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Motorhome Gross Vehicle Weights

Are you legal in your motorhome and what you can do if payload is low

All motorhomes over 3500kg GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight) - which is now being replaced by the new designation MAM for Maximum Authorised Mass) are registered as 'Private HGV', which currently costs 10 per year more than the standard car tax fee.

You have to visit your local DVLA office (also called the VRO or Vehicle Registration Office) to initiate the change (see the local phone book for your nearest). And, most important, you must advise your insurer who may, or may not, decline to continue the policy - but this is better than them voiding the policy after an accident.

All this applies to motorhomes between 3500kg and 7500kg, above which different rules apply.

Upgrading the Maximum Vehicle Weight

Many motorhomes, especially Continental ones, are 'plated down' to 3500 kg (3.5 tonnes). This means that the chassis was designed for more than 3.5 tonnes GVW but the motorhome converter has limited it to 3.5 tonnes to permit driving on an ordinary car licence. (This has been limited to 3.5 tonnes on the Continent for some years and in the UK to new drivers from 1st January 1997).

Here is how to get your motorhome re-plated to its full design GVW, thus providing greater carrying capacity - I added 700kg of capacity to mine.

1. 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.

2. Get a new plate from the base vehicle manufacturer (I got mine through my motorhome builder).

3. 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.

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

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

6. Take (or post) to your DVLA local 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.

7. 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.

8. The VRO 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).

9. If you want to do all this when the tax disc is due for renewal, that's it. If you want to gain the advantage of the higher plated weight during the currency of the existing tax disc 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.

10. The MOT is not affected. All motorhomes, regardless of GVW, come into Class 4 for MOT purposes (not commercial Class 7), provided they are used only for the carriage of personal effects. Thus the standard MOT rules apply - the test is required annually from the third anniversary of first registration (in whichever country that took place). This also means, as I discovered recently, that the MOT cannot normally be done by a commercial vehicle tester who is only cleared for Class 7. You have to find a class 4 tester with large enough premises and lift.

11. Note that there are some disadvantages - your new weight will bar you from some Continental roads. It will also put you into a higher toll category on French motorways - if they bother to check (I haven't suffered yet). And in some Continental countries, you will be subjected to a lower maximum speed.

Incidentally, a top money-saving tip for all those who don't use their motorhomes in the winter months (and also park them off-road) is to declare SORN and surrender the tax disc for a refund - using form V14 from your post office. It must be posted before the end of a month, and saves almost 13 for each off-road month. My attitude is, why pay tax if you don't have to?

Forms V14 - Excise Licence Refund, V85 - HGV, V890 - Statutory Off Road Notification are downloadable on the Internet at:

I often wonder if the costs of collecting the likes of this extra tenner are higher than the income.'

Feeling a bit heavy?

Most Motorhomes operate close to their designed maximum weight. They come out of the factory with reasonable spare load capacity, but we insidiously pare away at it by adding awnings, solar panels, satellite dishes, scooter racks, cupboard shelves, television sets, gas bottles and all manner of other 'essentials'.

Your motorhome has a GVW, a MAM, not to mention MTW and individual axle weights.

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? An increasingly common occurrence.

In the regulations, all measurements are metric. Weights are given in kilograms, where 1000kg is equal to one metric tonne (within two per cent of an imperial ton). Lengths are in millimetres or metres.

The Vehicle Plate

All motorhomes built on commercial chassis have a plate that looks like the one in the picture. It is usually mounted either in the driver's footwell or on the front or sidewall of the engine compartment. It shows the following crucial information, top to bottom:

Many other terms are frequently used:

Keeping it legal

It is an offence to take on a public highway a vehicle which:

If tools are needed to remove a fitting then it is part of the vehicle. For example - the cycle rack is bolted to the rear panel and is part of the vehicle but if the bike is held on the rack by quick fastening clips it is treated as 'load' not vehicle. Overhanging loads are another issue and unlikely to be a problem for most motorcaravanners.

Finally, drivers who passed their driving test after 1st January 1997 are limited to vehicles with a GVM/MAM of 3500kg unless they pass an additional test, and there are also limits on what they may tow. The website has full details.