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The special art of caravan towing

09 December 2021

The special art of caravan towing

Towing a caravan can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Our safety checklist can help you prepare for your next caravan adventure.

The weather is warmer, the days are longer and thongs are becoming a wardrobe staple again. Yep, the summer holidays are nearly here and it’s time to hit the open road. 

For an increasing number of us that’s with a caravan in tow, with Australian caravan sales at a 30-year high. For owners, the prospect of towing their newly-purchased pride and joy can be daunting.

Like anything, preparation is key - here’s a few tips that will help you get to your dream destination safely.

Correct Weight

Let’s start with your car, and whether it’s suitable to do the job. That’s going to depend on the weight of not only the caravan, but the car itself. National guidelines set out how much a particular vehicle can tow - and if your caravan is too heavy, it’s not only going to be illegal but also dangerous. Plus, you’re going to have issues when it comes to insurance. NRMA Caravan Insurance is available in ACT, NSW, QLD and TAS, and protects your vehicle in case of accidental damage, theft, fire, storm and more.

If the manufacturer hasn’t specified, the maximum towing mass will be 1.5 times the unladen mass of the towing vehicle (providing it has brakes, which it will need if it is over 750kg). If it’s under 750kg and doesn’t have brakes, the caravan can only be equal to or less than the weight of your vehicle. But don’t stress too much about these numbers as all of this should be in your car’s handbook which will set out the maximum towing mass.

The Right Tow Bar

Nothing comes between you and your caravan, well, except maybe your towbar. 

You won’t get far unless your tow bar is properly designed and fitted. Different tow bars have different weight capacities. You must ensure that it has the right specifications for your caravan. 

Your tow bar will be marked with its maximum rated weight capacity, as well as the make and model of the vehicle it’s intended for.

Use A Checklist

Be as thorough as you can in preparation - for nearly all of us, that means making and following  a list, and giving yourself plenty of time to go through it. If you can, partner up with a buddy - not only will it be quicker to go through your must-do checklist, but more thorough as well.

  • Ensure that both your towing vehicle and caravan have been recently serviced, and go through your usual routine of checking oil, water, coolant and brake fluid

  • Check tyre pressure - your tyre pressure on the caravan is just as important as on your vehicle, and don’t forget your spare!

  • Test all lights on your trailer to ensure they’re in good working order

  • Check that your towing mirrors are properly fitted and that you’ve got adequate visibility

  • Keep an eye on wheel bearings and suspension

  • Lock down your trailer - ensure any windows, doors, hatches and cupboards are closed, antennas are secured and anything loose inside the trailer is secured. Turn off any gas bottles inside

  • Travel light, and spread the load. Avoid overloading your caravan, and distribute any heavy weight across the axle of the caravan. If you’re using a weight distribution hitch, make sure that its secure and that safety pins are locked in

  • And breathe. We’re close! Make sure the trailer plug is plugged in and that the coupling and safety chains are secure

  • Remove the wheel chocks, ensure stabiliser legs are raised, do one final check and prepare to hit the road!

Take It Slow, Take It Easy

So the checks are done, and you’re out on the road. Like the Eagles classic goes, take it easy. 

Your car will handle differently when towing a caravan. Aim to keep a steady momentum and avoid sudden movements: whether accelerating or braking, try and do so smoothly. Give yourself plenty of braking room with the vehicle in front of you, and always be aware of the conditions around you. Remember that you’ll (hopefully) be driving much slower than those around you, and they’ll probably look to overtake you. Try and make it easy for your fellow drivers.

When you’re coming to traffic lights or descending down hills, where possible look to slow down using the gears on your towing vehicle if you’re driving a manual. Not only is it safer, but it will save fuel and minimise the wear and tear on your vehicle and caravan.

As with any time you’re on the road for long distances, take plenty of breaks. Towing a caravan can be mentally taxing, and demands higher levels of concentration. When stopped, run your eye over your trailer for any issues with couplings, lights and tyres.

Whether in an urban area or country town, always look ahead for any hazards - awnings, trees, light poles - that might clean up your trailer and put a dampener on your journey, and give them a wide berth.

Go Wide

Speaking of wide, cornering with your trailer is a skill in itself. Swing as wide as possible, because your trailer will inevitably cut the corners. 

Take corners as late as possible (especially when it comes to roundabouts)  and when approaching corners get as close to the centre line as you can. As a guide, start turning your steering wheel when your vehicle’s rear wheel is level with the corner.

Stay Away From Sway

When you’re towing at speed, the last thing you want to see in your mirrors is the caravan swaying. 

Before getting on the road, your checklist will help here. Ensure that any weight in the trailer is distributed evenly, with heavy items placed near the axles, and consider a weight distribution hitch. Check you’ve got the correct tyre pressure.

Of course, in high-wind areas or when passing large trucks, some amount of sway might be inevitable at times. Remain calm, take a breath and most importantly keep your foot away from the brake. Ease your foot off the accelerator, and where possible apply the trailer’s electric brake override and gently accelerate, which will pull your caravan into line.

Reverse Like A Boss

You’ve done the preparation, navigated the challenge of the open road and you’re at the destination. But the job’s not quite done yet - you’ve got to reverse your caravan into position.

Ideally, this is something that you can practice prior to the big day. Think of a big, empty car park or an industrial estate in a calm, relaxed environment without the pressure of a full car eager to get out and start the holiday. Take plenty of time, and get familiar with the process.

When reversing, the key thing to remember is that it’s counter-intuitive: if you steer right, the caravan is going left, and vice-versa. You might be sensing a theme here, but be gentle and take it slowly. Even the most minor of steering adjustments is going to have an effect.

Be prepared to be patient. Even seasoned pros can have trouble with this. If it’s going wrong (and it might), the easiest thing is to pull your vehicle a few metres forward, straighten things out and start again.

On the day, make sure either you or your co-pilot jumps out and has a good look at the area you’re reversing into. Look out for any possible hazards or obstacles, not only on the road but also in the air.

Hopefully now you have the tools, tips and check-list required to safely tow your caravan to your holiday destination. Now all that you need is a booking at your favourite gem of a holiday park and some good weather to enjoy it!


Caravan Safety