The payload indicates how much weight a vehicle can carry in passengers and cargo.

Many only see payload in terms of how much cargo a vehicle can carry, as in “My pickup truck can carry 1,600 pounds of firewood.” This is a typical half-ton pick-up payload, although the number for passengers and cargo combined applies. If it is a crew cabin with four 200 pounders, there is only 800 pounds left in the cargo box to carry firewood without exceeding the payload limit.

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Likewise, many consumers consider crossovers to be sturdy beasts of burden, but they are based on car constructions, not on truck constructions with steel frames that can carry heavy loads. For example, the payload for the Jeep Cherokee compact SUV is 1,000 pounds, only 75 pounds more than a Toyota Camry.

What if you exceed the payload limit? The additional weight puts more stress on the engine, transmission, suspension, brakes and tires and can lead to repair problems. Overloading a vehicle, for example, increases the braking distance and wear of brake pads and rotors.

The payload of a vehicle is indicated on the tire label, which shows the recommended tire pressure. It’s also usually located on the driver’s door jamb. The payload may also be listed in the owner’s manual and should not be confused with the total weight of the vehicle or towing capacity.

The permissible total weight is the curb weight of the vehicle plus the payload. If you subtract the curb weight of a vehicle from the gross vehicle weight, the payload is also displayed.

Towing capacity is a separate assessment of how much a vehicle can pull on a trailer.

The payload can vary depending on the model within a vehicle line, depending on how each model is equipped. Anything that increases the curb weight of a vehicle (the weight of the vehicle with its vital fluids), such as four-wheel or four-wheel drive, a sunroof or a third row of seats, can reduce the payload.

For example, on the Toyota RAV4, the payload of a base front-wheel drive LE is 1,240 pounds. The Adventure and TRD models, with all-wheel drive, larger wheels and tires, and other features, drop the payload to 1,050 pounds.

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