Q&A - Alphabet Soup: GVW, GCWR, GAWR and More...

Q&A ImageI am working to determine the total weight, dry and loaded, of our new boat which will be arriving this spring.  Most of that data I am able to get from the manufacturer or dealership.  Unfortunately, our current SUV is not rated high enough to pull the new boat.  That in turn means we will eventually have to buy a new vehicle – I am researching several to determine their towing capacity.  For this summer, since we have a slip at our local marina, we may simply rent a full sized truck to tow for those few needed occasions. 

However, before we purchase a new vehicle,  I want to ensure that I am within all safety and legal towing requirements for BC highways and city streets.  The new boat trailer has a tandem axel, with compression style brakes.  The dry weight is 4,450 lbs., the trailer is approximately 700, there is no water holding tank or bilge, and assuming no gear on board, and assuming there is very little fuel in the tank, that totals roughly 5150 lbs.  Now my questions:

  • Let’s assume I use a vehicle that has a towing capacity of 5,000 lbs, and tow the vehicle, at a speed of 50 kph, within the city, from the boat launch1 kilometre on a flat road, to a car wash to clean it.  Is there a significant safety or mechanical risk?
  • From a legal perspective, what fines or penalties would be applied for doing so?
  • From a legal perspective, is there any difference in fines or penalties while on city streets as opposed to a highway?



Manufacturers design their vehicles to carry or tow a certain amount of weight safely.

Here is a list of problems that might be expected from overloading:

  • Loss of warranty coverage
  • Accelerated wear or damage to vehicle components
  • Vehicle handling negatively affected
  • Brakes less effective
  • Catastrophic failure of vehicle components resulting in a collision

Enforcement personnel may choose to take action in the interest of safety. A variety of options are open to them:

  • Warn the vehicle operator of the unsafe condition
  • Issue a Violation Ticket to the vehicle operator
  • Order the overloaded vehicle off the road immediately until the load is reduced to a safe level
  • Both of the previous two actions listed


Information on vehicle load limits is commonly found on stickers attached to the door pillar in the case of cars and trucks and on the sides or frames of trailers. It may also be found in the owner's manual for the vehicle. If you are unable to locate either one, contact the vehicle dealer.

Information on tire weight limits is molded into the sidewall of the tire itself. The dealer for your brand of tire may also be of assistance.

Weigh Scales will weigh your vehicles for you without charge and are a good source of advice on vehicle weight.

Scale hours may vary, but the scale is often left on so that drivers can weigh vehicles at any time.


Motor Vehicle Act:


Registration and licence

3  (1) Except as otherwise provided in this Act, the owner of a motor vehicle or trailer must, before it is used or operated on a highway,

(a) register the motor vehicle or trailer with the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia,

(b) obtain a licence for its operation under this section, and

(c) obtain for it an owner's certificate under the Insurance (Vehicle) Act.

(2) Despite subsection (1), a trailer towed by a tractor licensed under section 8 need not be licensed.

(3) The owner must apply for

(a) registration and licence in the form required by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, and

(b) a motor vehicle liability policy.


13  (1) A person commits an offence if the person drives, operates, parks or is in charge of a motor vehicle or trailer on a highway

(a) without the licence required by this Act for the operation of that motor vehicle or trailer having been first obtained and being then in force,

Motor Vehicle Act Regulations:

7.161(5) No person shall, without an overload permit issued under the Commercial Transport Regulations, B.C. Reg. 30/78, drive or operate on a highway a vehicle so loaded that the tires are loaded above the maximum load specified by the tire manufacturer for the tire size, ply rating and service speed.

Overload prohibition

19.11 (1) Unless operating under the provisions of an overload permit issued under the Commercial Transport Act, no person shall operate or cause to be operated a vehicle that is loaded in such a manner that the gross weight carried by any axle exceeds the gross weight rating for that axle as specified by the vehicle manufacturer, or the gross vehicle weight exceeds the gross vehicle weight rating for that vehicle as specified by the vehicle manufacturer.

(2) The weight distribution of a bus shall be such that not less than 25 per cent of the gross vehicle weight is on the front axle when measured on level ground.

(3) Subsection (1) does not apply to a vehicle

(a) manufactured before January 1, 2001, and

(b) having a gross vehicle weight rating of 5 500 kg or less.

Powers of peace officer

25.30(2) If a peace officer has reasonable and probable grounds to believe that a motor vehicle is not operating under the provisions of an overload permit issued under the Commercial Transport Act and is unsafe for use on a highway because

(a) the motor vehicle is loaded in such manner that the gross weight carried by any of its axles exceeds the gross vehicle weight rating for that axle specified by the vehicle manufacturer, or

(b) the gross weight of the motor vehicle exceeds the gross vehicle weight rating for that vehicle specified by the vehicle manufacturer,

the peace officer may order the owner or operator of the vehicle to do one or both of the following things immediately, or within the time specified in the order:

(c) remove it from the highway until it meets the specifications of the manufacturer referred to in paragraphs (a) and (b);

(d) surrender the vehicle licence or number plates, or both, for that vehicle to the corporation or to the peace officer.

