When it comes to caravan towing capacity there are several things you need to look out for before hitting the road. It’s not just knowing how much your caravan weighs, but also having the right tow vehicle set-up, tyre pressure and weight distribution system. Here's how to avoid these other 6 common towing capacity no-no’s:
1. Buying a caravan you can’t tow
Avoid getting caught up in the excitement of buying a beautiful new caravan you can’t legally tow. Licensed dealers are obliged to ensure the caravan you buy is the right match for your tow vehicle. Buying from elsewhere, however, is more of a grey area and you might find yourself with a caravan that’s too heavy and wide to tow with the car you have. Ouch, an expensive mistake to make.
To know what is a good tow choice, check the caravan's:
- Tare weight: its weight off the factory floor before anything has been added. This can be found on its trailer plate.
- Aggregate Towing Mass (ATM): the maximum weight it can legally carry with all add-ons, also found on your caravan’s trailer plate.
This will give you an idea of the weight of your caravan, its carrying capacity for towing, and whether it's suitable for your tow vehicle set-up.
2. Choosing the wrong tow vehicle
Before you buy your caravan also check you have the right tow vehicle for the job. It might be tempting to just go ahead and fit a tow ball set-up to your vehicle without checking if towing is somthing it was built for.
You can check for the following things in your vehicle owner’s manual.
- Does it specify that it can tow caravans and trailers?
- Does it have a strong frame and is fortified enough to carry the weight of your caravan?
- Does it have the right set-up, from suspension to wheels, to tow your caravan safely?
It’s also important you know the general towing capacity standards for tow vehicles. In Australia, your tow vehicle should be at least 30% the weight of the fully-laden caravan it’s about to tow. Your vehicle’s tow ball, which your caravan’s ball coupling attaches to, should also be 10% the weight of the caravan it’s towing.
If it’s obvious that your tow vehicle is too light and not strong enough for the job - don’t use it tow. It’s a simple as that. Instead, start looking around for a more suitable option that is built for towing and can provide you with a smooth driving experience.
3. Overloading your caravan
It’s tempting to pack everything, including the kitchen sink, into your caravan before heading off on a long trip; however, you need to make sure you don’t exceed your caravan’s legal Aggregate Towing Mass (ATM).
A good habit to get into is to weigh everything before you head off, including:
- Personal luggage (clothes etc.)
- Food & kitchen items
- Gas & water bottles
- Heaters & solar panel add-ons
- Outdoor furniture
This might seem quite a task, but you only have to do it once to get an idea of the things you can and can’t take. Less is more is a good motto to remember, as the less you pack the better it will be for your caravan towing capacity and fuel economy.
4. Mismatching your caravan tyres
Mismatching caravan tyres is a easy thing to do; however it’s a big no-no when it comes to towing capacity, negatively affecting the speed, steering, braking and fuel efficiency of your tow vehicle.
Older tyres have less tread, traction and performance on the road, and can become hazardous if overlooked and not replaced in time. Mixing new with old tyres also affects the smoothness of your driving, with each tyre giving a different drive performance.
Given this, it’s important all tyres are matching and of a similar age and condition. You also want to ensure you have the right tread for the kind of travel you plan to do. For off road caravans, look for dedicated off road tyres with a tread pile count of 10+. For on-road caravans, look for smoother tyres with a lower tread pile count.
5. Having the wrong caravan tyre pressure
Having over or under inflated wheels can have a considerable impact on your drive quality, safety and the longevity of your tyres.
Under-inflated wheels will wear down at different rates and in different areas, causing a slower rolling resistance. With slower tyres, your vehicle’s engine will have to work harder, with a greater potential of rapid tyre deflation on the road. With over-inflated tyres, driving over bumps and across corrugated sections of road will be harsher, less forgiving and with greater potential for punctures from rocks.
To get the right air pressure, make sure you check your tyres before every trip you take.. Check you the wall of your tyre and the manufacturer’s recommendations for its psi and use a high quality air pressure gauge to help adjust your tyres to the right air pressure.
6. Not having a weight distribution system
Who needs a weight distribution hitch? You do, if you're about to tow a caravan. It essential for safety, balance and ease of towing on the road.
A weight distribution device or load-levelling hitch, helps reduce the sway of your caravan when moving. It attaches to your caravan’s coupling and transfers weight from your tow-vehicle’s rear axle to its front axle and caravan trailer axles. It also helps ease the weight of your caravan and makes steering and braking easier.
Without a weight distribution system you have more potential for trailer sway, reduced steering and braking responsiveness. Additional swaying on the road can also lead to reduced fuel efficiency and uneven wearing on your tyres. Given this, weight distribution systems have become an essential item for caravan towing on the road.
And one last towing capacity tip
Ready to start towing...but before you go...do you know your Gross Combined Mass (GCM)? This is the total weight of both the tow vehicle and caravan combined with all your items and add-ons included. Every vehicle will have a maximum GCM weight that should not be exceeded. This becomes particularly important when crossing bridges with specific weight limits for vehicles. To find out, take your take your rig unladen (no items added) to a public weighbridge and use this as a baseline weight to work from. Once you know this then it's time to head home and start packing...and keep in mind that less is more!
Want to find out more about safe and easy caravan towing? Download our free ebook 10 steps to becoming a caravan towing pro.