Payload capacity is a vehicle’s cargo, or a maximum weight specification for that cargo.

In the dictionary, payload is defined as a vehicle’s cargo, as in “a truck jackknifed on the interstate and spilled its payload.” On, payload is more often a specification for the maximum weight a vehicle — typically a pickup or sport utility vehicle — can carry.

Payload specifications are reliable only if accompanied by a citation of the number of occupants and/or other figures used in the equation. From your drivetrain’s perspective, weight is weight, whether it comes in the form of sacks of potting soil in the trunk (or hatch or cargo bed) or from you and your kin. So it makes sense that if you want to carry more of one thing, you have to carry less of the other. Most often, manufacturers derive payload specs by subtracting the vehicle’s curb weight and 150 pounds apiece for two occupants from the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). But they might also calculate based on a vehicle with just the driver in it, with the maximum occupant count or something in between. What’s more, the manufacturer may not even disclose which of these variables they used.

If there’s any doubt, a more definitive approach is for you to take the difference between the vehicle’s curb weight and GVWR and make sure you don’t exceed it with the weight of all real occupants and cargo combined.

Adding the weight of a trailer effectively diminishes your GVWR. Find out the maximum gross combined weight rating (GCWR) for the vehicle and its trailer.

The automotive industry still refers to pickup-truck and full-size SUV classes by the terms “half-ton,” “three-quarter-ton,” etc., but these designations are typically lower than the vehicle’s actual payload capacity.

Information for this was taken from the’s glossary, written by Joe Wiesenfelder.

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Answered by Joe Bruzek on September 4, 2008 in Glossary | Permalink

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