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Weight watchers: Why police should be concerned about overloading their vehicles

Too much weight degrades performance and increases costs – that’s why materials matter in upfitting

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Primarily made of that high-quality aluminum, which is 40% lighter than steel, Setina push bumpers help improve fuel economy and vehicle weight distribution.


In law enforcement, few assets are more valuable than the fleet – the array of cars, trucks and SUVs you use to carry out the mission.

Life is demanding on these vehicles, which are driven fast, hard and extensively. Maintenance is a priority but may not always be as timely as desired, especially in busy, short-staffed departments. What daily drivers thus face is a need to limit wear and not tax their vehicles unnecessarily.

Part of that involves staying under specific vehicular safety limits, and one of the most important of those is the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). That’s the maximum combined weight a car, truck or SUV can safely carry, including curb weight (weight of the unoccupied vehicle plus standard equipment and fluids) and payload (passengers and cargo). You can generally find it on the safety compliance certification label around the driver’s door or in the owner’s manual.

GVWRs naturally vary among makes and models, but also among vehicles of the same model, based on factors like the engine, transmission, drive wheels and other equipment. Every Dodge Durango, for example, will therefore not have the same GVWR.

Exceeding a vehicle’s GVWR (which also determines its towing capacity) can impact its steering, braking performance and stability and degrade its engine, transmission, suspension and other drivetrain components. It poses short-term safety and long-term durability issues.


There was a time law enforcement didn’t have to worry about such things. They responded fast and light, armed but not slowed by lots of equipment and gear.

Today law enforcement vehicles have become mobile offices that carry a lot of equipment and gear. And with the increase in items carried by officers in 2024 – new accoutrements from firearms and weapons systems to tactical gear, computers, electronics, drones and more – has come a new problem: weight. Vehicles are getting awfully heavy – and even if users don’t exceed their GVWR, excessive weight reduces mileage, increases wear and diminishes handling.

Among the upfitters and manufacturers of components for law enforcement vehicles, Washington-based Setina Manufacturing Company – founded in 1963 by John Setina, developer of the first prisoner partition for police vehicles and patriarch of an extended family that still runs the business today – has made the optimal balancing of weight and strength a design priority. Their road-ready solutions help keep cops and their cargo, including the human variety, well secured and protected on the streets.

“Setina has always been a leader in the industry, and our designs have set the industry standards,” said company Vice President Judy Setina. “With everything we do, we try to make it better and more efficient – stronger and lighter weight at the same time. We’re always working on those kinds of things.”

For many of the company’s products, the solution has involved a blend of steel and aircraft-grade aluminum for their strength and lighter weight. Combining these leverages the best qualities of both materials, and departments experience the result across several of Setina’s signature products.

One is its push bumpers. Primarily made of that high-quality aluminum, which is 40% lighter than steel, they help improve fuel economy and vehicle weight distribution.

“As you move farther from the center of gravity in a vehicle, the effect of the weight intensifies,” noted Brett Ware, Setina’s national sales manager. “Putting something heavy on either end of it can change its driving characteristics. And especially in this day and age, when users are putting more and more gear and equipment in these vehicles, there’s a danger of actually overloading them in certain instances.”

In particular, too much front-end weight can impact vehicles’ turning, braking and acceleration, reducing drivers’ control.

Setina push bumpers use a one-piece formed push-rail design with a unitized, interlocking cross-support system to enhance strength and durability. They’re mounted using a system of heavy-duty steel brackets. Versions include the PB400, the top-selling law enforcement push bumper; the PB450 lighted, which adds LED perimeter lighting; and a winch-ready version for more extreme uses.

The company also offers a range of cargo storage solutions, including a rear cargo box available in multiple tiers and configurations with a choice of locking systems. This is primarily aluminum with a steel framework and thus substantially lighter than alternatives made of wood.

“Wood boxes are popular in this space, but they can be very heavy,” said Ware. “They’re often several hundred pounds, whereas the most popular cargo box we produce is about 125 pounds. Compared to things that are 300 to 500 pounds, that changes the dynamics, especially once you start putting gear inside.”

Setina’s cargo boxes are also 30% to 50% lighter than options made primarily from steel. Other cargo solutions from the company include an easy-lift rear deck system; a trunk tray for delicate items like firearms and electronics; a fully integrated easy-lift command center; and a heavy-duty scale box for SUVs and trucks.

The thoughtful balance of strength and weight is also evident in the company’s Transportation “Max” (Trans Max) innovation for crew-cab pickups (and now SUVs). When transporting a single prisoner, the Trans Max converts the other half of the backseat into secure storage. It separates a heavy-duty aluminum-based system of decks and a pull-out drawer from detainees using a tough polycarbonate divider wall.

Setina’s K-9 transport unit also uses aluminum for its divider and window and door barriers, and its door guards come in aluminum/steel or, for even lighter weight, TPO polymer.


Several years ago Setina’s approach to weight management issues earned it a seat in a panel discussion at a conference of the NAFA Fleet Management Association. “That gave us a chance to highlight what we were doing and the value of being selective on our material choice,” recalled Ware. “In terms of sheer brute strength, steel is a strong product, but we can build our aluminum push bumpers and cargo boxes in a way where they can be both lightweight and strong. Other equipment providers in this space aren’t necessarily building with that in mind.”

The participation validated a priority first recognized by John Setina that’s been passed down and retained over the years: Before forming his namesake company, Setina worked with the Washington State Patrol designing equipment to help protect its officers in their rigorous precision driving training. “One component of that was definitely trying to minimize any effects on driving characteristics, particularly at high speeds,” said Ware, grandson of the company’s founder. When John Setina later started Setina Manufacturing Company, that background and knowledge earned him a lot of police clients, and through his work with WSP, he identified its need for a partition and roll bar combination design to help protect the officers within their vehicles not only from crashes, but from their transportees as well.

That’s more important than ever today. Keeping police drivers’ loads light and high-value investments shielded from damage are key aspects of the mission. And the weight of the key add-ons police need are important components of that.

“Especially for the higher-speed driving situations,” said Ware, “it’s a big deal.”

For more information, visit Setina Manufacturing Company.

Read next:
When there’s only one person in back, departments can make good use of the extra space
Setina offers a wide range of push bumpers that can be tailored to any agency’s needs and budget
Setina’s push bumper police bike rack streamlines bike theft response and improves patrol car safety during transport in Portland, Oregon

John Erich is a Branded Content Project Lead for Lexipol. He is a career writer and editor with more than two decades of experience covering public safety and emergency response.