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How to: stop your campervan from going over weight

Campervan weight and payload considerations

Everyone’s worst nightmare when it comes to converting a camper van is finishing your build and finding out you’re weigh (excuse the pun) over the 3.5 tonne weight limit. Going over this limit means a) you’ll need to upgrade your driving licence to a category C/C1, to enable you to drive vehicles bigger than 3.5T, and b) you will also need a GVM (gross vehicle mass) upgrade, which involves upgrading the suspension of your van.

Both of these are quite expensive. To take your category C1 test, you need to have had at least a few hours of lessons as you will be doing your test in a 7.5 tonne lorry, so this will cost you upwards of £515 (£50/hr for lessons and £115 for the test) depending on your experience level. A GVM suspension upgrade can cost anywhere from high hundreds for a DIY spring suspension to several thousands for a professional fitted air suspension upgrade!

If you don’t go through the process of upgrading your licence and vehicle with your van over the weight limit, you can run into all sorts of issues. These include: invalidating your van insurance, not being allowed on the Eurotunnel, and you can also be pulled over and fined by the police for not having the correct licence. Therefore, it’s really important to try and make sure your van stays under that all important 3.5 tonnes – including everything inside it, including you!

How much does our Mercedes Sprinter camper van weigh?

The all important question…how heavy is our camper van? We recently took Ringo to a weigh bridge, and he came in at a healthy 3.2 tonnes. We were really pleased, as we have a few items that had us slightly worried (our 30kg belfast sink, and our 426Ah lithium batteries aren’t light either!). However, throughout our build we made a lot of choices and decisions to try and cut weight from our build, and that paid off.

When working out the max weight for your van, you’ll need to work out your kerb weight and also your vans payload.

Our kerb weight

The kerb weight is the base weight of your van before anything has been added. For a LWB Mercedes Sprinter is 2.3 tonnes, which leaves you 1.2 tonnes for your entire build and payload. For smaller vans, your kerb weight will likely be lower which will give you more weight to play with in your build. This might sound like a lot but we can assure you most sprinter van conversions + payload go over the limit.

Our payload

The payload of your vehicle is the combined weight of everything you’ll put in your van (so yourselves, a full tank of diesel, water, and all of your stuff). Below is a breakdown of our payload.

Payload itemWeight
Charlie & Dale115kg
100% full fuel tank80kg
90% full water tank60kg
Climbing gear30kg
Camping gear10kg
Electronics15kg
Clothes10kg
Food25kg
TOTAL 345kg

There were a few items already in our van when we had it weighed (pots and pans, plates, cutlery etc so they are not included in the above). Our total payload not including these items is 345kg, which means we’re pretty much bang on 3.5 tonnes all in. We also have a few mods planned to cut some additional weight so we’re not too close to the line, including removing our rear metal step which weighs approximately 25kg.

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It’s worth noting that the UK authorities generally tolerate up to 5% extra before they hand out a fine, but this may not be the case for insurance companies, so it’s best to try and stay under 3.5T if you can.

Lots of heavy climbing gear meant we had to be careful to save weight throughout our build!

Weight saving tips and ideas for your camper van build

If you’re worried about weight as you’re building your van, we’ve come up with some van conversion weight reduction tips and ideas:

Construction / materials

The first item that falls into this category is your cladding and flooring. Most people will clad and lay their floor as one of the first job in their van build, so they have a finished empty shell to work with. Although this looks great for photos(!), it means a lot of extra weight where you’ll never actually see it. We only clad up to where it would be visible, stopping just after where the kitchen cabinets and bed would start. This means you don’t have cladding, and crucially extra weight, where it will only be hidden anyway. We did the same with our flooring, only laying it to just underneath the kitchen cabinets.

The second area where you can potentially save well over a hundred kilos is the material you choose to build your van with. Opting for 18mm MDF vs 12mm or even 9mm ply will add a significant amount of weight to your build. MDF is much more dense than ply, so choosing a thinner ply will save you a lot of weight.

Another good idea is to build your own kitchen rather than installing one from IKEA, as these are double thickness 18mm MDF. If you build your own out of single thickness 12mm ply, you can save loads of weight – we did the calculations and we saved 35kg by building our kitchen!

A good way to save weight, if you have welding capabilities, would be to make your bed frame out of a lightweight metal such as aluminium rather than wood. Although aluminium weighs more than wood, because it has a higher tensile strength which means it’s stronger, you can use much less material to achieve the same strength within your structure.

Fixtures & fittings

The obvious ridiculous item in our van is our Belfast sink. This big ceramic sink weighs a whopping 30kg. We justified putting it in through the weight we saved in not installing an IKEA kitchen, and it was one item we just couldn’t bare to not include, as we love them so much, but for those looking to cut weight, choosing a lightweight metal sink might be a good option.

The mighty baby Belfast sink, weighing in at a whopping 30kg – not the smartest weight saving feature!

Electrics

Your campervan electrical system can be a weighty part of your van conversion. Lead acid and AGM leisure batteries are very heavy, and a big battery bank can  weigh upwards of 100kg! Alternatively, swapping to lithium leisure batteries can help you reduce the weight of your system. Typically, lithium batteries can weigh up to 50% less than the same capacity of AGM.

Gas & water tanks

The bigger the tank you buy, the more both it and its contents will weigh. You need to balance capacity and how long it will last with the weight – we have a 70L water tank and a 25L LPG tank. A 70L water tank will last you a few days if you’re careful with water consumption, but bigger than this just means much more weight.

Windows

It’s worth remembering that a window weighs a lot more than the metal panel you’re chopping out to replace with it. If you think you’re going to be close, this could be an area of your build where you could save a few kilos. A weight saving option would be to use the plastic motorhome/caravan style windows.

Chopping windows in your van = adding weight to your build

Extras

Any extras you add to your van such as a roof rack, a ladder or an awning may look cool and feel useful, but they also weigh loads! Ask yourself if you really need them – an awning weighs around 20kg and the average roof rack weighs a whopping 50kg!

How to weigh your camper van

Once you’ve finished your conversion and you’re ready for the big weigh in, you’ll need to find a weighbridge. We found the easiest way of finding a local weighbridge was just to google “the name of your city + weighbridge”. We’re based in Bristol and used the one at Lye Cross Farm which is free to use, or £2 if you wanted a printed receipt with proof of the weight of your van.

How to convert a campervan

Want to know exactly how to convert a campervan? Our 331 page bestselling book, The Van Conversion Bible, covers all aspect of a van conversion, from planning your layout to a step-by-step build guide.

The ultimate guide to converting a campervan

The award-winning bestseller ✨

383 Comments


  1. very good

  2. Excellent BUT if you passed car driving test before 1997 the higher (7.5t) GVW applies but NOT if you have a declared medical condition / over 70 age unless you have passed the GP medical examination. The 3.5 tonne limit applies then (have to have a medical examination by a doctor).

    1. Thanks for your comment Peter. For anyone looking into this further, you can find more about driving license categories on the government website: https://www.gov.uk/driving-licence-categories

  3. Some great tips, but, has anyone made a ‘Luton conversion bible’ please? I am about to drop almost £10k on a luton and another £15k on the self-conversion (which will wipe me out, but be worth it as will be living and working from it full time, long term) I finding the weight of every item that I can, as I plan my build, but as we all know, a lot of things can not be exactly quantified.

    1. Weight is always a challenge, especially in bigger vans. Picking your components carefully makes a huge difference. If you can, it might be worth looking into increasing the weight limit of the van (many companies offer this service), just check you can still drive on your license.

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