Law

The tech­ni­cal­i­ties of keep­ing le­gal when tow­ing.

Motorhome & Caravan Trader - - News&reviews Tech Talk - Philip Lord By

Driv­ing a car on our roads re­quires that you know hun­dreds of road rules and ve­hi­cle safety re­quire­ments but, when tow­ing a car­a­van, there are even more things to add to the list to keep your rig le­gal – some of which are quite tech­ni­cal. Some re­quire­ments are well-known, but oth­ers may sur­prise you. And it’s best not to get that sur­prise when you’ve been pulled over by the po­lice or trans­port in­spec­tors.

Reg­u­la­tions you need to know about as a car­a­van­ner are roughly di­vided into three ar­eas: ve­hi­cle and trailer leg­isla­tive re­quire­ments, road rules per­tain­ing to tow­ing, and state reg­u­la­tion anom­alies.

There are over­ar­ch­ing gen­eral tow­ing com­pli­ance re­quire­ments of a fed­eral na­ture, such as in the Ve­hi­cle Stan­dards Bul­letin No.1 (VSB-1) and the Aus­tralian De­sign Rules, and then it cas­cades down. First to state and ter­ri­tory re­quire­ments (which may, or may not, ad­here to fed­eral re­quire­ments), then to spe­cific com­pli­ance re­lat­ing to your ve­hi­cle and van, which of­ten are pre­scribed as ve­hi­cle man­u­fac­turer rec­om­men­da­tions – which, in turn, can be bind­ing for Aus­tralian De­sign Rule (ADR) com­pli­ance.

So you need to be fa­mil­iar with them all, and un­der­stand that when there ap­pears to be a con­flict of max­i­mum lim­its, in all in­stances the lower limit ap­plies. If in doubt, never as­sume – get it checked out with your reg­is­tra­tion author­ity and/or your ve­hi­cle and car­a­van man­u­fac­tur­ers.

ON WEIGHT

I’ll pref­ace the weight dis­cus­sion be­low with this: the only way to ver­ify what your rig weighs is to go out and phys­i­cally mea­sure its weight on a pub­lic weigh­bridge. A re­cent weigh­bridge ticket show­ing that your rig is within the reg­u­la­tions (and shows the weights as you are driv­ing your van, fully loaded ready to go) is your pass­port to tour­ing peace of mind.

When you only have a ve­hi­cle to load up, pay­load is not usu­ally too much of a con­cern – un­less, of course, you own a 4WD that has been kit­ted out with a bull­bar

and winch, long-range fuel tank, cargo draw­ers and all the req­ui­site out­back tour­ing gear. But when tow­ing a car­a­van, there are weights you must know about. Some are ob­vi­ous, some are not. For starters, you need to know what your ve­hi­cle’s max­i­mum tow­ing ca­pac­ity is, as set by the man­u­fac­turer. The rea­son this is a le­gal re­quire­ment is that the per­ti­nent leg­is­la­tion states the max­i­mum tow­ing ca­pac­ity per­mit­ted is that set down by the man­u­fac­turer.

For very few ve­hi­cles, pro­duced 30 or more years ago, there is no such max­i­mum weight set out. The leg­is­la­tion al­lows for this, per­mit­ting a tow­ing max­i­mum weight of 1.5 times the ve­hi­cle’s kerb weight, pro­vided the trailer is equipped with brakes. In­ter­est­ingly, such ve­hi­cles can tow a trailer with­out brakes if that trailer does not ex­ceed the weight of the tow ve­hi­cle.

Of­ten the tow­ing ca­pac­ity is a stan­dard­ised weight across the range, which makes it easy. For oth­ers, you need to read the fine print. For ex­am­ple, the new Hilux 4X4 Dual Cab has a 3500kg tow­ing ca­pac­ity. That’s great – you have a van with a 3100kg Tare and you know you have 400kg pay­load to play with. Ex­cept, of course, the 3500kg weight only ap­plies to the 2.8L tur­bod­iesel 4X4 with man­ual trans­mis­sion. For the au­to­matic ver­sion, tow­ing ca­pac­ity drops to 3200kg. Pre­fer the Hilux 4.0L petrol V6? That has a lower tow­ing ca­pac­ity again, with a 3000kg max­i­mum.

