The thought of towing a caravan if you don’t have previous experience can be daunting.
Will your car be able to handle it? How do you turn corners, and how do you reverse? Is it safe? Thousands of Australians tow their caravans every week, and they were all beginners at some stage too. The key is to understand what to expect and what to check. Our guide will give you all the advice you need to get started towing caravans. You should put this in place on short journeys initially though if you can. Go out for a drive with your caravan hooked up for an hour or two just to get some experience. It will make the real trip more enjoyable and less stressful.
Here are some great tips:
The Weight Of Your Caravan
The first question that you need to ask is whether your car is able to tow the caravan or not. This depends on the weight of your vehicle, and the weight of the caravan, so you are going to need your owner’s manual and some details about the caravan. If the caravan has brakes fitted (which it should have if it is over 750kg) you can tow it so long as it is less than 1.5 times the un-laden weight of your vehicle. If the caravan doesn’t have brakes you can only tow it if it is equal to or lighter than the weight of your vehicle. That is the legal definition, but it is also worthwhile to think about this practically too. In many situations, it is not a good idea to max out the weights. If you do you will put your car under strain, so try to go for a caravan that comes in under the legal weight maximum.
Before You Set-Off
- Is your car in good condition – it is important that your car is in good working condition. Brakes, coolant levels, oil levels, and the quality of your tyres are all important things to check. Utilising the service of your mechanic or the NRMA can help confirm your car’s optimum working condition.
- Fit good towing mirrors – make sure your towing mirrors are properly fitted so you have better visibility. More on this here:
- Make sure the weight is properly distributed – too much weight towards the front of your caravan can put a strain on your car’s suspension and tow hitch, while too much weight at the back of the caravan can make it unstable. It is therefore important that you get the weight distribution right. A great youtube video on this is below:
- Practice reversing before you go – reversing with a caravan is a skill you will have to learn. Just make sure that you learn it before you go, in surroundings that are familiar with, and when you are not under pressure. Have a look at the great caravan towing and set-up schools you can attend before heading off. Find the closest one to you here >
- Check the hitch – make sure it is tight, and that everything is connected properly, including the lights.
- Is the hitch securely fixed?
- Are the safety chains connected?
- Is the handbrake on the caravan off?
- Have you closed all the roof hatches and windows?
- Did you turn off the gas bottle?
- Are all the cupboards and drawers shut?
- Is the jockey wheel up?
- Is the refrigerator on DC?
- Did you put the step up?
- Are the tyre pressures correct?
On The Road Here are some tips to remember while you are actually driving:
- Easy does it – your vehicle will perform differently when you are towing a caravan. This applies when you are accelerating, braking and cornering. Therefore it is important that you take everything easy. This means slowing down and being more methodical and deliberate with your driving. Take your time, enjoy the view, and stay safe.
- Anticipation is crucial – try to be more alert about traffic, road conditions, and hills when you are towing a caravan. This will help you mitigate the reduced braking performance of your car, plus you will be able to drive in a way that is more fuel-efficient.
- Be careful when overtaking – you can overtake other vehicles when you are towing a caravan, but remember it will take you longer. Your overall length is increased, while the power of your engine is decreased, so make sure you give yourself enough time for the maneuver.
- Swing wide – if you try to cut corners when towing a caravan you will probably come to grief. Always swing wide and exaggerate the turn if you have to, in order to make sure the caravan has enough room on the arc to get around the corner.
- Be courteous to other drivers – you will probably have to drive slower than a lot of other drivers when you are towing a caravan, so it is good manners to be aware of who is behind you, and then try to help them overtake you. For example, flash your indicator to show you are ready to be overtaken, and then slow up fractionally to help them get back to the correct side of the road.
- What if the caravan starts to sway? Firstly, don’t slam your brakes on. The key here is to slow down smoothly, either by applying the caravan’s brakes or by decelerating the car. It can be a scary situation, but a cool head and smooth driving will bring the caravan back under control.
- Take care when parking – two problems exist when parking a caravan. Firstly the caravan is probably wider than your car, so you will hit the curb sooner. Secondly, it is probably taller as well. If there is a slope on the road towards the kerb your caravan will lean. That lean could be enough to make the top of the caravan hit a pole or a tree.