Why you should weigh your caravan

Helpful caravanning information from RACQ’s Technical Researcher Russell Manning.

Have you recently bought, or are you planning to buy a caravan? There are many things to consider before buying one, particularly the weight of your caravan and whether your vehicle is suitable for towing it.

We’ve asked our RACQ Technical Researcher Russell Manning a few important questions about caravans and why it’s important to weigh them before starting a road trip.

Why is it important to weigh your caravan?

To ensure it’s legal and safe to tow. Caravans usually have limited carrying capacity (payload) so it can be easy to accidentally overload them. Common modifications and accessories such as additional water tanks, gas cylinders or tool boxes can eat into the carrying capacity and limit how much you can carry. 

Some caravans can even exceed their maximum weight when empty. This is a big problem as there is no easy fix. We have also seen a few caravans with incorrectly marked ID plates from the factory and some with so little payload that necessary items can’t be carried.

Ultimately, you need to know the weight of your caravan to know whether your tow vehicle is suitable and if you can carry everything you need.

How often should you have it weighed?

For a used caravan, it’s best to weigh it before you buy it. This is because the caravan may have been modified or had additional equipment fitted after it was built which could affect its maximum weight and carrying capacity. 

For a new van, weighing before you buy is preferred. Especially if you’ve added special features or equipment that could affect its total weight and, therefore, what you can carry in it. 

Before buying, check the ball load when empty. It should be well below the tow vehicle’s maximum tow ball load specification.  You may need to seek advice from a caravan dealer as to how much the tow ball load is likely to increase when it’s fully loaded.

Caravan terminology explained

  • Tare Mass – The weight of the caravan when empty.
  • Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) – The maximum your caravan is permitted to weigh with a full load when it is not connected to the tow vehicle. Confirm the ATM is as marked on the ID plate.
  • Tow Ball Load – The proportion of the trailer weight that is applied vertically to the rear of the tow vehicle.

Weigh your caravan again when it’s fully loaded for the first time to ensure the ATM specification isn’t exceeded and check that the ball load is still within specifications. Some people have their own ball weight scales and check ball load every time they load the van.
 
After that, weigh your caravan when any significant change is made to what is carried, or where it is carried, in the van. 

What is the best way to accurately weigh your caravan?

Use a public weighbridge.

What’s the easiest way to reduce the weight of your caravan?

Only carry what’s necessary and be disciplined when it comes to loading the van. Choose lightweight items, such as replacing china plates with plastic plates, and don’t carry large quantities of water if you don’t need to.

If you have concerns about the weight of your caravan, where can you get it checked? 

Caravanning Queensland provides a free caravan safety check program to owners of caravans, motorhomes and other recreational vehicles. Find out more.

Why is it important to know your vehicle’s towing weight limit?

It’s the maximum weight that it can legally tow. Exceeding any of the specifications is illegal, potentially dangerous and can affect your insurance or damage the car. Don’t forget to check the tow bar specifications. If your car and towbar specifications are different, the lower specification will always be the limit of what you can tow.

Where can you find this information?

Check the car’s handbook or contact the manufacturer. Tow bar specifications are shown on the towbar ID plate. Some trailer specifications are shown on the trailer ID plate but should be confirmed on a weighbridge. Others will need to be weighed as outlined above. 

 

For further information or if you need to know the towing specifications for a particular vehicle, please contact RACQ Motoring Advice.