How caravanners can better prepare to stay safe on the open road

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safety on the open road
A great trip depends on vehicle preparation and safe driving PIC: Caravan Industry Association of Australia

The Caravan Industry Association of Australia highlights some key safety tips for grey nomads hitting the open road with a caravan in tow.

There is a lot to think about before you hit the road on your next adventure, from the destination and the places you plan to visit along the way to what you will need to pack.  In all the excitement, it is important to still remember some key considerations around towing and safety.  Below are just a couple of things you can think about beforehand to increase the safety for your loved ones (as well as other road users).

Weights
It is important not to overload your trailer. You should never exceed the maximum load specified or recommended by the trailer manufacturer, nor should you exceed the capacity of any of the components (e.g. tyres or coupling). All trailers will have a plate affixed displaying the ATM (Aggregate Trailer Mass) which is the maximum allowable weight of the loaded trailer. The ball mass (the weight towards the front of the trailer carried by the tow ball of the towing vehicle), should (generally speaking) be about 10% of the total laden trailer weight. Some more dynamic style towables (such as toy haulers) may in some instances fall outside this recommendation. The ball mass can be measured either at some weighbridges (depending on calibration) by resting only the jockey wheel on the scale, or by placing a ball mass scale under the coupling then taking the weight off the jockey wheel. If taking the weight reading from the jockey wheel – remember this may not be as accurate as taking the reading from directly at the coupling. Depending on their capacity, bathroom scales can also be used.

Sharing the road
Caravan sway caused by truck wind when heavy vehicles and / or caravans pass one another can pose problems for the inexperienced or unprepared Recreational Vehicle driver. Also, a caravan that doesn’t have its load distributed correctly may not handle well and may cause horizontal movement or swaying / snaking. If your caravan begins to sway or snake, remain calm and avoid the urge to apply the towing vehicle’s brakes. Rather, gently apply the caravan’s electric brakes using the manual control in the tow vehicle. Otherwise, where conditions permit, continue at a steady speed or accelerate slightly until the sway stops. Don’t try to steer out of the swaying / snaking. When a condition of sway has been corrected, slow down and pull off the road safely. Check that your load is correctly distributed within the trailer, making sure always that heavier items are placed over the axles of the caravan.

Using the right vehicle
If you are going to purchase a trailer or caravan, it is critical to give careful consideration to your vehicle’s towing mass and construction prior to making your purchase. You will find the towing mass (or towing rating) under the towing section in the vehicle manufacturer’s handbook. The rating will include a trailer weight capacity and a trailer ball weight capacity, both of which must not be exceeded.

Plan to survive
Before heading off on your caravanning trip, ensure both your towing vehicle and caravan have had a recent maintenance check, make sure your contents are secured and evenly distributed within the vehicle, double check that you are not taking more than you need and, importantly, more than the vehicle’s specification. Remember, every shampoo bottle, slab of beer or extra shirt add weight. And make sure you plot appropriate places to stop along the way.

  • Have you ever had a ‘scare’ while towing? What lessons have you learned? Email here to share your thoughts.
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