Chances are, if you’re reading this article, you have already decided you are getting roof bars or a roof rack for your van, or perhaps you already have them. Either way, you want to make sure you keep your load safe and don’t fall foul of the law by overloading or failing to secure your load. As a part of the complete guide to van roof bars and van roof racks for work vans this article aims to cover everything you need to know about roof rack safety and the law. Having said that, please remember that laws can change, and if you require specialist legal advice then do refer to the UK government website or speak to a professional about your specific circumstances.
Incorrectly loading, or overloading, your van can be a very costly mistake indeed and one which you will no doubt wish to avoid. When it comes to loading your van internally, the main considerations are ensuring the load is, secure and evenly spread and does not exceed either the individual axle weight or the maximum weight for your van. The weight limits for your van will be on the VIN plate, often found in the door sill or under the bonnet. The first figure is the maximum gross vehicle weight, the second is the train weight, which applies to towing, and the next two are for the front and rear axle. However, adding a roof rack to the equation adds additional dimensions. The roof bars themselves have their own maximum load weight which you should not exceed. At the risk of stating the obvious, any weight on the roof, including the weight of the bars themselves, is also a part of your total gross weight. You also need to make sure your load is safely secured and will not fall off when driving. This means using suitable ties or clamps, and making sure, for example, that sheet materials will not be lifted up by the wind, or items fall or shift sideways on cornering. A roof rack will add permanently to your vehicle’s total height, while any load may temporarily add considerably more to that height, so you need to be aware of your height restriction to avoid problems. In addition, there is the possibility of your load overhanging at the front or rear of the vehicle, or at the sides. For full details on rules concerning overhanging loads see here. Anything which overhangs by a metre or more at the front or rear should be made clearly visible. This may be as simple as tying some bright material or a hi-vis vest to the end. Items overhanging more than two metres require a specific approved marker board, and over three metres requires the police to be notified in advance. Similar requirements apply to items overhanging the sides by more than 305mm (just over a foot) or a total of more than 2.9 metres wide.
Under the Road Traffic Acts, if a vehicle is found to be overloaded, both the driver and operator could be prosecuted or cautioned. The fine can be up to £5,000 per overloaded axle plus penalty points and possible disqualification. If the vehicle is seriously overweight, or if the overloading has contributed to an accident, then there is the possibility of a jail term. If you cannot get your vehicle onto a weighbridge then it is probably best to err on the side of caution. Don’t be tempted or coerced into carrying too much weight to keep a customer happy. They won’t pick up the tab for your fines. Once again, with roof racks, there is an extra dimension. The penalty for dangerous overhanging goods is similarly severe as it is for being overweight. Overhanging items take a wider turn than your vehicle does, so you need to be more aware when cornering. Failure to clearly mark the ends of overhanging items could result, for example, in another driver hitting them and causing serious damage and injury. While goods are inside your van, the worst consequence of poor loading is likely to be damage to the goods or the interior of your vehicle. Having seen the result of a floor standing photocopier which someone had not tied off properly inside a 3.5 tonne lorry, I can tell you it’s an expensive business, but that is as nothing compared with the consequences of a load flying off a roof rack and causing an accident or striking a pedestrian. The driver, and potentially the operator could find themselves liable for significant fines, penalty points, disqualification, and jail time, depending on the exact consequences. Furthermore, if a personal injury claim is made there is practically no limit to the financial consequences. So it really is well worth taking a professional approach to everything, from the choice of roof rack, to which accessories you need, to how carefully you secure everything.
So now we come to the nuts and bolts of the issue. How do you know if the load you plan to carry will be safe on your roof rack? Well, for anyone buying from Vanarack that question is easy to answer because in the product details of every roof bar set or roof rack the full specifications are clearly indicated although these should be considered alongside any additional information in your specific vehicle handbook for full details. Typically, each bar will have a weight limit, for example, 50kg, while the rack as a whole will have an overall maximum weight. It is also important to remember that, as far as possible, the heaviest weight should be loaded low down to keep a low center of gravity. You may encounter handling problems, for example, if you have the maximum weight on the roof of an otherwise empty van. Similarly, although it may be obvious, and has been alluded to previously in this article, the total gross weight of your vehicle includes, the kerb weight, plus the driver, any passengers, fuel, tools, goods inside the vehicle, the roof rack and any other additional accessories on the van, and any goods on the roof. At no time should you drive the vehicle if the weight exceeds either the gross vehicle weight, or if there is excessive weight on either axle.