READY, SET, TOW

Take your first steps to­wards a great on-the-road ad­ven­ture

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - TRAVEL WISDOM CARAVANNING - KARA MUR­PHY

Per­haps your neigh­bour has a car­a­van and is al­ways off ex­plor­ing Aus­tralia, or a friend con­stantly posts their car­a­van­ning ad­ven­tures on so­cial me­dia. Or maybe trav­el­ling with a car­a­van is some­thing you’ve al­ways wanted to do … and you’re fi­nally ready to pur­sue your dream.

Car­a­vans are un­der­stand­ably pop­u­lar (more than 500,000 are reg­is­tered in Aus­tralia). They al­low you to bring com­fort­able, of­ten self­con­tained ac­com­mo­da­tion to count­less des­ti­na­tions, and, once you ar­rive and un­hitch your van, you can eas­ily ex­plore the area with your tow­ing ve­hi­cle.

Here are some things to pon­der be­fore you bor­row, buy or rent a car­a­van and em­bark on your first trip – un­for­tu­nately they’re not quite as re­lax­ing as sip­ping sun down­ers from a beachside site. How­ever, once you mas­ter the tech­ni­cal side of car­a­van­ning, you’ll be ready to em­brace Aus­tralia’s far-flung cor­ners with ad­ven­ture stir­ring your soul and life’s ne­ces­si­ties in tow.

KNOW YOUR WEIGHTS

“First, you need to be able to de­ter­mine if your car/car­a­van com­bi­na­tion is le­gal,” ex­plains Kirsty Clin­ton, RACQ’s prin­ci­pal me­dia ad­vi­sor fi­nan­cial ser­vices. “This means hav­ing a sound un­der­stand­ing of (tow­ing) ter­mi­nol­ogy and how it ap­plies to you.”

Some terms in­clude tare weight, which is the weight of an empty car­a­van (in­clud­ing fac­tory fit­ted op­tions but ex­clud­ing liq­uids such as wa­ter and gas), and pay­load, the car­a­van’s max­i­mum carry ca­pac­ity. Ag­gre­gate trailer mass (ATM) is the max­i­mum your car­a­van is al­lowed to weigh on its own (so its tare weight plus its pay­load), while gross trailer mass (GTM) is the max­i­mum weight the car­a­van’s wheels can sup­port when cou­pled to a tow ve­hi­cle.

Car­a­vans built af­ter August 1989 should have the ATM – and, in some cases, the GTM and tare weight – on the plates. Tow ball load (or mass) is the por­tion of the car­a­van weight that your tow­ing ve­hi­cle takes when the car­a­van is prop­erly hitched. Cru­cial for safety rea­sons, it’s af­fected by how you dis­trib­ute your load in the car­a­van.

To de­ter­mine tow ball load, and what your car­a­van weighs with all your gear and pro­vi­sions, pack your van as you nor­mally would and take it to a pub­lic weigh­bridge. An­other way to en­sure you don’t ex­ceed the pay­load is to weigh every­thing you’re plan­ning to put in­side – in­clud­ing wa­ter – at home. Pay­loads can be quite lim­ited, so “keep a close eye on what you’re car­ry­ing, and cull as much as pos­si­ble to en­sure the car­a­van’s weight doesn’t ex­ceed the spec­i­fi­ca­tion,” Kirsty warns.

You also need to know your ve­hi­cle’s max­i­mum tow­ing ca­pac­ity. This fig­ure must not ex­ceed the lesser of the tow­ing ca­pac­ity spec­i­fied by the man­u­fac­turer, the car­a­van’s max­i­mum car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity, the rated ca­pac­ity of the tow bar and cou­plings, and the max­i­mum car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity of the tyres.

And check the gross ve­hi­cle mass (GVM), the max­i­mum weight of the fully laden tow­ing ve­hi­cle, and gross com­bi­na­tion mass (GCM), the max­i­mum to­tal weight of the fully laden ve­hi­cle and car­a­van. If your tow­ing ve­hi­cle is loaded to its GVM, you might find its tow­ing ca­pac­ity is less than what is ad­ver­tised.

