Towing a caravan can be daunting – especially if you’ve never done so before. Here’s some caravan-towing advice to help you hit the road with confidence. Camping and caravanning are two of Australia's most popular recreational pastimes. It draws people together from all walks of life and professions with the simple goal of enjoyment, relaxation, and having a good time.
Modern 4x4's are good towing vehicles, and modern caravans offer all of the amenities requested. Caravanners should be aware, however, that a car and caravan combination can behave differently than when driving the car alone. To ensure safe journeys, it is vital to have a compatible towing vehicle and caravan, to utilise the best towing equipment, and to practice some of the skills necessary to deal with any emergency that may develop. Every journey will be safe and pleasurable after these issues have been resolved. To get you ready for perhaps your first trip in a caravan we've put some of our top tips in this blog so please read carefully:
Caravan Speed Limits:
Legally, you can drive up to the signposted speed limit with a caravan in all Australian states and territories except for Western Australia and sometimes NSW.
The speed limit for towing a caravan in Western Australia is 100km/h.
The caravan speed limit in NSW is the same as the signposted speed limit if the combined weight of your car and caravan is under 4.5 tonnes. If the combined weight is over this limit, you must not drive faster than 100km/h (i.e. same as WA).
However, just because you can drive up to the speed limit doesn’t necessarily mean you should, particularly if you’re inexperienced or not so confident with towing a caravan. Keep to a speed where you feel comfortable and in control of your vehicle. Some manufacturers specify a safe speed limit for towing your caravan, so be sure to consult your owner’s manual before blitzing down the highway. Many first-time caravanners are apprehensive about pulling or manoeuvring a car and caravan combo. Problems can arise as a result of an incompatible vehicle combination, improper loading, a lack of adequate towing equipment, or simply a lack of expertise. Towing a caravan or camper trailer need not be any more difficult than driving a car alone after the problems have been addressed and a little common sense applied.
The following are some examples of areas where more attentiveness may be required:
- Lowering a vehicle's acceleration rate is greatly favoured when it has a load behind it. With a manual transmission, it's common to have to stay in each gear for a little longer before moving to the next higher gear. When driving uphill with an automatic transmission, it's occasionally preferable to use the selection level to control upshifts.
- Fast speeds are not suggested because of the added length and weight.
- When towing a caravan or trailer, certain states have lower speed limits. Always keep a safe distance between yourself and other vehicles. Unless you're genuinely overtaking, leave at least 60 metres between you and the vehicle in front of you. This permits others to safely pass you. Increase your speed somewhat as you approach a hill, if it is safe to do so, to make climbing the slope simpler.
- If the vehicle's speed reduces noticeably, shift down to a lower gear as soon as possible. It's tough to recoup engine speed after it's been lost. As a result, the engine may be subjected to increased strains.
- Overtaking other vehicles, especially long trucks or caravans, should be approached with considerable caution. Not only is the acceleration lessened, but the added length necessitates a longer distance to be completed before returning to the left lane. Always check your mirrors to make sure it's safe to overtake. When driving downhill, never overtake a slower car.
- A moving vehicle can be easily detected by constantly watching the back vision mirrors. If the passing vehicle is a truck or bus, be certain that it can do so quickly and safely. Move as far to the left as feasible if the road conditions allow. The safer the scenario becomes the bigger the distance between the two cars.
- Before you get to the downhill stretch of the road, always slow down and shift into a lower gear. If the hill is steep, this is very critical. The necessity for hard braking while travelling downhill is lessened by using this approach. When travelling downhill, excessive speed or abrupt brakes might produce an unsafe scenario.
- Excessive fuel consumption can usually be linked to either fast speeds, a poor engine tune, or inappropriate driving habits, assuming the caravan and towing vehicle are suitable.
- Anyone can learn more fuel-efficient driving skills, which will result in a significant reduction in fuel consumption. Always move the accelerator smoothly when leaving or overtaking another car. Any movement that is too quick or excessive wastes fuel.
- Another useful strategy is to judge traffic flow. It is often possible to avoid excessive braking and delays by keeping a distance from the traffic.
- According to reports, every time the brakes are applied, gasoline is squandered. This means that the brakes had to be deployed since the vehicle's speed had been maintained for longer than was necessary.
- If a hill is approaching and it is safe to do so, raise vehicle speed slightly to help the engine pull the car up the slope.
- It's worth remembering that a vehicle must create a particular level of power in order to pull a given load. Whether the engine has four, six, or eight cylinders, the power will be approximate. This means that pulling a caravan or camper trailer with a four-cylinder engine can consume nearly as much fuel as towing with a six-cylinder engine.
