When the holidays hit, it’s time to hitch up the caravan and get on the road.
Before you go, you need to make sure it’s safe to get there and back.
Towing is very different from everyday driving –If it’s the first time you’re towing something more than a light trailer, especially across long distances, you’ll need to take more precautions, and alter your driving to counteract the effects.
Prior to getting on the road, you have to think about packing. If you’re towing that includes more than just your suitcases: things like gas, fuel and water.
When you buy a caravan, you’re given weights that correspond to how much your car can legally and safely tow.
The Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) is the most your caravan weighs, unhitched, but with fuel and water – the downward force through all the wheels (including the jockey wheel.)
The Gross Trailer Mass (GTM) is the maximum weight that each of the wheels can carry, so the wheels share of the ATM. Tare mass is the weight of the caravan as it is, specified from the factory and unhitched, with no water or fuel, and before any added extras (i.e. awnings, extra gas bottles, an air conditioning unit etc.)
To work out the maximum legal payload of your caravan, subtract the Tare from the ATM – some caravanners get caught out after overloading the back. Remember, you might not be covered by insurance if you’re in a crash, and your manufacturer might not cover any breakdowns because you’ve exceeded the maximum weights allowable.
You might think it sensible to add water tanks, extra gas bottles, a spare tyre and a toolbox with sundries onto the drawbar – but depending on your caravan, it might be pushing it to be so prepared. Often, you’ll only have a few hundred kilos to play with: for example, two 95L water tanks will have already taken 190kg, an aftermarket awning may add another 100kg, so you don’t have that much more to play with when you’re thinking of putting any more onto accessories onto your caravan.
When you’re loading your caravan, you also have to think about how it will behave on the road. It’s not a good idea to load accessories towards the front of the caravan, as this will put more weight on the towball, which is already weighing down the back of your car.
You can also invest in installing a weight distribution hitch to your caravan, in order to prevent the front of your car and the rear of the van from lifting. A weight distribution hitch is purely to level the load between towing vehicle and trailer – it doesn’t increase the practical towball weight, and may not correct the levelling issues, for example, if your towball mount has been adjusted higher or lower than the caravan requires.
Just like a car, you have to make sure that your caravan is roadworthy so you don’t put yourself or others in danger. If you’ve had any work done to your caravan that required a modification plate, or need to check up on the basics to get your caravan registered, you can take it into an inspection station to have a safety certificate completed.
Caravanning QLD runs free safety checks throughout the year at different locations around the state, where they have people on hand that can inspect your caravan, camper trailer, motorhome or recreational vehicle to certify it as roadworthy, from checking the tyres and body, the electrical system, even having a look at any gas fittings – these events often fill up fast, especially if the school holidays are approaching.
You have to modify your driving habits as soon as you have a caravan loaded onto the back of your car. You’ll find that the handling is affected; strong crosswinds and buffeting from passing trucks can push the caravan causing it to sway. Some 4WDs now come with trailer sway assist features that alert you and actively reduce the disruption by slowing down the car until it can get it under control.
Reverse cameras are pretty much standard equipment these days, but when it comes to backing the caravan into the site, its not much help to have a camera fitted to the boot of your car.
Fitting a camera to your caravan can give you the peace of mind that your caravan won’t be damaged – and you’ll be able to manoeuvre in like a pro. You can buy systems that fit to just the back of the caravan, all the way up to quad camera set ups that can give you a complete around-view perspective from inside the car.
Before you hit the roads for your holiday, see the team at Motorama to make sure your car is in the best shape to enjoy the drive.