GVWR: The limit for Cargo Van Conversions

weigh-station

REGULATIONS ABOUT WHO HAS TO STOP AT WEIGH STATIONS DIFFER FROM STATE TO STATE, BUT IS IN GENERAL LIMITED TO COMMERCIAL VEHICLES OR VEHICLES WITH A GROSS VEHICLE WEIGHT RATING (GVWR) OF 10,000 LBS. OR MORE.

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weigh-stationIn addition, any police officer having reason to believe that a vehicle or combination of vehicles is exceeding its legal weight limit may require the driver to stop and submit to a weighing of the vehicle.

Outfitting a standard cargo van with additional windows, solar panels, multiple batteries, beds and furniture, will add a lot of weight to the vehicle.


When I am at the point of purchasing a cargo van, my first attention goes to the GVWR, the maximum operating weight of a vehicle as specified by the manufacturer. Deduct from that the weight of the base vehicle and you’ll come to the payload.

weight-limitThe payload is what you’ll be able to stuff into your van and that includes the weight of the driver and any passengers. Don’t forget accessories, like bikes or kayaks, your pooch(es) or the food stuff you’ll be carrying. Drinking water for instance, you need a lot of and is a heavy load. Most often the remaining number of pounds is fairly low, which puts limits on what you can add to the interior of the van.

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For many people just a basic conversion is enough to accomplish their goal of being independent. A bed out of 2×4’s, a porto potti and a sink may be all they need; no worries about weight here.


If you decide to go a little bit more extreme, as I will, with a complete makeover and a further photovoltaic system, weight limits become an important factor during the build.

Two options to stay within the payload range of the vehicle are:

  • Look for a higher GVWR rating. Choose a ¾ ton model or even a 1 ton vehicle. This however adds a substantial amount to the purchase price for a relatively small increase of the payload.
  • Whatever you choose, during the conversion you always use materials or building methods that minimize weight. A good example what I wrote about in Solar Panel Guide are solar panels where one type is relatively 5 times lighter than the other. Another is limiting solid wood furniture, and instead incorporating more ¼ inch plywood in cabinets and closets. Built thin and light!

Always look for ways to minimize and if you don’t need it, leave it at home. Have fun with less!

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