Taking a road less travelled by can reveal some fantastic locations. But there’s a reason it’s less travelled by – going off-road is tricky. If you’re planning to take your caravan on some rough surfaces, you may like to undergo some formal towing and 4WD training with a course provider. When it comes to driving through hazardous terrain (e.g. boggy ground, unpaved tracks, streams, dirt), make sure you have recovery equipment on hand and you know how to reverse your caravan if you hit a dead end. If you come across 4WD-friendly beaches, prepare your vehicle for driving on sand by:
Lowering your tyre pressure so your caravan can ‘float’ across the sand (don’t forget to reinflate when you leave the beach)
Keeping your speed low but consistent to maintain momentum
Equipping an electric brake system so you have more control over your caravan.
Installing the right caravan brake system:
Electric brakes have been standard on caravans and camper trailers for many years. These braking systems are effective and simple to keep up with. However, an electric brake controller must be installed in the towing vehicle in order for the electric trailer brakes to work. This is a job that should be left to an auto electrician or someone who is familiar with modern automotive electrical systems.
While there are various different types of electric brake controllers, the most effective ones incorporate a motion sensing feature. This features a pendulum that can calculate how much braking the trailer needs to make for a smooth and safe stop. When a brake controller is set appropriately, the driver can slow the car and caravan with the same amount of power on the brake pedal as it takes to stop the car alone. It is possible to convert older caravans with override hydraulic or mechanical brakes to an electric system. The investment is easily justified by the higher resale value and more effective brakes. We highly recommend any Hayman & Reese brake controllers as they are market leading product and we have tested them ourselves.
Towing a caravan in high winds can be a frightening experience and is strongly discouraged. When you’re planning a trip, it’s essential to check the weather forecast. If extreme winds are predicted, postpone your journey and keep your caravan parked in a protected place. If the wind picks up while you’re driving and starts to sway your caravan, pull over into a rest area or safe spot as soon as possible. When wind comes with rain – even a light sprinkle – keep in mind the road will likely become slippery. Reduce your speed accordingly and lightly brake while driving through wet stretches of road.
Steep inclines can be difficult to navigate with a caravan in tow. Consider these top tips:
Driving down a steep hill: Shift to a lower gear rather than relying on your brakes (especially if there is signage in the area such as “trucks must use low gear”). Also, adjust your electric brake system so that the caravan will brake before your towing vehicle does – otherwise your vehicle’s brakes could overheat.
Driving up a steep hill: Lowering your tyre pressure and dropping to a lower gear can help your car and caravan make it up steep off-road hills. Get out of your vehicle to find the most suitable route up the hill before you attempt the climb. And remember: don’t drive it if you can’t walk it!
The right towing vehicle:
Because safety is so important, the best towing vehicle is one that is heavier than the caravan or trailer it tows and has enough power to make rapid and safe passing manoeuvres. Modern passenger automobiles, especially those with front wheel drives, are just as capable of towing a caravan or camper trailer as four-wheel drives, as long as manufacturer's hauling recommendations are not exceeded. Four-wheel drives are only required when travelling off the usual path or towing large, hefty trailers.
While a vehicle with a five-speed manual transmission is preferable, for towing larger trailers or caravans, several vehicle manufacturers recommend an automatic transmission. One advantage is that the driver may focus on the current road conditions rather than worrying about whether the car is in the proper gear. If the vehicle has an automatic transmission, reversing is much easier. An auxiliary transmission oil cooler is required for automated transmissions.
In general, the towing vehicle's suspension type is unimportant as long as it is firm. Although leaf springs are frequently thought to be better capable of supporting loads than coil springs, a solid load distribution hitch will prevent the vehicle's rear end from sagging. If the vehicle has self-leveling suspension, the manufacturer's instructions for hooking up a trailer must be followed. On vehicles with self-leveling suspension, a load distribution hitch is required unless the trailer is very small. Failure to follow the recommendations or to employ the proper towing equipment could result in suspension damage to the car.
With the shift towards smaller and lighter cars, the weight and size compatibility of the tow vehicle and caravan has become increasingly significant. The maximum load that can be safely transported is usually recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. These are not to be exceeded. The trailer's loaded weight is always mentioned in the recommendations. Water, gas, food, clothing, and camping gear will often add another 300kg to the weight empty caravans. Newcomers to caravanning will benefit from not hauling more than the towing vehicle's empty weight. When towing a vehicle along a flat road at a constant speed, weight isn't an issue. When travelling through mountainous terrain, however, even a tiny, fully laden trailer can put a strain on the available engine power.
