Eintime Conversion for education and research 04-08-2008 @ 12:48:31
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`Car weight limits are a big, fat problem

By Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY

Some motorists may be too big for their cars.

The growing girth of Americans is colliding with government-mandated warning labels on all 2006 or newer cars that list the maximum weight — passengers and cargo — that's safe to carry.

Many two-seat sports cars, including Mazda MX-5 Miata and Chevrolet (GM) Corvette, aren't certified to carry two 200-pound adults, according to a government formula aimed at tire safety.

Many five-passenger vehicles are rated about 850 pounds, maxxing out if their five occupants weigh more than 170 pounds each. Six 200-pounders would overload the seven-passenger Dodge Grand Caravan minivan.

The limitations are stamped on a "Tire and Loading Information" plate on the driver's side door frame. The ratings are an outgrowth of the 2000 Firestone tire recall, in which overloading was considered a factor that could cause tires to fail. Weight limits are important because automakers could claim they don't have responsibility for a component failure or a crash if a vehicle is overloaded.

Automakers say the limits reflect a mandated federal formula that requires them to rate passengers at 150 pounds each. The limit may not be realistic "given American propensity for food, but that is the regulation," says Mazda safety director Dan Ryan.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says automakers can set the weight limit at whatever they deem appropriate.

In 2004, the Centers for Disease Control pegged average weights at 190 pounds for men, 163 for women.

David Champion, Consumer Reports head of auto testing, says automakers aren't building cars that can stand up to loads of bigger passengers. A family car "should be capable of carrying five reasonably sized people, not five midgets."

At 265 pounds, Ron Larson of Henderson, Nev., says he and his 150-pound wife were unaware of the limitations two years ago when they leased a Cadillac XLR two-seater with a 362-pound capacity. "If the dealership knew there was a weight restriction, they should have told us," he says. And the information should be on the window sticker, not the door frame, he says.

The XLR can carry more, but hasn't been certified for it, says Terry ConNoLinkListy, GM energy and drive quality director. "When we put a label on a vehicle, we need to be conservative."

Honda (HMC) spokesman Sage Marie says that beyond the 400-pound weight limit in the S2000 two-seater, "We can't be responsible for the vehicle's dynamic characteristics," although an undisclosed safety margin is built in.

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