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Exactly How Big is Class 8? Understanding Vehicle Classifications

April 20, 2016

A chart visually showing the specific vehicle weight classes set by three federal agencies.

What are the various vehicle weight classes and why do they matter?

How do I know which Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard applies to my vehicle? What are the state emissions testing requirements for my vehicle? Would a medium-duty vehicle qualify for the plug-in electric drive motor vehicle tax credit? To answer these questions, you must first understand the specifics of the vehicle weight classifications to determine which laws, regulations, and incentives may apply to your vehicle or fleet.

You may recall learning about federal agencies and vehicle classes from our February Question of the Month. However, each agency defines vehicle classes differently. So this month, we will dig deeper into the specific vehicle weight classes set by three federal agencies. This guide will help you identify a Class 1 vehicle to a Heavy-Duty Vehicle 8b, and everything in between.

U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)

The FHWA defines vehicles as Class 1 through 8, the most common categorization used in the fleet industry. The classes are based on a vehicle's gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), which is the maximum operating weight of the vehicle, measured in pounds (lbs.). GVWR is set by the manufacturer and includes the total vehicle weight plus fluids, passengers, and cargo. The FHWA's vehicle classes (listed below) are used in the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act (e.g., as it relates to the National Highway Freight Program). The vehicle classes are also used by certain states to determine vehicle road and fuel taxes, access to roadways, and idle reduction and emissions reduction requirements.

  • Light-Duty Vehicle: less than (<) 10,000 lbs.
    • Class 1: <6,000 lbs.
      • Example vehicle: Sedan or sport-utility vehicle (SUV)
    • Class 2: 6,001 – 10,000 lbs.
      • Example vehicle: Utility van
  • Medium-Duty Vehicle: 10,001 – 26,000 lbs.
    • Class 3: 10,001 – 14,000 lbs.
      • Example vehicle: Mini bus
    • Class 4: 14,001 – 16,000 lbs.
      • Example vehicle: Step van
    • Class 5: 16,001 – 19,500 lbs.
      • Example vehicle: Bucket truck
    • Class 6: 19,501 – 26,000 lbs.
      • Example vehicle: School bus
  • Heavy-Duty Vehicle: greater than (>) 26,000 lbs.
    • Class 7: 26,001 – 33,000 lbs.
      • Example vehicle: City transit bus
    • Class 8: >33,000 lbs.
      • Example vehicle: Refuse truck

For more vehicle examples, see the Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC) Types of Vehicles by Weight Class chart.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The EPA uses the following categories to certify vehicles based on emissions standards, in conjunction with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's CAFE standards to regulate fuel economy. The light-duty vehicle category is also used in the Energy Policy Act vehicle aquisition requirements. Note that there is a distinction between vehicles and engines in the EPA's classification because there are separate emissions standards for each.

Passenger Vehicles

  • Light-Duty Vehicle: <8,500 lbs.
  • Medium-Duty Vehicle: 8,501 – 10,000 lbs.

Heavy-Duty Vehicles and Engines

  • General Trucks:
    • Light-Duty Trucks: <8,500 lbs.
    • Heavy-Duty Vehicle Heavy-Duty Engine: >8,500 lbs.
  • Heavy-Duty Trucks:
    • Light-Duty Truck 1 and 2: <6,000 lbs.
      • Split is based on loaded vehicle weight (LVW), where:
        • Light-Duty Truck 1: <3,750 lbs. LVW
        • Light-Duty Truck 2: 3,751 – 6,000 lbs. LVW
    • Light-Duty Truck 3 and 4: 6,001 – 8,500 lbs.
      • Split is based on adjusted loaded vehicle weight (ALVW, the average of the GVWR and the curb weight, which is the weight of the vehicle without passengers or cargo), where:
        • Light-Duty Truck 3: <5,750 lbs. ALVW
        • Light-Duty Truck 4: >5,750 lbs. adjusted ALVW
    • Heavy-Duty Vehicle 2b: 8,501 – 10,000 lbs.
    • Heavy-Duty Vehicle 3: 10,001 – 14,000 lbs.
    • Heavy-Duty Vehicle 4: 14,001 – 16,000 lbs.
    • Heavy-Duty Vehicle 5: 16,001 – 19,500 lbs.
    • Heavy-Duty Vehicle 6: 19,501 – 26,000 lbs.
    • Heavy-Duty Vehicle 7: 26,001 – 33,000 lbs.
    • Heavy-Duty Vehicle 8a: 33,001 – 60,000 lbs.
    • Heavy-Duty Vehicle 8b: >60,000 lbs.
  • Heavy-Duty Engines:
    • Light Light-Duty Truck: <6,000 lbs.
    • Heavy Light-Duty Truck: 6,001 – 8,500 lbs.
    • Light Heavy-Duty Engine: 8,501 – 19,500 lbs.
    • Medium Heavy-Duty Engine: 19,501 – 33,000 lbs.
    • Heavy Heavy-Duty Engine Urban Bus: >33,000 lbs.

U.S. Census Bureau

The U.S. Census Bureau uses the following Vehicle Inventory and Use Survey classes to measure how many private and commercial trucks operate within the United States.

  • Light-Duty Vehicle: <10,000 lbs.
  • Medium-Duty Vehicle: 10,000 – 19,500 lbs.
  • Light Heavy-Duty Vehicle: 19,001 – 26,000 lbs.
  • Heavy-Duty Vehicle: >26,000 lbs.

Looking for a more visual comparison of the various classifications? Check out the AFDC Vehicle Weight Classes and Categories chart.

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