Being able to travel Australia and experience the freedom of the open road with a caravan in tow is a dream come true for countless grey nomads. For a few though, the dream will ultimately become a nightmare.
Towing a caravan on unfamiliar narrow roads that may be potholed and might also be populated with camels, cattle and kangaroos, as well as the odd monster road train, is not for the fainthearted.
Sadly, there is barely a week goes by when a caravan rollover or some sort of other accident isn’t reported. Sometimes tiredness is a factor, sometimes inexperience is a factor, sometimes it’s speed, and sometimes it is simply that high winds, difficult weather conditions, or buffeting from other vehicles has changed the equation and resulted in disaster.
Grey nomads should do all they can to prepare themselves and their vehicles for the rigours of towing a caravan around Australia.
Taking a towing course is a sensible first step for many but it is also essential that towing vehicles and caravan are set up and packed correctly. Travellers need to be sure, for example, that the appropriate towbar is being used, a suitable braking system is in place, and that the rig complies with all weight restrictions.
Once on the road, one of the grey nomad’s worst nightmares is to have the caravan start swinging from side to side behind the tow vehicle. While sometimes it can recover itself, other times it can jack-knife with devastating consequences.
In recent years there have been some dramatic improvements to caravan suspension that has improved ride and handling, especially under outback conditions. There are also a number of add-on appliances that can make a real difference to safety.
Weight Distribution Hitches, for example, level out the vehicle/caravan combination, helping to restore steering and braking performance. Sometimes, it can be wise to fit other sway control units as well.
The National Caravan and Recreational Vehicle Towing Guide mentions friction sway control, AKS 3004 Stabilisers, and Dual Cam Sway controls as three effective devices that are commercially available.
Happily for today’s grey nomads, technology is continuing to surge ahead in the caravan towing safety world. Al-Ko, for example, has just released its electronic stability system (ESC). This is able to monitor for any dangerous lateral movements and can then immediately apply the caravan’s electric brakes enabling it to maintain road position. Tests have shown dramatic improvements in towing safety, particularly during ‘emergency’ manoeuvres.
It seems then that the march of technology, along with better education, proper rig maintenance and improved driving skills, can dramatically reduce the number of caravan crash horror stories that still send a shiver up the grey nomad spine.