Understanding the different vehicle classes for Philippine toll expressways

Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3. 

It’s something we always encounter when passing through expressways here. Whether it’s NLEX, SLEX, SCTEX, heck, even the new Skyway Stage 3, this is important to keep in mind the time you reach the toll booth. The higher the class, the larger the toll charge. For most of us, we usually pay Class 1, and it’s often the only one that matters. But for some, Class 2 and Class 3 play a big part in their business. That’s why even a slight increase in toll fees can hurt. 

Understanding vehicle classes for tollways image

But what’s the difference between them? Is it as simple as passenger cars being Class 1, trucks being Class 2, and bigger trucks Class 3? In a sense yes, but not really. Some vehicles you may think of as Class 1 might be under Class 2. Below, we’ll explain how the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) classifies different vehicles and why they pay different tolls fees. 

First, let’s classify them into different groups. 

Class 1

Class 1 covers most common types of personally driven vehicles that you'll encounter on the expressway. But what defines vehicles that are under Class 1? According to TRB, these are vehicles with a maximum of 2 axles and an overall height of up to 7.5 feet or 2286mm. With that, everyday sedans, coupes, SUVs, MPVs, vans, and motorcycles (400cc and up) are all considered Class 1. 

For those wondering, even vans as big as the high-roof Toyota Hiace GL Grandia Tourer are still under Class 1. According to the specs, this particular Hiace has a height of 2280mm. It’s very close, but still not enough to be tagged as Class 2. If you happen to be driving people movers around the size of the Hyundai H350 or the Foton Toano, well, that may be a different story altogether. From our experience, both these two can be tagged as Class 2 on the expressways because the Toano and H350 do measure over 2.3 meters tall. 

The other issue would be SUVs with bikes or luggage mounted on the roof. Given the tall height of SUVs, plus the addition of bikes or cargo, they could classify under Class 2 already. According to our contact from NLEX, any Class 1 vehicle that passes through the tollway that exceeds the 2286mm height can be tagged as Class 2. It doesn't really matter whether the height in excess of the Class 1 limit is an accessory (e.g. roof rack with a bike) or the actual roof of the vehicle. So if you're going to buy a rack for your bikes and go on the expressway, pick one that goes on the back of your vehicle and not on top. 

But what about LCVs and small cargo movers like the Mitsubishi L300 and the Isuzu Traviz? Well, it depends on how tall the body will be. If you get both models in standard cab and chassis configuration, it will be Class 1. Car manufacturers try to keep the height of these LCVs low to make it easier for their customers. However, if you fit a custom body that exceeds the 2286mm height, then it’s Class 2. 

Understanding vehicle classes for tollways image

Class 2

According to the TRB, Class 2 vehicles have two axles and have a height of more than 7.5 feet or 2286mm. These are where trucks such as those that are the size of the Fuso Canter fall under. Here’s the interesting bit: while you may think buses fall under Class 3 due to their size, they are actually under Class 2. They do have only two axles, after all. 

Class 1 vehicles can also be tagged as Class 2 even if the height doesn't exceed 2286mm - if there is a trailer attached. If that's the case, it will fall under Class 2. It doesn’t matter if the trailer is small or if you’re carrying another vehicle on it. As long as it has an additional set of wheels it’s already Class 2. 

With that in mind, heads up for those planning to trailer their race car or motorcycle to the tracks for the first time. Expect to be charged more. 

As mentioned earlier, large and tall vans like the Foton Toano, Volkswagen Crafter, and Hyundai H350, which measure over 2.3 meters tall, fall under Class 2 because of their height.

Class 2 vehicles are charged double what Class 1 vehicles pay. With that, a trip from Magallanes to Alabang via SLEX, which would normally cost PHP 118 for Class 1, costs PHP 237 under Class 2. So if you have big vans, such as the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Toano, H350, remember to top up the RFID constantly. 

Understanding vehicle classes for tollways image

Class 3

If buses are considered Class 2, then what are vehicles under Class 3? Well, these are the large trucks and large trucks with trailers. Officially, the TRB says Class 3 is for trucks with three or more axles and have a height greater than 7.5 feet or 2286mm. With that, dump trucks, 10-wheel wing-vans, tanker trucks, tow trucks, and anything with three axles (6 wheels or more) are classified under here. 

Most of us wouldn’t pay attention to Class 3 vehicles but those in the trucking business do. A small raise in toll might be a nuisance for private vehicle owners, but it can cause truck owners to lose money because they pay triple versus an ordinary passenger vehicle. 

Understanding vehicle classes for tollways image

Some would ask the simple question: Why are the toll fees different? 

The answer is actually simple: the bigger the vehicle, the heavier it is (generally), and thus more maintenance is needed.

The majority of the expressways we use are partnerships with the private sector like San Miguel Corporation (e.g. Skyway 3) and Metro Pacific Tollways (NLEX). Yes, the toll fees collected are then used to pay back their investments as concessionaires, but more importantly, the funds are needed for the maintenance, improvement, and even future expansion of the expressway. If the road was built by the government, then there wouldn’t be any charge like the newly opened Central Luzon Link Expressway (CLLEX) which is effectively a freeway. 

Understanding vehicle classes for tollways image

But really, the difference in payment comes from the size and the weight of the vehicle. Larger and heavier vehicles like trucks tend to “damage” the road more over time due to their size and weight. Just take a look at the truck lane on C-5; it's horrendously bumpy and feels like an off-road adventure compared to the other lanes.

That is why more tolls are collected from such vehicles to fund repair and rehabilitation works down the line.