It used to be that the only way you could be caught for speeding was when the Police followed you and monitored your speed. Then radar guns were introduced, and they could tell how fast you were going from a fixed standpoint. Later speed cameras perfected this and have become our new normal. So it’s going to be with digital weigh stations.
There has been a lot of publicity recently around the introduction of digital weigh stations. These will weigh each axle as you cross it, while in motion. The weigh pads are placed around 2 kilometres from the Police checkpoint and next to a digital camera. This camera reads your number plate and checks the NZTA database to see what your legal weight per axle should be. If you are deemed to be overweight or marginal, a signal is sent to a signboard that displays your number plate and directs you to pull into the Police stopping point further up the road. At this point, you are reweighed and either waved on or subject to further inspection and probable fines. There are severe fines if you fail to stop. (Link to NZTA website here.)
All the publicity has centred around heavy and overloaded trucks. Stop and think about this for a minute. If you have the technology to weigh every vehicle in transit, why would you only pull over a heavy truck that’s overloaded? Surely if there is a long line of traffic travelling down the road and the only overloaded vehicle is your motorhome, you will be targetted. It’s not as though the speed camera only sends tickets to cars, they also send them to trucks and motorbikes as well as motorhomes.
By some estimates 50 to 60% of motorhomes in the 3000 to 6000 kg’s range are driving around whilst over their allowable weight. How long do you think it will be that the NZTA can continue to ignore this issue and potential source of revenue.
So how heavy are you allowed to be?
It’s straightforward to check if what your weight should be. All vehicles on the road in New Zealand heavier than 3500 kg’s when laden are required to have a loading certificate. This is displayed on your windscreen and states, most importantly, your GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass) this is the maximum weight your vehicle is allowed to be, fully laden. The certificate also breaks down the balance of the load by front and rear axles. This means that you could be underweight in total but overloaded on one axle and still subject to a penalty.
How do I know how heavy I am?
Each time you take your vehicle for a COF, it is run across the brake roller machine that also weighs each axle. This figure is then displayed on your check sheet as above. By adding the 2 or 3 numbers together, you can work out your weight and if you are legal or not. The other option would be to take your vehicle to a local weigh station and ask them to weigh it for you.
In my case, the above figures showed me that we were overloaded. I also looked back at the previous check sheets to discover that we had, in fact, never been at a legal weight.
So how did we get to be overloaded?
First, you need to understand a couple of things around legal weights. When a motorhome is manufactured it is weighed in its standard form without any added accessories this is the Tare weight. Next, a weight you see quite often is the MIRO (mass in running order) which you might think from the name is the motorhome equipped for camping and ready to hit the road. Actually, though MIRO is just the empty motorhome plus your fuel tank filled to 75% and the allowance of 1 adult male (75kgs).
Everything else in your motorhome is part of the cargo and needs to fit under your allowed GVM (gross vehicle mass). GVM less Tare weight will give you the payload or the number of kgs you can carry including yourselves. So if you are a couple like Sarah and I once you have subtracted your own weights from the payload, you end up with what could be a reasonably small allowance. Not to mention that most motorhomes have at least 4 seat belts so what would happen if you went away with 4 adults in the van. Even at an average weight of 70kgs, that’s still 280kgs.
Then think about all the things that have been added to your motorhome over and above the manufacturer’s specifications. awning (20 -50kgs), solar panels (10 -20kgs each) bike rack, ladder (up to 25kgs), gas bottles (up to 21kgs filled each), water (1 litre = 1kg), diesel (1 litre = 1kg) extra house battery/ies (20 -30kgs each) towbar (20 – 35kgs) spare tyre (if not already fitted 30kgs) So assuming full water and diesel it’s not hard to see another 300kgs to 400kgs, of weight added. That’s even before you start adding in water in your grey and black tanks if you have filled somewhere with freshwater but are unable to empty them.
So assuming like a lot of motorhomers that you also want to transport your other essentials. E-Bikes, Inflatable boat, Outboard, Supplies for happy hour, even simple things like food and drink. It’s not hard to see how it would be easy to be hundreds of kilos over your legal limit.
What do I do now?
Some months ago, I received an email from Bruce Sutton at Loadsafe NZ, raising a point on my blog as well as asking our legal weight situation and offering potential solutions. At the time, I treated the email with the ignorance is bliss method and ignored it. Deep down though I knew that we needed to do something about it.
The Loadsafe website has extensive charts by vehicle manufacturer that show numerous weight configurations and the levels that these can be extended too. They also show the various different options for achieving this. It’s well worth a look if you have a European or Japanese engined motorhome and wonder what you can do about increasing your GVM.
Our motorhome came with a GVM of 5000 kg’s, I knew from the charts on the Loadsafe website that we could have that raised to 5400 or 5500 kg’s by either fitting airbags or heavier springs to the suspension. Neither of these options was particularly cheap, given the fact our motorhome has twin rear axles, and all work needs to be certified.
Depending on your vehicle it is more than likely possible to have it rerated, upwards, either by fitting parts supplied by Bruce’s company or by another in that field. A bit of research online will no doubt lead to others.
A lucky break.
I had decided on fitting the airbags at $8250 + fitting and sent an email to Zion Motorhomes where we had purchased the motorhome to enquire fitment costs. I received an email back to say that our motorhome could actually be rerated much cheaper than that. It turns out that there are 2 versions of our van, the other rated to 5400 kg’s, and the only difference is in the handbrake.
They sent off to Germany for updated paperwork, which when it was returned was then sent to NZTA who approved the rerating of our van subject to the handbrake being changed. We then visited Zion Motorhomes to have the handbrake sorted then off to the VTNZ testing station. Where after a bit of fluffing around, we had a new loading certificate and were legal at 5400 kg’s. Another few bucks spent updating to the heavier RUC’s, and we were good to go.
For us, the whole process took 8 weeks. It’s quite possible that you could have yours done quicker than that if needed. The one thing you cannot hurry up is the time it takes the NZTA to approve the paperwork from the certifier.
Why would I bother?
As I said at the start of this blog, the digital age is advancing rapidly. 12 of these new weigh stations are soon to be operational throughout the country, with more to follow, targeting overloaded vehicles.
Once they have pulled you over a fine is inevitable with the scale of the fine dependant on the excess weight. They can, in extreme circumstances, make you unload your vehicle until you are of a legal weight before you are allowed to continue your journey.
It’s not just the weight issue you have to worry about once you have been pulled into a weigh station the CVIU can and often do, go over your vehicle with a fine-tooth comb looking for faults like rust, tyre tread, RUC, COF, Etc. Even if you just had a COF a few days prior, you might find yourself still with issues as they can be far more thorough than the inspectors.
I am sure that over the next couple of years this topic will become more and more prominent on the various social media pages as motorhomers start getting tickets. I would strongly suggest that you at least make yourself aware of the limitations of your vehicle, so you know where you stand. There is also the small matter of your insurance potentially being declined in the event of an accident if you are found to have been overloaded. Ignorance is not a defence.
You might also decide that the amount of the fine is going to be less than the cost of any modifications. That is likely to be the case but consider if you are pulled over a second or third time and are proven overloaded again. How likely at this point is it that the Police will make you unload at the side of the road. Do you fancy leaving your stuff unattended or calling someone who is maybe hours way, to come and get them?
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