Getting your caravan and towing vehicle ready for a winter trip is all about planning for the unexpected. Conditions may be colder, wetter, muddier and slipperier than usual, making steering, braking and cornering more difficult to do safely on the road. Given this, you need to be well prepared before you set off and plan for the following things.
Do a winter safety check
Take your towing vehicle in for a winter service and check that your brakes, suspension and tyres are in good nick and up for winter travel.
Look at the age, condition and tyre pressure of your tyres on both your towing vehicle and caravan, and ensure they have good tread, optimum tyre pressure, and are no more than 5 years old.
Check your car and caravan lights are working and your car batteries are fully charged. Also keep some anti-freeze in a washer-bottle in case you encounter sub-zero conditions on an overnight stay.
Keep an eye on the weather
If it’s forecast for storms, flooding, snap freezes, snowfall or any other kind of wild weather, stay put and don't head out until conditions improve and you can be 100% sure of safe weather & road conditions; it’s just not worth the risk, both to your safety and for the life of your caravan.
Check you caravan-towing vehicle weight
Towing extra weight puts pressure on your brakes and steering, so the lighter you are the better it is for towing, especially on snow-packed or icy roads.
To know your towing weight, get into the practice of weighing all your items before you load your caravan, and make sure you don’t exceed the Aggregate Towing Mass (ATM) of your caravan or the Gross Combine Mass (GCM) of your caravan and towing vehicle combined.
Your caravan's ATM is the maximum ammount of weight it can carry with everything loaded inside, and will be stated on its trailer plate. To find out the GCM of your towing vehicle and caravan combined, take your rig to a weighbridge. Here you'll find out if you need to unload anything to be within the legal towing limit.
Load your caravan evenly
You want to ensure you load your caravan evenly, keeping all your heavy items low down and at the centre of the caravan. Don’t pack anything at the nose or rear of your caravan as this can cause it to tip at either end. Also ensure all internal items are fastened down securely before you start driving.
Having a weight distribution hitch is also essential for your tow set-up. It helps evenly distribute the weight of your caravan on to the four axles of your towing vehicle and ensures your tyres maintain good grip and traction on the road.
Adjust your driving style
When driving on icy, snowy or wet roads, the aim is to drive as smooth, straight and measured as possible to prevent your caravan from slipping off centre and going into a sway sequence that could cause it to tip over.
To prevent this from happening, avoid sudden braking, constant gear changes, tight cornering, and drive much slower than normal. In thick fog conditions, with poor visibility, also give 100m clearance to anticipate anything that may lie ahead.
Bring snow chains
Towing in snow means you’re more susceptible to skidding, particularly with the added weight of a caravan. Where possible, avoid any icy or snowy sections of road.
For necessary travel in mountainous winter areas, such as the VIC & NSW high country, take snow chains with you. If you hit snowy sections you can put these on to give you more grip.
If you don't know how to fit snow chains to your towing vehicle or caravan, check out this great step-by-step video: How to fit snow chains the easy way.
Have a breakdown plan
The first thing you need in your breakdown plan is roadside assistance cover with an insurer that covers caravan towing and the areas you'll be travelling in.
Take an emergency kit with you, including blankets, extra warm clothing, candles, a torch, first-aid kit, ice scraper, salt, tow rope, sat nav, spare mobile phone, additional food, water, gas bottles & generator to keep your caravan running and warm.
If you break down in cold conditions, ensure you stay in your vehicle or caravan to stay warm and so you can be more easily located when help arrives. If you do get out for any reason, wear warm waterproof clothing and a high visibility jacket so you can be easily seen.
Also keep your family or friends in the loop, giving them regular updates of where you're travelling to and your estimated time of arrival for each stop, particularly if you're tavelling into wild and inaccessible areas.
Use a mobile weather app
To keep track of weather conditions along your route, use a mobile weather app such as Weatherzone and tune into ABC radio. Things can change in an instant, forcing road and caravan site closures, and you want to stay on the front foot so you don't get stuck or stranded. Other apps such as Emergency Aus and Emergency Alert can also help you keep tabs on any new or unfolding weather emergencies.
And as already mentioned, if there's wild weather brewing, only head off when this has passed and you can be sure driving conditions are safe and stable. Once you know this, with a good plan in place, nothing should stop you from exploring the beautiful winter sights Australia has to offer.
Want to tow your caravan with confidence in all weather conditions? Download our free ebook 10 steps to becoming a caravan towing pro.