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

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

What you also need to know is that this is not 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.

When you have found these out, simply subtract the kerb weight from the GVW, and you will have the maximum weight you are legally allowed to carry in your van.

So, for example, if you have a van with a GVW of 2240kg and a kerb weight of 1415kg, you would subtract one from the other, and see that you are allowed to carry up to 825kg extra.

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. The current penalties are below:

Amount over limit Fine
5%-10% £100
10%-15% £200
15-30% £300
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.

What do you do if fined?

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.

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 cause 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.


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