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Caravan Towing Safety

Article by Rob Smith - Caravans Plus
Read Time: 6 mins

"Between 2016 and 2020, there were 215 casualty crashes involving a vehicle towing a caravan on NSW roads. These crashes resulted in 17 fatalities and 116 serious injuries." - Transport for NSW

With international travel restrictions and internal flight reductions there has been significant growth in the domestic Caravan and RV sector over the last two years. With the majority of growth being first time caravaners / towers there is a greater need of awareness for safe towing practices and legal requirements. To try and curb the expected increase of related accidents state governments are updating the available resources to educate drivers and help them travel and arrive safely.

Key Points Noted:

  • Acknowledging how towing can affect your driving and others around you.
  • Understanding caravan weights.
  • Ensuring your vehicles towing capacity is adequate.
  • How to correctly load your caravan.



    See the spectacular video of poor weight distribution when towing a caravan...and what you can do to stop it.


    Know Your Weights

    To meet your legal obligations there are a number of different weights you need to know and understand before you travel. All caravans are required to have their tare mass, maximum aggregate trailer mass (ATM) and maximum gross trailer mass (GTM) noted on the vehicle plate and in the manufacturers handbook. It is the drivers responsibility to ensure that they do not exceed these maximum's each time they drive.

    Tare Mass is the total mass of the caravan with no load, unoccupied and with all fluid reservoirs, if fitted, filled to nominal capacity, and with all standard equipment and any options fitted. After market optional add-ons (TV, mattresses, extra gas bottlles, awnings etc) are not inlcuded in the tare mass and are considered as a load, so must be included in your ATM measurement. The tare mass weight of your caravan can be found on the vehicle plate or in the manufacturer's handbook.

    Tare Mass

    Tow ball mass (or tow ball load) is the maxium mass allowed to be put on the tow ball of the towing vehicle. You can find the tow ball mass capacity in your coupling manufacturer's handbook. To measure the tow ball mass you can use a ball weight scale. You must not exceed the tow ball mass capacity.

    Tow ball mass (or tow ball load)

    Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) is the total mass of the trailer when carrying the maximum load recommended by the manufacturer. The ATM is generally measured with the caravan unhitched from your towing vehicle and resting on its jockey wheel. The maximum ATM of your caravan can be found on the vehicle plate or in the manufacturer's handbook and must not be exceeded. To measure your ATM, weigh your loaded caravan resting on its jockey wheel, including full water tank, gas tanks and everything you would pack to go travelling. Ensure that your measured mass does not exceed your specified ATM capacity.

    Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM)

    Gross Trailer Mass (GTM) is the maximum mass recommeded by the manufacturer of your fully loaded caravan when it is hitched to your tow vehicle. The GTM of the caravan is transmitted to the ground by only the caravan tyres and excludes the mass distributed to the towing vehicle through the coupling. The GTM of your caravan can be found on the vehicle plate or in the manufacturer's handbook and must not be exceeded. To measure your GTM, weigh your loaded caravan when it is attached to your towing vehicle, and make sure your measured mass does not exceed your specified GTM capacity.

    Gross Trailer Mass (GTM)

    Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) is the maximum total mass of a fully loaded motor vehicle as specified by the vehicle manufacturer. For some passenger vehicles, it might be known as the Maximum Loaded Vehicle Mass (MLVM). To measure your loaded vehicle mass, weigh your fully packed towing vehicle, including passengers, with the caravan hitched and ensure it is less than your vehicle's maximum GVM or MLVM.

    Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM)

    Gross Combined Mass (GCM) is the maximum mass set by your tow vehicle's manufacturer and refers to the maximum combined mass of your loaded tow vehicle and your loaded caravan hitched together. Your vehicle manufacturer's guide will provide you with the GCM of your tow vehicle. To measure the GCM, weigh your fully loaded towing vehicle hitched to your fully loaded caravan. Legally, you must not exceed the specified GCM capacity of your vehicle. This means that you cannot move extra weight from your caravan to your tow vehicle if it exceeds the ATM and GCM.

    Gross Combined Mass(GCM)


    Loading your Van

    Once you have know your caravan weights you can determine how much can be safely and legally packed / loaded into your caravan. Some of the major contributors to heavy loads can be water tanks, gas bottles, generators and bike racks. It is also important to consider extra weight you may accumulate along the way, for instance grey water tanks and toilet waste cassettes which are empty when you first depart.

    Don't overload your caravan

    This table shows example weights of various items that may be part of a caravan's payload along with the caravan's tare and maximum carrying capacity to demonstrate how to measure the safe carrying capacity.
    sensible loading

    Sensible Loading

    As illustrated in the earlier video, how you load your caravan has a dramatic effect on its towing capabilities. Make sure that the heaviest items are packed low and centred over the caravan's wheel axles and the lightest items are packed up high and distributed across the vehicle. This will help to reduce the occurrence of 'snaking' or 'swaying' of your caravan when driving

    sensible loading

    The effects of poor Weight Distribution range from minor handling issues and excess vehicle wear, through to dangerous sway and loss of control.
    Your caravan and tow vehicle should still appear level when connected.

    Poor Weight Distribution


    For many caravans simply redistributing the weight of the items you carry will be enough.

    Your caravan and tow vehicle should still appear level when connected.

    It is recommended to keep 10% of the caravans mass on the tow ball.

    A simple way to check is to always carry a Tow Ball Scale. You simply lower the caravan coupling on to the scales and take a reading after your caravan is packed.

    Hayman Reese Ball Weight Scales - Weights up to 350Kg

    Hayman Reese Ball Weight Scales - Weights up to 350Kg

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    If re-arranging the load is not an option or you just want the extra piece of mind then the next step is adding a Weight Distribution Hitch.

    The Weight Distribution Hitch is a physical connection between the tow vehicle and the caravan. It spreads the load and levels out the vehicle.

    They are simple to install and use but they are an extra step each time you hook up. You may also need to remove them if you need to reverse around any tight corners.

    The main difference between the different Weight Distribution Hitches is the strength. We have an article on How to choose the correct Weight Distribution Hitch here. The short version is (as long as it fits) the only downside to a higher strength hitch is the cost.


    Caravan Safety Checklist

    Before setting off, here is a simple checklist from NSW Transport that can help to make sure you have a safe journey towing your caravan. Make sure your caravan is packed safely, and all brakes, lights and connectors function correctly to help to ensure you have a safe trip.
    Caravan safety checklist
    You can also download the Caravan Safety Checklist from
    https://roadsafety.transport.nsw.gov.au/downloads/caravan-safety-checklist.pdf

    Was this helpful?

  • 1 Comments

    • comment-avatar

      Peter

      I was recently pulled over by a highway patrol and fined for not having "towing aid mirrors" attached to the vehicle mirrors. I was not aware of this requirement and surprised to receive a fine. On our trip home we observed a number of other rv's being towed also without towing aid mirrors. I am surprised in the first instance that the additional mirrors are a legal requirement and secondly for being fined for a requirement I was not aware of. How does this get communicated by the RMS, you would have to question how many rv users are not aware of this requirement?

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