Towing a trailer requires additional knowledge and skill. All trailers, including caravans, affect the performance of the towing vehicle.
They affect fuel consumption, acceleration, braking ability, general control and manoeuvrability. These effects worsen as the size and weight of the trailer increase relative to that of the towing vehicle. The extra length and width can be hard to manage, with wind, road roughness and passing vehicles having a greater effect than on the vehicle alone. This puts additional responsibilities on a driver.
The information on this page applies to vehicles not exceeding 4.5 tonne gross vehicle mass (GVM).
The information given in this section is a guide only and is subject to change at any time without notice.
This information is also available in the Road Users Handbook.
You can access the full text of the NSW Road Rules on the NSW Legislation website.
On this page
Rules for towing
- Towing more than one trailer at a time is not allowed
- Nobody is allowed to ride in trailers or caravans
- When towing and driving on a road without street lights, drive at least 60 metres behind heavy vehicles or other vehicles towing trailers,unless overtaking
- Learner drivers and learner and provisional motorcycle riders are not allowed to tow
- P1 car licence holders can tow small trailers with up to 250 kg of unloaded weight.
Driving with a trailer takes practice. Remember:
- Allow for the trailer’s tendency to ‘cut-in’ on corners and curves
- Allow longer distances for braking,overtaking and joining a traffic stream
- When reversing, it is advisable to have someone outside the vehicle giving directions
- Avoid sudden lane changes and changes of direction
- Look further ahead than normal so you can react to changes in traffic or road conditions
- Use the accelerator, brakes and steering smoothly and gently at all times
- Use a lower gear when travelling downhill to increase vehicle control and reduce strain on brakes
- Slow down well before entering corners and curves
- Trailers tend to jerk the back of the vehicle around and can cause sway (snaking).If a trailer starts to sway, the vehicle’s brakes should not be applied, except as an absolute last resort.If the trailer’s brakes can be operated by themselves they should be applied gently, otherwise a steady speed or slight acceleration should be held if possible until the sway stops
- Take care not to hold up traffic unnecessarily
- Plan more rest stops and shorter travelling days as towing is more stressful and tiring than normal driving
- There is no speciﬁc speed restriction while towing a trailer. However, the posted speed limits must not be exceeded.Always drive to the road,traffic and weather conditions.
Before each trip, check:
- Vehicle and trailer are roadworthy.
- All tyres are properly inﬂated.
- Trailer’s wheel-bearings, suspension and brakes work properly.
- All lights work and safety chains are properly connected.
- Oil,water,brake ﬂuid,battery and other service checks on the vehicle.
At regular intervals during the trip, check:
- Couplings, all doors, hatches, covers and any load or equipment are still properly secured.
- Tyres are still properly inﬂated and not rubbing on suspension or body work.
If travelling to another State, check with the relevant roads authority whether there are different rules.
The towing vehicle
Vehicles must be suited to the trailer. Vehicle manufacturers usually indicate in the owner’s manuals the maximum weight and other features of trailers appropriate for the vehicle.These limits should not be exceeded.
- All vehicles must comply with all relevant standards for registration and be roadworthy at all times
- Rear number plates and lights must not be obscured by the towbar when there is no trailer connected.
Towing vehicles must be properly equipped with:
- Towbars and couplings of a suitable type and capacity
- Electrical sockets for lighting
- Brake connections if the trailer is ﬁtted with power or electric brakes.
- Extra mirrors may be needed for the towing vehicle if towing a large trailer
- For vehicles with automatic transmission, an extra transmission oil cooler may be needed
- Some vehicles need structural reinforcement and/or special suspension and transmission options and load-distributing devices to be able to tow heavier trailers.
A properly designed and ﬁtted towbar is essential for towing. The rated capacity of the towbar and coupling should not be exceeded.
The towbar should be clearly and permanently marked with its:
- Maximum rated capacity
- Make and model of the vehicle it is intended for or the manufacturer’s part number
- Manufacturer’s name or trade mark.
This is compulsory for vehicles built after 1 January 1992. The exception is where the towbar is a permanent part of the vehicle.
Towbars must not protrude dangerously when there is no trailer connected.
Load equalisers can be used when towing large caravans. Load equalisers:
- Help the vehicle retain normal suspension height and effective steering control
- Transfer some of the weight from the towbar to the front and rear suspension of the vehicle.
As load equalisers may overload the towbar and its components, check with the towbar manufacturer for advice before use.
Trailers must be a suitable size and type for their intended tasks. They must be built to meet the standards for registration. If a trailer is required to be registered it must be ﬁtted with a rear number plate.
Towing ratio requirement
The loaded mass of the trailer must not exceed the lesser of:
- Rated capacity of the towbar and tow coupling.
