Tow­ing speed

Go! Drive and Camp Camp Guide - - Front Page -

Leave your in­ner Sarel van der Merwe at home when you hitch a car­a­van

There are those who brag about the way they let fly while tow­ing a car­a­van, but if you’re tow­ing too fast and things go wrong, there will be hell to pay.

It’s in­con­ve­nient to lum­ber along to your hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion. You want your camp set up by early af­ter­noon, but when tow­ing a ve­hi­cle it is un­de­ni­ably more dan­ger­ous to drive at 120 km/h, es­pe­cially when the road has bends, when you try to avoid a pot­hole or when you need to brake sharply. The mo­men­tum of a car­a­van, which in this case pushes your car from be­hind, or may even pull it to one side, can have dis­as­trous re­sults.

Ge­off Elske, for­mer gen­eral man­ager of the AA, reck­ons that the safest tow­ing speed is 90-100 km/h. This may per­haps seem te­dious, but as Ge­off says, it’s pet­ri­fy­ing to see how some car­a­van­ners speed at 120 km/h.

“There are quite a num­ber of ques­tions the driver of a tow­ing ve­hi­cle must ask hi­mor her­self be­fore hit­ting the road – things such as whether the car­a­van is loaded cor­rectly and whether ba­sic com­po­nents of both ve­hi­cles are func­tion­ing as they should.

Also re­mem­ber that a tow­ing com­bi­na­tion never han­dles as eas­ily as a ve­hi­cle on its own. This is why it’s ad­vis­able to dou­ble your fol­low­ing dis­tance when tow­ing. In­stead of ap­ply­ing the two-sec­ond rule, make it four se­conds so that there is suf­fi­cient space be­tween you and the ve­hi­cle ahead if you sud­denly need to brake hard.”


It is as­tound­ing and in­sight­ful to see the big dif­fer­ence that a lit­tle less speed makes with re­gard to your tow­ing com­bi­na­tion and your abil­ity to brake.

Prof. Fran­cois Smit and Dr. Marèt Cloete of the Uni­ver­sity of Stel­len­bosch’s De­part­ment of Ap­plied Math­e­mat­ics made a few sums on their pocket cal­cu­la­tors to demon­strate the dis­tances needed to stop a typ­i­cal tow­ing com­bi­na­tion in its tracks at dif­fer­ent speeds.

For the pur­pose of this ex­er­cise, we used a dou­ble-cab bakkie with a tare of 1 900 kg, lug­gage weigh­ing 200 kg, two oc­cu­pants weig­ing 100 kg each ( ei­ther you or your brother in law will have to fol­low a strict diet. – Ed.), and a half-filled fuel tank of 40 kg (thus al­to­ge­hter 2 340 kg) tow­ing a car­a­van with a tare of 1 120 kg and 100 kg of lug­gage in­side (al­to­gether mak­ing up 1 220 kg). Your re­ac­tion time is be­tween 0,6 s and 1 s; so we’ll work with an av­er­age of 0,8 s.

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