Then there is the mat­ter of max­i­mum tow­ball down­load; you’d think the 10 per cent ‘rule’ (that is, al­low­ing 10 per cent of max­i­mum tow­ing ca­pac­ity as the tow­ball down­load max­i­mum) would be stan­dard across all ve­hi­cles, but it isn’t.

Nis­san 4WD utes and wag­ons, for ex­am­ple, all have a slid­ing scale of tow­ball weight re­duc­tions ac­cord­ing to ve­hi­cle pay­load. Many Euro­pean ve­hi­cles have an 80kg tow­ball down­load – re­gard­less of tow­ing ca­pac­ity.

What peo­ple also of­ten for­get is that the tow­ball mass be­comes part of the ve­hi­cle’s GVM when the van is hitched. If you have loaded the back of the ve­hi­cle then added the car­a­van’s weight it can be easy in some in­stances to ex­ceed the rear axle load­ing, which is then a com­pli­ance is­sue.

RAT­INGS AND RE­QUIRE­MENTS

Be­yond that, you need to check your tow­bar, tow­ball, shack­les, safety chain and cou­pling. What­ever the low­est rat­ing is for all that gear is what you can legally tow. Not of­ten do you find any such equip­ment rated lower than the ve­hi­cle’s tow­ing ca­pac­ity, but it can hap­pen.

For ex­am­ple, there are a few 2.5t-rated tow­balls around. If a pre­vi­ous owner has fit­ted such a tow­ball to a ve­hi­cle you now own, you need to change it if you’re tow­ing more than 2.5t (as­sum­ing the rest of your tow­ing equip­ment is rated to tow more than that).

Tow­bars are usu­ally rated to the ca­pac­ity of the ve­hi­cle, but again, there are ex­cep­tions. Both Ford and Holden of­fer a va­ri­ety of tow­bars with dif­fer­ent tow

rat­ings, so it pays to check. All this equip­ment must have the max­i­mum rat­ings vis­i­ble, ex­cept for shack­les. While they must be rated to han­dle the weight of the car­a­van, there is no re­quire­ment for them to be stamped with a load rat­ing.

Tow­ball height is also bound by le­gal re­quire­ments. For new ve­hi­cles, the height range re­quired for the tow­ball cou­pling was, un­til Jan­uary 2009, 350-420mm in ADR 62/01 (through ref­er­ence to AS 4177.1-1994). How­ever, ADR 62/02 came into force in Jan­uary 2009, and this height has been ex­panded to 350-460mm (through ref­er­ence to AS 4177.1-2004).

Most re­quire­ments for new car­a­vans come un­der the um­brella of those for a ‘trailer’ un­der re­quire­ments laid out in VSB-1. Ba­si­cally, this is an in­for­ma­tion doc­u­ment on the build­ing of small trail­ers, in­clud­ing car­a­vans. VSB-1 is a guide­line and the ADRS are the ac­tual le­gal re­quire­ments.

The tow­bar it­self must not pro­trude dan­ger­ously or ob­scure the num­ber plate when not hitched up. You need to keep that in mind if you have a fixed cou­pling fit­ted and, tech­ni­cally, a hitch-re­ceiver tow­bar may need the tongue re­moved when not tow­ing.

Your tyres must all be rated for the load they carry. It’s

un­likely that a new rig won’t be com­pli­ant but, again, if you’re buy­ing used, you don’t know what’s been fit­ted un­less you check. A lower speed and/or load-rated tyre can be fit­ted (although not legally), even though it’s the right size.

