Know Your Limits Before Putting On Vehicle Pounds

Martin Romjue
Posted on February 10, 2014

Operators from around the nation and world are converging on the International LCT Show in Las Vegas this month, where many will be eager to check out and order all types of vehicles on the show floor. Mini-buses and limo-buses have gained the primary sales momentum in the last five years, as operators expand their services to more group ground transportation and clients increasingly gravitate to buses and vans.

With so many operators focusing on vehicles this quarter, Show-time is also an ideal period to brush up on some rules for the road that can help you operate vehicles safely, avoid mishaps, and stay on good terms with law enforcement.

Gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWR) may not sound as exciting as other attractions at the Show, but knowing how to buy and maintain a vehicle that complies with legal weight guidelines should be on the to-do list of every savvy chauffeured vehicle shopper.

Remember, operators are ultimately responsible for the overall load weight of their vehicles once they are on the road and being chartered for commercial uses. Your goal is to maximize safety and minimize the risk of a vehicle being sidelined and cited for GVWR violations. Here are some general tips on what to look for and ask about.  

What Is GVWR?
The gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), or gross vehicle mass (GVM), is defined as the maximum operating weight/mass of a vehicle as specified by the manufacturer including the vehicle’s chassis, body, engine, engine fluids, fuel, accessories, driver, passengers and cargo but excluding that of any trailers. Curb weight describes a vehicle which is “parked at the curb” and excludes the weight of any occupants or cargo.

It’s important to understand that GVWR does not measure how much a vehicle actually weighs. A vehicle’s actual weight is the gross vehicle weight, or GVW. The two numbers should not be confused — the GVW of a vehicle is always changing, depending how many people are on board at any time, but the GVWR will remain a constant.

The calculation of GVWR is regulated by a strict set of requirements which place a per-seat weight figure based on DOTs calculation of years of averages. Those weights factor in typical weights of people at all stages of life, shape and size. Here is a definition of GVWR from the Code of Federal Regulations: *49CFR571.4(g) [(3) “Gross Vehicle Weight Rating” or “GVWR” followed by the appropriate value in pounds, which shall not be less than the sum of the unloaded vehicle weight, rated cargo load, and 150 pounds times the number of the vehicle’s designated seating positions.

Foremost, it is the responsibility of the bus builder — whether an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), authorized OEM vehicle modifier, or independent coachbuilder — to follow GVWR guidelines. To meet the regulations, modifiers and coachbuilders must calculate GVWR based on chassis regulations supplied by OEM to ensure proper performance of the vehicle, including brakes and powertrain components.

Operators buying vehicles must check and make sure the bus meets weight specs and should fully understand the rules and limits. Know what the bus weighs out of the factory and at the time of purchase. Then know exactly how much additional passenger and luggage weight the bus can handle. Also, make sure the number of seats and average weight per passenger corresponds realistically with the GVWR.

Every vehicle will weigh differently when a custom coachbuilder or modifier gets done with it, depending on add-ons, amenities, and modifications. Each vehicle should be weighed once it’s off the factory floor. Operators purchasing non-OEM vehicles (second-stage manufactured) should ask for the curb weight and GVWR figures for the actual vehicle being purchased.

Load capacity guidelines do not change, regardless of added amenities and modifications. No matter the make or model, a vehicle still has to be built within such guidelines and meet federal requirements.

Keeping Track
Safety and GVWR certifications on a finished vehicle should be listed on a visible, accessible sticker. Never accept delivery of a vehicle lacking a sticker called the vehicle’s Safety Certification label. Operators should include GVWR stats on all fleet vehicles in all company training and policy manuals.
Operators also should keep curb and GVWR weights, passenger seat capacities, and average per seat weight figures on file, and be ready to show that trip weights are calculated in a way that complies with GVWR. These records should always be handy in the event of an audit from the federal and or state authorities.

In some ways, bus operators need to be as cautious as airline pilots. They have to calculate or verify weight and balance before safely taking off. By familiarizing yourself with the basics of GVWR and following the rules, you will run a safer, more durable fleet.

SIDEBAR: Watching Weight Critical To Safety
Buses have more in common with airplanes than you would think, when it comes to weight. I saw that firsthand in December after boarding a United Airlines Bombardier 200CRJ regional jet at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C.
The plane was booked full, with holiday travelers bringing smaller carry-ons and coats while leaving larger carry-ons to be placed into the cargo hold. Our flight was delayed by about 25 minutes, as the plane sat at the gate with the side entry door open. Seated in the first row, I could overhear conversations among the pilots, a visiting pilot, flight attendant, and tarmac employees who kept coming in and out of the cockpit area. Apparently, the plane was too heavy and off balance for flying in the rainy conditions at the time. The pilots were trying to get the weight down to a safe level for takeoff. After some trial and error with removing pieces of luggage from the cargo hold, the flight attendant finally announced that two passengers would have to leave the plane in order for the flight to leave. They of course incentivized travelers with free credits toward future tickets. Fortunately, two men volunteered and we left with two empty seats out of 50 total.

While buses don’t fly and many lack weight sensors and alerts, and while limo operators don’t have scales on their premises, the concept of weight balance described above still comes into play. Operators should be on the lookout on bus trips with maximum loads and do the best possible back-of-hand calculations on estimated total weight of people and luggage. You can count pieces of luggage as well as do a quick scan of passengers; note the number of adults versus children, men versus women, and heavyset versus slender passengers. After the infamous stretch limousine fire of 2013 and some bus operators getting vehicles temporarily sidelined, GVWR compliance and passenger safety should be a priority for all operators. [email protected]

Related Topics: buses, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, federal regulations, ILCT 2014, mini-buses, passenger safety, vehicle safety

Martin Romjue Editor
Comments ( 2 )
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  • Ronald Swanson

     | about 5 years ago

    What would a bus driver do if they had too many passengers on board? They can't just kick somebody off, especially if it is for public transportation. I understand the importance of keeping the GVWR under a certain weight for safety reasons, but how would you enforce that? <a href='' > Weigh Scales</a>

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