Safety advice for caravanners

Tips from RACQ to make your caravanning holiday a safe one.

The caravan industry is predicting an increase in the number of caravans on our roads following a spike in sales across the state.

The Caravan Trade and Industries Association of Queensland attributes the strong demand for new caravans to an increased focus on domestic travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

RACQ Head of Technical and Safety Policy Steve Spalding advised anyone new to caravanning to do a towing course and build experience before hitting the highway.

“And refresher courses are a good idea even for experienced caravanners,” Mr Spalding said.

“Low-speed manoeuvring, particularly reversing, can be challenging and take some time to gain proficiency.”

Mr Spalding said it was important to make sure the towing vehicle was suitable for the caravan.

“If starting out, choosing a towing vehicle and caravan together is an essential starting point as the towing vehicle has to be capable of towing the caravan and operating within its design limits,” he said.

When on the road, drivers needed to be mindful of some key safety messages.

“Maintain safe speeds on highways and leave plenty of distance to other vehicles and take extra care in windy conditions,” Mr Spalding said.

“Be mindful of traffic building up behind if you are travelling slower than the flow. 

“Allow others to pass whenever possible, particularly at overtaking sections when you may need to ease back on speed to allow backed up traffic to clear.”

Here is some more advice from RACQ to ensure you get to your destination safely:

Loading your caravan

  • Keep the centre of gravity low by putting heavy items near the floor and where possible over the axle.
  • When packing a caravan for the first time, check that its ATM/GTM and ball load is not exceeded; and that you meet all tow vehicle and tow bar specifications. If you do exceed the ball load, try re-stowing contents but don’t simply move gear to the rear of the van, as this will affect the stability. If this doesn’t work, you may need to change the caravan/tow vehicle combination.
  • Some caravans carry greater weight on one side (because of the fridge, stove, sink, etc.). Balance this out by loading portable equipment on the other side.
  • Rubber matting or foam on shelves will stop the contents from sliding. 
  • Don’t leave loose articles on the floor where they can roll around and cause damage.
  • Carry all the tools and equipment you need for hitching and unhitching in an easy-to-access place.

Extension mirrors

  • If you are towing a caravan and can’t see the cars behind you (on either side), you must fit external rear vision mirrors.

Towing speeds and speed limits

  • Always consider the legal speed limit, road conditions, the power of the towing vehicle, the driver’s experience and any speed limits recommended by the vehicle manufacturer.
  • Lower speeds put less stress on the vehicle and save fuel but be aware that slow moving vehicles can cause major traffic hold-ups and considerable frustration to other drivers, so check your mirrors frequently and, where possible, pull over and allow traffic to pass.

Climbing and descending hills

  • When climbing hills, keep engine revs up. It’s also best to climb steep hills in the cool of the day. If not, take care that the engine does not overheat. While it is normal for the engine temperature to rise due to increased engine and automatic transmission load, it can overheat to the point where damage can occur.
  • When descending, use the braking power of the engine instead of relying only on the brakes. A safe rule is to descend the hill in the gear needed to climb it. If you have an automatic, you can manually select a lower gear to maximise engine braking.

Other things to remember

  • After travelling a few kilometres, stop to check that everything is secure, inside and out.
  • Be aware of the van’s height and width.
  • Give good signals – indicate early. 
  • Take care when overtaking as your length is at least double and your acceleration much reduced.
  • Avoid high speeds.
  • Keep well to the left to enable faster vehicles to overtake.
  • When travelling on narrow roads and a road train or heavy vehicle approaches, pull well to the left and/or stop until it has passed.
  • If you are overtaken by large buses, trucks or semi-trailers, your van will tend to be pushed away and then pulled back towards these vehicles. Stay alert and keep control to avoid sway. Light acceleration will help pull the van straight.
  • Rough or corrugated roads should be driven at low speed.
  • If a “slide” is encountered on gravel, drive out of it gradually by careful use of the accelerator and steering. Avoid heavy brake applications.
  • Be especially conscious of wind conditions and drive accordingly.
  • Watch for higher than normal engine temperatures and fuel use when driving into head winds – you can slow down to help minimise the effects.
  • Check the condition and adjustment of caravan wheel bearings before and regularly during trips.
  • Inflate tyres to the manufacturer’s recommendations for the weight being carried and check pressures regularly.
  • Adjust the vertical height of the headlights if the front of the tow vehicle rises noticeably when the caravan is connected.

Click here for more great caravan safety advice from RACQ 

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