The smaller a caravan's frontal area is, the less wind resistance it creates. As a result, towing requires less power. Towing a camper trailer will be less expensive than towing a caravan. Hardtop caravans that are well-designed will be just as easy to tow as pop-top caravans. Many experienced caravanners prefer a standard height van because it allows them to walk in without having to lift the roof or pull down bed-ends like they would with a camper trailer. The size of the towing vehicle, how often the van or camper is used, where it is stored, and personal taste are likely to be the decisive considerations.
Most caravans will work on a simple tow hitching system, otherwise know as the coupling. However many new caravan will come with couplings that are significantly more articulate and flexible. The Do35 and Do45 couplings are super popular amongst adventurers that like to head further into offroad conditions. These couplings allow for a 360 degree articulation in any direction meaning that departure angle problems are not an issues, or even, god forbid the caravan rolls over, the towing vehicle will not follow. Check out the product page for more information on Cruisemaster and the Do35 coupling with its class leading engineering.
Towing hitches and tow bars:
If a car is equipped with the incorrect towbar, the caravan may not be able to stay in place. A towbar's capability is frequently underestimated. The tongue, lug, or ballmount are usually the only parts that are visible. While it may look to be extremely sturdy at times, the actual mountings to the vehicle or material thickness may leave a lot to be desired.
There should be no compromise when it comes to towbars. Always get a well-known product with a plate on it that states the maximum towinq load. If you buy a new vehicle with a towbar already installed, don't assume it matches the vehicle's towing capacity. Many towbars are only meant to tow modest trailers, not caravans that are fully laden. Determine the loaded weight of the caravan or camper trailer before choosing a towbar. The only way to do this is to place the unit on a weighbridge or scales like the Reich Weight control. Then invest in a towbar capable of towing that weight.
A heavy duty hitch receiver style towbar is frequently required for larger caravans. These components attach to the vehicle in a variety of ways, allowing the trailer's load to be spread over a large area of the vehicle. As a result, there is less stress on any one portion of the vehicle's body than with a traditional towbar. This is especially significant in newer automobiles without a chassis. If you're not sure which towbar is ideal for your vehicle and application, give us a call and we'd be happy to point you in the right direction. You'll be able to relax and enjoy your vacation knowing that the caravan will follow your 4x4 around wherever it goes.
Tow ball weight and distributing your load safely:
A weight transfer problem develops whenever a vehicle towing a trailer moves down the road with the back down and the front up. This means that the front wheels are carrying less weight, while the rear wheels are carrying more. Both the caravan and the towing vehicle should be level for best safety, stability, and vehicle control. One or both may not be level for a variety of reasons, including:
1. The ball height is incorrect in comparison to the trailer coupling height.
2. The caravan was loaded unevenly.
3. Inadequate towing equipment.
Measure the distance from the ground to the bottom of the ball to calculate the proper height. Or use a towball weight scale.
On the front of the A-coupler frame's compare this to the distance between the ground and the tow ball's base on the back of the car. These metrics should be very close to one other. If this isn't the case, the ball mount or tongue may need to be tweaked. Weighing the caravan on and off the vehicle can ensure that it is loaded evenly. The ball or nose weight is the difference between the two. This should be between 10% and 15% of the overall weight of the caravan when fully loaded. Some of the caravan's heavier items may need to be relocated in order to do this.
The vertical ball load for a four to five metre touring caravan might be between 100kg and 150kg. Despite the fact that this is only 10% of the total weight, it is more than enough to shove most vehicles down the back. Even if the back of the car just sags a bit due to stiff springs, some weight will be transmitted from the front wheels to the back wheels. The rear wheels may be carrying an additional 130kg-140kg with a ball weight of 100kg. Due to a simple leverage factor, the extra weight has been eliminated from the front wheels. The steering and braking of a vehicle are affected whenever the weight on the front wheels is reduced. To avoid this, weight must be shifted from the back to the front wheels. Only a weight distribution hitch can accomplish this (sometimes these are called stabilisers, torsion, anti-sway bars or level-rides).
The weight distributing bars have a similar effect to the handles of a wheelbarrow. The higher the handles are raised, the more weight is transferred to the wheel, making it simpler to support. Similarly, the more tension on the weight distribution bars is applied, the more weight is carried forwards onto the vehicle's front wheels. On all but the lightest camper trailers, these weight-distribution bars are required. When properly installed, the bars will ensure that the front wheels carry some of the ball weight. As a result, the entire ensemble will be level, albeit slightly lower.
