Stay safe when towing a caravan

Follow these tips from the Caravan Industry Association of Australia before setting off on your next trip.

When it comes to towing, there are some key things you need to consider before hitching up and setting off.   

James Field, Chief Technical Officer with the Caravan Industry Association of Australia, gives some general advice on how to stay safe, and compliant, while towing.  

The tow vehicle

Your tow vehicle is obviously one of the most important parts of your towing setup. Let’s face it, you won’t get very far without it, so make sure you choose wisely.

All aspects of the tow vehicle must be adequately rated to tow your trailer. 

You must also consider the effects of loading your tow vehicle up with gear as this may reduce the physical towing capacity of your vehicle.Another key consideration is the brake controller.  If your caravan has electric brakes, your tow vehicle will then require (or have) a brake controller. Make sure these are adjusted correctly and make a few “test stops” to make sure the trailer brakes are operating properly before heading off.  

Load distribution and capacity

Loading your caravan correctly is crucial to ensuring a safe and hassle-free journey. 

All items inside your caravan should be adequately stowed and restrained because lateral movement of items during transit can contribute to trailer sway and instability.

Distribute the loads evenly, remembering that heavier items should be stored as low as possible and in the centre of the caravan as close to the axle group as possible. 

Only light items should be placed in the overhead compartments.

Making sure you have not exceeded any of the caravan’s ratings is key.

Regularly weighing your entire towing setup and comparing these weights against the rating information of both the vehicle and caravan is the best way to ensure you remain safe and compliant out on the road.

There a number of mobile weighing service providers across the country, who can actually come out to your house (or caravan park) and weigh your setup for you.

You must also consider the consequences of any DIY additions or modifications you may carry out on your caravan. 

While it might seem handy to simply fit an additional toolbox or jerrycan holder to the rear bumper or A-Frame of your caravan, these types of additional loads can have a substantial impact on the towability of the product. 

These kinds of additions and modifications should be carried out by an authorised and adequately trained person, and ideally fitted by the manufacturer at the time of original production. 

This will allow the manufacturer to consider these loads and their effects on the product during the design stage of manufacture.

Servicing and maintenance

Just like your tow vehicle, you must get your caravan regularly serviced.

Further to this, you should also conduct frequent maintenance checks on your caravan before heading off on any trip. 

Incorrect tyre pressures can contribute substantially to vehicle instability, so make sure you check your tyre pressures regularly and ensure the tyres are inflated to the recommended pressure.

It is also advised to regularly check the wheel nuts or studs to ensure they are tightened to the correct torque as specified by the manufacturer.

Towing aids

Towing aids such as anti-sway bars or hitches and electronic sway control units may reduce the effects of trailer instability – but do not necessarily eliminate or rectify the actual cause of the issue.

While all of these towing aids may assist in keeping your rig in line if things get a little out of hand, considering other factors such as load distribution and capacity in conjunction with these components to get to the bottom of the issue is more effective.

Towing mirrors or rear-vision mirror extensions may also be required to minimise blind spots, particularly when the trailer is wider than the towing vehicle.  

External factors

External factors may also play a part in safe towing.  Things like strong crosswinds, the rush of air from a passing truck and potholes can create stability issues – particularly on highways.  Always keep alert and drive to the conditions. 

Find out more about road sharing guidelines with heavy vehicles here

Participate in a towing education course

Enrolling in a towing education course is a great way to polish up on your skills, or to build your confidence and experience on the road. 

For more information on safe towing, visit the National Recreational Vehicle Towing Guide website.

Click here for towing advice from RACQ.