Caravanning is great fun but it’s vital you’re armed with all of the right information to get off on your next adventure safely. Your tow vehicle and caravan really need to work as one. Which is why we’ve compiled a few caravan and tow vehicle connection tips that bring a great rig together.
HOW MUCH CAN I CARRY?
Confused by towing ratings and limits? Don’t be, they’re really underpinned by two simple philosophies: your tow vehicle must be strong enough to carry itself, you and your gear and pull along the van. And your van needs to support its own weight and everything within it.
Caravan and tow vehicle manufacturers set the legally-binding component and vehicle ratings then publish key weights so we’re able to meet them.
Your tow vehicle must carry itself, what’s in it (including you) PLUS tow your van.
WILL MY TOW BAR SUFFICE?
Vehicle manufacturers often tempt you with their tow ball capacities but without the right tow bar these ratings matter little. That’s because tow bars are subject to ratings just like your van or car. Often, you can special order a factory-fitted tow bar but it may take an aftermarket tow bar to achieve the vehicle’s advertised ratings. A good 4WD mechanic can advise.
WHAT ABOUT MY COUPLING?
You’re spoiled for choice with couplings. Even the simple on-road 50mm ball connection does the trick on tarmac or well-maintained dirt roads. Self-aligning off-road couplings are increasingly popular with off-road or dirt-terrain caravans providing you with more articulation that you’ll ever need. And they’re easy to fit at the tow vehicle via the tow bar pin.
IS MY RIG STABLE?
Towing affects different parts of your vehicle. Even if your rig’s legit on paper, daily use can work components beyond legal limits. Simply loading your gear differently can throw excess weight onto the 4WD’s rear-wheel axle. This is why tow ball download weight is so important.
Keeping your caravan’s a-frame parallel with the ground is a good start as it lets the axles on your rig take their rightful load.
IS THE COUPLING SET AT THE RIGHT HEIGHT?
In Australia, the hitch can sit between 35cm to 46cm from the ground potentially creating a discrepancy between coupling points on a tow vehicle and van.
Van manufacturers allow for this by designing their vans to suit a suitable like-minded class of tow vehicle.
That said, it’s best to check the coupling height on your caravan build against your target tow vehicle, especially when choosing extras affecting clearance and suspension.
ADJUSTING THE COUPLING HEIGHT DISCREPANCIES
If a height discrepancy impacts your caravan and tow vehicle connection, there’s plenty you can do to address it.
Some adjustable couplings and tow bar tongues allow for a minor variation in the van and 4WD coupling height but they can impair access to the back of the vehicle.
Your local van repairer or 4WD mechanic will offer a range of solutions that could involve adjusting or replacing suspension, wheel and rims, with a clear understanding of their impact on fuel economy, engine wear and towing dynamics.
WHEELS AND TYRES
Generally, standard Highway Terrain tyres deliver greater fuel economy and quieter performance on tarmac. But they puncture easily and offer poorer grip on dirt or gravel compared to Light Truck-rated All Terrain styles.
Some van manufacturers will match the tyres and rim to your caravan make and model.
POWERING THE CARAVAN AND TOW VEHICLE CONNECTION
To safely tow on our roads, the caravan’s powered essentials–such as trailer lights and electric brakes–rely on feedback from the towing vehicle. Van manufacturers often wire these 12V components out to a seven-pin (or twelve-pin) plug, which you’d connect to the vehicle.
But to charge your van’s battery and power your fridge as you drive, you’ll need an Anderson plug near the tow bar wired with a thick cable to the tow vehicle’s battery.
An auto electrician can help improve the safety and efficiency of your powered caravan and tow vehicle connection.
A WIRELESS FUTURE?
‘Smart’ wireless-enabled appliances–teamed with an appropriate caravan battery system–can operate via feedback from the tow vehicle without a direct power connection.
Already we’re seeing wireless brake lights, trailer brake controllers and fridges utilising this clever technology.
DO I NEED A BRAKE CONTROLLER?
Almost all caravans require brakes. And if yours are electric you’ll need a trailer brake controller as well. That said, you may already have one integrated into your tow vehicle. If not, fit a wireless model as directed in the vehicle or on the van (blue-toothed to your fixed mobile phone). Or, hard-wire a trailer brake controller into the cabin out to whichever pin controls the electric brakes.
‘Hydraulic’ and ‘mechanic’ brakes on vans smaller than 2,000kg are less sophisticated than electric brakes but require no brake controller. And neither do trailers without brakes weighing less than 750kg, loaded.
WHAT ABOUT BREAK-AWAY BRAKES?
Break-away brakes should be fitted to tow-ables weighing more than 2,000kg. Usually, they have their own power supply but if your caravan is registered in NSW, you must stay abreast of the break-away brake’s battery condition as you drive via an in-cabin monitor.
Towing mirrors are required by law if your van is wider than the tow vehicle. But you can also boost visibility with a reversing camera. Most modern vehicles come with some sort of camera reversing system that are increasingly embedded with sensor technology to assist with coupling up and reversing.
Want to know more? Caravan manufacturers and dealers are the experts with these situations and they handle them on a day-to-day basis. So why not chat to your local expert, and while you are at it, you might find yourself a great deal.