Whether you’re new to the fleet space or you’re a longtime public sector fleet manager, sometimes it can be tough to navigate the nitty-gritty. Government Fleet is here to answer questions you may have about day-to-day fleet management operations.
In our first installment of Government Fleet Fundamentals, we’re starting with the basics: the vehicles within fleets. Vehicles are broken down into class based on their gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR).
The GVWR refers to the total weight of a vehicle itself, as well as fuel, passengers, cargo, and trailer tongue weight when towing, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Vehicles are then broken down further into light-duty, medium-duty, and heavy-duty.
Gaining insight into these vehicle classes can help you choose the right vehicle for the job.
We’ve laid out what the GVWR is for each class, as well as provided examples of vehicles from each class, thanks to the help of Cedric Roberts, CAFM, director of equipment management for the city of Birmingham, Alabama.
A Note About Vehicle Classes
It’s important to note that some vehicle types will differ between make and model. Where one automaker’s refuse truck may be a class 7 truck, another one may be a class 8 truck.
The models can also sit between two different classes. Sometimes, just a couple hundred lbs. can mean the different between class.
Additionally, the electric version of a vehicle will have a higher GVWR, so it will be in a different class than its ICE counterpart.
We’ve answered a few frequently asked questions at the end of this article. If you have any more, feel free to comment on this story so our team — or fellow fleet managers — can help.
Light-Duty Vehicles – 10,000 lbs. or Less
Class 1 Vehicles: Sedans, SUVs, & Small Pickups
Class 1 vehicles are those that have a GVWR of less than 6,000 lbs. An example of this is a sedan, small- or mid-sized SUV, or small truck.
It can also include some SUVs, though SUVs often teeter between Class 1 and Class 2. A 3.0L EcoBoost Ford Police Interceptor Utility, for example, has a GVWR of around 6,500 lbs., making it a Class 2 vehicle.
Class 2 Vehicles: Mid- and Full-Sized Pickups, Cargo Vans, & Large SUVs
Class 2 vehicles have a GVWR ranging from 6,001 lbs. to 10,000 lbs. Examples of this are larger pickup trucks, cargo vans, and large SUVs.
This includes your classic mid- and full-sized pickups such as the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, Ford F-150, and Ram 1500, as well as the Ram 2500. It also includes cargo vans you might use to transport tools and equipment like the Ford Transit-150.
As mentioned previously, Class 2 also includes a number of SUVs. This includes those such as a Chevrolet Tahoe that you might see a police chief or fire chief drive.
Medium-Duty Vehicles – 10,000 lbs. – 26,000 lbs.
Class 3 Vehicles: Ambulances and Larger Pickups
Class 3 vehicles have a GVWR between 10,001 lbs. and 14,000 lbs.
This includes most ambulances and larger pickups such as the Chevrolet Silverado 2500 and 3500, Ford F-250 and F-350, and Ram 3500.
Class 4 Vehicles: Step Vans, Minibuses, and Large Pickups
Class 4 vehicles are those that have a GVWR ranging from 14,001 lbs. to 16,000 lbs.
This can include step vans such as the U.S. Postal Service uses, as well as minibuses that are often used to haul students around college campuses on transport local leaders to and from events. This also includes large trucks such as the Ford F-450, GMC 4500HD, and Ram 4500. Trucks like this are generally used for various municipal services.
Class 5 Vehicles: Bucket Trucks and Dump Trucks
Class 5 vehicles have a GVWR between 16,001 lbs. and 19,500 lbs.
This typically includes bucket trucks for utility fleets and dump trucks used for tasks including transporting dirt, gravel, sand, rocks, and other loose materials.
Class 6 Vehicles: Chassis Cabs, Larger Trucks, and Single Unit, Three-Axle Trucks
Class 6 vehicles have a GVWR between 19,501 lbs. and 26,000 lbs.
This typically includes chassis cabs and larger trucks like a Chevrolet Silverado 6500HD, Ford F-650, or Ram 6500. Many of these trucks are used in utility services and hauling heavy loads. These trucks are capable of towing and hauling heavier loads than those in the neighboring Class 5.
This can also include single unit, three-axle trucks, which have a variety of uses because the bodies on them can be customized to suit your fleet’s needs.
Heavy-Duty Vehicles – 26,000 lbs. or More
Class 7 Vehicles: Refuse Trucks and City Transit Buses
Class 7 vehicles include those that have a GVWR between 26,001 and 33,000 lbs.
This generally includes some refuse trucks and city transit buses. It can also include heavier utility trucks such as digger derricks, and street sweepers once mounted on a chassis cab.
Class 8 Vehicles: Larger Dump Trucks and Tractor Trailers
Class 8 vehicles include those with a GVWR of 33,001 lbs. or more.
This typically includes larger dump trucks and tractor trailers. While not as commonly used by public sector fleets, they can sometimes come in handy when you’re working a big job, like large debris collection after a natural disaster.
Vehicle Class FAQs
Why does GVWR matter? In addition to helping you figure out which vehicle to use for specific jobs, understanding GVWR can help you with idle and emissions reduction efforts. With many public sector fleets under pressure to curb idling and emissions output, this knowledge can help tremendously.
It’s also important to pay attention to what type of CDL your fleet operators may need to drive some of the larger vehicles.
A knowledge of GVWR is also important for fleet operators. Some of the fire trucks for the city of Birmingham can't travel over certain bridges due to their weight. Fleet operators must also know how much weight they're hauling, because that can also affect where they can and cannot drive. For firefighters, this includes knowing how much their tankers weigh when filled with water.
Additionally, a vehicle with a higher GVWR can cost more. In Birmingham's case, Roberts explained that this could mean choosing a Ford F-150 over a Ford F-550 when an F-150 could do the same job needed.
"One of the jobs of the fleet manager is to rightsize their fleet. It’s not all about utilization; the vehicle needs to be the right size as well," Roberts said.
How do GVWR and GCWR differ? GVWR is the maximum total combined weight of the vehicle up through the trailer tongue. The gross combined vehicle weight rating — or GCWR — is the maximum total combined weight of both the vehicle and the trailer it is hauling, when applicable.
Are GVWR and max payload the same? No. A vehicle’s GVWR is the maximum amount of weight the vehicle can weigh when fully loaded with occupants and cargo. The payload rating is the amount of weight the vehicle can haul. This is calculated by subtracting the vehicle’s actual curb weight from its gross vehicle weight rating.