Before you tow, here’s what you must know

It's important to be aware of the legal responsibilities involved with towing a caravan.

Are you in the market for a caravan or similar vehicle? Then it’s important you’re aware of the legal responsibilities involved with towing a caravan.

Caravan & Camping Industry Association NSW has put together vital info about tow vehicle requirements when it’s time to get hitched.

In addition, there are plenty of handy hints for towing a caravan when you’re ready to get behind the wheel.

Once you have a grip on the rules around towing, you can begin to think about being at this stage.

Important info about your tow vehicle

If you are going to buy a caravan or trailer, it is critical that you 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. 

If the manufacturer has not stipulated a recommended tow mass, then the vehicle may tow one-and-a-half times its unladen mass, if the trailer has brakes. If no brakes are fitted, then 750kg is the maximum permissible towing capacity.

Safe travelling equals happy holiday.

With regards to tow vehicles, the tow bar fitted must not exceed the capacity approved by the vehicle manufacturer. In some cases, some additional (strengthening) materials are supplied with the certified tow bar as part of the fitting kit. It may also be advisable to fit additional towing aids to enhance towing compatibility and safety.

These could include:

  • Weight distribution hitches (sometimes colloquially called ‘level rides’). Seek expert advice on this type of equipment. Such devices should not be used with override brakes.
  • Fitting load-levelling devices (frequently called weight-distributing hitches or level rides). These must not be used with override brakes.
  • Fitting a suitable brake controller and connection: all trailers of 750kg gross trailer mass (GTM) or more must be fitted with brakes. Electric brakes are the most commonly used and require a brake controller, with appropriate connections to the trailer, to be fitted in the tow vehicle.
  • Extra mirrors may need to be added to the tow vehicle when towing large trailers. It is a legal requirement that the driver has a clear and unobstructed view of the road to the rear of the vehicle, or vehicle combination, at all times.
  • Fitting an extra transmission oil cooler for vehicles with automatic transmission. These are standard on some late-model vehicles.
  • As some motor vehicle manufacturers limit the speed at which you can tow a trailer, always refer to the vehicle handbook.

Taking extra care while on the road is important when towing a caravan.

Remember that towing a trailer or caravan will decrease your vehicle’s acceleration and braking performance. It will also reduce vehicle control and manoeuvrability, while increasing fuel consumption.

Your vehicle’s towing capacity is a factor of its engine size, brakes, weight, transmission, tyres, bearings, chassis, suspension, etc.

After taking these variables into account, the vehicle’s manufacturer establishes a recommended towing capacity, which is the legal maximum and must not be exceeded.

With a few careful considerations, you'll be able to enjoy the caravan lifestyle with safety and ease.

Top tips for drivers when towing a caravan

Apart from adding to the driver’s legal responsibilities, towing requires a greater degree of knowledge and skill than normal driving.

When towing, you should:

  • Allow for the extra length and width of the trailer when entering traffic.
  • Apply the accelerator, brakes, and steering smoothly and gently to avoid sway, especially in wet or slippery conditions.
  • Maintain a space of at least 60m between you and the vehicle in front to allow for a longer stopping distance.
  • Engage a lower gear in both manual and automatic vehicles to increase vehicle control.
  • Allow more time and a greater distance in which to overtake. When towing, your vehicle’s capacity to accelerate is reduced.
  • If possible, reverse with a person watching the rear of the trailer.
  • Where areas are provided, pull off the road to allow traffic building up behind you to overtake.
  • Be aware that towing is more stressful than normal driving and is more likely to cause fatigue. Therefore, more rest stops should be planned.


Do you have any tips you’d like to share about tow vehicles or towing a caravan? We’d love to hear them in the comments section below.

Isn’t it time you hit the road for a caravanning adventure? Book your BIG4 break now.

This information was republished with the permission of Caravan & Camping Industry Association NSW.

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9 comments on “Before you tow, here’s what you must know”

  1. Greg Smith

    19 October 2016 at 12:26 pm

    Do not ease off on your accelerator to allow Big rigs to pass on duel highway.  That will cause severe caravan sway.  It is best to maintain or gently increase your speed as he draws level.  It is safer to pull your van than it to push your car.  Called bow wave.

  2. Philip King

    19 October 2016 at 2:42 pm

    I feel many folk new to towing do not appreciate the increased fuel consumption of the tow vehicle - a reduced fuel range in the order 40% is not uncommon (not withstanding extra for head winds of course). With greater distances sometimes comtempleted good planning (or carrying reserve fuel) is needed.

  3. James Cameron

    20 October 2016 at 8:24 am

    If the combined length of tow vehicle and caravan is greater then 7.5 metres consider having a “DO NOT OVERTAKE TURNING VEHICLE” sign attached to the rear of the van. This gives you the same right as a truck to turn from adjoining lanes etc when making tight turns with the van attached.

  4. Ron Zahner

    20 October 2016 at 9:16 pm

    Excellent info re caravan safety and towing re vehicle and fatigue but this should be provided when purchasing and registering a caravan.

  5. Roy Brooks

    24 October 2016 at 6:37 pm

    Adjust the vehicle towing mirrors to suit the drivers vision, one third caravan and two thirds roadway. Remove these (additional mirrors) once a van site has been reached, if deciding on another trip into town without the van.

  6. Nickolas Mantikos

    26 October 2016 at 8:53 am

    Have just spent a week at Easts Beach caravan park Kiama.
    The staff there are fabulous and helped in every aspect of making our stay great being first time caravaners.
    Great job above and beyond the call of duty.

  7. Megan Alder

    28 March 2017 at 7:53 am

    Towing really does decrease the vehicles acceleration, and sometimes you have to learn that the hard way. I wonder if there are any easier ways to towing. I feel like there must be some easy way to tow motor vehicles or trailers.

  8. Derek Dewitt

    22 August 2017 at 12:10 am

    My wife and I just got a new trailer but don’t know where to start when it comes to towing it. I like that you mention how towing weights for the trailer and the ball can be found in the manual. We’ll have to check ours and do a bit of research so we can find a towbar that can handle the load. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Ben Colyer

    3 August 2018 at 2:20 pm

    When traveling on undivided roads that are signposted at 100kmph or more and on unsealed roads, have your HEADLIGHTS on. This allows you to be seen by oncoming traffic from a longer distance, enabling safer decisions.

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