Weight Ratings Explained & Van Conversion Weight Breakdown

Last Updated: March 23, 2022

Weight Ratings Explained & Van Conversion Weight Breakdown

Weight-Ratings-Explained-and-Van-Conversion-Weight-Breakdown-Heading

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


1.1. Glossary


Curb Weight:
  • 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).
Gross-Vehicle-Weight-(GVW)-van on a scale
Payload Weight:
  • The weight added to the curb weight.
  • Includes: Driver & passengers, optional & aftermarket equipment, conversion weight (permanent), cargo weight (removable).
Camper-Van-Conversion-Payload-Weight
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).
Camper-Van-Conversion-Gross-Vehicle-Weight--(GVW)
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-Vehicle-Weight-Rating-(GVWR)
Gross Axle Weight (GAW):
  • The total weight (GVW) measured on each axle of the vehicle (front and rear).
Camper-Van-Conversion-Gross-Axle-Weight-(GAW)
Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR):
  • The maximum allowable total weight to be placed on an individual axle (front or rear).
Gross-Axle-Weight-Rating(GAWR)
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.
Vehicle-Center-Of-Gravity-(CG)

1.2. Resources


Weight ratings, curb weight, payload, capacities, etc.

2. Weight Impact In A Nutshell


2.1. Weight


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):

Vehicle-Center-Of-Gravity-(CG-horizontal-vertical-lateral)
Center Of Gravity: horizontal, vertical and lateral.
Horizontal CG

The horizontal center of gravity impacts the front & rear gross axle weight (GAW), steering control and traction.

Vertical CG

The vertical center of gravity impacts brake dive and sway (or roll) during a turn.

Lateral CG

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).

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. Build it! Converting a van is not like building a house: weight matters. Try to use lightweight material throughout your build.
  4. 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.).
  5. 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.

  1. 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.).
  2. 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

Faroutride Kitchen 3
  • T-250 Cargo Van
  • 3.7L Ti-VCT V6 Engine
  • RWD
  • 148″ Wheelbase, Extended Length (EL)
  • High Roof
  • GVWR: 9,000 lb

Our first labor of love, this Ford Transit camper van conversion took us throughout Canada, USA and Mexico. 4 years of full time Van Life adventures, unreal!

Weight Summary

Curb Weight (per specs sheet)5,500 lb
Payload Conversion1,800 lb
Payload Cargo1,700 lb
TOTAL (GVW):8,950 lb

Ford Transit conversion 2022

Our Next Chapter

FarOutRide-New-Van-2021-Ford-Transit-AWD-Blue
  • T-350 Cargo Van
  • 3.5L EcoBoost (twin-turbocharged) Engine
  • AWD
  • 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.

Weight Summary

Curb Weight (actual)6,030 lb
Payload ConversionWait for it!
Payload Cargo Wait for it!
TOTAL (GVW): Wait for it!

Weight Breakdown

ITEMWeight
(lb)
Exterior
Wheels upgrade
Larger all-terrain tires upgrade
Roof rack & ladder95
Awning
Cell phone signal booster
Suspension leveling kit
Mosquito screens
Climate Control
Roof fan
Bunk window
Thinsulate
Low-E
Floor insulation
Air heater
Insulated window covers
Wall fan
Electrical System
Solar panels
Battery bank
Solar charge controller
System monitor
Inverter/charger
DC-to-DC (B2B) alternator charger
Others (wiring, switch, fuses, etc)
Water System
Fresh water tank
Pump & accumulator
Sink
Water heater
Others
Floor
Insulation is covered under “Climate Control”
Subfloor (plywood)
Vinyl flooring
Others (adhesive, etc.)
Walls & Ceiling
Insulation is covered under “Climate Control”
Paneling
Swivel Seats
Driver30
Passenger30
Kitchen
Cabinet (driver side)
Cabinet (passenger side)
Overhead storage
12V refrigerator
Others
Living room / Dining room / Office
Table
Composting toilet
Couch / composting toilet’s cabinet
Bedroom
Bed platform
Bedroom storage
Garage
Slide-out-bike-rack
Others
TOTAL (so far)155 lb

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NICE TO MEET YOU.

About-Us-Narrow

Hello! We’re Isabelle and Antoine 🙂 In 2017, we sold our house (and everything in it), quit our engineering careers, and moved into our self-built campervan. Every day is an opportunity for a new adventure; we’re chasing our dreams, and hopefully it inspires others to do the same!

29 thoughts on “Weight Ratings Explained & Van Conversion Weight Breakdown”

  1. What is included in your cargo payload? Seems like a lot (1700 lbs?) pretty much the same as your conversion weight. Trying to decide whether i need a dually or not. I see a lot of professionally built transits extended 148 WB are duallies.

    Reply
  2. Hi, I have a similar build, and fully loaded with gear my rear axle weight exceeded the RGAWR BY ~200lbs. How did your build come in for rear axle weight?

    Reply
  3. Hey Antoine and Isabelle!

    Thanks for making all of these awesome resources available. You have been my role models for sometime by showing alternative ways of living. I just bought the builders package to support your project but realized that building similiar setup here might not be doable.

