The road is wet, greasy and downhill and your brain is cold. With a heavy caravan in tow, there are perhaps 3000 good reasons why this scene is potentially dangerous. Unless you’re a professional driver accustomed to having multiple trailers behind you, braking is the one area where most caravanners can easily come unstuck.
Do the math. Most of the new breed of ‘3500kg-capable’ crew-cab utes weigh not much over two tonnes, whereas the caravans they tow, when fully laden with water, clothes, food and toys, usually tip the scales as much as a tonne more. To make matters worse, unless you fill the load bay with sheep, sand bags or the like, there’s not much weight over the ute’s rear wheels, putting it at the mercy of the ‘push’ behind it.
In Britain, this would be illegal, as – sensibly – their laws demand that the towed vehicle may not weight more than the tow car. In fact, the UK Caravan Club that runs its annual ‘tow car of the year’ awards insists that caravans weigh no more than 80 per cent of the tow tug.
Here we don’t concern ourselves with such trivial things, so we need to rely on technology and common sense. Here are some tips:
KNOW YOUR WEIGHTS
You first need to know the Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) of your caravan permitted by the manufacturer. This is its total travelling weight, including whatever you add as payload, such as water, gas, food and luggage and is usually stamped on a plate pop-riveted to the A-frame or inside the boot.
Then you need to know the tow ball weight of your fully loaded caravan. This is the weight on the back of your car (or on the jockey wheel if the van is uncoupled). You can measure this on a public weighbridge or, even better, you can use your bathroom scales or buy a device to weigh it at home before you hitch up for a trip. Usually you can expect the tow ball weight to be around 10 per cent of the ATM.