Weight Limitation

Maximum Payload

To prevent the stressing of Federal Highway Bridges, the Federal Bridge Formula uses the spacing of axles on vehicles to help identify the maximum allowable gross vehicle weight. Various factors such as type of cargo, distribution of cargo within the container and different types of equipment (e.g. steel vs. aluminum containers, flush vs. slider chassis, tractor weight/type, gensets for reefer) will affect the determination of an absolute maximum cargo payload.

Due to the variety of variables that factor into the bridge formula calculation, we offer the following recommended guideline for the average maximum container payload weights. NOTE: Strict adherence to reefer weights. Limit of tare weight shown on container may never be exceeded.

Suggested Weight
20′ dry container 35,000 lbs.
(42,000 lbs with Tri-Axle)
40′ dry container 44,000 lbs.
45′ dry container 42,000 lbs.
20′ reefer container 32,000 lbs.
(39,000 lbs with Tri-Axle)
40′ reefer container 41,000 lbs

California Vehicle Code (section 35550-35558)

The provided link above defines maximum weight restrictions in the state of California as they pertain to the hauling of freight on California Roadways. When comparing the maximum weights allowed in ocean containers, with the maximum weights allowed on California Highways, the maximum weight allowed on the California highways, is less in most cases, than the maximum weight allowed in a specific container.

Intermodal Safe Container Transportation Act

On October 11, 1996 President Clinton signed a bill amending the Intermodal Safe Container Transportation Act of 1992. The original Act, intended to protect motor carriers and communities from overweight containers moving through the U.S. intermodal system, created substantial burdens on both carriers and shippers without fully achieving the stated goals of the legislation.

The Act will be implemented on April 9, 1997. The Act applies to both international and domestic intermodal movements. Its provisions are therefore applicable to both foreign and domestic shippers who tender a container or trailer for intermodal transportation.

  • The Amendments raise the minimum actual gross cargo weight requiring a certification from 10,000 pounds to 29,000 pounds. For any container with an actual gross cargo weight of 29,001 pounds or more, the person tendering the container is required to provide a certification to the first carrier in the intermodal chain. §5202(b)(1)
  • The certification must contain five pieces of information: the actual gross cargo weight; a reasonable description of the contents of the container or trailer; the identity of the certifying party; the container or trailer number; and the date of certification or transfer of data. §5902(b)(2)
  • This information does not have to be on a separate document, as was previously required, but can be part of the bill of lading or other shipping document. §5902(b)(4)
  • The term “Freight All Kinds” or “FAK” may not be used for certification purposes after December 31, 2000 as a commodity description if the weight of any commodity in the trailer or container equals or exceeds 20 percent of the total weight of the contents. §5902(b)(5)
  • A copy of the certification is not required to accompany the trailer or container, thus eliminating the prior requirement that a hard copy of the certification travel with the motor carrier. §5903(b)(2)
  • If no certification is received by the originating motor carrier or by a subsequent intermediate carrier prior to receiving the cargo, that carrier may presume that the gross weight of the cargo is less than 29,001 pounds and that no certification is required. §5902(c) and §5903(b)(1)
  • An intermediate carrier has a duty to accurately transfer the information on a certification. If it inaccurately transfers the information or fails to transfer it, and a motor carrier incurs a bond, fine, penalty or cost (including storage) as a result of that failure, the intermediate carrier is liable to the motor carrier or beneficial owner, whichever incurs the costs, for those costs, and the motor carrier has a lien in the amount of those costs until they are paid. §5902(c), §5902(d), §5905(a)(3), and §5905(a)(4)
  • If a motor carrier is required, because of a violation of a state’s gross vehicle weight laws or regulations, to post a bond or pay a fine, penalty or cost (including storage), because of the failure of the party tendering the container to certify it or to accurately certify it, then the person posting the bond has the right of recovery against the party responsible for the failure to certify or to accurately certify. §5905(a)(1) and (2)
  • A carrier, agent of a carrier, broker, customs broker, freight forwarder, warehouser, or terminal operator is deemed not to be the person tendering the container or trailer unless that person assumes legal responsibility for loading property into the container. §5902(3)(3)

Failure to comply with federal law can result in the delay of the shipment. The law now gives the trucker, if fined for an overweight violation due to incorrect or missing information from the issuing party of the container, the right to lien the load to collect the amount of the fine. The liable party is the party that provides false or erroneous certification information, violates state highway weight law or fails to pass on certification information.