Is Your Car Overloaded?

It's easy to get carried away when loading the family car up for a few days away – especially if you're camping, or you're off to uni.

You might want to put bikes on a rack and there always a few last-minute bits and pieces to add, 'just in case'.

Then load the family in and off you go. But have you exceeded your car's carrying capacity? It's worth knowing that this summer, the police are keeping an eye out for vehicles that are very obviously overloaded.

If that's you, you might find yourself following a police car to a weighbridge just to check – and having some difficult questions to answer.


Says Nikki Saunders of AA Insurance: "In most cases, people unwittingly overload their cars – for example, with camping gear, four people and a roofbox with luggage you could inadvertently take your car a little over its weight capacity.

"But you're much more likely to exceed the load of your car if, on top of all your gear, you come back from France with the car jam packed with cases of wine or crates of beer as well!"

Saunders points out that most people have no idea about what the safe capacity of their car is. But in fact, if you look in your handbook, your registration document and indeed the car's identification plate (you should find this under the bonnet at the front) you will see what the maximum load is.

"Most people don't have easy access to a weighbridge to weight their car before and after loading it," she adds.

"And getting the bathroom scales out to weigh the tent, the cases, the boxes of food and equipment etc, to say nothing of the driver and passengers, and then adding them all together, is not something most people will feel inclined to do!"

How do I know if my car's overloaded?

Really, it's down to common sense. And if you're regularly going to take a lot of equipment on holiday with you then think about getting a larger car or fitting a tow-bar and buying a trailer.

What the police are looking for is cars that are so obviously overloaded that the safety of the vehicle is compromised.

Says Saunders: "Really, common sense will tell you just by looking at it. Does it look as if it's sitting down on its haunches? Does the steering feel a bit funny?

"You will soon get some strong clues as to whether you've gone a bit too far in loading the car. For instance, a lot of weight in the back could mean the headlights pointing high and dazzling oncoming vehicles and the steering will feel light.

"A lot of weight on the roof, especially if there are four or five people in the car as well, will make the car less stable and it will lurch and sway when going round corners."

Steer clear

Overloading could seriously compromise your ability to steer the car in a straight line and round bends safely. You could do serious damage and lose control if you hit a pot-hole or other obstruction at any speed.

There's a real risk of overturning if you're a bit quick on a sharp bend especially if there is an adverse road camber. That would take a lot of explaining.

Not only that, you could be putting a strain on the springs, wheel bearings, tyres and suspension system, especially if it's an older car; while braking effectiveness will be reduced to say nothing of straining and overheating the engine on, say, a long and hilly journey.

The police certainly recognise that most people won't have an easy way of weighing their car and its contents so in most cases, if your car isn't overloaded by much, you'll probably get a warning and told to drive carefully – and think about what you really need to take when loading the car in future.

But, in an extreme case, you could get three points on your licence and a fixed penalty of £60 and told to unload some of the car's contents there and then, before continuing your journey – meaning you'll have to come back for the rest.

Risks to your car cover

Saunders warns that in an extreme case, overloading could affect your insurance if you were to have an accident as a direct result of overloading.

"For instance, if the brakes aren't working properly or you roll the car on a bend although it's unlikely that an insurer will completely invalidate your cover under such circumstances, even though they would be within their rights to do so.

"It would have to be an extreme and blatant overloading of the vehicle to lead to an insurer refusing to pay the cost of your own damage (although they would still pay any damage to a third party). But they would certainly take the overloading into account in their settlement and increase your premium in future."

If you pick up an offence it will affect your insurance premium. The specific offence is for "Causing or likely to cause danger by reason of load or passengers" (offence code CU50, which incurs three points and a £60 fine).

In an extreme case you might also pick up an offence for driving without due care and attention as well (CD10) if you are clearly not in control of the vehicle.

That could result in up to 9 points and in theory, up to £2k fine – which may mean loss of your licence and a lot of difficulty in getting insurance cover in the future.

Here are some tips on how to load up your car safely.


Last updated: 25 August 2009