How to calculate your car payload requirements

A very important consideration when your car is carrying a heavy load, is the weight of that load and whether you are at risk of exceeding the specified weight carrying capacity of the car, or its payload. This includes you, your passengers, your camping gear, luggage, bikes and other "toys" and, most importantly, any accessories added to your car, such as tow bars and roof racks. You will be surprised at how quickly the weight all adds up.

Like cargo capacity, determining the actual payload specifications of a particular car, and whether it is actually built to meet your camping needs, can be a little challenging. Some vehicle specifications will provide the figure, some will provide the information in order for you to calculate the figure yourself, and annoyingly, some don’t.

Calculating the payload of your car

Individual car manufacturers will most likely have their reasons for not quoting the relevant figures, but nonetheless, this very important piece of information can be calculated as follows:

Payload = Gross Vehicle Mass / Weight (GVM) LESS Kerb Mass
GVM is the maximum permitted weight of your car and car load and includes the car body, operating fluids and oils (petrol, coolant, oil, refrigerant etc), occupants, accessories and all of your camping and other gear.
Kerb mass relates to the weight of the car body with the necessary operating fluids, fuel and oils. but without the occupants, accessories and gear.
Payload is therefore the total permissible weight of the car occupants, accessories and your gear.

If the vehicle manual or the specifications on the car manufacturer's website don't state the GVM, the figure should be found on the vehicle compliance plate, which is usually located under the bonnet of the car or inside one of the car doors. That being said, we have not been able to locate this figure on the compliance plate of our current vehicle!

If the vehicle manual doesn’t specify the kerb mass but specifies the tare mass, then adding the weight of a full tank of fuel will give an approximate kerb mass figure.

Different models of the same car will most likely have different payload limits, making it all the more important to check the specifications of the actual version of the car model you are looking at. For example, in one particular car, the payload of a premium model was 50 kg more generous than that of the base model, while the payload of the premium model of another car was 25 kg less than the base model, presumably because of the additional built-in accessories.

Do you need excess payload capacity?

A car that meets, but does not exceed, your payload requirements for camping might be fine for you if you only do a few trips a year and you can reasonably anticipate the weight of your passengers. It might not be fine, however, if you are a regular camper, if you do longer camping trips into remote and rugged areas, if you want to take an extra passenger from time to time or if you are prone to playing musical chairs amongst your camping group by swapping a young passenger for an adult. It also won't allow for passenger growth while you own the car - and unfortunately we're not just talking about the growing children!

There's nothing wrong in our opinion with loading your car to the payload limit for irregular camping trips - that's what they are built for and it should be perfectly safe. But regularly extending your car to its limit, especially in rugged or remote areas, is not advisable if you want to keep your car in good condition, if you want to minimise the risk of a breakdown in the middle of nowhere and / or if you want some flexibility to carry extra weight from time to time. Excess capacity of between 5 and 10% (or 25 - 50 kg) for our basic setup, or more depending on your circumstances, would be advisable under these circumstances.

Calculating your car payload requirements

To calculate the payload requirements of your car for camping, go to our calculator to estimate the weight of your car load, including your passengers, your camping gear, the accessories added to your car, bikes, other toys and any other items you might be transporting.

Other important safety considerations

Loading a car with excessive weight can make the car dangerous to drive. You will need to ensure that your car is generally safe to drive once it has been loaded with camping equipment, other items and the car occupants. In determining whether your car is safe to drive, you will need to take into account all of the relevant circumstances, such as the general condition of the car, the car tyres and the road conditions.