What are Truck Weigh Stations for?

June 18, 2010 at 12:17 am 14 comments

There are truck weigh stations scattered along most major highways in the US, Canada, Taiwan and other countries. Obviously they’re there to weigh trucks, but why do trucks need to be constantly weighed?

Vehicles that weigh more than 26,000 pounds or have 3 or more axles have to pay fuel taxes. Motor homes and other private (non-commercial) vehicles are generally exempt. For example, if you see a race-car team drive by, you’ll often see “not for hire” on the side of the cab. That suggests the vehicle is exempt from the fuel tax charges and keeps other trucking companies from soliciting their services.

Truck weigh stations were originally developed for states to collect the fuel taxes they were owed by the commercial trucks using their roadways. It is similar to the licensing concept that I talked about in a previous post, Why U-Hauls Have Arizona License Plates.

In North America, weight stations aren’t directly used for that purpose anymore. There is now an International Fuel Tax Agreement which allows truckers to file a quarterly tax report. Weigh stations are still used to enforce the tracking and submission of the logs and the payment of the fuel tax.

The scales are still used to enforce weight restrictions. The federal weight restriction is 80,000 pounds. Trucks need a trip permit to transport a load exceeding that weight.

Some weigh stations are pretty high-tech, supporting “weigh-in-motion” technology. This technology can allow truckers to bypass weigh stations entirely. This involves the truck driving over a scale that is built into the right lane of the road, usually about a mile before the weigh station. Depending on the weight of the vehicle, its history and the history of the trucking company, the weigh station operator or an automated system will decide if the truck needs to pull into the weigh station.

Truckers who use these systems have a transponder in their truck, similar to those used for electronic toll collection. If they can skip the weigh station, they will usually get a green light on the transponder. If they need to pull in, they will get a red light.

Weigh stations are also used for safety inspections of vehicles. Truckers often refer to weigh stations as “chicken coops.” Check out my post on trucker signals for more trucker slang.

Broken Secrets | By: Chad Upton

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Sources: Wikipedia (weigh station, IFTA, weigh in motion)

Photo: OregonDOT (cc)

Entry filed under: Automotive, Demystified. Tags: , , , , , , .

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14 Comments Add your own

  • […] What are Truck Weigh Stations for? « Broken Secrets […]

  • 2. Mack  |  June 18, 2010 at 8:11 am

    A more interesting question is: why are weigh stations most often closed, and only occasionally open? You can drive the same stretch of rural interstate every day for a month, and see a weigh station closed 25 days out of 30.

    There’s a valid reason that most people can figure out with a little thought.

    • 3. Garry  |  December 21, 2015 at 4:40 am

      There’s one in Indiana on I-94 west of Michigan City that’s never been open is at least 15 years!

  • 4. David S. McQueen  |  June 14, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    What is the GVWR of the vehicles that are required to enter weigh stations? (Please do not respond by saying “all trucks” have to enter the coops!)

    • 5. T. G.  |  December 19, 2013 at 6:40 pm

      FEDERAL DOT regulations say; § 383.5 definitions; Commercial motor vehicle (CMV) means a motor vehicle or combination of motor vehicles used in commerce to transport passengers or property if the motor vehicle—
      (1) Has a gross combination weight rating or gross combination weight of 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds), whichever is greater; or
      (2) Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 11,794 or more kilograms (26,001 pounds or more), whichever is greater; or
      (3) Is designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver; or
      (4) Is of any size and is used in the transportation of hazardous materials is considered a Commercial motor vehicle which must be weighed. HOWEVER…. Each STATE has the sovereign right to establish their own individual rules concerning WHO IS REQUIRED TO STOP. That being said, READ THE SIGNS ON THE ROADWAY AND KNOW WHAT YOUR VEHICLE WEIGHS BEFORE YOU GET THERE! It is good advise to heed the saying “all trucks” have to enter the coops! including farmers, ranchers, hauling personal property, hauling “not for hire”, etc… etc… etc…

  • 6. Steve  |  October 1, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    Just curious as to when weigh stations were first created. Incorporating a weigh station into a story I’m writing taking place in 1969 CA. Can’t seem to find this info anywhere, but I’m afraid I’m way off the mark. Thanks!

    • 7. K. R. F.  |  January 22, 2013 at 2:34 pm

      this is a year old but FYI my father was president of Howe Scale (later Howe Richardson Scale Company; now defunct.) and they began installing those little grey weigh stations in the early 60s.

  • 9. Don Arata  |  February 28, 2016 at 11:30 pm

    When you are required to pull into a weight station, the DOT has conto;ed of you and your truck. You can have your truck inspected or your log book reviewed for the past 7 days and if any violations found you and the company can be cited. If serious enough you can be placed out out of service until corrected. Turn off your lights and lose your rights!

  • 10. Jeremiah Smith  |  August 16, 2016 at 3:38 pm

    Yea I still don’t get it that Wat if the trucks don’t have nothing in the trailers do u still gotta weigh in

  • 11. Henry  |  September 12, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    Do I have to stop at a weight scale truck I use total gross weight is 61/2 tons no air brakes automatic

  • 12. Scott Adams  |  June 16, 2017 at 11:21 am

    Wow, I never knew that the federal weight restriction was 80,000 pounds. My brother is a truck driver, and I think he’s pulled more than that. I’ll have to be sure to tell him to make sure he weighs the load before driving, in case it is over 80,000.

  • 13. mark hull  |  September 22, 2018 at 3:01 pm

    I always wondered about the Why of weigh stations. Here it says for the collection of fuel taxes. That does not make sense. Dont trucks pay tax on the fuel when they purchase fuel? just like everyone else? The other explanations about weight limits make more sense.

  • 14. Diesel scanners  |  November 25, 2022 at 3:35 am

    Good weigh stations now you need diagnostic stations


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