Techno Group > Size and weight limit laws

How much cargo weight can be safely and legally loaded in containers for highway transport in the US?

The maximum cargo weight that can be safely and legally loaded, when a triaxle chassis is used, for most US areas is:

  • In a 20” container – 44,000 lbs (19,958kg)
  • In a 40” container – 44,500 lbs (20,185kg).

Shippers must be aware that when factoring in the truck, chassis and container weight, the maximum gross vehicle weight cannot exceed 80,000 lbs (36,287kg), which is the basic legal limit for US highway transport. Even though some states allow higher weight limits, we recommend that the cargo weight is limited to the above stated maximums. Shippers must spread the weight evenly throughout the container or the container can be subject to an axle weight violation.


How much cargo weight can be safely and legally loaded in containers for rail transport in the US?

The maximum weight that US railroads will accept or deliver for rail car movement is (including container weight) 52,900 lbs (23,995kg) in the case of a 20” container, and 67,200 lbs. (30,481kg) in the case of a 40” container. Commodities placing concentrated weight onto small areas of the container floor (such as steel coils, marble slabs etc.) are of particular concern to North American railroads because cargo can fall through the container floor and cause a derailment. Please note that containers loaded up to the rail cargo weight limit cannot move over the road as the container will exceed the 80,000 lb. highway limit.

Equipment tare weight summary

Below are approximate weights of equipment before considering cargo weight.


20′ dry = 4,800 lbs. (2,177kg)
20′ reefer = 6,600 lbs. (2,994kg)
20′ reefer w/clip-on genset and full fuel tank = 9,600 lbs. (4,355kg)

20′ dry = 4,800 lbs. (2,177kg)
40′ standard dry = 8,400 lbs. (3,810kg)
40′ hi-cube dry = 8,900 lbs. (4,037kg)
40′ hi-cube reefer = 9,700 lbs. (4,400kg)
40′ reefer w/clip-on genset and full fuel tank:
At rail ITM ramp origin: 12,700 lbs. (5,761kg)
At rail ITM ramp destination for on-street movement: 12,300 lbs. (5,579kg)


20′ 2-axle = 6,300 lbs. (2,858kg)
20′ 3-axle = 10,500 lbs. to 10,950 lbs. (4,763kg to 4,967kg)
40′ 2-axle = 6,800 lbs. (3,084kg)
40′ 2-axle chassis with underslung chassis-mount genset = 8,600 lbs. to 9,000 lbs. (3,901kg to 4,082kg)
40′ 3-axle = 10,800 lbs. (4,899kg)
45’ 2-axle = 7,700 lbs. (3,493kg) “extendables” can be heavier


3-axle standard, no sleeper cab = 18,500 lbs. (8,392kg) average
3-axle road (sleeper cab) tractor = 19,000 lbs. to 21,000 lbs. (8,618k to 9,526kg) average


Clip-on genset and its fuel (full tank) = 3,000 lbs. (1,361kg)

Recommended Maximum Gross allowable Cargo Weights

20’ Dry on slider chassis: 39,200 lbs. (17,780 kg)
20’ Dry on Tri axle slider chassis: 44,000 lbs. (19,960 kg) maximum outside California designated Overweight Corridors, i.e., Alameda Corridor in S. Calif., and Harbor Blvd/Maritime St. in Oakland
20’ RF on slider chassis: 34,900 lbs. (15,830 kg)
20’ RF on Tri axle slider chassis 39,700 lbs. (18,010 kg) maximum outside California Overweight Corridors when moving with a clip-on genset

40’ Dry on standard chassis 44,000 lbs. (19,960 kg)
40’ Hi-cube on standard chassis 43,700 lbs. (19,820 kg)
40’ RF on standard chassis 39,800 lbs. (18,050 kg) with a clip-on genset
40’ RF Hi-cube on standard chassis 39,300 lbs. (17,830 kg) with a clip-on genset

Maximum axle weights allowed when gross weight allowed is limited to 80,000 lbs. per 5-axle rig are:
12,000 lbs. front axle (tractor steer axle)
34,000 lbs. middle tandems (tractor drive axles)
34,000 lbs. rear tandems