(3) Subsection (2) applies only to motor vehicles

(a) manufactured before January 1, 2001, and

(b) having a gross vehicle weight rating of 5 500 kg or less.

(4) An owner or operator must comply with an order made under subsection (1) or (2).

(5) An order under subsection (1) or (2) may require the owner or operator to notify the peace officer before the vehicle is operated on the highway that the repairs under subsection (1) have been carried out or the specifications under subsection (2) (c) have been met.

The Commercial Transport Act:

"commercial vehicle" includes

(a) a motor vehicle having permanently attached to it a truck or delivery body,

12 (1) Unless the person holds a permit issued or authorization given under this Act, a person must not operate on a highway a commercial vehicle if

(a) the gross vehicle weight of the commercial vehicle exceeds its licensed gross vehicle weight,

(b) the weight on an axle, group of axles or axle unit exceeds the weight permitted by the regulations,

The Commercial Transport Regulation:

7.21 A person must not, without an overload permit, drive or operate on a highway a combination of vehicles unless the gross vehicle weight to the manufacturer's rated horsepower of the towing vehicle bears a relationship of not more than 150 kg to one horsepower.


Why start with licensing?

Some vehicles don't fit into the weight legislation that follows, and it is important to realize that there are other ways of dealing with weight. Section 3(3)(a) MVA requires that the vehicle be licensed in the form required by ICBC, which includes licensing for the proper weight. Section 13(1)(a) MVA is the offence for not having the proper license, which is an $109 fine.

Safety First

7.161 and 19.11 MVAR are directly concerned with safety as they deal exclusively with loading the vehicle beyond its limits. A violation here may result in an $109 fine and the possibility of being ordered off the road immediately until the overload is reduced to safe levels.

The application section, 19.11(3) exempts a number of vehicles from 19.11(1). If you are exempt, you still need to worry about the provisions of 25.30. You can not be fined but you may be ordered off the road until the overload is remedied. Should you be involved in a collision that resulted from your vehicle being overweight, you would likely be placing yourself in a position of civil liability that could have serious results.

The "Commercial" Transport Act

If your vehicle is licensed in B.C., a simplest way of determining if your vehicle is a commercial vehicle registered under the Commercial Transport Act is by reading your vehicle registration document. It will specify that the vehicle has been registered that way and it qualifies as a commercial vehicle regardless of the fact that you may not use it for business purposes.

If you are from outside B.C. your pickup truck is considered to be covered by the Commericial Transport Act regardless of the fact that you use it only for pleasure and it is not registered to a business or for business use.

If you pull a trailer behind your "commercial vehicle" that is not a house trailer and weighs more than 1400 kg it's weight is considered to be part of the combination of vehicles. The tow vehicle must be licensed for the proper GVW of the combination. More information on this topic can be obtained from your Autoplan Agent or from ICBC at www.icbc.com.

These laws are partially safety related and partially administrative. It is up to you to tell your Autoplan agent what licensed GVW you require and pay the corresponding fee. If you do not specify, section 12(1)(d) CTA requires that you be given a licensed GVW that is one and one half times your vehicle's net weight. This may not be sufficient for your purposes. Your local Autoplan agent is the best source of information in this regard.

Care is required because you are able to purchase a licensed GVW that is well in excess of the design limits of your vehicle.

It is possible to be charged for being over your licensed GVW and still be under the designed weight capacity of your vehicle. Fines here may be very expensive as they are calculated on how much you are overweight.

See your owner's manual or vehicle dealer for information on your vehicle's maximum horsepower rating.


This is your vehicle manufacturer's design limit for the safe operation of a combination of vehicles. It is based on the engine size and rear axle gear ratios, but still takes into account total load and axle loads. Your owner's manual and vehicle dealer are the best source of more information on GCWR.

There is currently no offence in either the Motor Vehicle Act or Commercial Transport Act for being over the GCWR as long as you are not over the other legislated limits. You may jeopardize your vehicle warranty and expose yourself to civil liability should something go wrong when the GCWR is exceeded.


Towing a Recreational Trailer (Study Guide) - ICBC Web Site


The information presented on this page was considered carefully for accuracy and content at the time of the page creation. The laws do change and the page will be updated if this occurs.

In addition, this information was chosen with cars and pickup trucks in mind. Drivers of heavy transport trucks need to be aware of much more than is included here.

Some of the content is outside the normal scope of advice from the police. ICBC, your Autoplan Agent, and the individual vehicle manufacturers and their dealers may be consulted for more in depth information and advice. You must be able to provide them with accurate weight and vehicle details to receive accurate advice.