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There's a lot of information to take in when looking at a van's specification, trim level and weights. Many manufacturer options mean that there are hundreds of different van variants with the van weights being amongst the most confusing thing.

This quick guide will give an overview of the sort of details and data you'll find in a manufacturer's brochure when it comes to buying a van.

Understanding the specification

How to understand a van’s spec sheet and decide which specifications are relevant for your operation.

Commercial vehicles are sold in a bewildering variety of specifications with an enormous number of options. You must identify which characteristics are most significant for your operating requirements, and establish the best combination in terms of load capacity, route suitability and cost.

The main categories of specifications are weights, payloads, dimensions and driveline (engine and transmission) as well as body specification, safety and driver comfort. All of these can have a substantial effect on the purchase price, van finance, its subsequent depreciation, as well as its running costs.

Vehicle weights

Most commercial vehicle weights are measured in kilograms or tonnes; the most important weight figures are payload, kerb weight, GVW, GCW and axle ratings.

The starting point for most operators is payload: the weight of the load (including all packaging materials) you need to carry.

Van specification sheets always show payload prominently, calculated by subtracting the unladen weight (or kerb weight) of the van from its Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW). However, any quoted kerb weight usually ignores any additional equipment or fittings, and often assumes a less-than-full tank of fuel; it may include an allowance of 75kg for a driver.

But if you add options, or use a two-man crew, the usable payload will go down; for a small van, the change in payload can be substantial.

Gross Vehicle Weight

Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW, sometimes called Gross Vehicle Mass/GVM or Maximum Authorised Mass/MAM) is the maximum permitted operating weight of a vehicle, including all loads, passengers etc, but not including any trailer. This is a legal as well as a technical maximum, and has important implications: above 3.5 tonnes GVW, you require an Operator’s licence, a van tachograph must be fitted and a special driver’s licence may be needed to drive the vehicle.

Note, however, that 2 tonnes GVW is the threshold above which van speed limits are lower than those for cars.

Gross Combination Weight

Gross Combination Weight (GCW, sometimes called Gross Train Weight/GTW) is the maximum permitted operating weight of any vehicle including towing a trailer. However, there may also be a limit on the maximum permitted weight of a trailer (lower for an unbraked trailer than for a braked trailer).

Axle ratings are significant if you intend to operate the vehicle fully laden. Each axle’s plated rating (in kg) is the maximum load the wheels on that axle can transmit to the road, as measured on a weighbridge. The sum of the axle ratings is usually greater than the GVW, by an amount known as the axle tolerance: for example, if a 3.5t GVW van has axle ratings of 1,750kg (front) and 2,100kg (rear) it has an axle tolerance of 350kg (1,750 + 2,100 - 3,500 = 350); this gives some scope for the load to be positioned at different points along the length of the vehicle.

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