- Maximum towing capacity of the vehicle.
- Maximum carrying capacity of the trailer.
- Maximum rated carrying capacity of the tyres.
If the vehicle manufacturer has not speciﬁed the maximum towing mass, the maximum towing mass is:
- One and a half times the unladen mass of the towing vehicle, provided that the trailer is ﬁtted with brakes which are connected and in working order, or
- The unladen mass of the towing vehicle if the trailer does not require brakes.
Vehicles with a manufacturer’s gross combination mass (GCM) more than 4.5 tonne may tow in accordance with the above requirements.The GCM is the gross combination mass of the car and loaded trailer.
The minimum braking system for a trailer depends on the type of trailer, its weight and the weight of the vehicle:
- 0 – 750 kg loaded weight – no brakes required.
- 751 – 2000 kg loaded weight – braking on both wheels on at least one axle.
- 2001– 4500 kg loaded weight – braking on all wheels, and an automatic breakaway system in case the trailer becomes detached from the vehicle.
Brakes must be operable from the driver’s seating position.
- Must be strong enough to take the weight of a fully loaded trailer.
- Should be marked with the manufacturer’s name or trade mark and rated capacity.
- Must be equipped with a positive locking mechanism. The locking mechanism must be able to be released regardless of the angle of the trailer to the towing vehicle.
- Must comply with Australian Standards.
- Trailers less than 2500 kg when loaded must be ﬁtted with at least one safety chain.
- Trailers over 2500 kg when loaded must be ﬁtted with two safety chains.
To prevent the front end of the drawbar from hitting the ground if the coupling is disconnected,safety chains must be:
- As short as practicable and connected to the towing vehicle.
- Crossed over if two chains are ﬁtted.
It is important that trailers are not overloaded and that loads are properly secured to or contained within the trailer:
- A load must not project more than 150mm beyond the trailer’s width or be more than 2.5m overall width, whichever is less
- Loads that project more than 1.2m behind a trailer must have a red ﬂag attached to the end of the load. This ﬂag must be at least 300 mm square and clearly visible. To avoid having an overhanging load, you should purchase a trailer that suitably contains the load
- Between sunset and sunrise, or when there is insufficient daylight, a clear red light or at least two red reﬂectors must be ﬁxed to the end of any projecting load
- Overall length of the vehicle and trailer combination including its load must not be more than 19m
- To reduce sway, heavy loads should be concentrated towards the centre of the trailer
- Loads should be kept as low and as close as possible to the axle or axles with about 60 per cent of the total weight forward of the centre of the axle or axles. As a general rule, about 5-10 per cent of the total mass of the trailer plus load should be supported by the vehicle through the coupling. The trailer drawbar should be level or slightly ‘nose down’
- Loads must be covered to secure and contain all materials within the vehicle and trailer. Fines apply for uncovered loads.
We weight up the considerations in the age-old debate: Caravan or Camper Trailer?
If you’re looking for recreational vehicle to take camping, is a caravan or camper trailer better? Choosing between the two is a question of how close you want to get to the elements, how far you want to go and, ultimately, what lifestyle you want to lead while you’re on the road.
SET-UP TIME AND CONVENIENCE
Quick and convenient set-ups tend to boil down to the person(s) doing the setting up and what it is you’re doing. Some caravan owners might just chock the wheels, drop the jack stands and be cooking dinner within minutes, while others will have awnings, annexes, power, toilet cassettes and kids to organise before they can relax.
Likewise, camper trailer owners may just need to wind-up the roof or fold out the frame and they’re cooking with gas in no time, while more involved set-ups may require the clearing of the camp area, an annex to be assembled and pegs to be hammered into the ground.
WHY CHOOSE A CAMPER TRAILER?
- Lower mass: a typical camper will weigh between 600-900 kilograms; much less than the average caravan. This ensures that they are generally easier to handle on the road and, of course, that they can offer better fuel-efficiency than caravans do.
- Lower profile: further aiding fuel-efficiency, the lower profile of a camper trailer means they offer much less wind resistance.
- Space-efficiency on the road: because of that lower profile, you’re able to stack a bit of gear on top of your camper. Some manufacturers even offer fold-out boat racks designed to carry and deploy small boats.
- Space-efficiency in storage: this is a big issue for many people and one that some might not consider until it’s too late. Camper trailers offer a great balance between function and space-efficiency. Most campers will have a smaller footprint, not to mention a lower profile, than that of a typical caravan.
- Access: all of these factors combined mean that the off-road camper can go places that even the best off-road caravans can’t go to.
WHY YOU’D STICK WITH A CARAVAN
- Weather protection: assuming water-tightness, there’s no denying that a caravan is always going to offer superior weather protection than even the best camper trailer. This is particularly true with extremes in temperature.
