Are you about to realise your dream of a Big Lap, or a smaller (but equally exciting) adventure? You've bought yourself a beautiful caravan, planned your trip, packed your stuff and are finally ready to hit the road and explore this amazing country of ours- but it always pays to take on board some caravan towing tips to make sure you arrive at your destination safely.
You may be a towing expert, having done a few trips already, or you may be a complete novice when it comes to towing a caravan. If this is your first time, it's probably worth checking out our free guide to becoming a towing pro. Whether you're very experienced or a complete newby, there are a few fundamental towing no no's you need to be aware of for each and every trip.
1. Not Understanding Your Car's Ratings
One of the most important caravan towing tips is understanding that the car that is doing the towing can only pull so much weight. If you put too much weight on the back of your car, this can lead to major, trip-ending, accident-causing problems - not mere inconveniences. Things like blown out tyres, overheating transmission, failing brakes or broken suspensions. Not much fun.
The following numbers need to be checked and adhered to. You can find these in your owner's manual:
- Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) - the total weight limit for your vehicle, including everything- passengers, luggage, accessories and the vehicle itself.
- Gross axle weight rating (GAWR) - the amount of weight a single axle can safely bear. You need to know this value for both your tow vehicle and your trailer.
- Gross combination weight rating (GCWR) - the combined maximum weight of your tow vehicle plus the loaded trailer, passengers, equipment, petrol, and anything else you'll be carrying.
- Towing capacity - the total amount of weight your vehicle can safely pull.
- Tongue weight - the amount of the trailer’s weight that is borne by the trailer hitch. Most experts agree that the acceptable tongue weight for any trailer is somewhere between 9 to 15 percent of the Gross Trailer Weight (GTW). If the tongue weight is too great your car's steering will be less responsive. Too little tongue weight and the trailer might sway. Ideally, this should be about 10 percent of the total trailer weight. Too much tongue weight will make your vehicle’s steering less responsive. Too little and the trailer might sway. Tongue weight can be measured using a specialised scale (available at trailer supply shops).
2. Not Having the Right Driving Skills
You may have an excellent, 30 or more year driving history, with barely a parking ticket to your name. You may even have taken your caravan out regularly on short weekend trips. This doesn't mean you have the skills to tow a caravan for a longer journey, so take heed of these caravan towing tips as they might save you a lot of time, money (and more). It is worthwhile booking yourself on an accredited towing course so you are familiar with the unique challenges that you will face towing a caravan over a long, often mixed-terrain distance.
3. Not Understanding Your Brakes
It is a legal requirement in Australia, under the Vehicle Standards Bulletin (VSB1), that caravans over two tonnes gross trailer mass (GTM) are fitted with a caravan breakaway system, or independent brakes that kick in if the vehicle being towed brakes away from the towing vehicle.
The requirements (including breaking) differ from state to state, so it pays to familiarise yourself with your state's requirements, and specifically the requirements related to brake systems in your state.
4. Loading Your Cargo Improperly
Your caravan will be difficult to control and may swerve all over the road if your cargo is off-balance. You need to ensure all weight is distributed evenly, secure items to prevent them from shifting, and keep the overall centre of gravity low. The art of loading a caravan is a skill that is worth acquiring as it will ensure you're trips are safe every single time.
5. Forgetting to Check Tyre Pressure
Proper tyres are an essential part of caravan towing safety. Invest in a set of good caravan tyres to ensure you are towing safely. Get into the habit of checking your caravan's tyre pressure before each trip, especially if you haven't taken it out for a while. There is a good chance the tyres need inflating. Driving a fully loaded trailer with tyres that aren't inflated properly is very dangerous — they produce more friction, which can lead to blow-outs and possible rollovers. Check the tyre pressure on both the caravan and your tow vehicle before you set off. While you're at it, check the tyres themselves for wear and condition.
Towing a caravan doesn't have to be something to worry about, but safe and proper towing is an essential part of a safe and enjoyable holiday. There are some common errors first-time and even seasoned caravanners make when towing, so it pays to familiarise yourself with these caravan towing tips, so safe towing is like second nature. Towing should simply be a way to get you to your dream destinations rather than something that causes stress.