KNOW THE RULES

Okay, so you’ve checked all of the above and you’re ready to roll. One prob­lem – what about brakes? Any trailer above 750kg must have brakes (ex­cept, cu­ri­ously, the above-men­tioned sce­nario with an old ve­hi­cle) and any trailer above 2000kg must have brakes that can be ac­ti­vated by the driver.

So how fast can you tow a trailer? Firstly, you have to con­sult your tow ve­hi­cle’s owner’s man­ual. Some ve­hi­cles, such as the Subaru Out­back, have an 80km/h limit when tow­ing, while oth­ers, such as the Toy­ota Prado, spec­ify a 100km/h limit. So, in the­ory (although per­haps un­likely), you could be booked if you go over these lim­its. Or if you crash and it is proven you were ex­ceed­ing these man­u­fac­turer-nom­i­nated lim­its (even though the pre­vail­ing speed limit was higher), your in­sur­ance com­pany may not pay up. It’s no walk in the park some­times, this whole tow­ing ca­per.

Then it comes down to spe­cific state or ter­ri­tory reg­u­la­tions. In West­ern Aus­tralia, it’s 100km/h. In New South Wales, if your rig (ve­hi­cle and car­a­van) weigh up to 4.5t com­bined, it’s the pre­vail­ing speed limit – up to 110km/h, where ap­pli­ca­ble. If the rig weighs more than 4.5t, the limit is 100km/h. In Tas­ma­nia, it’s 90km/h when tow­ing. In all other states and ter­ri­to­ries, you can tow up to the pre­vail­ing posted speed limit.

There are other state and ter­ri­tory re­quire­ments, just to keep you on your toes.

In New South Wales, when tow­ing on a road with­out street lights you have to drive at least 60m be­hind heavy ve­hi­cles or other ve­hi­cles tow­ing trail­ers, un­less over­tak­ing. In West­ern Aus­tralia, out of built-up ar­eas, you must stay 200m be­hind the ve­hi­cle in front if your rig is more than 7.5m long, un­less over­tak­ing.

In New South Wales, for ex­am­ple, where a break­away brake sys­tem is in­stalled (as is a re­quire­ment in all leg­is­la­tures for trail­ers weigh­ing more than 2t), there must be a dis­play ca­pa­ble of warn­ing the driver if the con­di­tion of the trailer bat­tery is such that it may not be ca­pa­ble of ac­ti­vat­ing and hold­ing the brakes for the re­quired 15 min­utes if the trailer be­comes de­cou­pled. This ap­plies only to Nsw-reg­is­tered ve­hi­cles.

Then you have gen­eral road rules that might bring you un­done if you’re not aware of them. Need to cut across the end of a traf­fic is­land with your van be­cause you can’t swing around it? Ac­cord­ing to Aus­tralian Road Rules Reg­u­la­tion 290, driv­ing on a traf­fic is­land (ex­cept at a round­about) is il­le­gal.

Of course, ev­ery­one knows that if you are pulling away from the kerb, you must in­di­cate for five sec­onds be­fore you turn the wheel. Yes, that’s in Part 5, Sec­tion 46 and 48 of the Aus­tralian Road Rules: “If the driver is about to change di­rec­tion by mov­ing from a sta­tion­ary po­si­tion at the side of the road or in a me­dian strip park­ing area, the driver must give the change of di­rec­tion sig­nal for at least five sec­onds be­fore the driver changes di­rec­tion.”

You cer­tainly can’t say we don’t have enough gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion in Aus­tralia! Yet with this in­for­ma­tion, hope­fully you’ll have most bases cov­ered to stay le­gal.

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Top left: Tow­ing ca­pac­ity isn’t nec­es­sar­ily stan­dard­ised – Hilux 4X4 Dual Cabs have dif­fer­ent tow­ing ca­pac­i­ties across each model. Above: Putting your van on a weigh­bridge is the only real way to know how much it weighs fully loaded.

Top: The tow ve­hi­cle’s tow­ing ca­pac­ity and TBM limit is the first thing to check. Above: Tyre load rat­ings should all be high enough for the load.

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