Not that long ago pickup trucks and cargo vans were basically “one size fits all,” and making a choice was as simple as finding the lowest price. Today, with more than 100 combinations for pickup trucks and cargo vans, choosing the right vehicle is a lot more complicated and getting the best value requires balancing cost and performance. Often the difference between the lowest price and that of the right size vehicle is 10% or less, but costs for maintenance and repairs, poor fuel economy and lower resale value can end up being much greater in the long run.

Selecting a pickup or cargo van should begin with an honest assessment of the weight and volume the vehicle will be hauling, including aftermarket equipment such as bins and ladder racks, as well as the estimated weight of the driver, co-worker sitting in the passenger seat, carry-on toolboxes and other routine variables. Other factors include whether the truck will be driven mostly on the highway, city stop-and-go traffic or off-road, as well as if it will be used for towing.

While today’s manufacturer’s warranties usually cover everything except normal wear-and-tear items like tires, brake pads and filters, failure to comply with a truck’s recommended weight can often end up voiding the warranty on components that fail due to overloading.

Manufacturers determine the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) and tow ratings based on the rating of the axles, body/bed, frame, suspension, tires, engine, transmission, etc. When these are factored in, the manufacturer sets the vehicle’s GVWR. Operating a vehicle above the GVWR creates a potential safety hazard by affecting the way the truck handles and stops. It also affects performance and reliability.

Although drivers may be tempted to continue to load materials into their trucks if there appears to be space left in the vehicle, it’s important to remember that the frame, suspension, brakes and tires are not designed for weights above the rating the manufacturer has established. Overloading a truck can cause premature mechanical failures on driveline components such as axles, drive shaft universal joints, transmission, and suspension parts and brakes.

Aftermarket accessories and equipment also increase the weight of the vehicle and must be added to the net weight
listed in the owner’s manual.

The easiest way to determine how much weight a vehicle is designed to carry is to subtract its net weight (found in your owner’s manual) from the GVWR (usually on a placard on the door jam). The remaining number is the maximum weight the vehicle can safely carry, including the driver, fuel and cargo. Aftermarket accessories and equipment also increase the weight of the vehicle and must be added to the net weight listed in the owner’s manual. The best way to check the net weight is to take the vehicle to a certified scale and weigh it as normally loaded with the driver and or passengers.

A good rule of thumb to follow is what most people in the trucking industry refer to as the “80% rule.” While your truck will certainly be loaded to 100 percent capacity from time to time, the best practice is to generally spec your vehicle to operate at 80% of its GVWR. This will reduce the operating costs of your trucks and cargo vans and help extend their service life.

Mary Jo Welch is assistant vice president, Fleet Operations, Vehicle Acquisition & Licensing for Enterprise Fleet Management, a full-service fleet management business for companies with medium-size fleets, supplies most makes and models of cars, light- and medium-duty trucks and service vehicles across North America. With 58 fully-staffed offices nationwide, Enterprise Fleet Management has been recognized with the Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) “Blue Seal of Excellence” award for 14 consecutive years, an industry record. For more information about Enterprise Fleet Management’s environmental stewardship and long-term commitment to the sustainability of the fleet management business, visit this link. For more information about Enterprise Fleet Management, visit or call toll free 1-877-23-FLEET.