When is a Container Considered Overweight?

Efficient Intermodal freight transport depends in part on safely packed containers that align with weight limits set by carriers and governments.

The intermodal transport industry is reliable in part because these limits make shipping easier. Loading, transporting, and unloading containerized cargo simplifies the process, regardless of what’s inside.

Overweight containers can lead to additional charges for importers and exporters, delays in shipping, and other less-than-ideal outcomes. In general, it’s best to stick to the weight limits that carriers and authorities set unless it’s truly unavoidable.

Wondering how to tell if your container is overweight? Keep reading to learn more about shipping container weight limits and what is considered an overweight container.

Why Do Intermodal Containers Have Weight Limits?

Intermodal freight transport is unique in part because all cargo is stored in containers in this part of the supply chain. Shipping containers come in many sizes and variations, but have standardized measurements.

That level of standardization makes it easier for vehicles to transport containers. Intermodal trains, ships, and truck chassis are all designed to securely hold and move those containers.

The dimensions of shipping containers limit the volume of goods placed within them. However, the weight of the contents can vary significantly. Weight limits for shipping containers help to maintain the standards that support efficiency in intermodal shipping.

Intermodal trucks carry shipping containers on a bridge.

Weight limits help to address safety issues in transit as well. For example, intermodal trucks have a maximum gross vehicle weight limit: 80,000 lbs. This applies on interstate highways and across the National Highway System.

These limits help to protect critical infrastructure, such as bridges, and reduce wear and tear on roads. Weight limits also help protect other drivers and vehicles by limiting the weight — and therefore potential danger — of heavy trucks.

The costs of heavier freight have to be considered as well. It costs more to transport a heavier load than a lighter one, especially when the containers are otherwise standardized. The containers’ own limitations also play a role. Even these durable, dependable boxes can only hold so much weight.

It’s possible to send overweight containers through the intermodal freight transport system in some instances. However, businesses may have to pay penalties and put more effort into logistics to ensure the load reaches its intended destination.

When Does a Container Qualify as an Overweight Container?

The intermodal transport industry reaches across many countries, carriers, and modes of transportation. That means there may be many weight limits and definitions of overweight across the industry as a whole.

Ocean carriers may have some variation in their highest allowable weight limits. State laws for road weight limits may not always perfectly align with the federal 80,000 lbs. maximum for overweight containers.

Let’s start by looking at the maximum safe weight limits for containers themselves.

What is considered overweight for a 40’ container? Container Technology reports the maximum load for a 40-foot container is 59,200 lbs.

What is considered overweight for a 20’ foot container? The maximum load for this smaller option is actually higher, at 62,150 lbs. A smaller container means a lower tare weight and more cargo weight is allowed.

Now, let’s focus on limits related to drayage trucking and transporting containers over the road.

Oversize.io reminds us that the weight of a container truck, including its tri-axle chassis, is about 30,000 lbs.

So, when it comes to hauling containers to and from ports via truck, what is considered overweight for a 20’ container? To get in under the 80,000 lbs. federal limit, a loaded 20 foot container cannot weigh any more than 50,000 lbs.

What is overweight for a 40 foot container in intermodal trucking? The absolute maximum cargo weight, plus the container itself, also cannot exceed 50,000 lbs.

On a practical level, 45,000 lbs. is a more manageable cargo weight limitation to plan around. It allows for variations in the weight of unloaded trucks and axles. This provides a cushion to help avoid the costs and complications that can come with an overweight load.

At Iraheta Bros., we’re committed to helping you move your containers to and from the Port of Oakland. It’s all about delivering an efficient import/export experience for you.

We have skilled, experienced, and knowledgeable drivers who understand how to effectively navigate the complex port environment. We maintain custom specialized tri-axle chassis to reliably handle up to 45,000 lbs. of cargo. Additionally, we specialize in food-grade refrigerated and frozen containers, safely handling sensitive cargo.

Simplify your transportation needs today!

When is a Container Considered Overweight?