Do You Have a Weight Problem? Understanding your Gross Vehicle Weight Rating & What To Consider When Adding More Modifications
A common theme with the modern overland/off-road vehicle is having enough gear to get you out of any situation and enough amenities with you to make camping comfortable.
This makes exploration convenient, but it comes at a cost that is often overlooked. Overall vehicle weight adds up quickly when you start piling on accessories, and the 5th generation 4Runner is no exception.
What is GVWR?
The safe upper weight limit designated by the manufacturer is known as the GVWR or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. This weight rating is determined based on a number of vehicle factors including frame strength, axle ratings, braking ability, suspension ratings, to name a few.
This number is noted on every vehicle, most commonly inside the driver’s door. GVWR signifies a weight where the manufacturer believes the vehicle can perform reliability, and safely to its best ability. And insurance companies look at GVWR in determining a vehicle’s overall safety.
What is GVW?
GVW is the total weight of the actual vehicle, its Gross Vehicle Weight. This includes the people inside of it, the beers in the cooler (and the cooler), and anything else you bolt on/weld on/put into your vehicle. As you can imagine, this number fluctuates, but in good practice should never exceed the GVWR.
What is Curb Weight?
This is the weight of the vehicle, as it left the dealership, with all of the fluids topped off but no passengers. This number can vary by model and trim, but is relatively consistent between vehicles of the same model/trim. The exception to this is when a dealership adds aftermarket parts to the vehicle. Then you will have an “adjusted curb weight” that accounts for the additional parts.
When you take the GVWR and subtract the curb weight, you are left with the total payload, or the total weight you can add to the vehicle and remain under the vehicle’s GVWR.
This includes anything on/in the vehicle, including the passengers themselves. The payload, plus the curb weight equals the GVW.
What does this mean?
Photo Credit: Joe McCormick
People tend to base their vehicle capacity on what fits. This is true for bolt-on parts, how big your tires are, how much camping gear you can shove in the back, how much capacity your battery has. It’s all based on what fits.
But seldom do those who are outfitting their vehicle take weight into consideration. Personally, I only hear about someone’s vehicle weight when it hinders performance to the point of annoyance. The ugly truth is that everything adds up, from steel bumpers to the extra pair of shoes you threw in just in case. It all counts.
To help illustrate this, I have put together a list of typical additions for the “built” 5th gen 4Runner and their associated weights:
- Steel front bumper — 175 lbs
- Steel rear bumper with swing out (not including spare tire or accessories) — 200 lbs
- 10,000 lb Winch (synthetic line) — 80 lbs
- Steel skid plates — 150 lbs
- Steel sliders (with tubes) — 100 lbs
- Weight for larger tires (minus stock tire weight) — 120 lbs
- Weight for full-size spare (minus stock tire weight) — 30 lbs
- Full-length aluminum roof rack — 60 lbs
- Rooftop tent (soft) — 200 lbs
- Awning — 40 lbs
- Larger battery — 25 lbs
- Fridge + slide — 75 lbs
- Drawer system — 150 lbs
- Spare fuel (8 gal plus container) — 60 lbs
- Recovery gear/spare parts/tools — 60 lbs
- Camping gear (2 people) — 50 lbs
- Food/drink (2 people) — 30 lbs
- Water + tank (8 gallons) — 70 lbs
- Personal items (2 people) — 40 lbs
- 2 people — 320 lbs
- Total payload: 2,035 lbs
- Curb weight of 5th generation 4Runner (Trail edition, 4×4): 4,750 lbs
- GVW: 6,785 lbs
- GVWR of 5th generation 4Runner: 6,300 lbs
- Weight over GVWR: 485 lbs
- View and Download the Editable Template Here (highlight the grid, copy and paste into your own spreadsheet)
The list above certainly doesn’t account for everything that goes into a build, or on a camping trip. But I think that many of these items will resonate with those who use their 4Runners for exploring on the weekend. You can see by the calculations above that with a 4Runner loaded with the above equipment will be over it’s GVWR rating by nearly 500 lbs. As I said, everything adds up.
GVWR + Payload Calculator
Based on the template Max created for this post, we built a simple GVWR + Payload Calculator with a Year, Make, Model dropdown that populates Curb Weight, GVWR, and Max Payload ratings. From there, you can enter the weights of your modifications and see the total weight added to your rig. This tool was designed for off-road and overland rigs that wanted to easily understand their true payload numbers or “weight over GVWR”.
So you’re close to or over the GVWR. Now what?
Being close to the GVWR means that you have come close to exceeding the recommended weight of the vehicle based on those who have designed it. With the increased weight, certain aspects of the vehicle become compromised.
The most obvious ones are the stopping ability of the brakes, and the load carrying ability of the suspension. Thankfully, these can be upgraded to help with the additional weight.
Better brake pads and performance rotors can help slow things down. As for the suspension, springs with higher weight ratings, adjusted valving and upgraded bump stops will help keep the load under control. The key word with both of those statements is help. In both of those examples, even with upgrades, the vehicle is still very heavy and is prone to other problems.
Weight on the trail
Photo Credit: Joe Markarian
Weight is the enemy.
A phrase that you will hear often amongst people who push the limits of their vehicles off-road. The more weight that the vehicle has, the more weight that vehicle has to carry over obstacles, across hillsides, up and down slopes, over soft ground, and so-on.
This can affect where you go whether or not you will get stuck, and the longevity of your parts. There is a balance between enough armor, protection, recovery gear and overall weight that will make the vehicle as capable as possible on the trail. It’s also not just the overall weight that compromises capability, it’s where the weight is carried.
150 lbs worth of roof rack and accessories on it will have a much greater effect on the vehicle than 150 lbs worth of steel skid plates mounted on the belly. In general, keep your weight as low and centered as possible.
With off-road accessories, you don’t have as much of a choice in where they are installed, but for other heavy items such as water, recovery gear, parts, keep them as low and centered as you can.
The back seat footwell is a great place to keep heavy items centered on the vehicle. Keeping as much weight as low as possible will help keep your tires on the ground and moving forward.
Weight on the road
While weight carrying ability on the trail is a big focus for these types of vehicles, how it handles on the way to the trail is arguably much more important. You’ll spend 75% of your trip getting there on the pavement, and on average traveling at much higher speeds.
This is where the vehicle’s braking ability and high-speed maneuverability is crucial. If your vehicle is at or over the GVWR, give yourself more room to stop and check your brake pads more frequently than instructed by your service manual as you are likely going to wear through them faster.
Another valuable asset to vehicle safety that often gets tossed aside for gains in off-road performance is the sway bar. With a heavier load, the removal of sway bars can make the vehicle unpredictable and uncontrollable in the event of a sudden high-speed maneuver.
A functional sway bar is what the 4Runner’s traction control system is relying on and calculating for when it makes decisions on how to control the vehicle in an emergency. That reliance is escalated when the GVWR is close to or being exceeded.
Furthermore, knowingly modifying the vehicle by removing safety systems and weighing it down past its rated capacity can make you more liable in the event of an accident either in the eyes of an insurance company or worse, the law.
- Be mindful of the weight that you add to your vehicle
- Choose where to store additional weight wisely
- Maintain the vehicle, especially stability control and braking systems
- Drive accordingly for the weight that you are carrying
- Upgrade the vehicle to properly handle the weight
- Understand that upgraded parts do not mean an upgraded GVWR
- Know the limits of the vehicle (GVWR) and your total payload by weighing items individually