With borders opening and closing at a moment’s notice, and the threat of snap lockdowns looming overhead, Australia’s new ‘normal’ has encouraged many families to forgo the cramped-legroom-don’t-forget-your-passport-delayed-flight holiday for the increasingly popular road trip style getaway.
If hitching up a caravan and jetting off with the family sounds like something you’ll be getting up to over the Christmas holidays, now is the time to get up to speed on everything you need to know.
First things first
There are two crucial elements you need to lock in before you can even think about going anywhere:
Do you have something to tow?
It is of the utmost importance for both your safety and the legalities of leisurely vehicular activities, that you know your towing capacity before you get started. That is, the maximum amount of weight your vehicle can haul without compromising safety or stability as specified by the manufacturer. While towing capacity is determined by a range of factors, it is also highly dependent on the weight guidelines (braked and unbraked) listed in your vehicle’s owner’s manual under aggregate trailer mass or ATM.
‘Braked’ towing capacity refers to the ATM of a trailer (caravan, boat, etc.) that has its own brakes. ‘Unbraked’ towing capacity refers to a trailer with no brakes of its own.
Understanding your vehicle’s towing capacity is essential, but there are several other factors that you should be aware of and consider before you hitch and haul anything.
Weight of the trailer
Trailers are, for the most part, assessed on their total weight as well as the maximum load they can support. Total weight being its tare weight (the weight of the trailer when it is not carrying any additional load).
Aggregate Trailer Mass
ATM refers to the unladen weight of your trailer and its maximum payload. To determine the vehicle’s accurate ATM, it is important to measure this weight when the trailer is uncoupled from the vehicle.
Gross Trailer Mass
The GTM measurement refers to the weight of the trailer once fully loaded and hitched to its axle. This is usually a smaller number in comparison to the ATM.
This refers to the additional weight a full tank of fuel adds to the weight of your trailer. This, however, does not include the weight of passengers, luggage, or accessories such as bull bars and roof racks.
Gross Vehicle Mass
The GVM refers directly to the total weight of your car with consideration to the payload. GVM can be calculated by adding the kerb weight with the total weight of passengers, goods such as your luggage, and any additional accessories. This is where you must pay careful attention to the braked or unbraked towing capacity specified in your owner’s manual.
Gross Combination Mass
The GCM refers to the maximum allowed total weight for both the trailer and the vehicle. To determine the GCM, combine the ATM of the trailer and the vehicle’s GVM.
Top tips for towing safely
Let’s face it, with precious cargo on board, ensuring a safe journey for your family should be your number one priority. As such, it is good practice to do your homework so that you are prepared for when something (inevitably) goes wrong. Here are some top tips for towing safely:
- Know the laws: it would be easy to assume that caravanning is a quiet enough pastime to slip past the eyes of the law, but there are numerous road rules and regulations that could put a significant dampener on the family vacation should you cop a fine. Therefore, it is in your best interests to ensure you are well-versed in all the relevant legal requirements for your jurisdiction including registration, insurance, and roadworthy certification. If you intend to cross state lines with your trailer it is also advisable to investigate the regulations and legal requirements of new jurisdictions as there may be additional requirements and laws you will have to satisfy to avoid a fine.
- Get a mechanical once over: before any long-haul drive, best practice, and common sense insist on checking things like your car’s tyre pressure, oil, and water levels. The same logic applies to towing. A thorough mechanical check on both your vehicle and trailer can save you in the long run so have your mechanic take a look at everything. Brakes, bearings, wheel nuts, taillights, tyre pressure, the list goes on and on, and any one of these things going wrong will most definitely turn your holiday into a nightmare.
- Practice, practice, practice: if you’re new to the trailer towing business, practicing the basic skills of towing and trailer manoeuvring is probably not a bad idea. It’s also important to not rely on anyone else for basic manoeuvres like reversing for example. So, practice as much as you can. Knowing how to use your jack and change your tyres in case of a flat is also a good idea (make sure you have a spare, and that its inflated correctly before you start your trip).
- Have a plan: there’s nothing worse than leaving things up to fate, only for fate to then leave you high and dry. Operating a motor vehicle with a trailer attached to the back of it means you will be limited by your size. Knowing where you can pull over safely, or park your unit, is vital information. A list of caravan parks, mechanics, and in-case-of-emergencies accommodations along the road is also advisable. The best way to avoid disaster is to be prepared for it, so do your homework and cross your fingers you don’t have to use it.
What are you waiting for?
Taking your family on a once in a lifetime road trip across the great landscapes Australia has to offer is second to none. The open road, thrill of adventure, and freedom of travelling with your own accommodation and creature comforts is the true Australian dream and it’s waiting for you to enjoy. Do your homework, practice the tricky stuff, and get moving!