These aren’t your only con­sid­er­a­tions. Be­fore de­cid­ing on a car­a­van, it’s im­per­a­tive to re­search your ve­hi­cle’s tow­ing spec­i­fi­ca­tions, the car­a­van’s spec­i­fi­ca­tions, and tow­ing reg­u­la­tions and guid­ance in your state or ter­ri­tory and in your des­ti­na­tion.

HITCH AND CHECK

Once you have an ap­pro­pri­ate car­a­van/tow­ing ve­hi­cle com­bi­na­tion, you’ll need to hitch your car­a­van to your ve­hi­cle, which, ac­cord­ing to RACQ’s web­site, “isn’t as hard as it looks”. Still, there are a num­ber of steps you need to fol­low; car­a­van man­u­fac­tur­ers such as Jayco pro­vide a com­pre­hen­sive check­list cov­er­ing tow­ing, stor­ing, and us­ing the van, and re­tail­ers should show you how to hitch it as well.

Ev­ery time the van is hitched, you’ll need to do a safety check be­fore tow­ing. This in­cludes en­sur­ing doors, hatches, win­dows, cov­ers and load are se­cured, tyre pres­sures are cor­rect, safety chains are prop­erly con­nected … and more.

EM­BRACE FAR-FLUNG COR­NERS WITH AD­VEN­TURE STIR­RING YOUR SOUL AND LIFE’S NE­CES­SI­TIES IN TOW

AD­JUST YOUR DRIV­ING

When tow­ing, your ve­hi­cle will han­dle dif­fer­ently, in­clud­ing steer­ing, sta­bil­ity, stop­ping dis­tance and brak­ing per­for­mance. “Tow­ing any large trailer (or car­a­van) re­quires a very dif­fer­ent set of skills to driv­ing a car,” Kirsty ex­plains. “The (tow ve­hi­cle plus car­a­van) com­bi­na­tion will be longer, higher and heav­ier. It will be slower to ac­cel­er­ate and much slower to stop. It will also be af­fected by cross winds and the draft from semi-trail­ers, and it can be­come un­sta­ble on poor road sur­faces.”

The Queens­land Depart­ment of Trans­port and Main Roads’ Safe Tow­ing Guide in­cludes driv­ing tips. These in­clude al­low­ing for the car­a­van’s ten­dency to “cut-in” on curves and cor­ners; al­low­ing longer dis­tances for brak­ing and over­tak­ing; avoid­ing sud­den lane changes; us­ing the ac­cel­er­a­tor, brakes, and steer­ing smoothly and gen­tly at all times; and plan­ning more rest stops and shorter trav­el­ling days as tow­ing is more stress­ful and tir­ing.

Your fuel con­sump­tion will also in­crease. To min­imise this, keep your speed down – just be aware of mo­torists be­hind you and use turnouts, when ap­pro­pri­ate. Also, check the speed lim­its that ap­ply when tow­ing, as they vary be­tween states and ter­ri­to­ries. Some ve­hi­cle man­u­fac­tur­ers spec­ify even lower max­i­mum tow­ing speeds, for ex­am­ple, 80km/h.

As for re­vers­ing, “it can be dif­fi­cult to mas­ter and is a mat­ter of prac­tice”, Kirsty says. At the car­a­van site, some­one with more ex­pe­ri­ence might of­fer to help you park, she sug­gests. “How­ever, make sure they’re in a safe place that you can see them.’’

TAKE A COURSE

“If you’ve never towed be­fore or haven’t towed in a long time, RACQ rec­om­mends that you prac­tise your skills in a safe en­vi­ron­ment with qual­i­fied in­struc­tors be­fore hit­ting the road,” Kirsty says.

A car­a­van tow­ing course cov­ers safety and main­te­nance checks, le­gal re­quire­ments, load­ing strate­gies, hitching and un­hitch­ing, driv­ing and ma­noeu­vring tech­niques, sway man­age­ment and con­trol, brak­ing and re­vers­ing. If you don’t al­ready have a car­a­van/tow ve­hi­cle com­bi­na­tion, some in­struc­tors may have a set-up you can hire.

HIRE BE­FORE BUY­ING

Hir­ing a car­a­van be­fore buy­ing could be a wise move. Ac­cord­ing to a Jayco sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive: “If you’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced car­a­van­ning be­fore,

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