How to Drive With a Heavy Load

Before you set off in your car on any journey, it’s important to know that your vehicle is in a suitable condition to get to your destination safely. Your tyres need to have adequate tread, you need enough oil, coolant and even screenwash to prevent any sudden problems from cropping up… the list goes on. What many people may not consider however, is the weight of any large items they’re transporting. It’s not unusual to see cars heading to the airport filled to the brim with luggage or arriving at a new home with a 3-piece suite crammed into the back, but how many of us actually consider the impact these hefty loads have on our ability to control the car? Read on to find out just how you should drive when you’re transporting a heavy load.

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How Will A Heavy Load Affect Your Driving?

Driving with your car weighed down will have a significant impact on your driving, so don’t put your foot down and expect your vehicle to behave in exactly the same way it would if the boot was empty.

Heavy loads will affect the handling of your car, making it feel more sluggish to move from a standstill, whilst also reducing the braking ability and increasing the distance it’ll take for you to stop in an emergency – this is something you must take into account. 

You might think that filling your car with heavy stuff will weigh it down and make it grip the road better and while you’re technically not wrong, it won’t allow you to take corners like it’s an F1 car. On the contrary, it will make your car even harder to steer around bends, with all the excess weight that’s having to be shifted around that corner too.

Another factor of the driving experience that’s affected is your fuel consumption. The vehicle is having to work much harder to propel you down the road and, in the same way that you’ll use more energy to carry a heavy backpack on a hike, your car will guzzle fuel much faster if it’s weighed down.

Are There Weight Limits For Cars & How Do I Find This?

There are indeed weight limits for cars, just like there are with vans and lorries. The safety risks of overloading a car aren’t overlooked in the UK, so the authorities have put in place measures to prevent drivers from packing their vehicle so full that it becomes a danger on the road. Finding this out can require a bit of basic maths, so allow us to explain how you can work out the weight limit for your vehicle, often called the ‘payload’.

First of all, you’ll need to know the kerb weight of your car. This will be listed in the vehicle handbook (or is probably available online, depending on your make and model). The kerb weight of your car is how heavy it is with nothing added inside it – no driver, passengers or cargo.

Next, you’ll need to find out the Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM), sometimes known as the Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) or permissible maximum weight. Technically speaking, this is the weight limit for your car when it’s filled with as much added weight as legally possible, but unless you fancy having a weighbridge installed on your driveway, it won’t be too much help.

To find out the payload of your car, which is the maximum weight of both people and cargo that is allowed to be carried at one time, simply minus the kerb weight from the MAM. The figure you’re left with will be your maximum weight, but remember that this includes passengers and yourself as the driver.

For example, let’s assume your car’s kerb weight is 1,000kg and its MAM is listed as 1,600kg. This means the maximum weight that your car can safely carry is 600kg. Now, imagine you’re going on a roadtrip with three friends; the four of you weigh 80kg each, meaning driver and passengers combine to hit 320kg. This means the maximum weight of the cargo load you can carry is 280kg.

How To Adjust Your Car For A Heavy Load

There are a few ways that you can adapt your car for carrying heavy or abnormal loads. One of the more common involves purchasing and installing a roof box or roof rack. Not only does this make it more convenient for you to be able to carry larger items that may not fit properly in the boot, it makes it safer than having things sliding around behind the rear seats.

Alternatively, if you’re carrying something really large, you could opt for a trailer of some kind to load up and tow behind your car, but you’ll have to bear in mind that there are other restrictions for towing that need to be adhered to.

Tips For Driving With A Heavy Load

If you must drive with a heavy load, there are some things you can do to ensure the journey goes smoothly and safely:

  • Increasing your tyre pressure to slightly above the normal level to make allowances for the extra weight they’re going to be carrying.
  • Clear out space in your boot or flatten the rear seats so that any large, heavy items can be placed as low to the ground as possible.
  • Consider using cargo straps if appropriate to ensure that your items do not move around in transit; any impacts as they slide into the side of the vehicle could affect your handling.
  • Use lower gears when driving up or down hills to maintain control of the car.
  • Brake sooner than normal and don’t take any risks that require fast acceleration, eg. overtaking on country lanes. 

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