Towing weight and driver’s licences
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.
PUT THAT FINGER AWAY
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.
THE TRAILER BUILDER SPEAKS
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.”