The National Caravan & Recreational Vehicle Towing Guide Overview

Read The National Caravan & Recreational Vehicle Towing Guide online

This guide has been created due to huge public demand and covers technical information, tips and handy advice all designed to help tow your caravan with greater confidence and safety. With the popularity of caravans growing and countless other sorts of trailers, this reference will be an invaluable guide no matter your experience. 

Towing a caravan or trailer adds another dimension to driving and there are a number of consideration to be made when towing.

  • Your vehicle’s towing capacity and its type of tow bar including load capacity of the coupling. 
  • The type of trailer you are towing, whether it complies with Australian regulations and how to correctly load it.
  • The most suitable type of insurance, correct safety checks to be undertaken and the affect a trailer has on your driving.


Definitions:

There are many forms of Caravans, all that have their own specific attributes, these include, Pop-up Caravan, 5th Wheel Caravan, Camper Trailer, Motorhome, Campervan and Slide On Camper.

ATM – Aggregate Trailer Mass, total laden weight including tow ball mass and added payload. ATM shouldn’t be exceeded

GCM – Gross Combination Mass, max laden mass of vehicle plus max laden weight of trailer it can tow. (Specified by manufacturer).

GTM – Gross Trailer Mass – total permissible mass, including payload that can be supported by the trailer wheels.

Tare Mass – unladen weight of the trailer

Tow Ball Mass – weight imposed on the rear of the tow vehicle’s tow ball from the coupling of the trailer.


Legal Requirements

When the Motor Vehicle and trailer combined has a GCM less than 4.5 tonnes it can travel at signed speed limits, unless otherwise stated. Western Australia however only allows vehicles towing a trailer with an ATM over 750kgs to travel at 100km/h.

Maximum trailer mass throughout Australia is limited to the capacity of the towing attachment, unless the towing limit is specified as less by the manufacturer (found in owner’s manual). If the manufacturer hasn’t provided a towing mass, the vehicle may tow a total mass up to one and a half times itself (unladen), providing adequate brakes are fitted. If there are no brakes then equal mass as the vehicle (unladen) is permissible. All trailers with a GTM exceeding 750kgs must have brakes.


Tow Vehicle

Much consideration must be taken in regards to the mass a vehicle can tow prior to purchase, as vehicle tow capacities are limited by law.  

Some modifications may need to be made to the tow vehicle to ensure safety and ease of towing, these may include, weight distribution kits, extra mirrors, electrical sockets for lighting, transmission oil cooler.

Towing capacity is established by taking into consideration engine size, brakes, weigh, transmission and chassis and must be adhered to.

 

Couplings

A coupling is made up of the tow bar, the ball mount, tow ball, coupling body and trailer draw bar (A-Frame). The towbar is the framework attached to the back of the vehicle, which should be ensured that it suits your intended purpose as it is load bearing.

The ball mount is the section that the towball is attached, it must not obscure the number plate when the trailer is not attached.

The towball must be a solid one piece, attached with a locking washer and nut. To comply with Australian standard, for 3.5 tonnes it must be 50mm in diameter which must be stamped on it.   

The coupling body is the socket that attaches the ‘A’ frame to the ball, and provides the necessary pivot point. The capacity and suitable tow ball size must be marked on it. The coupling must be centered between 35-46 cms from the ground when in use.  

Two safety chains are required for ATM up to 3.5 tonnes, they must also be short enough to avoid the trailer touching the ground if the coupling detaches. The chain must be attached between the A-frame and the tow bar with ‘D’ shackles.  

 

Braking Systems

Tyres

It is imperative trailer tires including the spare are maintained and up to safety standards, for best safety, economy and performance, proper tyre pressure must be sustained. You need to ensure that the tyre pressure is adjusted according to the load.

Towing Your Trailer

Added considerations must be made when towing your trailer, as it requires further skill and knowledge than regular vehicle maneuvering. Additional care must be applied when accelerating, braking and steering to maintain a smooth ride, for example if the vehicle begins to sway either apply the manual independent brake if applicable or accelerate slightly until swaying stops.  

Allowing greater stopping distance, engaging a lower gearing, allowing greater time to overtake and allowing more rest time will all contribute to a safer and more enjoyable experience. Also, wherever possible pull over to allow built up traffic behind you to pass and relieve pressure.

Weight distribution is very important to maintaining safety, as an incorrectly distributed load could cause the front end to rise, which causes loss of steering and braking power. Weight should be distributed evenly within the caravan, special consideration should be made to weighing down the front or the rear which will affect the coupling and in turn the vehicle’s performance.

 

Preparation

Maintenance

Regular maintenance of your vehicle and trailer is essential for safe towing. Have them checked regularly to ensure they are in a safe and roadworthy condition.

The trailer's wheel-bearings, suspension and brakes must all be in good working order and tyres must be properly inflated. Gas cylinders and LPG regulators should also be checked regularly by a qualified person.

Facts About Insurance

Your recreational vehicle needs to be insured, but choose your policy wisely. You should also bear in mind that your trailer may not be covered by comprehensive insurance if it fails to comply with legislation, or if its ATM exceeds your vehicle's towing capacity, or if it is roadworthy or overloaded.

 

Safe travels.