Traveling by caravan is one of the most adventurous activities that you can do with the whole family, so if you are thinking about buying a caravan be sure that it will be worth it. However, if you are thinking of buying a caravan, you need to ensure you are confident that your car is able to tow it. So, what do you need on your car so you can tow a caravan?
To tow a caravan on your car, you need to know the towing capacity of your vehicle, the towball weight and have a towbar with a high enough rating that will enable the process. You will need to make sure you meet all legal weight requirements for both your car and caravan.
There are several factors that need to be taken into consideration when you intend to tow your caravan on your car. These factors are important and need to be taken seriously due to legal and safety reasons. Therefore, make sure that you fulfill all the requirements before you proceed with the actual towing.
The most essential part of your towing procedure is the towing capacity of your vehicle. The towing capacity refers to the maximum weight your vehicle can tow, and usually, this information can be found in the manual of your vehicle. It is important that the towing capacity is high enough in order to be able to handle the caravan you intend to tow.
The towing capacity needs to be in accordance with the caravan’s weight both for legal and safety reasons. You should always check this information because hitting the road with an unsuitable caravan towed to your car would be dangerous for you and for other vehicles on the road. Not to mention the fines you will have to pay if you get pulled over by the police and that your insurance will not cover you in an accident if you are found to be overweight.
All the general weight limits of your car can be found in your owners manual however they can be a bit confusing. If you want a detailed description of all of the acronyms and weight types you can look at what is GVM, GCM and ATM. These are actually combinations of weights that will help you determine what type of caravan you can tow on your vehicle. The most common weights that you will encounter when trying to determine the towing capacity are:
- GTM (gross trailer mass) = ATM without tow ball mass
- ATM (aggregate trailer mass) = tare mass (caravan) + maximum payload
- GVM (gross vehicle mass) = vehicle tare mass + maximum payload
- GCM (gross combination mass) = GVM + GTM
If you do not know a lot about vehicles and caravans, these weight combinations might not mean anything to you, and they are probably confusing. So here is a quick explanation of each of them.
The gross trailer mass is the weight given by your manufacturer, and it refers to the weight your trailer can carry. This is actually a combination of the weight that your trailer can carry along with its payload but without the tow ball mass.
Payload is the amount that your trailer can carry and it can be usually found in the manual of your trailer. In other words, the payload refers to everything that is inside the caravan, along with your luggage. So, payload refers to everything that will be inside the vehicle, including the water and gas in the tanks, so this needs to be taken into consideration.
However, when you see the amount of GTM, you need to bear in mind that the tow ball mass is not included, but it is an important factor. When you tow your caravan to your car, much of the weight is transferred on the tow ball. This means that you have to consider the weight that the tow ball can withstand, so you can have a safe journey on the road.
The ATM is given by the manufacturer, and it refers to the maximum towing weight of the caravan. You can not go above this weight since it would be dangerous, and you could seriously damage your caravan. The ATM includes the payload as well as the tow ball mass.
In other words, ATM refers to everything that goes with the caravan, along with all the things you intend to carry with you in the van. It is the absolute maximum weight the van is allowed to be.
The GVM refers to the maximum weight that your car can carry when it is fully loaded. This means that it includes all of the accessories on your car as well as the payload (including all people). If you are towing something with your vehicle, you need to also include the tow ball mass of the trailer as well.
GCM is a combination of gross vehicle mass and gross trailer mass. So, this refers to the weight of your car and caravan combined. This amount plays the most important part in your towing procedure, meaning you have to be precise and get it right.
If you go above this amount expressed through the GCM, you will not only put yourself in danger on the road, but you will also be driving illegally. In these kinds of cases, if you have an accident on the road, your insurance will most likely not cover the damage due to irregularities done on your behalf.
In addition, you should bear in mind that you need to make some kind of balance in these weights. Namely, you need to consider the weight of your car, caravan, and the weight of the tow ball. If you get the maximum weight out of all of them, you will most likely go above the allowed amounts, and that is why you need to consider balancing among the three of them.
It is important to consider that the GCM of a vehicle is NOT always the combination of the GVM of a vehicle plus its maximum towing capacity. If you don’t look at the numbers carefully, this can lead to instances (commonly with dual cab utes) when you think you can safely tow a 3.5 tonne caravan as that is the cars maximum towing capacity, however due to the GCM, you actually can only tow that much if you take a lot of weight out of the car itself. Ideally, you want a car that can tow your caravan without having to drastically change what you put into the car.
