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Trail Savvy: Weight & loading


Guys like to be kitted. There’s even a sense that if you have more stuff than the folk in the campsite next-door, that you’re a better, more organised person. That smug sense will be wiped clean away when it comes to the reality of driving your 4×4 laden with all that clutter.

Quite simply, an overloaded vehicle is a dangerous vehicle, not only in the handling department, but also because it is more prone to mechanical failure. Apart from the strain on the drivetrain, a vehicle that’s too heavily loaded at the rear will have overly light and unresponsive steering, the vehicle will wallow heavily in corners, it will sway and lurch at speed, the suspension will be close to the bump stops which risks damage to the springs (coils or leaf springs), and ground clearance will be lower than it should be.

The simple rule is this: always pack well below the weight limit of your vehicle. What is that limit? It’s probably a lot lower than you think. Three values vital to figuring this out are your vehicle’s GVM, Kerb Weight/ Mass and Payload.

The absolute maximum legal weight limit of your vehicle, which is specified by the manufacturer, is known as the Gross Vehicle Mass or GVM. You’ll find this figure in the owner’s manual (yeah, right, you read that) or on a plaque on the inside of the driver’s door or in the engine bay.

You also need to know the Kerb Weight or mass, which is the weight of a standard, unmodified vehicle with all the fluids needed to drive plus a full tank of fuel (and a driver rated at 75kg, in the EU definition). This is a manufacturer specification and obviously excludes any aftermarket accessories.

The critical figure is the payload, which is the figure left when you deduct Kerb Weight from GVM. This is the total mass you are permitted to load, including passengers, aftermarket accessories and all the gear you typically need on a 4×4 expedition. Into this payload basket you also need to add weight on your towball if you are towing a trailer.

It’s an interesting exercise, and maybe a wake-up call, to tally up your typical loads and see if you are over the payload limit. Here’s an average load list for a family getaway (two adults, two children) in a double-cab bakkie:

• Canopy (75kg)
• Drawer system (50kg)
• Aluminium roof rack (30kg)
• Awning (25kg)
• Bull bar (45kg)
• Rear bumper and second spare (60kg)
• Winch (35kg)
• Dual-battery system (25kg)
• Sidesteps/armour (30kg)
• Long-range tank (80kg)
• Water tank 70 litres (80kg)
• Tools, spares, recovery equipment (20kg)
• Cooking equipment, including gas bottles (25kg)
• 60-litre fridge-freezer, fridge slide and food (70kg)
• Braai wood and braai (30kg)
• Camping chairs (20kg)
• Tent (20-40kg)
• Clothes for four people (40kg)
• Electronic goods and clutter (20kg)
• Two adults, two children (200kg)

This comes to a staggering 1 000kg. It’s true the individual aftermarket components are not all essential, but the list does not include the weight of, say, a rooftop tent or recovery tracks and a hi-lift jack.

It’s also true the actual packing list and number of passengers will vary from trip to trip, but the final figure is probably pretty close for a kitted vehicle ready for a few days in the wild. It means that, even if you have fitted a heavy-duty suspension to take some of the strain, you are on the GVM limit. In other words, you are overloaded because there is no load safety margin. Time to cut down, and go on a serious 4×4 slimming diet.

The Internet is awash with videos from our friends down under talking about how to cut weight. The basic philosophy is to think like a hiker. Put your food in smaller containers, avoid duplication and make sure every item has a second use, take smaller gas bottles, choose lighter aluminium canopies and roof racks, choose synthetic rope for your winch, make do with a smaller fridge, and leave behind the hairdryer and six-tier fishing tote.

A piece of good advice is to unpack everything and spread it all out on the ground next to the vehicle, then ruthlessly winnow out the stuff that might be nice to have but is truly not essential. There’s an old 4×4 mantra, but it still applies: Weight is the enemy.