The heavy reality of car weight limits

Your car’s ability to haul passengers and cargo may be less than you think

Published: September 05, 2013 10:30 AM

As anyone who’s ever experienced the consequences of an overstuffed grocery bag can attest, it’s not always a good idea to cram more stuff in just because you think it will fit. The same thing holds true with cars, although chances are that load capacity isn’t very high on most buyer’s list of priorities when choosing a new model. That’s a shame, as that capacity may be even lower than you think.

The truth is that many new family sedans, SUVs, compacts, and subcompact models are at or near their maximum load capacity when loaded up with four average-sized American males and their luggage, gear, or other cargo.

The Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, and Mazda6 midsized sedans, for example, all have a combined load capacity of 850 lbs. for passengers and cargo. That means that four 195-lb. passengers, which is about average for an American male according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), would be close to maxing out any of those sedans’ capacities as soon as they got in. Throw in another 70 pounds for luggage, gear, or whatever else they want to bring along and all three cars would be at their maximum load. Keep in mind that these are all five-passenger vehicles. Squeeze in one more average guy and the car would not only cease to be a pleasant place to be, but it would be way past its limit without any cargo.  

Many minivan buyers choose that body style specifically for hauling around lots of stuff and/or groups of people, whether that means a large family or a high school sports team. But consider that when most seven-passenger minivans, including the Chrysler Town & Country, Nissan Quest, and Toyota Sienna, are loaded to capacity with seven 165-lb. passengers, that’s before any bats, balls, helmets, pets, camping gear, bicycles, cargo boxes, or luggage are added.

Not surprising, some sports cars and convertibles have the lowest weight capacities, with the Chevrolet Corvette, Mazda MX-5 Miata, and Nissan 370Z all checking in at 450 pounds or less. Perhaps more interesting is that a Ford Fiesta subcompact has a higher load limit than a larger and heavier Mustang, and the same holds true when comparing a Chevrolet Sonic with a Camaro. Clearly, the muscle cars are made to haul something other than a heavy payload.

All this is not intended to cause alarm; it’s just something else to keep in mind when you’re shopping for a new vehicle. Don’t think only in terms of how much trunk or cargo room a vehicle has, or how many seats. Think about how you’ll be using it, what kind of weight you’ll routinely be carrying, and how much it is designed to carry safely.

Load capacity can normally be found on the tire information placard in the driver’s door sill or in the owner’s manual. This assumes the vehicle is in proper running order. It’s important to understand the level of air pressure in your car’s tires effects their load capacity and if you don’t inflate to the recommended pressure setting, you’re load capacity may be compromised despite what the placard says.  

Manufacturers determine that capacity based on a number of factors, from tires and suspension to how the vehicle will handle in an emergency maneuver under load. And with increased focus on fuel economy, those load limits may be coming down as carmakers try and reduce vehicle weight wherever possible to save fuel.

Meanwhile, the CDC says the average weight of passengers continues to go up, even while our cars are trying to lose weight. Maybe we should take a tip from our cars, and try to shed a few pounds ourselves.

Jim Travers

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