It's not a good idea to embark on a journey if the caravan and tow vehicle aren't level. If you're not sure how to handle the trailer's weight, get in contact and we'd be happy to walk you through how to achieve this. After all, your family's safety, as well as the safety of your car and caravan, is vital.
Sway refers to the movement of the caravan or camper trailer's rear end from side to side. Snaking is a term used to describe this type of movement, which can end in full loss of control. Sway controls should only be considered after all other factors contributing to the instability have been eliminated, because prevention is better than cure. Sway can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- A caravan with a poor design.
- The front axle is too far forwards.
- The ball is at an incorrect height.
- Under-inflated tyres
- Incorrect weight distribution
- Unsuitable tow vehicle and caravan combination.
Sway control equipment should generally only be installed on larger caravans that may be affected by severe gusty winds on occasion. Discuss your issues with persons who have experience towing caravans before acquiring any sway control equipment. Certain types of equipment may be unsuitable in various instances. If override brakes are installed, for example, some types are not suggested. Remember that even the best sway control technology cannot and should not compensate for an underpowered towing vehicle, an unbalanced caravan, or the lack of a weight distribution hitch.
Does your caravan have the right suspension for your combined payload:
Many vehicle owners believe that towing a trailer necessitates the installation of stiffer springs in the back of their car or 4WD. The rationale is that when the caravan is lowered on the tow ball, the back of the car drops. If the car is a few years old and the springs have sagged a little, changing the springs can be a good idea. If the only reason the suspension height changes is due to the weight of the vehicle, a weight distribution hitch, not larger springs, is required.
Suspension adjustments may be beneficial or necessary in two situations. Additional weights in the truck cause the vehicle height to decrease before the van is hitched on. Stronger springs may be required to bring the vehicle back to its usual unladen height if there is a steady increased load, such as in the case of an aftermarket LP gas conversion. Air-adjustable shock absorbers or air bags are the best choice for occasional excess loads like camping gear. Air pressure can be adjusted after the vehicle has been loaded to restore the original height. Airbags or air adjustable shock absorbers should not be used to compensate for faulty springs or to sustain the caravan's weight. To help minimise pitching or instability while towing, all shock absorbers on the towing vehicle should be in good working order. Shock absorbers improve a vehicle's handling while also extending its tyre life.
Ensure your tyres are ready for travel:
Tyres are more vital than any other single component in ensuring the safety of cars and caravans. A vehicle can only accelerate, brake, or steer if the tyre and the road are in proper contact. The stability and ride of the vehicle might also be impaired if the tyres are not properly filled or are the wrong type. The laden weight of the van or trailer must be understood when considering the appropriateness of the van's tyres. A visit to a weighbridge will quickly confirm this. Use the unloaded or registered weight instead. To account for additional loads due by uneven road conditions, unequal loading, or other unknown causes, add 10-20% as a safety buffer. Divide the weight of the caravan by the number of tyres to get the individual tyre loads. The maximum load the tyre is designed to handle may be stated on the sidewall of the tyre. Alternatively, make a note of the tyre size and consult a tyre expert. The load rating of the tyre must be more than the van's weight, as stated before. If this isn't the case, you'll have to go with a larger tyre.
Inflating caravan tyres above 315 kPa (45 psi) is not recommended because it may compromise the caravan's ride. Towing vehicles' rear tyres should be inflated to near maximum because they are subjected to substantially greater loads during towing. Front tyres will require an additional 25 kPa (4 PSI) than usual. When checking tyre pressures, always do so when the tyres are cold. It is preferable to start early in the morning. Heat build-up during a trip causes pressure to rise, resulting in an incorrect reading. Never deflate a tyre that has been on the move or that has been exposed to the sun.
Under-inflation, overloading, an unstable trailer, or a mechanical problem such as a bent axle are all common causes of premature or uneven tyre wear. Consult a tyre professional if your tyres appear to be wearing faster than expected. They should be able to pinpoint the cause. Tyres on a caravan will not last as long as those on a car. Caravan tyres are always subjected to far greater loads than automobile tyres. Caravanning and camping is considered as one of Australia's most popular leisure activities. It draws people together from all walks of life and professions with the simple goal of enjoyment, relaxation, and having a good time.
Checklist: Essential Items When Towing a Caravan for the First Time:
Towing a caravan for the first time will be a bit stressful, but it does get easier as you become more experienced. Follow these tips to stay safe on the road (and off-road) and enjoy your caravanning adventures.