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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 utes over a certified weighbridge with a driver aboard each. Fuel tanks were around half-full.

Although this test was done back in 2018, not much has changed with ute weights since then. In fact, many utes have become heavier, without much commensurate increase in GVM.

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 had a trailer mass rating of 3500kg and the Triton rated 3100kg trailer mass.

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

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

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

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

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

The LandCruiser had a GVM rating of 3300kg and a GCM rating of 6800kg. (The GVM rating was raised to 3510kg in early 2023.)

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

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

Another consideration was 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 continued this practice, having a combined axle capacity of 3780kg, which is 480kg greater than its 3300kg GVM. (Only 290kg difference from 2023).

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

The ‘Cruiser also had 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.



Payload rating and the FBT question


The Australian Tax Office (ATO) encourages tradies and small business operators to buy utes rather than any other type of vehicle, which is why the largest selling vehicle models Australia in 2023 were the Ford Ranger and Toyota HiLux.

Virtually all utes can be Fringe Benefits Tax exempt – even when their rated payloads are well below the previous one-tonne lower limit for FBT exemption and even when used for limited personal reasons.

The ATO-approved ruling allows dual cab utes to be FBT-exempt if the vehicle is not designed for the ‘principal purpose of carrying passengers’. 

The ATO has a formula to work this one out. To be FBT-exempt, the ute’s passenger carrying capacity must be less than the majority of remaining load capacity. 

For the purpose of calculating passenger weight, the ATO uses the internationally accepted figure of 68kg per person. Hence, a five-seat ute has a passenger ‘payload’ capacity of 340kg (5 x 68kg). That means a crew-cab ute with a rated payload of only 681kg can theoretically be FBT-exempt. (The 341kg of remaining payload is greater than the 340kg passenger payload.)

Note that this FBT-exempt classification is subject to the ‘limited private use’ restrictions imposed by the ATO and ute buyers should consult their tax advisors or the ATO for clarification. We’re not tax advisors here!



Isuzu Trucks warn about ute overloading


Doing ‘more with less’ has become a staple mantra in recent times, but as Isuzu Australia Limited’s national sales manager, Les Spaltman, contended, Aussie businesses would also do well not to neglect safety and compliance.

“The challenges of recent years have certainly highlighted the value of getting more milage out of every asset purchase,” said Les Spaltman. 

“We’ve seen many businesses stripping back operations to their upmost efficiency, while also seizing the opportunities available.

“More specifically, what our own research—the Future of Trucking Report—has made clear is that 22 percent of ute owners were prepared to make a bigger commitment to their businesses and upgrade to a truck that would better serve the demands of their application.”



Isuzu’s NPS and NLS light trucks have several times the payload capacity of utes.

Another discovery in the Future of Trucking Report was the fact that 65 percent of business owners felt it more important (and more efficient) for new trucks to be pre-built and ready to drive away, compared with custom-built trucks.

This where Isuzu’s Ready-to-Work (RTW) range of tray backs, tippers and service bodywork comes into its own.

With many models able to be driven on a car driver’s licence (up to 4500kg Gross Vehicle Mass) and featuring two-pedal transmissions, they are easy to drive, with the added bonuses of being safer for the business and far more productive.

On the topic of safety, businesses large and small can expect to hear much more about Chain of Responsibility (CoR) measures in the future.



The road transport industry is placing greater focus on CoR and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) is doubling down on efforts to prosecute breaches of the legislation governing this, as Mr Spaltman explained:

“This poses a significant issue for many businesses and our study shows that smaller fleets are in a particularly vulnerable position.

“As our FoT report shows, 35 percent of small fleets are completely unprepared for, or unaware of, their CoR requirements.

“ A huge area of focus for CoR law is mass loading and this is often where smaller fleets draw the unwanted attention of regulatory bodies.”

Due to gaps in CoR awareness and education, smaller operations are more likely to overlook mass limitations and guidelines, overloading vehicles such as utes that are simply not fit for purpose.

“Fines can run between $50,000 and $500,000, so the cost of complying with regulations should really be a non-negotiable expense for any transport-dependent business,” said Mr Spaltman.

“In fact, 16 per cent of businesses we surveyed described compliance with CoR as ‘an essential business expense’.”

Isuzu’s current marketing campaign titled, ‘Playtime is Over’, makes the light-hearted suggestion that those ready to take their business to that next level should be in the market for a light-duty truck.

Summing up, Mr Spaltman added: “If you want to stay on the right side of regulations; if you want to reduce trips; achieve better milage and have the peace of mind that you have bought the right tool for the trade you’re in, then it’s definitely time to update the ute and get yourself into an Isuzu Ready-to-Work truck.”


 Isuzu Australia Limited
(IAL)  had previously 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.”

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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