There are plenty of pieces of knowledge that make for great trivia questions, but sometimes, knowing certain facts can actually make a difference when it comes to real-life matters. For example, let’s you’d like to get rid of an old vehicle and you want to know if it’s realistic to expect to sell your junk car for $500.
The price of scrap metal plays a huge role here, and while most people don’t keep tabs on the fluctuations of that market, it’s at least helpful to know how much metal you’re trying to offload. Now here comes the important question that’s helpful for more than just a round of trivia with friends - how many tons do cars weigh?
It’s not a standard answer, not only because there are so many different makes and models of vehicles out there, but also because there’s a variety of elements to consider. Let’s dive into this all-important question so that if you do want to sell your old car, you’ll know what to expect!
What are the different ways to define vehicle weight?
Your car’s weight can be measured in several different ways. Here’s an overview of the commonly used ways to define the weight of a passenger vehicle:
This is the most commonly used terminology for vehicle weight. It is used by most manufacturers. The curb weight includes the weight of the car itself, with all of its standard equipment and the fluids it needs to operate. It includes some gas, but not necessarily a full tank. It does not include the weight of the driver, passengers, and any cargo they place in the vehicle. You can think of curb weight as the weight of the vehicle as it sits on the showroom floor.
A car’s dry weight is its curb weight, minus the weight of all of its fluids. That means no fuel, no oil, no coolant, no transmission fluid, no brake fluid, no power steering fluid, and no washer fluid. A car in this condition cannot be driven, and you will not find one in the real world (except possibly in a museum). A car’s dry weight is sometimes used by its manufacturer to artificially exaggerate its power-to-weight ratio, when compared to competitors’ standard curb weights.
Payload is the weight of everything you put into your car. It includes the driver, the passengers, the groceries, the sports equipment, the luggage, plus anything that you are towing. It’s all payload.
Gross vehicle weight (GVW)
Your car’s GVW is defined as its curb weight, plus the weight of the driver, any passengers, and whatever cargo and belongings are along for the ride. This will vary, depending on whether you are simply driving yourself to work, or you are taking the whole family on an extended vacation. This is not normally something to be concerned about when you are carrying passengers and their luggage, but if you are hauling a heavy load in a truck it could become an issue. You can find the label with your vehicle’s maximum GVW by looking in your owner’s manual, or on the driver’s door jamb of your car. It should be listed next to the manufacturer’s recommended tire pressures.
Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR)
This is an important one. It represents the total maximum amount that your car, and everything in it, can safely weigh, according to the manufacturer. If you overload your vehicle and exceed its GVWR, a number of very bad things can happen to your vehicle – and whomever is riding in it:
- The brakes can fail
- The transmission can fail
- The engine can overheat
- The tires can blow out
- The suspension can break
Gross combined weight (GCW) and gross combined weight rating (GCWR)
These two related weights come into play whenever you are pulling a trailer with your vehicle. It represents the combined weight of your vehicle, the trailer, and any people and cargo that have been loaded onto them. This is the weight reading that you would get if you drove onto a scale with the trailer attached. It is similar to the GVW and GVWR, but it also includes the weight of what you are pulling. Do not exceed the maximum weight that your vehicle is rated for. Overloading your vehicle will cause the same problems listed above. Overloading your trailer can result in anything from braking problems to a severe accident.
What does a car weigh and why? What are car weight classifications?
What a car weighs is dependent on many different goals and requirements. In addition, there are many ways to classify the weights of cars, depending on who is doing the classifying.
Vehicle weights by size and type: bigger cars weigh more
Generally speaking, larger cars weigh more than smaller cars. Trucks and SUVs also tend to weigh more than similarly-sized cars. Here are some average weights for the various types of passenger vehicles on the market today:
Cars Example Avg. Class Weight
Subcompact car Hyundai Accent 2,505 lbs.
Compact car Toyota Corolla 2,919 lbs.
Midsize car Honda Accord 3,361 lbs.
Large car Dodge Charger 3,883 lbs.
Minivan Chrysler Pacifica 4,437 lbs.
Subcompact SUV Buick Encore 3,145 lbs.
Compact SUV Mazda CX-5 3,590 lbs.
Midsize SUV Ford Explorer 4,404 lbs.
