Tow­ing weight and driver’s li­cences

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Know the weight of your tow­ing com­bi­na­tion

It’s been a while since there has been such a com­plex sub­ject in the tow­ing world as the one con­cern­ing tow­ing weight and driver’s li­cences. Af­ter we ex­plained in Wegsleep #89 what you should be pre­pared for at the weigh­bridge – and what to do if you’re over­weight – we’ve been in­un­dated with queries.

It seems ev­ery an­swer leads to an­other ques­tion. Peo­ple are confused and an­gry about the sit­u­a­tion and their feel­ing of help­less­ness.

The good news is you can do some­thing about this your­self.


The in­for­ma­tion on your trailer’s disc dif­fers from what your trailer weighs. The tare weight is heav­ier than what the weigh­bridge says and ac­cord­ing to the gross ve­hi­cle mass (GVM) you’re over­weight if you pack any­thing more than a case of toma­toes. Now you’re an­gry at the world and you’re look­ing for some­one to blame.

Whoa, says Fanie Marx of the South African Car­a­van As­so­ci­a­tion (SACA). “The prob­lem has many causes, and most of th­ese are as­so­ci­ated with com­pe­ti­tion be­tween man­u­fac­tur­ers – and this has a long his­tory. Yes, the truth may have been bent a bit and chances might have been taken to en­sure a trailer is the light­est on the mar­ket, but this isn’t go­ing to help you one bit at the weigh­bridge.

“The law is clear: It is your re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure your com­bi­na­tion is le­gal. The law en­force­ment of­fi­cers are not go­ing to say ‘quickly phone your trailer man­u­fac­turer to come solve this dilemma’. I reckon we must stop point­ing fin­gers and fight­ing, take the mat­ter into our own hands and cor­rect it. Get your­self to a weigh­bridge, find out what your trailer weighs and do what you must to get the pa­per­work in or­der,” Fanie says.


Willem Brits, a Wegsleep reader from Pre­to­ria, re­cently went through the process of get­ting the pa­per work for his 2011 model Jur­gens Exclusive in or­der. He says he re­alised he would have to de­ter­mine his car­a­van’s empty weight again af­ter he in­stalled air-con­di­tion­ing, a car­a­van mover and a bam­boo box mat­tress (which is heav­ier than the orig­i­nal).

He con­tacted his lo­cal traf­fic de­part­ment and asked which weigh­bridge the au­thor­i­ties recog­nise. He got an an­swer and headed that way with his car­a­van’s regis­tra­tion doc­u­ments. Here Willem was helped with the weigh­ing process and the end re­sult was that his empty car­a­van was 300kg heav­ier than the tare weight on the disc. It cost them R220 at the weigh­bridge.

After­wards they went to the test­ing site to put his trailer through the test again. The axles, tyres and brakes among oth­ers were

checked, as well as the lights and re­flec­tors – to en­sure the trailer is road­wor­thy. This cost him R347.

Willem then handed in his doc­u­ments from the weigh­bridge and the test­ing site at the li­cens­ing of­fice. Shortly after­wards a new li­cence disc with the ad­justed tare weight was is­sued.

But the prob­lem was that the trailer’s tare weight and GVM were now ex­actly the same, which meant they wouldn’t be able to load any­thing in the car­a­van.. They ex­plained the prob­lem to the peo­ple at the li­cenc­ing of­fice and were re­ferred to a Data Fix counter where they took all their doc­u­men­ta­tion.

Here the bu­reau­cracy got in the way a lit­tle and there was a to and fro about which forms should be com­pleted, but even­tu­ally they got on the right track with the cor­rect doc­u­ments. They had to re­turn two weeks later.

When Willem’s wife, Surette, ar­rived two week later to col­lect the new li­cence disc, the in­for­ma­tion was un­changed. Ac­cord­ing to Willem Surette then threw a bit of a tantrum and later that same day she left with the cor­rect li­cence. The trailer’s GVM is now just over 200kg more than its tare weight. In the end the whole proses took just over a month and Willem says he must now just re­place the trailer’s disc.


