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Merriam Webster defines curb weight as:

the weight of an automobile with standard equipment and fuel, oil, and coolant

Why is this weight called a vehicle's curb weight?

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This is given in the sense of "parked at the curb" (i.e., with no passengers or luggage, etc.). See curb weight. –  Robusto Jan 9 '13 at 16:07
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It's a bit like the street value of drugs :) –  coleopterist Jan 9 '13 at 16:09
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I agree with Robusto. Dry weight, unladen weight and tare weight are used too. –  user32480 Jan 9 '13 at 17:05
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Definition and etymology

Curb weight (US) or kerb weight (UK) is the weight of a car parked at the kerb with standard equipment, oil, water, coolant, petrol but without passengers or goods. Some definitions say a full tank of petrol, but some just say some petrol. It comes from the idea of a car parked by the kerb and ready to go, but waiting for passengers and extra luggage.

The earliest example in the OED is of the UK spelling in 1958, but Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (2004) dates the US spelling to 1949 but I found examples in the early 1930s (and possibly in the late 1920s).

1920s

This is a snippet of Society of Automotive Engineers Transactions (1929), so the date could be wrong (but it looks ok). It contrasts "Curb weight, sedan" with a heavier "Weight, with driver and observer":

Curb weight, sedan 3300 lb.

1930s

Ignoring snippets, the first verifiable examples are from almost identical adverts in the April 1933 editions of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics:

The Pontiac Economy Straight Eight has a wheelbase of 1 1 5 inches; the curb weight (4-door Sedan) is 3265 pounds.Pontiac's 115' wheelbase and 4-door Sedan curb weight of 3265 pounds assure real big car riding comfort.

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It's the weight of the vehicle, parked at the side of the road (at the curb), ready to go, but without any passengers or cargo.

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I'm curious how the car got to the curb without fuel, oil, and coolant. :) –  Luke Jan 9 '13 at 16:55
    
Curb weight includes those things. Compare "dry weight". –  Alex Feinman Jan 9 '13 at 16:56
    
@AlexFeinman Hah! You're right - I read the definition wrong. Then this does make sense. –  Luke Jan 9 '13 at 16:57
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