Large SUV Chevrolet Tahoe 5,603 lbs.
Midsize Pickup GMC Canyon 3,977 lbs.
Large Pickup RAM 1500 4,951 lbs.
NHTSA weight classifications
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) classifies passenger vehicles by weight class when testing them for their safety performance. Here’s how the car classes break down, using curb weight as the standard (SUVs, pickups, and vans are each combined within their classes, with no weight classifications):
|· Passenger cars mini 1,500 to 1,999 lbs.|
|· Passenger cars light 2,000 to 2,499 lbs.|
|· Passenger cars compact 2,500 to 2,999 lbs.|
|· Passenger cars medium 3,000 to 3,499 lbs.|
|· Passenger cars heavy 3,500 lbs. and up|
|· Sport utility vehicles All|
|· Pickup trucks All
· Vans All
IIHS crash test weight/size classes
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is an insurance industry group that has a crash testing program. To determine a size category for each vehicle, the IIHS uses a combination of weight and the size of the vehicle’s “shadow.” The shadow is the vehicle’s overall length multiplied by its width and expressed in square feet. Here is a simplified version:
Curb weight in lbs. Size range, depending on size of shadow
Under 2000 Micro
2000 to 2499 Mini to Small
2500 to 2999 Small to Midsize
3000 to 3499 Small to Midsize to Large
3500 to 3999 Small to Midsize to Large to Very Large
4000 and up Midsize to Large to Very Large
FHWA vehicle weight classifications
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation. The FHWA supports State and local governments in the design, construction, and maintenance of the national highway system. The FHWA has created classifications for vehicles by their GVWR weight, which is the maximum weight that allows for safe operation on the roads:
Light Duty (by GVWR)
1 Under 6,000 lbs.
2 6,001 to 10,000 lbs.
Medium Duty (by GVWR)
3 10,001 to 14,000 lbs.
4 14,001 to 16,000 lbs.
5 16,001 to 19,500 lbs.
6 19,501 to 26,0000 lbs.
Heavy Duty (by GVWR)
7 26,001 to 33,000 lbs.
8 33,001 lbs. and up
US Census Bureau truck weight classifications
The US Census Bureau classifies and counts trucks operating within the US by weight, using the following classification structure:
Light-Duty Vehicle Under 10,000 lbs.
Medium-Duty Vehicle 10,000 to 19,500 lbs.
Light Heavy-Duty Vehicle 19,001 to 26,000 lbs.
Heavy-Duty Vehicle Over 26,000 lbs.
How to know what your vehicle weighs
It is fairly easy to find out what your car weighs, once you decide which version of the car’s weight you need to know:
Curb weight Check your owner’s manual, sticker on driver’s door jamb, or search online
Gross vehicle weight Curb weight + weight of driver, passengers, and cargo
Gross combined weight Curb weight + weight of driver, passengers, trailer, and cargo
If you need an exact weight number for any of the above, you can drive your car to the nearest vehicle scale and have it weighed. Search online for “vehicle scale near me” to locate one.
What are vehicle weight trends over time?
Vehicles are getting heavier over time. This is the result of a combination of both regulatory requirements and consumer demands. What we end up with are larger, roomier, stronger, safer, more efficient, less polluting, and more well-equipped vehicles in our national fleet. All of those things increase the weight of the average vehicle on the road today.
The government makes cars heavier
Let’s start with how the US Government influences the weight of all vehicles:
- The government has safety standards that require things like airbags and door beams to be added, which tend to make cars heavier. Cameras, radars, and other sensors for automated driver assistance systems add even more weight to vehicles. Some of this has been offset through the increased use of lightweight materials like plastics and aluminum.
- The government mandates increasingly strict emission controls, which make additional pollution control systems necessary. This can also add weight.
- But the government also requires cars to have improved fuel economy, which ideally should make cars lighter. Unfortunately, lighter vehicles are more vulnerable during impacts with larger, heavier vehicles. So cars have gotten a bit heavier as fuel economy increases, thanks to things like the turbochargers that are being added to many of today’s engines. The increasing use of more fuel-efficient but heavier transmissions, with more gears inside, is another way that today’s cars have become economical while still gaining weight.
