Penalties for overloaded vans: What are the legal limits?

Before you try to squeeze that one last item in, be aware that the authorities take overloaded vans and commercial vehicles seriously

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If you drive a van yourself, or run a commercial fleet as part of your business, you will probably already know that even the most heavy-duty models can struggle with heavy loads.

According to the DVSA, eight in 10 vehicles are stopped because they are overloaded and 54% of vans are found with serious mechanical defects.
If a van is stopped for overloading and is also found to have these issues, it could result in a court appearance or an even larger fine.

This can have a serious consequences for businesses, as it’s estimated that between on-the-spot penalties and lost revenue, poorly kept, overloaded vans can cost a business up to £4,000 per day, a huge sum for a small business to absorb.

So, the case of the overloaded van isn’t just a practical issue – it’s a legal one. The authorities take an overstuffed van seriously, as excess weight can constitute a serious hazard for you and other drivers.

What types of commercial vehicles can be penalised?

Both the police and the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) have the power to stop and carry out checks on all commercial vehicles, such as:

  • Vans
  • Lorries
  • Buses
  • Coaches

What penalties do owners face for overloaded vans?

If an officer checks your vehicle and finds it to be above the maximum permitted vehicle weight – otherwise known as the model’s Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) – you will be fined, and in the vast majority of cases, they will prevent you from driving any further.

How do you work out how much weight a van can legally carry?

To find out how much weight you are allowed to carry in your van, you need to find out two things:

  1. The van’s Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW)
  2. The van’s kerb weight

A van’s kerb weight refers to how much the van weighs on its own, with a full tank of petrol but with no additional passengers or items.

You can find out your van’s GVW in its instruction manual or brochure – it is also normally printed inside the van itself, usually near the door latch. The kerb weight can be found, again, in the vehicle’s instruction manual, or you can look up your specific model on the internet.

Note: don’t Confuse GVW and GTW.
GTW refers to the Gross Train Weight which is how heavy the vehicle is with a trailer attached.
Once you know your GVW and kerb weight, simply subtract the kerb weight from the GVW, and you will have the maximum weight you are legally allowed to carry in your van.

For example: a van with a GVW of 2240 kg and a kerb weight of 1415 kg would be allowed to carry up to 825 kg of additional weight.


The payload of a vehicle is the legal carrying capacity of a commercial vehicle.
Van payload checker formula:

The formula: GVW – kerb weight = additional weight allowance

The maths: 2240 kg – 1415 kg = 825 kg


How much can you be fined for an overloaded van?

If a police or VOSA officer finds you to be lugging around more than your legal maximum weight, they will impose a fixed penalty fine, the amount of which depends on how much you have gone over the legal limit.

HGV weight limit fines:

Amount over limitFine
More than 30%Court summons


As you can see, the authorities allow a leeway of up to 5% before they hand out a fine, unless the excess weight is more than one tonne.

How to tell if your van is overloaded.

The most accurate way is to use the above formula and go to a weighbridge (usually found at scrap yards).

However, a daily trip to the local skip every time you go on a job is pretty unpractical, so, once you have a good sense of what your vehicle feels like when loaded to its maximum capacity, you’re going to have to use a bit of common sense for the most part.

Tip: If, when fully loaded, the vehicle’s suspension looks really low and the steering has gone askew then you’ve probably overloaded it.

What happens if your van is found to be overloaded?

If your van is found to be overweight, it’s likely the officer will also prohibit you from driving it any further by ‘immobilising’ it – attaching a steel chain around the wheels to physically prevent it from moving. To release it, you have to get rid of the excess weight that caused the issue and pay a further £80 release charge.

The only situations in which your van won’t be immobilised is if there are some special circumstances related to the load you’re carrying – for example, you are driving a minibus full of passengers who would be stranded if it was prevented from completing its journey.

If you’re looking for more information on how to keep an eye on the vans in your fleet, here’s a helpful guide to van tracking.

What to do if you’re fined for overloading your vehicle:

If you have an address in the UK, you will have 28 days to pay the above fines, or ask for a court hearing if you want an appeal.

If you don’t have an address in the UK the authorities find ‘satisfactory’ (bed and breakfast, hotel, agency or solicitor’s addresses are not normally accepted), you will have to pay the fine on the spot, or £500 per offence if you go to court. Any excess you paid will be refunded after you’ve paid all your fines.

As you will see, if you have seriously exceeded your permitted weight you will be required to go to court. In most situations you will be made to pay a fine if found guilty (up to £500) – but if you’ve overloaded the van to the point where it is a real hazard to other road users you could be charged with dangerous driving. This is a serious offence which normally carries a prison sentence.

Understanding the legal issues regarding penalties for overloaded vans is clearly important as a van driver. However, it’s especially crucial if you’re planning on running a business where you’ll be responsible for multiple HGVs.

For more on the logistics of of starting and running an HGV business, take a look at our handy guide on how to start your own HGV agency.

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