Let me guess, every year when thousands of people hit the roads with their caravans in tow, you’re either one of them or you want to be. Well, whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a total rookie, this is your ultimate guide on how to safely tow a caravan.
In this article, we’ve pulled together the best tips on all things caravan towing so that you can be confident towing on your next big adventure. It’s true what they say after all: prior planning prevents poor performance! Do everything you can to make sure you’ve covered all your bases, and it’s more likely to be smooth sailing when you hit the road.
There’s a bit to think about, but it’s worth putting in the extra effort early to avoid big issues when you’re actually out travelling.
Still deciding on your next new caravan?
If you’re a first-time caravan owner, or in the market for your second (or third!), take a look at our New Caravan Owners Handbook for guidance on what to consider when making your decision.
Your Towing Vehicle
On top of our guide to what makes the best tow vehicles in our New Caravan Owners Handbook, think about:
If your caravan is wider than your towing car, you’ll need to fit towing mirrors to make sure you can properly see the road surrounding your large caravan while you’re driving.
Also, keep in mind that your standard (C class) Western Australian driver’s licence lets you drive vehicles to a maximum of:
- Gross Combination Mass (GCM) no more than 4,500 kg
Think it Through
Think about how to distribute your load before packing anything in. Remember that you can’t load your towing car with a weight more than its GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass), or load your caravan with a weight more than its ATM (Aggregate Trailer Mass). And of course, the combined total weight (your GCM or Gross Combination Mass) can’t exceed 4,500 kg if your driver holds a standard C class driver’s licence.
Weight is a big deal
Safely towing a caravan takes more than just hooking it up and taking off. Your car will feel different while you’re driving, based on its towing capacity and other factors, and you’ll need to drive a bit differently to account for the extra weight. Exactly where and how you pack heavy items into your caravan also makes a massive difference.
Loading your caravan
To minimise trailer sway while driving, centre the bulk of your load by placing your heaviest items on the floor directly above the axle. Make sure internal and external loads are stowed properly and fastened securely. Think about your car’s Maximum Tow Ball Mass (set by the vehicle manufacturer) and make sure your large caravan’s Tow Ball Down Load doesn’t exceed it, taking into account any equipment attached to the front of your caravan; you want enough total weight on there to avoid putting too much strain on the car’s rear axle, but not so much that your car’s front end starts lifting.
Accessories to make your drive safer and easier
Dexter Sway Control
Dexter Sway Control is an incredible accessory that can give you peace of mind when it comes to those strong gusts of wind along your journey. This is an automatic stabiliser that works independently of your vehicle, making your trip all that much safer. It is crucial to your safety as it monitors the side-to-side and left-to-right movements of your towing vehicle and then stabilises it along the way by slowing down, which helps you retain control.
Another accessory worth considering for a safer ride is electric brakes. These are usually required by law (depending on the weight of your caravan) and are worth having installed. They work as a system installed into your vehicle and caravan which sends an electrical signal in order to break your vehicle and caravan simultaneously. They connect to your car via a control unit in the driver’s cabin, and to your caravan via an adapter plug.
Weight Distribution Kits
Weight distribution kits are crucial to the safety and quality of your journey. They are designed to reduce swaying, lessen your traction and decrease tyre wear over time. We sell weight distribution kits in our parts shop and our team can help you set these up on the day of the handover. It typically takes around one to two hours depending on the size of the kit needed.
How do you choose the right distribution kit for your vehicle?
- Figure out the ball weight of your caravan. You can do this using a ball weight scale. Make sure to take note of the measurements to determine what kit is best for you.
- Locate the positing of the A-frame coupling, this may be either on the three main points along the A-frame (bottom, top or middle).
- Measure the depth of your A-frame. If your A-frame’s measurement is shallow (approx. 10cm), mid (approx. 13cm) or large (approx. 15cm). Also look at the coupling position, which determines if you require a classic or standard-weight kit.
Tow hitches are incredibly important for your caravan as they do the job of preventing your tow vehicle from tipping at the front and the rear of the caravan lifting. To prevent the rear of your towing vehicle from sagging when the extra weight of the caravan is added to the tow ball. If you are unsure which tow hitch is best for your caravan and vehicle combo, please reach out to our friendly team, and we can advise you on the best choice.
Check your tyres
Another important thing is to check the age and condition of the tyres on both your tow vehicle and caravan before setting off. We recommend using tyres no older than 5 years—or if they’re in excellent condition, 7 years at most (unless otherwise stated by the vehicle manufacturer).
Tread depth should be at least 3 mm for safe performance, especially in wet road conditions, when braking, or driving at speed. Also, check that there are no nails or other foreign objects embedded in the tyres. It’s easy to overlook these details, but doing so can be dangerous. Also make sure your spare tyres are in good condition, in case of emergency.
To make sure all your planning and preparation pays off, don’t take unnecessary risks while you’re on the road.
Before setting off
Make sure you’re well rested. As the driver, you need to be especially alert for hazards while towing. Also check the weather forecast and current road conditions, including any road closures or detours that might affect your journey. Taking a few extra minutes at home will help ensure your trip goes as smoothly as possible. You should also make sure your vehicle is in good working order. This means checking all of the lights, tyres, and braking system before setting off.
Take it easy
Keep your speed down and take corners slowly with a wide berth. The maximum speed limit for any vehicle towing a caravan in Western Australia is 100 km h. Driving at high speeds can increase the risk of snaking, which makes the trailer sway uncontrollably, and causes a crash.
Hitting the brakes suddenly is also particularly dangerous when towing, due to the extra weight attached to your car. Similarly, turning corners at speed or turning too tightly can result in jackknifing—when your caravan collides with your towing car. If you feel like your car is pulling one way or another while driving, stop and check that everything’s still secure. The best way to have peace of mind is to consider using an electric brake controller, sway control options, and a weight distribution kit.
When you’re on the road and can’t drive much further, why not take a break and visit one of the many gorgeous rest stops that are available to you around Australia? Some rest stops are even right along the coast, if you have your bathers handy we recommend a refreshing dip!
Bonus caravan towing tip: Reversing
Reversing your car while towing a caravan can be intimidating, but it’s not as difficult as it seems. Practice makes perfect, so take it slow and steady. You can always stop, drive forward to straighten up and try again. If you’re new to towing a caravan, it’s a good idea to practise reversing with an empty caravan before hitting the road fully loaded—you’ll be surprised how much easier it is when you’re not worried about damaging something. Many of our vans include a reversing camera.
There you have it!
Your ultimate guide to towing a caravan. We hope this article has given you some valuable insights and the confidence to hit the open road soon with your caravan (and family or friends, of course). If you want more information, just ask us here at RV Solutions and we will be happy to help!
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