Alta Swanepoel, a le­gal ad­vi­sor spe­cial­is­ing in road trans­port and traf­fic law, says she’s glad to hear about peo­ple like Willem who are do­ing some­thing about the sit­u­a­tion.

“I think a huge prob­lem in South Africa is the Diy-at­ti­tude. It is af­ter all easy for us to add some­thing and change our trailer a lit­tle here and there. But it’s shock­ing how few peo­ple un­der­stand that those changes can make their trailer to­tally un­road­wor­thy. “There­fore, it’s good to hear there are peo­ple who fol­low the cor­rect process to get on the right side of the law again.”

It all starts at the weigh­bridge, Alta says. “Find out from your lo­cal traf­fic de­part­ment which one you can go to to get the ball rolling.”

But she is sur­prised to hear Willem could get his trailer’s GVM changed. “It’s only the Na­tional Reg­u­la­tor of Com­pul­sory Spec­i­fi­ca­tions (NRCS) that can change a ve­hi­cle’s GVM. You can get the tare weight changed your­self, but only the man­u­fac­turer, to­gether with the NRCS, can change the GVM. I un­der­stand there are cases, es­pe­cially with older mod­els, where the man­u­fac­turer isn’t in the coun­try any­more, and then you can go to cer­tain test sites where they can cal­cu­late it for you.

“But you can­not de­cide for your­self that the GVM must be changed. If you change it your­self, it will still be in­cor­rect on the ENATIS sys­tem, be­cause the ve­hi­cle spec­i­fi­ca­tion stays the same if it doesn’t get ho­molo­gated again.

“In Ar­ti­cle 1 of the Road Traf­fic Act is a def­i­ni­tion of GVM and gross com­bi­na­tion mass (GCM), and both state only the man­u­fac­turer may change th­ese. Most test­ing sites don’t touch the GVM, be­cause this is that ve­hi­cle’s max­i­mum safe ca­pac­ity.

“The man­u­fac­turer must take things like the trailer’s tyres, the brake spec­i­fi­ca­tions and axles in ac­count and ac­cord­ingly de­ter­mine what the GVM must be. There are cer­tain min­i­mum stan­dards. If you change th­ese and the ve­hi­cle is in an ac­ci­dent, you’ll have huge prob­lems,” Alta warns.


Bradley Sal­ters, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Jur­gens Ci, says he is aware of peo­ple who’ve got­ten their trailer’s tare weight and GVM changed, but Jur­gens Ci are still find­ing out ex­actly what the sit­u­a­tion is.

“We’ve had many re­quests from our deal­ers and from cus­tomers who want to get their trailer’s in­for­ma­tion changed, es­pe­cially peo­ple with older mod­els,” Bradley says.

“There are sev­eral rea­sons for this, and one must also note that the leg­is­la­tion has changed af­ter many of th­ese car­a­vans were man­u­fac­tured. As far as I know, the process must in­clude a let­ter of au­thor­ity from the man­u­fac­turer. In that let­ter the man­u­fac­turer must say that it isn’t op­posed to the chang­ing of the GVM. But this only ap­plies to those spe­cific car­a­vans and not the whole range. If the whole range’s GVM needs be changed, only the man­u­fac­turer may do so.”

Bradley says his team and him­self have met with Alta to try and un­der­stand what their op­tions are.

“it’s im­por­tant to make our cus­tomers’ lives as easy as pos­si­ble. We must get guide­lines with re­gards to GVM in place, be­cause there are spec­i­fi­ca­tions that need to be ad­hered to. I sus­pect in the case of peo­ple who’ve up to now man­aged to change their trailer’s GVM them­selves, there wasn’t con­fir­ma­tion given by the man­u­fac­turer.

“We have in the mean­time made a doc­u­ment avail­able to our deal­ers that ex­plains the process peo­ple need to fol­low. Peo­ple can also get that im­por­tant let­ter of au­tho­ri­sa­tion from their lo­cal dealer.”

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