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Utes have claimed payloads and towing ratings that can't be realised in the real world.

Every ute maker claims at least a nominal one-tonne payload figure and more than three tonnes trailer towing capacity for several 4WD utes in its range, but you need to check spec sheets and real-world tare weights for the true position.

We took five extended-cab, post-2016-model utes over a certified weighbridge with a driver aboard each. Fuel tanks were around half-full.

Tare weights were: Ranger 2.30 tonnes; HiLux 2.12 tonnes; D-Max 2.10 tonnes; Navara 2.10 tonnes and Triton 2.00 tonnes. That gave the Ranger a real-world payload of 900kg; the HiLux, 930kg; the D-Max, 850kg; the Navara, 810kg and the Triton (steel tray-back, not ute tub), 900kg. None is a one-tonner!

This situation is complicated by the fact that many ute buyers fit after-market accessories – especially ‘tradie’ utes that may be used for recreational purposes, as well as work.

Typical tradie additions are a ‘roo bar with a winch (50kg); a second battery (30kg); tow bar (10kg); full long-range fuel tank (140kg); tools (10kg); recovery kit (10kg) and a full fridge (50kg).

Add a crew and it’s obvious that you may well have used up half the available payload. Impose the towball weight of a heavy plant trailer – often 200kg or more – and you have very little payload capacity left.

Note that towball weight is behind the rear axle, so its effect on rear axle weight is multiplied by around 33-percent: a 300kg ball weight translates to around a 400kg load on the rear axle – more if an extended hitch is fitted.

Even if the loaded vehicle doesn’t exceed the vehicle maker’s GVM there’s a chance that the front or rear axle mass limit may be exceeded, because of too much weight on the front or rear axle.

Ford has made a rod for its own back by insisting on at least 10-percent of trailer gross weight be on the towball, despite clear evidence from UK research that 6-8-percent is the ideal amount.

Mining companies commonly fit bars, side rails and winches to their site utes and some 4WDs overload their front axles when that’s done. Others overload their rear axles with only a modest amount of freight in the back, but with a heavy ball weight on the towbar.

One way of transferring rear axle towball weight is to use weight distribution bars on the hitch, but this needs to be done carefully:
not so much weight transfer that there’s a risk of damage to the vehicle’s towbar and chassis, or front axle overload.

To illustrate these points, let’s compare these five ute offerings – Ford Ranger, Toyota HiLux, Isuzu D-Max, Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi Triton – against the LandCruiser 70 Series.

Five of these utes have a trailer mass rating of 3500kg and the Triton rates 3100kg trailer mass.

The Ranger has a GVM rating of 3200kg and a GCM rating of 6000kg.

The HiLux has a GVM rating of 3050kg and a GCM rating of 5850kg (manual) 5650kg (auto).

The D-Max has a GVM rating of 2950kg and a GCM rating of 5950kg

The Navara has a GVM rating of 2910kg and a GCM rating of 5910kg.

The Triton has a GVM rating of 2900kg and a GCM rating of 5885kg.

The LandCruiser has a GVM rating of 3300kg and a GCM rating of 6800kg.

It’s obvious from the above figures that the only one of these that can be loaded to its GVM and still legally tow a 3500kg trailer is the LandCruiser. Its 3300kg GVM plus trailer 3500kg GTM adds up to the vehicle’s permitted 6800kg GCM (3300+3500=6800). The only concession is that the trailer ball weight must be counted as part of the vehicle’s GVM.

On paper, the Ranger looks like the next best, but if the Ranger is at its GVM its trailer capacity drops to 2800kg (3200+2800=6000), while the lighter Navara at GVM can tow 3000kg (2910+3000=5910). The Triton is rated to tow ‘only’ 3100kg, but if it’s at full GVM it can still pull 2985kg.

Another consideration is axle capacities: vehicle makers used to allow a considerable margin between the sum of the axle ratings and the vehicle’s rated GVM. The LandCruiser continues this practice, having a combined axle capacity of 3780kg, which is 480kg greater than its 3300kg GVM.

In contrast, the other utes’ total front and rear axle capacities are only around 100-200kg above their vehicle GVM ratings.

The ‘Cruiser also has a much higher rear axle rating (2300kg) than the lighter-duty utes and it’s the rear axle that has to handle most of the imposed load.

You need to do your sums carefully before you invest in a 4WD ute – especially if it needs to be loaded and required to tow a heavy trailer. The two have to work in concert.

This is a photo of a crew cab ute that’s headed for chassis breakage, we reckon. We know that it is intended to tow a caravan with at least 200kg ball loading – around 270kg over the axle, in effect.

With four people on board that vehicle is already at or near its GVM, without two jerry cans in the holders and the spare wheel – an additional 110kg effect over the rear axle – plus whatever the owner loads into the sizeable body that’s been fitted.


Isuzu Trucks warns about ute overloading

In October 2017 Isuzu Australia Limited
(IAL) presented a webinar, ‘Is Your Load Killing Your Ute?’ to educate Australian tradies and business owners about the risks associated with vehicle overloading.

Webinar presenter and IAL Chief Engineer, Product Strategy, Simon Humphries, said the webinar revealed that many business owners were simply not aware that they could so easily overload vehicles, jeopardising the safety of their drivers and running the risk of incurring some pretty hefty fines and long-term damage to their vehicles.

“Staging this webinar gave us an insight into how pervasive this problem is on Australian roads,” Mr Humphries said.

“Many drivers don’t know how much their vehicle has been engineered to carry. So they were also uninformed about how running overloaded could significantly increase ute repair bills and lead to unexpected vehicle downtime, all while potentially putting the safety of themselves and other road users in jeopardy.”

IAL has uploaded the full recording online so that those who missed the original broadcast can still watch it and benefit from its insights.

Mr Humphries said business owners who rely on utes should view the presentation.

“We decided to host a recording of this webinar because the consequences of ute overloading are not widely known, yet they can be crippling for businesses,” he said.

“An overloaded vehicle is going to cost businesses more in fuel and vehicle repairs, and affect its performance on the road. If a vehicle is involved in a crash while overloaded that’s also going to impact on insurance claims.

“There’s a broad spectrum of risks associated with vehicle overloading and this webinar recording can help more business owners better identify them.”

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