How do I Determine my Car or Truck's Gross Vehicle Weight?

Rachel Burkot

Gross vehicle weight (GVW) is the total weight of an automobile, including all cargo and passengers. A vehicle can be weighed manually or by visiting or researching a vehicle’s manufacturer. Without passengers or cargo, this is the curb weight. The weight of the passengers and cargo are then added to the curb weight to yield gross vehicle weight.

Gross vehicle weight refers to the total weight of an automobile, including cargo and passengers.
Gross vehicle weight refers to the total weight of an automobile, including cargo and passengers.

The GVW is constantly changing, while the curb weight remains the same. A car’s weight will never change, just as the weight of any solid object—such as a refrigerator, desk or telephone—will remain constant. Of course, a desk with books on top will weigh more than the desk by itself. In the same way, a car with cargo and passengers will weigh more than an empty car.

It's important to know a car's curb rate when assessing its gross vehicle weight.
It's important to know a car's curb rate when assessing its gross vehicle weight.

If a vehicle is pulling a trailer of some kind, the entire trailer’s weight is not considered to be part of the gross vehicle weight. Only the weight of the part of the trailer that attaches to the vehicle’s trailer hitch—the tongue weight—is considered to be part of a vehicle’s gross weight. Additional items included in GVW are passengers, cargo, fuel, coolant and any accessories. These must all be weighed separately and added to the weight of the car.

One of the two methods for weighing a vehicle is portable wheel axle weighing. This is the most common method for determining a car’s weight because it can apply to any type of vehicle. In this procedure, portable scales are placed under each axle. This method is widely used because it is the cheapest but the more axles a vehicle has, the more units and time are required.

The other method for determining the GVW of a vehicle is to use a full length plate weighbridge. Although used less often, this method yields the highest accuracy when it comes to gross vehicle weight. A plate weighbridge is used on a vehicle that is pit mounted, not surface mounted. Individual axle weights can then be determined. Though effective, this method has disadvantages. It is expensive, and the road surface must be firm and level.

A gross vehicle weight rating is a number calculated by the vehicle manufacturer as the weight limit. For safety reasons, a vehicle’s gross weight should not exceed this number. Problems that could result include brake failure or tire blowouts. As with determining curb weight, the rating can be found by visiting the manufacturer or by researching on the internet. Sometimes this number is even listed in a label on the automobile.

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Discussion Comments


Oasis11-I wanted to add that when towing pick up trucks, AAA requires that the trucks be empty and not contain cargo.

Some specialty pick up trucks require an additional fee for towing. These are super duty or heavy duty trucks that weight much more than a regular pickup and requires a special tow truck.

F350 gross vehicle weight is too heavy for a regular tow truck so AAA members that need a tow for this type of vehicle generally pay an additional $50 for the tow.


I know that when AAA tow vehicles that usually ask the wheel drive of the car.

If the car is a RWD or rear wheel drive, then it gets pulled from the front and the back tires are exposed. If it is an FWD, or front wheel drive, it gets pulled from the back, leaving the front wheels exposed.

If the vehicle towing requires an AWD, or si an all wheel drive vehicle, then the car has to go on a flat bed truck, because the wheels are locked and can not be adjusted.

Many SUV’s are AWD. My BMW X5 is an AWD and would have to go on a flat bed. The only exception to this towing rule is if there are multiple flat tires, then the car or truck will probably be towed on a flat bed truck.

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