A guide to towing a caravan
Friday, 12 July 2019
There might be something in the fact that the majority of people towing caravans on the road are grey nomads.
Maybe years of driving experience means they have acquired the skills needed to tow a caravan.
Or perhaps towing a caravan doesn’t scare the daylights out of them anymore and it’s the only thrill left before their last hurrah!
Before selling the family home and freeing yourself from the grandkids, it’s a good idea to find out the ‘need to knows’ before setting out with the new mini home.
Towing a caravan does take a bit of skill and if you think you can just hitch up and zoom off down the track at full speed and in record time, then you’re kidding yourself.
The caravan has to be registered and, obviously, it has to be roadworthy.
Read up on the rules before setting off.
There are extra distances to leave between vehicles when you’re towing and there’s no riding in the caravan while it’s being towed either, a joy that some of us older folk may remember but is now long lost . . . apparently, it is frowned upon to have kids on board when a caravan comes free of its moorings and skips along on an uncontrolled, runaway ride!
Vehicle requirements & weight
Make sure you get your tow vehicle serviced before you start off on your adventure, and ensure the mechanic knows what you’re asking your vehicle to do - carting around a big, heavy caravan is going to put it under a lot of stress.
Get to know the terminology and the rules around weights and stick to towing capacity limits.
At its most basic level, there’ll be a limit to the weight your vehicle can tow as set by the vehicle and tow bar manufacturer.
It’s a requirement to stick to them but remember to use the lower of the two as a guide to the limit.
Remember too that while your unladen caravan might come in under the limit, once you start piling in the food, the games, the clothes, and all the other things you’ll need to enjoy your trip, that weight will balloon considerably.
Here’s some of the terminology you should get to know. These are useful when it comes to towing a caravan or any other trailer type.
Tare Mass: The unladen weight of a vehicle.
Aggregate Trailer Mass: The total mass of the laden trailer when at maximum load.
Gross Trailer Mass: The maximum axle load your trailer is designed to carry.
Kerb Mass: The total mass of a vehicle with all standard equipment fitted.
Gross Vehicle Mass: The maximum your vehicle can weigh when fully loaded as specified by the manufacturer.
Gross Combination Vehicle Mass: The maximum allowable weight for your vehicle and trailer combined.
Tow Bar load: the amount of weight the fully laden trailer imposes on the tow bar.
Payload: A caravan’s carrying capacity – the difference between its unladen weight (Tare) and its Aggregate Trailer Mass.
Just as important as understanding weights and towing capacities is where you will put the weight in your caravan.
Weight distribution is a safety issue. Don’t put too much weight at the front as it will cause extra strain on vehicle components. Too much weight in the rear and the caravan will become more unstable on the road. Best to keep heaviest items above the caravan’s axle.
Caravans are BIG and you need to be able to see around them. The regular mirrors on your car are probably not going to cut it and it’s a fine idea to get special towing mirrors fitted.
How to drive
With caution. I assure you, the fact you have a caravan hitched up should never leave your mind while you drive.
Steady movements, no hard braking or acceleration.
Give yourself more room between you and vehicles in front and around you. Give yourself more room when making turns and slow down when there are strong side winds and if trucks are passing.
Do not sit in the fast lane and slow down to allow faster cars to pass.
Take a break every 2 hours and stretch the legs. If you feel tired, stop and take a nap, at least you have a bed to lay down in whenever you get sleepy.
Most importantly, if you start to feel/or see the caravan doing a slow sideways waltz behind you, don’t panic. Steer as straight as possible and slow down slowly - do not brake suddenly. As long as you don’t make any erratic movement it will, hopefully, correct itself as you slow down.
Practice makes perfect when it comes to reversing.
Before you head off on the nomad trail, practice or take lessons in how to reverse. Don’t be embarrassed.
Getting it right will save you time when you get to your caravan park destination and you’ll be able to use that saved time to sit back, have a cuppa, and chuckle at all the others who haven’t put in the hard yards you have!
Changing a tyre
Good to know how to change a tyre on the caravan. Make sure you have the correct tools, spares and knowledge so you can handle it yourself.
Make sure tyre pressures are correct and the tyres are up to carrying the weight. Probably a good idea to keep more than one spare.
Hitch ’em up
Secure everything inside the caravan. If you think something will be ok when not strapped down, you’re wrong, it won’t be!
Caravans can have possessed demons in them that throw everything around once you start moving.
Double or triple check the caravan is hitched securely too. It’s not a bad idea to stop after driving 50km or so to check again.
There would surely be no worse sight than to see the caravan come loose and then slowly drift past you on the highway. Nightmare.
Need to know
No ifs or buts, you will use more fuel, it will take you longer to get to your destination and you will need to service the tow vehicle more regularly.
There’s also clean water supply and effluent drops to think about.
Mountainous routes may not be suitable and long detours may be unavoidable. But all of that is part of the fun right? I think so too.
Now go and enjoy the freedom of caravanning you lucky buggers!
And while you do that, I’ll sit at my keyboard dreaming of following in your footsteps, of throwing caution to the wind and exploring the wonders of this magnificent country of ours.
Before heading off on the road have your tow vehicle booked in for an inspection and service with an AutoGuru expert mechanic to ensure you're vehicle is safe to tow.
Rachel spent her early adult life around cars, motorsport and hands-on with her own cars.
This interest moved into various careers within the Automotive industry. Joined with her passion for writing, Rachel loves putting the two together to share her experience, so we can all become AutoGuru’s.