What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you’re looking for a new car? You might think about color, exterior design, safety technology, engine size and horsepower, interior features, or perhaps something else. But, what about the weight of the car? Is this something that you take into consideration?
Have you ever thought about how much the wheels sitting in the garage weigh? The story of cars’ weight is actually quite interesting, and the focus of this article.
What’s the Average Weight of a Car?
Let’s start with average weights. Of course, it’s hard to say definitively what the average weight of all cars is since there are so many shapes and sizes in the market. The EPA has made estimates of about 4,000 lbs across all car types, but of course it’s more accurate to instead focus on weight according to category. The EPA breaks it down into the following categories:
- Compact cars - average of 2,900-lbs
- Large Cars - average of 3,900-lbs
- Compact SUVs - average of 3,600-lbs
- Large SUVs - average of 5,600-lbs
What’s interesting is that while most people believe that advances in technology have made our cars lighter, actually the average weights haven’t changed as much as you’d think. The fact is that modern cars are still about as heavy as they were decades ago, which is hard to imagine, but we’ll try to explain why further below.
Autoweek gave some interesting examples of this when they looked at same-brand models from the 1960s and 2017. For instance, the 1967 Ford Fairlane 500 with its chrome bumpers and heavy metal corners weighed in at 2,971 pounds. Amazingly, despite looking sleeker and more modern, the 2017 Ford Focus SE sedan weighed in at 2,952 pounds. It’s hardly the weight loss story of the century, is it? Not much of a ‘before’ and ‘after’ picture to show there.
Another great example given was the 1967 Plymouth Fury III Wagon, which weighed 4,175 pounds. In 2017, what do you think the Dodge Challenger R/T weighed? It came in at 4,190 pounds. That’s a 2-door 21st-century American muscle car weighing in at more poundage than a huge family-size wagon from the 1960s with 4 doors, rear tailgate, roof rails and all the heavy metal you can imagine.
How are Cars Weighed?
It’s an odd thing to talk about the average weight of a car, in fact, because it also depends on what metric you are weighing the vehicle. There are no fewer than 8 different types of weight that can be listed for any one vehicle. The first one in the list is the one we most commonly use, and that’s the “curb weight.”
Curb Weight (CW)
This refers to the weight of the vehicle as it stands unladen with either passengers or cargo. In other words, it’s how much the car weighs once fully constructed and just sitting on the curb waiting to be used. It also refers to the weight before any extra accessories or modifications are added. It’s the standard factory issue weight.
Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW)
This is a very relevant and meaningful number for drivers because it’s the weight of the car including the cargo, driver and passengers, as well as added gear that has been put onto it such as accessories, new alloy rims, spoiler and more.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR)
This number tells you a threshold for how much the vehicle can weigh before driver and passenger safety become compromised. This number is important for those hoping to carry or tow heavy loads.
Gross Combined Weight
This one refers to the weight of your vehicle combined with that of a trailer and the cargo held within the trailer. Once again, it’s a threshold to advise driver’s a weight not to surpass so as not to compromise the vehicle’s safety.
This is a capacity that the vehicle can carry that includes the vehicle’s own weight, driver and passengers, cargo, towed equipment and anything else on-board.
Maximum Loaded Trailer Weight
This indicates the maximum weight that the vehicle can safely bear when factoring in the vehicle’s own weight, and that of a trailer that is loaded to maximum capacity.
Gross Axle Weight Rating
This indicates the weight threshold that each axle of your vehicle can safely handle.
So, in reality, when one is thinking about a car’s weight, there are all these factors to consider as well.
When is the Weight of a Vehicle Important?
You may find it quite interesting to learn the average weight of a car, but what does it really matter? When will you need to know this information? When will the weight really make a difference, anyway?
Towing and Transportation
If you are looking for a vehicle that can handle a trailer safely and you regularly tow cargo or animals about the country, then vehicle weights are important to you. You’ll need a vehicle that is heavy and strong enough to handle the loads that you need without car safety being compromised at all.
This becomes double important if you also have to navigate the trailer or other cargo through tricky terrain with slopes and inclines. An overloaded vehicle may struggle to handle the road, and things can get dangerous quickly.
For Fuel Economy
If you’re the kind of driver who cares a great deal about the fuel economy of your vehicle, then weight is important. The heavier your vehicle is, the more work the engine has to do and thus the more gas gets guzzled up. It won’t surprise you to learn that among the least efficient cars in terms of gas mileage are those that are also very heavy. We’re not just talking about ungainly full-size family SUVs here, either.
Large luxury vehicles are very heavy and inefficient. Take the Mercedes-Maybach S560, for example, it gets a combined mileage of just 19-mpg and weighs a whopping 5,000 pounds. The Lincoln Navigator SUV comes in at 6,000 pounds when you factor in the 4WD drivetrain, and it only achieves 17-mpg. You can see the pattern emerging here. Weight adds a lot of drain on the fuel.
Safety and Stability
Those looking for a safe family car might favor cars with more heft in them. It’s a pretty straightforward way of thinking, but it stands to reason that you have a better chance of being the least worst-off in an accident if you happen to be driving the largest, heaviest vehicle in the incident. A Lincoln Navigator crashing into a Smart Car will likely not cause the driver or passengers of the Navigator as much injury as those in the latter vehicle.
A heavier car may also feel more stable to drive on the road as its weight lends to the center of gravity and keeps the car “glued” to the road. That can be very reassuring for many drivers, and especially those driving in places where crosswinds on the roads can create further hazards. Heavier vehicles are better at dealing with those conditions.
Average Weight of a Car: What’s Keeping Cars Heavy?
If technology has advanced so much, why is it that the average weight of a car is still similar to the giant hunks of metal that people were driving back in the1960s? What is it that is keeping the weight of cars so high?
Popularity of SUVs and Crossovers
One reason that the average for all vehicles has remained high despite new technology is the fact that the most popular cars on the road nowadays are SUVs and crossovers, which naturally come with more weight attached to them.
New Technology and EV Batteries
It is actually the advancement of driving technology that is driving the high average weights of the modern automotive marketplace. First there’s added hardware like turbochargers, denser materials, AWD/4WD drivetrain, automatic transmissions and more. Even the proliferation of gasoline direct injection (GDI) technology which is now in more than half of vehicles as of 2017 is adding to the weight.
On top of that, modern cars now also have an endless array of cameras, sensors, screens and other high-tech additions that are all contributing to a greater overall weight. Even electric vehicles can’t reduce the average weight of a car because even though you take out the engine and much of that internal combustion hardware, it simply gets replaced with a massive heavy battery pack.
In fact, the battery pack is much heavier than just about any engine. The average engine is about 350 pounds, but the Tesla Model S battery weighs in at 1,200 pounds.
Conclusion: When is a Vehicle Too Heavy?
The average weight of a car, as you can see, is quite an interesting story, as it happens. As a small conclusion, let us think about this: when is a vehicle’s weight too much for the road? Different US states have different standards on this matter, but the general rule seems to be around 80,000-lbs as the maximum weight limit.
In Canada, many provinces allow 90,000-lbs. It seems that the average weight of a car, despite remaining higher than people imagine, is still well within what our road network can take!