You need to be aware that you might have to consider doing some modifications to your car in order to make it possible to tow a caravan on it. These modifications will make your towing process easier as well as safer. You might have to spend a little bit more money, but it will be definitely worth it because many of them will ensure your safety on the road.
The first modification to your car, if you don’t already have one, is a towbar. This bar will have a maximum weight on it and that needs to be more than the weight of van you are trying to pull with it while also taking into account the cars maximum towing capacity.
For example, there is no point putting a towbar with a maximum weight of 2000kg on your car if you are wanting to tow a van that is 2800kg. Your car will be restricted to towing its maximum towing capacity or the weight limit of the towbar, whichever is lower.
Once you determine the towing capacity of your caravan and car, you should move on to the other requirements needed for towing. That leads us to the required efficient braking system. There are different kinds of braking systems, but electric brakes are considered the best on the market.
Namely, by law, all caravans that weigh over 2000kg need to have an electric braking system, however, professionals recommend this system on all caravans. You will find them commonly on any caravan or camper trailer that is over 750kg ATM. This is due to the fact that the electric brakes come with a lot of features and benefits, which will surely ease up your traveling with a towed caravan. For instance, they make braking and stopping quite easy and simple, and they reduce the tear on the brakes of your vehicle.
You can get electronic brakes wired into your car permanently or can get wireless systems if you don’t want a permanent solution or tow your van with more than one car.
You need to think about reversing your towed caravan in tight spots, and in what way you can do that safely and without any frustrations. If you do not have any special equipment for this purpose, you will have to find someone to navigate you through the whole process. Nonetheless, even when you do have someone to navigate you, you might still find yourself in irritable situations where you will not do anything successfully.
That is why it is recommended that you get yourself a reverse camera on the back of your caravan that will enhance your visibility, and help you reverse your caravan quite simply, even in tight spots. A reverse camera will also help you check whether your towing procedure is done correctly and will give you the possibility to check your caravan while driving. It is a very convenient tool that will make towing more simplified.
If your car doesn’t already have a reverse camera, you can actually get dual ones that have both a camera at the back of the car and another on the back of the van. Perfect for both reversing the van and hitching it up.
Even if you are towing a lighter caravan, the back of your vehicle might sag easily, meaning that there will be a lot of pressure on your suspension. Upgrading your rear suspension is of crucial importance, and many times it is non-negotiable since the suspensions provided by the manufacturers are quite basic. In other words, upgrading your suspension will be of crucial importance in order to take some weight off your vehicle.
Luckily, rear coil springs are easily replaced once your car is appropriately adjusted on stands. However, to do this the right way, you might consider getting some professionals to do this for you.
If you are looking for the best suspension upgrade, then you should probably opt for Air suspension. These are the most convenient replacements since they operate through a compressor, and they will allow you to level up the rear end that has been sagged due to towing.
It is a known fact that contemporary automatics are quite more advantageous in comparison to their manual counterparts. They come with a lot of features that make driving easier and smoother. However, these automatics usually come with really small coolers that can start to struggle when a heavier caravan is towed to your car, especially during scorching hot days.
It is wise to upgrade the transmission cooler a little bit. Actually, what you can do, which is the most convenient solution, is add an additional transmission cooler that will mitigate the extra heat that is caused by heavier loads. This way, your automatic transmission fluid will experience a longer lifespan and you won’t be as concerned about overheating.
In Australia, it is legal to tow a caravan on a full C class license. All drivers must abide by the laws governing the towing of trailers and this can differ from state to state (e.g. in WA you cannot exceed 100km/h even if the speed limit is higher). It pays to do a bit of research about the laws in the state you are travelling so you don’t get caught out.
If you have never towed a trailer before or are going from a small, low camper trailer to a large full-sized caravan, it is advisable to go to a towing course who will teach you all the tips and tricks to safely tow and reverse your camper or caravan.
If you have read this whole article, you have seen that you have to consider a lot of things before you tow your caravan with your car and it’s not as simple as just hitching up and away you go. However, if you take the right steps, you can happily tow your caravan to some amazing places and on some epic journeys.