- Comfort and convenience: modern caravans have reached a point where they carry all the comforts of home, such as washing machines, home theatres and the trusty toilet
- Security: no caravan is going to stop a determined thief; however, with four walls and a door, a sturdy caravan will deter the opportunist. On the other hand, a camper trailer offers little or no security while it’s erected.
- Setup: we’ve already discussed that this is highly-dependent on the experience of the user and what they want to do, however, after a long drive, it’s a joy to be able to jump straight into a caravan’s cabin, especially if it’s raining.
CARAVAN VERSUS CAMPER TRAILER
In the end, deciding between a camper trailer and a caravan means choosing between the camper trailer’s versatility, flexibility and freedom and the caravan’s outright comfort. The choice is yours. Whether you choose a caravan or camper trailer, here’s how to tow it.
Here are a few things that you should consider when going on a long haul adventure with or without a family.
Australia has a characteristic not shared by just about any other country in the world – long distances between major population centres with little or nothing in between. That means anyone contemplating travel around Australia has to take into consideration long distance driving. Anything from say a drive down the freeway between Sydney and Melbourne to the Sturt Highway in the Northern Territory. Each comes with it’s own particular hazards, one of them being boredom and another being the risk of everyone, including the driver falling asleep. An extra problem for families is making sure the junior members don’t drive everyone else crazy by not having anything interesting to keep them occupied. In addition to all of that, in a country full of not much at all, there is the fear of breaking down in the middle of nowhere and not being able to get mechanical assistance. So here are a few clues.
TOW VEHICLES AND RECREATIONAL VEHICLE CONDITION
It almost goes without saying that it’s vital particularly when venturing in remote areas to ensure you tow vehicle/caravan/motorhome are in tip top condition mechanically. That is to make sure that any vehicle is fully serviced and any items like tyres are checked carefully before starting any long journey. In days gone by doing a daily check on items like oil, water and tyre pressures were almost mandatory but these days, given a high mechanical reliability we all tend to be a bit careless about those items. Tyres in particular though should not be ignored and a daily check preferably when the tyres are cold is a useful thing to remember.
Driving a towing combination where the tow vehicle and caravan are loaded to the max is going to be much more hard work, particularly with the larger vans, than when there’s a couple of hundred spare kilos somewhere. In addition if the vehicle’s engine is just cruising, rather than working overtime, there is far less stress for the driver. On the open road with minimal traffic it might be less obvious but when driving in heavy traffic lightening the load can make all the difference.
TRAVELLERS – COUPLE
Just like your vehicle, making sure you are in good condition too can make for a much more pleasant trip. Not being ambitious about anticipated travel distances is both a relaxing way to travel and a great safety item. It’s a bit of a cliché but aiming to be stopped in time for Happy Hour each day isn’t a bad idea. It also gets around the problem in country areas of avoiding wildlife that tend to get on the roads late afternoon/early evening. Pre trip research should cover this nicely but it’s good to build plenty of time for unexpected diversions.
On the road, long distances can be very tiring. I know there are many a couple for whom the male half is the only driver but there are some good reasons why both should be driving. Not only does it share the driving load but it also means that in any emergency, both parties are capable of driving.
Keeping awake for long distances can be a challenge and frequent stops are certainly one answer, another is listening to music or talking books. The latter item which can easily be loaded onto something like an iPod or a similar MP3 player is a great way of passing the time and it’s possible to load 10 books or more for a long trip.
TRAVELLERS – A FAMILY
Travelling with a family requires a bit more thinking when contemplating long distance travel. The first item is undoubtedly keeping the troops entertained. There are of course a number of options here, certainly made easier by 21st century technology. Rear seat video screens, iPods, iPads and android tablets can all be utilised very effectively for personal entertainment. Another little dodge is to involve everyone in trip planning, keeping the junior navigators in route checking. Frequent stops should certainly be included in any travel agenda to break the monotony of long distances.
ON THE ROAD INTERESTS
Like junior family members, it’s good to develop interests that suit the travelling lifestyle. Photography is the most obvious example but there are other like geology, bird watching, Australian history and even for some, astronomy. Even when not actually doing said activities, it’s a good way to pass the time.
CHAT TO THE LOCALS
Travel information can be gleaned from any number of sources these days but sometimes the old fashioned method of talking to local people can be of help on a long journey. Not only can insights be gained into nearby attractions but also information on road conditions and any possible problems. This sort of information can often be time saving, as well as useful.
TIME TO HIT THE ROAD
Long distance driving is certainly a fact of life in Australia but with a bit of careful preparation and planning, it should be an enjoyable time on the road.