to younger ones, that the extra fuel needed by a heavier van will eat into the ice-cream money.

Every motorhome has an information plate outlining its maximum load weight. It is called the VIN plate, with your vehicle identification number on. This is usually found under the bonnet or inside the driver door. It will show your Maximum Allowed Mass (MAM) and Maximum Train Weight (MTW) if you wish to tow. Note that each axle has a maximum weight. (Maximum Axle Weight , MAW) The back axle can soon become overloaded if you have filled bike or scooter racks, a heavy roof-rack like ours, or too many people in the back.

Cree motorhome with a bike on the bike rack

Overloading the rear axle can lift the weight from the front axle. That will severely impede the handling and traction of a front wheel drive vehicle. With poor grip, those hills will be even steeper for your engine, cornering and manoeuvring could be dangerous.

Should you want to tow a car or trailer behind your motorhome, you should not exceed the Gross Train Weight (GTW). Check this out for your vehicle before planning on towing.

How do you know what your motorhome actually weighs?

You can find the MIRO then calculate the added weight of every single additional item. Allow a few hours for that!!

Or, easier and more accurate, visit a weighbridge at least once during your stewardship of your vessel. This can tell you the Actual Laden Weight. They can also tell you what your vehicle weighs on each axle. Be honest, put in what you would normally travel with if you are doing this before a holiday. But give yourself a day or so to even it all up in case you are too heavy.

Cheating the system by weighing with only half your stuff in will not keep you safe.

Don’t think that careful driving will keep you out of the courts either.  We’ve heard that many motorways have technology which can give a highly accurate measurement of the weight of your vehicle whilst it is in motion. Cameras capture the number plate and compare the actual weight to the registered weight. Designed to catch overladen lorries, it works on overweight motorhomes too. But if police suspect that you are overweight just by how the vehicle looks, your motorhome can be weighed by them at the nearest weighbridge.

If you get caught with an overweight motorhome, you could be fined into four figures with points on your licence. You may also be prohibited from moving until you have dumped some of your weight. Think carefully what or who you may have to leave by the roadside!

And you could have been “caught” after being involved in an accident. Your insurance will be invalid as will any manufacturers’ warranties. Plus, you may have killed people. Just saying!

As an aside, having a driving licence does not necessarily permit you to drive the bigger motorhomes. If you are driving a vehicle over 3,500kg, you need category C1 on your licence.

If you have B or B1 on your licence, you may only drive vehicles up to 3,500kg. I won’t go into the details of that here, we will at some time cover it. But if you’re unsure, please check! If you have an overloaded motorhome, you will be fined for driving a vehicle which exceeds safe limits and for not having the licence for the weight of the vehicle.

And if you are over 70, it is worth checking your permissions to drive a motorhome – you’ll need a replacement licence every three years.

How can you decrease the weight of an overweight motorhome?

Decreasing the weight carried can be easy – take everything out, discard half. Put the remaining stuff back, discarding more as you go! If there’s anything you have not used for a year, leave it at home. Decide how many plates, cutlery sets, cans of beans etc you really need! Keep waste-water tanks empty and only fill fresh water with enough to take you to the next stop. Obviously for wild campers, this is more of a balancing act – we certainly do not suggest emptying waste tanks anywhere but in a dedicated receptacle. A camp site may allow you to use theirs for a nominal fee – you lose nothing by walking in and asking.

Excess food and bottles of milk and water can add a lot to the weight. If you will be near to shops, restock as you go. It helps the motorhome community’s profile when we use local stores.

Think hard before adding the new awning – do you stay on-site long enough to need one? Spare bedding, mats, coats …just think it out.

Please don’t give too much consideration to “how to get away with an overweight motorhome”. I have seen forum posts suggesting that there is leeway given by some authorities. Don’t risk it! You can’t go 5% over the limits without being fined.

Sure you can turn the waste and fresh-water outlet taps on as you travel to the weighbridge after being picked up by police. Similarly, throw cans of food out as you go. But you’ll get caught doing it, which is an admission of guilt. An overweight motorhome is potentially dangerous so just don’t do it!

Can you increase the permitted payload of a motorhome?

If you find your vehicle is always carrying too much and you cannot reduce your “essentials” any further, you have choices. Investing in a bigger vehicle is one. Or you can have some modifications carried out – heavy duty suspension along with other safety works if necessary– and then have the vehicle re-plated. The changes must be officially documented, and for your sake, the work should be carried out by competent engineers. Plus ensure that your driving licence allows you to drive a vehicle at the increased weight limits.

But even if you have done everything according to the letter of the law, always listen to the little inner voice. We knew that our Cree was not right. Despite the assurances and reassurances of a well-intentioned garage, we just knew. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and dig deeper…actually, you should be afraid NOT to.

And since we are talking of “springs”…have a look at our page about preparing your vehicle for the new season!

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The summer is coming – let’s get back on the road!

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