Load your caravan correctly and half the battle is won
There are videos on Youtube showing how swaying caravans get so badly out of control that they not only topple over, but cause its towing vehicle to crash too. It’s one thing if there are no injuries or loss of life, but the news archives are filled with stories about holidays ending tragically due to incidents like these.
go! Drive & Camp readers who narrowly escaped swaying accidents report that you really don’t want to be in a towing vehicle when a caravan starts to sway uncontrollably. Johan Naudé from Newcastle wrote on on our Facebook page: “It is terrifying... your towing vehicle is yanked around and the rear wheels lift up.”
Jan Kruger from Mossel Bay says he was once en route to the Kruger National Park when he experienced such a harrowing ordeal: “It was a case of the tail wagging the dog... All you can do is to lower your speed, try to keep your combination in the right direction and try to get it stable. I ended up in this situation because my caravan’s tyre pressure was too low. Since then, I tow with caravan tyres that are inflated with nitrogen – in summer to 3 bar and in winter 3,5 bar. It works for me.”
Johan says that after this incident, he changed towing vehicles. His car was too weak for his caravan. “The power and weight of the towing vehicle has a huge impact on stability.”
What should you do if your caravan starts swaying wildly and yanks your vehicle around?
The caravan and towing experts Hans Koekemoer from Pretoria and Pieter Crous from Cape Town say that Jan did the right thing by lowering his speed and trying everything possible to stabilise his towing combination.
Some people recommend that you should gear down and then accelerate if your caravan starts swaying wildly – but that’s the worst advice possible. You should also not brake – it’s a death sentence.
Hans says: “Do not brake. Take your feet off those pedals, grip the steering wheel and focus on staying on course. Let the vehicle lose speed on its own.”
Pieter confirms this: “Let go of the pedals. Do not brake. Do not accelerate. And maintain control. There isn’t much more that you can do. I speak from experience – this has happened to me.
“The only time that you should accelerate a little bit, is if this happens on a rather steep uphill stretch. If it’s downhill, you can brake a little bit – but only a little bit. You should definitely not hit the brakes hard in a situation like this.”
DO IT RIGHT
The two towing experts say that by doing a few things right from the start, you can prevent a swaying dilemma from occuring in the first place.
LOCK AND LOAD
If you pack your caravan correctly and the load is distributed proportionally, chances are slim that it will get out of control, says Pieter. “Incorrect loading is probably the main cause for swaying incidents. The problem is that people who tow, load too much weight at the back of the caravan.”
Hans agrees. He says the secret of packing a caravan is to remember that the nose weight is the stability weight and the tail weight is the swerve weight. “If you load too much in the tail side, you’ll get a pendulum effect. You start from the axle, loading heavier to the front and your nose weight should preferably be around 70 kg. The closer you can get to 100-110 kg, the better.
“When your caravan is hitched, the nose should point slightly upwards, but once you pull away, it should stand in line with your vehicle. People also make the mistake of packing everything at the back of the caravan when they see the nose is pointing downwards, which leads to van swaying on the road.”
THE PRESSURE’S ON
Hans and Pieter say Jan was right to go for 3 bar on his caravan tyres. They do the same and it works.
Tyre pressure that’s too low is one of the major causes of caravans that start swaying wildly.
Hans says that modern-day soft-wall tyres absorb some of the shock and transfers weight with sideward sways. But if your tyres aren’t properly inflated, these sways are too much and it will cause your caravan to swerve. By opting for 3 bar, you minimise these swaying movements. Also ensure one tyre’s pressure isn’t higher than the other. Such unevenness can also lead to swaying incidents.
Fitting bakkie tyres with hard sidewalls to your caravan for more stability, but then towing it with a vehicle that has low-profile tyres or ones with softer sidewalls, is a mistake. Too much of the rolling motion of the vehicle will then get transferred to the caravan.
Johannes Knipe, the caravan doctor from Cape Town, says that caravan tyres that aren’t inflated enough are more likely to burst. That also applies to tyres that still look new because they’re not used often, but are actually already kaput. Losing a caravan is a high price to pay for basic neglegence.
PAMPER THE BRAKES
Hans says it’s a big mistake not to regularly check the brakes of your caravan and towing vehicle.
“If the brakes haven’t been adjusted correctly, the brake pads don’t apply equal force on all sides, which will cause your caravan to sway. Roadworthiness is incredibly important.”
WHAT ABOUT A STABILISER?
Hans says modern-day caravans are built in such a way that they no longer require stabilisers.
“A stabiliser isn’t the alpha and the omega of safe towing, although it does help with the weight distribution and to make your towing combination more stable.”
BEWARE THE SUCTION
One thing you should never do is to overtake a truck while going downhill at speed, says Hans. “That suction force that you experience when you overtake a truck is stronger on a downhill. That’s when people who tow make mistakes. As soon as they feel they’re being pulled closer by the force, they try to rectify it, and the caravan starts to sway on the downwhill.” It is however safe to overtake while going uphill, he says.
DON’T BE A SPEED FREAK
“It’s probably the most important thing about towing,” says Hans. “Don’t race. It’s almost always best to not tow faster than 110 km/h, and then only when it’s on the open road and conditions allow it.
“I don’t need to tell anyone with experience in towing how rough crosswinds can make a caravan sway. You can’t go barrelling down the highway at 140 km while towing a caravan. If you encounter a strong crosswind at that speed, it only spells trouble.”
go! Drive & Camp says Tow properly, safely and – especially – enjoyably.