April 2008





Watch your weight

Your motorhome has a GVW, a MAM, not to mention MTW and individual axle weights. So what does all this mean and how do you avoid being overloaded next time you get flagged into a lay-by by the traffic police?

The different categories on your driving licence tell you the vehicles you are able to drive (see section on licences). However, these categories are also determined by vehicle weight.

The government website at www.directgov.uk explains that the term Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) which is also known as Gross Vehicle Weight (GVM) and permissible maximum weight, is the maximum weight of the vehicle that may be used on the road, including the maximum load the vehicle may safely carry. Train weight is the combined MAM of the vehicle and any trailer or other vehicle it is pulling.

Drivers who passed their driving test after 1 January 1997 are limited to vehicles with a GVM/MAM of 3500kg unless they pass an additional test (see section on licences), and there are also limits on what they may tow (see section on towing).

Know your limits

The main reason for a motorhome exceeding its MAM or GVW is simple: the owner is trying to pack too much into it. We all regard our motorhome as a home away from home but that means that many of us are tempted to simply keep on filling up every available space for fear of forgetting something. Unfortunately this can mean exceeding the load-bearing capacity of the vehicle and risking falling foul of the law.

Most motorhomes operate close to their designed maximum weight. They come out of the factory with reasonable spare load capacity, but by the time you’ve added an awning, solar panels, satellite dishes, scooter racks, cupboard shelves, television sets, gas bottles and all those other add-ons, you may find yourself sailing close to the wind where weight is concerned.

It is an offence to take on a public highway a vehicle which:
• Has a total weight that exceeds the GVW or MAM
• Has a weight on either axle that exceeds the individual axle limit
• Is towing a trailer such that the actual weight of vehicle and trailer exceeds the Maximum Train Weight (MTW).
• Has any part of the vehicle more than 60% of the wheelbase behind the centreline of the rearmost axle. For this purpose a luggage locker or scooter rack is considered to be part of the vehicle.

If tools are needed to remove a fitting then it is considered to be part of the vehicle. For example, a cycle rack is bolted to the rear panel and is therefore treated as part of the vehicle but a cycle held on the rack by quick fastening clips is treated as 'load' not vehicle.

Can I upgrade my vehicle weight?

Many motorhomes, especially European models, are 'plated down' to 3.5 tonnes. This means that the chassis was designed for more than 3.5 tonnes MAM but the motorhome converter has limited it to permit driving on an ordinary car licence (which has been limited to 3.5 tonnes in Europe for some years and in the UK to new drivers since 1997).

However, it is possible to get your motorhome re-plated to its full design MAM, thus providing greater carrying capacity, assuming your licence entitlement allows you to drive a heavier vehicle (see section on licences). Southdowns’ MD, Michael Ayling, added 700kg of capacity to his by following these simple steps:

• Establish whether the base vehicle is designed for a higher GVW - consult either the base vehicle manual or the service manager at the local dealer for your base vehicle. (The motorhome converter, or a club for your make, may also be able to help.) What follows only applies if a higher GVW than that currently allocated is permissible.

• Get a new plate from the base vehicle manufacturer.

• Before proceeding further, check that the upgrade is acceptable to your insurers. Some will refuse, and you will then also have to switch insurers - but you should get a refund.

• Obtain form V85 renewal application from the local DVLA office. The form V10 for cars will not work, and V85 is not available from post offices. The phone number of your local DVLA office is in the phone book under 'driving and vehicles'. When phoning, ask them for the current 'Private HGV' road fund licence rates.

• Complete the 'Change of Vehicle Details'; section E on your V5 vehicle registration document, entering the 'New Revenue Weight'.

• Take (or post) to your DVLA office the V5, V85 renewal form, current tax disc, MOT (if over three years old), insurance certificate, new GVW plate and licence fee. The annual licence fee is currently £10 more than that for a car.

• If you plan to use the vehicle (especially abroad) take the forms in person and ask for a temporary registration document, which costs about £3.

• The vehicle registration office will send back to you the plate, insurance certificate and a new tax disc. DVLA Swansea will (eventually) send you an updated vehicle registration document showing your vehicle's taxation class as Private HGV instead of Private Light Goods (PLG). Fix the new plate over the old one (normally on a sidewall in the engine compartment).

If you want to gain the advantage of the higher plated weight during the currency of your existing tax disc, rather than on renewal, then you'll also need to complete a form V14 (refund application). This is available from post offices and must be sent with the existing tax disc for a refund. Your MOT will not be affected by a higher plated weight.

The bad news

However, it is worth noting that there are some disadvantages - your new weight will bar you from some European roads. It will also put you into a higher toll category on French motorways - if they bother to check. And in some European countries, you will be subjected to a lower maximum speed.

Remember, this is simply the Southdowns Team trying to offer helpful advice based on our knowledge and our experience. This is not necessarily a statement of fact. We do not currently employ any lawyers in our showroom or in our workshop and the only place law is confirmed is in the court!!