Weight and weight distribution is not a sexy Van life topic and doesn’t get much attention, but it deserves to be addressed as it has many critical implications; SAFETY being the most important of all. Indeed weight added by a van conversion affects safety, performances and handling of the vehicle and improper management can put you (and others) at risk and shorten the life of the vehicle and its components. Overload can also prevent being compliant with laws and safety standards. Let’s do our due diligence and check what all those acronyms mean (GVWR, GAWR, etc.), then check out our van conversion weight breakdown for real-world example.
1. Weight Ratings Explained
- The weight of the vehicle (empty).
- Includes: Standard equipment, oil, lubricants, and full tank of gas.
- Does not include: Driver & passenger, optional & aftermarket equipment, or cargo.
- Take note: The curb weight varies with models and standard equipment. For example, the curb weight of our AWD EcoBoost van is higher than our RWD 3.7L van (for the same length/height).
- The weight added to the curb weight.
- Includes: Driver & passengers, optional & aftermarket equipment, conversion weight (permanent), cargo weight (removable).
Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW):
- The sum of the curb weight and payload weight.
- Includes: Vehicle, standard equipment, oil, lubricants, full tank of gas, driver & passengers, optional & aftermarket equipment, conversion weight (permanent), cargo weight (removable).
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR):
- The maximum allowable total weight of the fully loaded vehicle.
- In other words: The GVW should never exceed the GVWR.
Gross Axle Weight (GAW):
- The total weight (GVW) measured on each axle of the vehicle (front and rear).
Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR):
- The maximum allowable total weight to be placed on an individual axle (front or rear).
Center Of Gravity (CG):
- The location of an imaginary point where all the weight may be concentrated.
- A bit more: The point at which the vehicle is in perfect balance. In other words, if the vehicle was dropped on the tip of a sharp pencil, it would not tip over.
Weight ratings, curb weight, payload, capacities, etc.
2. Weight Impact In A Nutshell
People generally think of the impact of weight as fuel mileage, brake wear and suspension performance. There’s actually much more to it! Weight ratings (GVWR, GAWR, etc.) impact the vehicle’s safety, performance and durability. They are determined by the manufacturer through a series of standardized tests and take into account braking performance (not just wear!), vehicle stability, durability (chassis, drivetrain, etc.), dynamic stability and handling.
A misconception is that GVWR can be increased by the means of aftermarket upgrades (e.g. suspension upgrade); this is NOT the case. As we’ve seen, GVWR is complex and take into account several factors.
2.2. Weight Distribution
Weight distribution impact the center of gravity (CG):
The horizontal center of gravity impacts the front & rear gross axle weight (GAW), steering control and traction.
The vertical center of gravity impacts brake dive and sway (or roll) during a turn.
The lateral center of gravity impacts the weight on the left & right tires, sway (or roll) during a turn.
3. Your Role As A DIY Builder
Your role as a DIY builder is to make sure to stay within range of the vehicle weight ratings (GVWR, GAWR).
- Take note of your curb weight, allowable payload, GVWR and GAWR. These are provided by the manufacturer (se resources above) and are specific to each brand/model/options.
- Optional: Upon delivery of your new van, take it to a scale to measure your actual curb weight.
- Fill the gas tank first
- Substract the driver/passenger weight if applicable
- Build it! Converting a van is not like building a house: weight matters. Try to use lightweight material throughout your build.
- Once your van conversion is completed, take it to a scale and measure your GVW and GAW (front & rear). Make sure they are under the weight ratings (GVWR, GAWR).
- Remember that GVW includes everything: all the fluids (gas, water, propane, etc.), driver & passenger(s), aftermarket equipment, cargo (food, kitchen stuff, bikes, etc., etc.).
- Optional: Empty the removable cargo from your van and take it to a scale to find out:
- Conversion payload (permanent weight added from your conversion) = scale weight – curb weight
- Cargo payload (removable weight) = GVW – conversion payload – curb weight
Your role as a DIY builder is also to think of weight distribution throughout your conversion.
- Vertical CG. The holy grail of safety, performance & handling for any vehicle design is to keep the vertical CG as low as possible. For example that’s why, by locating the batteries under the floor, Tesla obtained one of the best test results (safety, performance & handling) in the industry. So remember that weight added higher (e.g. roof rack, overhead storage, ceiling material) has much more impact that weight added at floor level (e.g. battery bank, water tank, etc.).
- Horizontal and Lateral CG. Try to plan your layout so that weight is balanced approximately equally between front/rear and left/right. Don’t go crazy with this, but do your best.
4. Weight Breakdown Of Our Vans
Ford Transit Conversion 2016
Our First Van Conversion
|Curb Weight (per specs sheet)||5,500 lb|
|Payload Conversion||1,800 lb|
|Payload Cargo||1,700 lb|
|TOTAL (GVW):||8,950 lb|
Ford Transit conversion 2022
Our Next Chapter
- T-350 Cargo Van
- 3.5L EcoBoost (twin-turbocharged) Engine
- 148″ Wheelbase, Extended Length (EL)
- High Roof
- Extended-Range Fuel Tank (31 gal)
- GVWR: 9,500 lb
- GAWR front: 4,630 lb
- GAWR rear: 5,660 lb
Life is about project, so here’s an awesome new project to keep us busy for a while! We should start the conversion early January 2022.
|Curb Weight (actual)||6,030 lb|
|Payload Conversion||Wait for it!|
|Payload Cargo||Wait for it!|
|TOTAL (GVW):||Wait for it!|
|Larger all-terrain tires upgrade|
|Roof rack & ladder||95|
|Motorized Antenna Tilt (weBoost Fold Up/Down)||1|
|Cell phone signal booster|
|Suspension leveling kit|
|Insulated window covers|
|Solar charge controller|
|DC-to-DC (B2B) alternator charger|
|Others (wiring, switch, fuses, etc)|
|Fresh water tank|
|Pump & accumulator|
|Insulation is covered under “Climate Control”|
|Others (adhesive, etc.)|
|Walls & Ceiling|
|Insulation is covered under “Climate Control”|
|Cabinet (driver side)|
|Cabinet (passenger side)|
|Living room / Dining room / Office|
|Lagun Table (Passenger Seat)||13|
|Couch / composting toilet’s cabinet|
|TOTAL (so far)||189 lb|
References for this article:
- The role of GFWR and CGWR in specifying work trucks (ntea.com).
- Calculating Commercial Vehicle Weight Distribution & Payload Made Easy (www.worktruckonline.com)
- What Are the Implications of Rerating Vehicle GVWR and GAWR? (www.forconstructionpros.com)
- Towing Capacity Guide (www.curtmfg.com)