An increased level of skill and concentration is required from any driver towing a caravan, camper trailer or any other type trailer for that matter. There are lots of considerations to be made before heading off with a trailer in tow. Things like the driver’s ability to handle the increased load and added length of the trailer. Is the tow vehicle suitable for the job? and of course what are legal and safety aspects of towing.
Luckily back in 1998 the Australian Government standardised the national rules and regulations for towing across all states and territories with only a few variations of the speed limits for WA. As a guide only, we will point out a few key points to remember before hooking up the van.
Driver’s ability and confidence:
Hopping into a vehicle with a trailer attached can be intimidating, even if it’s only a small box trailer. An inexperienced tower may be hesitant to safely make basic decisions when driving such as deciding when it is safe to pull out onto a busy road or deciding when to overtake. With good reason, these decisions do need to be given extra consideration from a safety point of view. One fundamental rule of towing is to know YOUR personal limits. Have you had enough practice towing a trailer? Would you cope with busy traffic or towing on busy highways? Do you have the confidence to safely make split decisions when towing keeping in mind the extra length and weight of a trailer making things more challenging?
It’s a cliché to say “practice makes perfect”, but at the end of the day it’s true! If you are new towing it’s always a great idea to have a bit of practice driving, reversing, hooking up and reverse parking. Get a feel for the trailer’s size and handling and become familiar with your tow vehicles response to having the extra load attached. I’m a huge fan of driver education courses that are available that are designed to teach the fundamental skills required for towing. They are seriously worth every cent. Make an investment in your safety and that of other road users.
Vehicle limits and the law:
From a safety and legal aspect- you MUST make sure your vehicle and trailer meet all legal regulations that are in place nationwide. Your vehicle and trailer manufacturers may also have additional restrictions imposed on them that may limit weight and the speed at which you can safety travel whilst towing.
Its crucial that you refer to your vehicles handbook and take note of its maximum trailer weight capacity AND that of the specific towbar that is fitted (they aren’t all the same). Know the maximum allowable tow ball down weight too (that’s the maximum amount of weight directly applied to the tow ball by the trailer). Make sure you do not exceed any of the above specifications or you will put your safety at risk and may void your warranty and insurance policies. Keep in mind that it’s not uncommon for vehicles that are towing to be stopped at weighbridges for inspections. If you are caught outside of the regulations you may cop a fine.
If the trailer you are towing has a GTM (gross trailer mass) of 750kg or more you must have an approved electric braking system fitted. The extra weight of a trailer puts extra strain on the vehicles braking system and for safety reasons the assistance of electric brakes is required to help pull you up.
With so many variations and configurations of towing hitches and individual trailer specs around, it would be vital that you check with your trailer and vehicle manufacturer or qualified mechanic to confirm if any other additional attachments such as load-levelling devices, towing mirrors, break-away devices or any other type of vehicle enhancements are needed for your specific rig.
Of course, without saying- all trailer lights must be in working order and you should check them every time you hook up your trailer to the vehicle. Ensure your safety chains are attached and are adjusted so they don’t hang on the ground and won’t pull tight when cornering. The use of two safety chains in a criss-crossed fashion is the safest way to secure your trailer in case something goes wrong- at least one safety chain is required by law. Before driving off, double check all attachments, chains, hitches, lights etc. Better to be safe than sorry. We have seen a few disasters happen on the road that could have been avoided if only a few more minutes were taken to ensure the correct hitching of their trailers.
From a safety point of view, although your vehicle and trailer may meet all the legal requirements, your towing safety is also dependant on your vehicles engine performance. Although you may be within all the weight specifications, if your rig isn’t powerful enough to pull the trailer safely don’t even think about heading out onto the busy highways. Don’t be fooled by the rated “capacity to tow” of the vehicle into thinking that’s it’s also the vehicles “ability to tow”- two very different things. If you plan to tow a larger trailer then you may need to look at more powerful tow vehicles.
A great website for towing information can be found at www.towingguide.com.au. Just remember, knowledge is always the key- know your limits, know the law and know how to have a great time on the road!