    In EU the hard weight limit for personal vehicles is 3500kg (7716.18 LBS). You can still register the van as a truck and then the weight can be up to 5000 kilos but that means more expenses:
    * Driver needs to have a truck (C) driving license
    * Some countries have road taxes for vehicles that are heavier than 3500kg
    * Annual vehicle taxes and insurance are more expensive

    So it’s still doable but I would really rather spend the money elsewhere. I think your build is awesome but just as an engineering trivia question what are the areas you would change to make it 560kg more lighter or what would you leave out?

    Thanks in advance, you are awesome

    Reply
    • Thanks for your support!
      Wood is heavy, so if we had to be cautious about the weight of the conversion, this is where we would have done things differently. I guess using 80/20 for the structure of our bed and cabinets would help. Also, going lithium for the battery would be wise (when we weighed the van, we had an AGM battery). Do you have to weight the van regularly? If not, just the van converted (no payload, ie no water in the tank, no gear, no food, etc) should not weight too much and you should be fine…

      Reply
      • Thanks a lot for the reply!

        They only check the weight after conversion and otherwise it’s really rare and the fines are not that bad. So for example driving with excessive weight in the wilderness would be totally okay.

        Most important part is the insurance and the insurance company won’t pay for the damages if they can show that the excessive weight had something to do with an accident. So even if you have a good insurance accidents can easily bankrupt you.

        I hope eliminating skiing equipment and gas system and using lighter wood will be enough but only time will tell.

        Thanks for the extra pointers and have a good one 🙂

        Reply
  4. Careful with the full load! I’m in a gmc savana 2500 4.8L and fried my transmission at 210000km. Converted at 180k, and did a lot of mountain driving. Apparently you can’t do lots of mountains at max load without being real careful on the tranny. I’m installing an oil cooler to fix this.

    Reply
  5. What is the vans GVWR? I have been following the conversation and looking to upgrade tires next. Wasn’t sure if the extended version is different than the smaller models.

    Thanks

    Reply
  6. Just got my Transit 250 HR extended weighed, came in at 7880lb without water and some smaller things. By my math, we’re going to be coming in just under the 9000lb GVWR – similar to you guys. We added the Airlift 5000 Ultimate, but no other suspension upgrades (Bilstein shocks are backordered until March 20201!).

    How would you say the van performs/drives/handles with a total weight of 8950? Did you upgrade the springs at all? I’m considering adding Super Springs (they have a 1900lb and 2900lb additional load leveling ability). As it is right now at 7880lb, it’s handling a little bouncier than I’d like.

    Any input is super helpful!!

    Reply
  7. Would you choose a dually to increase your payload if you had to do it again?

    You’re a wonderful resource for the van life community. Thanks so much!

    Reply
    • No, we wouldn’t go with a dually because it doesn’t perform as well in the snow and we would be loosing precious space inside.

      Reply
  8. So are there any leads for getting your van weighed? When I inquired, local weigh stations would be saying things like our van didn’t weigh enuf and stuff like we couldn’t get the front wheels and back wheels weighed separately. Did you encounter this?

    Reply
      • Okay. CAT scale it was. What they say on the phone doesn’t match what they do in person. Our build is 90% done (missing battery, toilet and refrigerator), and we came in at 3400 for the front axle and 3340 for the drive axle, total 6740, well short of 9000.

        Do you have separate weights for your front/drive axles? And how did you adjust the pressure on your bigger snow tires. Certainly you don’t need 71 psi in the back tires, do you?

        Reply
        • We use the same pressure in summer or winter (71 in the back tires). Remember that tires weight loading is for a specific pressure. Use less pressure only if you are well below the max weight rating.
          And you don’t want to run too soft in the snow, it’s not like sand.

          Reply
          • No no no, I wasn’t thinking running them soft soft, like we sometimes do with bike tires in the rain. I was thinking running them balanced so the centers of the tires don’t wear (or the edges don’t wear). Your bigger tire has a bigger foot print, so you should in principle be able to run them softer, I am thinking 60 or 65 (but I have no idea how to calculate).
            I noticed the centers of my rear stock tires back at 10,000 wearing more in the centers than the edges, and it’s because I was running them at 70 psi when 45 or 50 would have been more appropriate at the weight I have in the back. They are rotated out of the back now, but I am sure I lost some mileage on them.
            Right now, I am running 45-48 psi on all the tires, but will increase pressure (at least in the rear) as I approach GVWR.

  9. I love your carefully considered, well engineered designs, and I know I will be using a lot of them. I am amazed and grateful for your site. You have saved me so much work. I’m curious about one thing however. You built everything out of wood, did you consider using more lightweight materials? Do you think the weight is an important factor? It’s my inclination to lightweight the build, but I want to know if it’s worth it.

    Reply
    • Weight definitely an important factor; it will affect safety (handling, braking), gas consumption, etc. It is possible to build out of wood and stay below the maximum weight allowed for the van (GVWR), like we did. But I’m sure we could build our van with lighter weight material, but we wanted wood since we live full time in it.

      Reply
      • If u research sailboat builds, specifically catamarans and trimarans, u can get some good ideas on using LW materials like foam, epoxy, fiberglass, plastics, etc. For example, shelves and cabinets can be made out of foam sandwich panels using XPS and epoxy. Usually more expensive than wood, but maybe not now LOL

        Reply
    • Totally agree. Gave me the confidence and detailed info to try and build my own. This is the best site I’ve found on the subject! Thank you!

      Reply

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