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The towing newbie’s guide to getting it right

04/09/2020 by Mark Schneider in Safety

Businesses might be struggling through the worst recession since the 1930s but it’s boom time for the caravan industry as Australians keep their passports safely stowed away at home and head out on our roads instead.

Hitching up the caravan or camper trailer is a great way to see Australia but it does require some planning and preparation if you’re to do it safely, so here’s a brief guide on towing if you’re new to the game.

Weight

In so many ways towing any trailer, whether it’s a caravan, camper trailer or boat, is all about weight. So it’s vital that you know the tow rating of your vehicle and the weight of whatever you’re towing when it’s fully loaded – not just its empty weight. Then you need to ensure your tow ball rating matches that.

You’ll find your vehicle’s tow rating in the manual and the weight of the tow ball rating stamped on the tow ball frame.

The other weight you need to consider is tow ball weight. That’s the weight your trailer, caravan or boat pushes down on your tow ball when it’s hitched up. As a rough rule of thumb that’s 10% of the weight of whatever you’re towing.

Now here’s where it gets a little complicated, because the weight you’re lugging round in your vehicle as well makes quite a difference to what you can safely and legally tow. It’s all about the Gross Combined Mass limit (GCM) – that’s the maximum combined weight of your vehicle and whatever it’s towing and carrying.

Now say your caravan weighs 3500kg and your vehicle has a tow ball weight of 350kg. When you hitch it up that 350kg is transferred to the vehicle. That reduces your maximum load capacity, or the weight of stuff you can carry in the vehicle. You’ll find a pretty good explanation of it here.

The upshot of all this is that the hairy-chested beast of an SUV you thought you had might not be quite as muscular as you figured. The easiest way to avoid the problem is to choose a lighter caravan, camper trailer or boat in the first place.

Brakes

Any trailer or caravan over 750kg must have its own brakes. Nearly every caravan these days has electric brakes and most of them are drum brakes, rather than discs.

A brake controller fitted on your vehicle’s dash will help control both your vehicle and whatever it’s towing and keep things nice and safe.

It works by controlling the electrical current to the brakes, allowing the signal to pass through the trailer plug and altering the braking force in the caravan. This enables a quick and coordinated braking effort between your vehicle and caravan, with better stopping and more control.

Keep it Level

Keeping your vehicle and caravan level is important to prevent the vehicle’s back going down and the front going up, which affects steering. A weight distribution hitch will spread all that weight evenly between the vehicle and the caravan, improving the control and handling. Don’t rely on airbag suspension to do the job as well as a weight distribution hitch will – it won’t.

Mirrors

You’ll need towing mirrors that extend beyond your normal mirrors to give you a clear unobstructed view of what’s going on behind you. The type that attach to your existing mirrors aren’t really up to the job. What you need is something big enough for the task that won’t vibrate with the wind.

Getting hitched

Reversing cameras have made backing your vehicle and lining it up with your trailer or caravan a whole lot easier, but a Couple-Mate guide is also useful for guiding the coupling over the towball while also preventing vehicle damage.

Tyres

Check the condition of your tyres and make sure they’re inflated properly for the load they’re carrying.

You’ll find that information on the tyre placard located in the glove box, under the bonnet or, most frequently, on the driver’s side door pillar.

Sway

Swaying caravans can be a driver’s worse nightmare and the cause of many accidents. You can avoid it by carefully packing heavy loads as close to your caravan’s axles as possible and by ensuring your tyre pressures are even.

But you also need to be wary of speeding and drive particularly carefully inside winds and when travelling in the slipstream of big vehicles, such as semi-trailers. Bad road conditions can also be a problem.

If your caravan starts swaying steer as little as you can and slow down gradually by gently applying the brakes. If you can, use the override on the electric brake controller to apply the caravan’s brakes.

Prevention is always better than cure and it’s worth fitting a sway-control device for your caravan. There are a number of them on the market.

Take it easy

You’re on holiday, so take it easy. Sure, you can tow a caravan at the speed limit in every state except WA, where you’re limited to 100km/h, but by keeping it down to 80-90km/h you’ll be improving your fuel economy, driving safely, making it easier for your vehicle and keeping it nice and cruisy for yourself. And isn’t that the aim anyway?

If you’re in the market for a new car to tow your caravan, camper trailer or boat, why not consider a Fleetcare Novated Lease? It’s the most cost-effective way of buying and running a vehicle. Call our friendly team on 134 333 for more information.

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