Manufacturers make cars heavier
Vehicle manufacturers sell their cars, trucks, and SUVs by making each new model superior to its predecessor. This usually starts with an increase in interior space, so just about every new version of a given vehicle will be longer and wider. This requires more materials and will increase that vehicle’s weight. New models are also usually quieter inside, which takes extra sound insulation material. That adds weight. You can also count on more standard features on these new models – that also packs on the pounds.
Consumer demands make cars heavier
Today’s consumers want certain equipment and options when they buy a car, and these in-demand items make most cars heavier. More and more people in colder climates want all-wheel drive on their cars. This provides safety in bad weather, but it also adds hundreds of pounds of weight. Panoramic glass sunroofs are another heavyweight option, as are larger wheels and tires. The current trend to increased SUV sales and decreased car sales has made the average car on the road heavier. A notable example of this is the growing popularity of big three-row SUVs, which can easily weigh between two and three tons – and that’s before you add any payload!
What is the connection between weight & fuel efficiency?
If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. The less that a car weighs, the less fuel it takes to make it go a certain distance. Lighter, smaller cars do get the best fuel economy.
But what’s the best way to remove weight from a car? You can’t take off the safety and emissions control equipment – the government won’t let you. You can’t remove the air conditioning or the infotainment systems – car owners won’t go for that.
You may have heard of some specialized materials, like carbon fiber, that can be used to replace steel and greatly reduce the weight of a car. Unfortunately, carbon fiber is very expensive, and would add significant cost to mass-market vehicles. It doesn’t matter how light a car is, if no one can afford to buy it!
Ford switched to an all-aluminum body for its F-150 pickup truck, which reduced the truck’s overall weight. Cadillac has been able to reduce the weight of some of its cars by using a mixture of materials for various parts and subassemblies. This is showing some promise, but it requires some advanced technologies to permanently join pieces of different materials together.
Once you own your car, there isn’t much you can do about its weight – or is there? Do you use your car as your personal storage locker? Are you constantly hauling around heavy sports equipment, weights, and other items that you don’t use regularly?
Here’s your chance to actually improve your car’s fuel efficiency! The EPA states that for every 100 lbs. worth of “stuff” that you remove from your car, your fuel economy will improve by around one percent. You’ll see an even larger improvement with a smaller car. Give it a try!
What is the connection between weight & safety?
A lot of a modern car’s safety comes from the way it is designed, as well as all of the airbags and other safety systems built into it. When everything works together during an impact, the body structures in the front and rear collapse to absorb much of the energy of the hit. At the same time, the airbags and seat belts keep the passengers in place within the very rigid structure of the passenger compartment, cushioning them from the remaining force of that impact.
So far, so good. But what if your car is larger (heavier) or smaller (lighter) than the one you have hit? Then pure physics comes into play, as in force equals mass times acceleration. The larger, heavier vehicle will hit the lighter one with much more force, and therefore is likely to cause more severe damage and injuries to the occupants of the smaller, lighter vehicle. Larger vehicles also have more “crumple space” between the driver and the front of the vehicle, which helps to absorb more of the impact of a frontal crash. This subject has been studied extensively, and the results are conclusive.
Of course, no matter how large your car is, there will always be larger vehicles than yours on the road. Delivery trucks, buses, and tractor-trailers are all out there in large numbers. Hitting one with any passenger vehicle will not be a pleasant experience. So buy the vehicle that’s right for you, and drive defensively!
What is the connection between weight & your car’s scrap metal content?
If your car is reaching the point where it is very old, has lots of miles on it, is not reliable, and is no longer worth fixing, you may want to consider junking your vehicle for it's scrap car value. At this point, most of your car’s value will be determined by its metal content.
Since most of a car’s weight comes from the metal in it, a heavier car containing more metal will be worth more than a lighter one with less. By weight, the average vehicle is 65% iron and steel, so a car weighing 3000 lbs. will contain around 2000 lbs., or a ton, of these two ferrous metals.
In addition, there are other valuable metals found in your vehicle. These include the aluminum found in some engine blocks and body parts, the lead in your battery and wheel balancing weights, the copper found in your vehicle’s wiring, and the platinum and palladium in your catalytic converter. These can all be reclaimed and reused to make new cars and other products, and they mean cash in your pocket when you junk your car. The heavier your car is, the more scrap metal it contains, so your payday from junking your car will be a bigger one.