AUSTRALIAN TOWING REGULATIONS, EQUIPMENT REQUIREMENTS and SPEED LIMITS
Over the past few years there have been many changes in vehicle design. In most cases these have provided greater reliability and improved fuel consumption. Unfortunately the characteristics required for towing have usually not been enhanced. Most vehicle owners hand books state that vehicles are primarily designed for as passenger vehicles and not for towing. Motorists should appreciate these limitations so that their vehicle dose not suffer structural damage due to the use of incorrect towing equipment of excessive loads.
In 1989 Australian Design Rules (ADRs) were introduced which affect the construction and towing of trailers, including caravans. Currently there are no towing regulations which specifically refer to ‘caravans’ The ADRs include the requirement for plates on trailer drawbars which amongst other information states the aggregate, or maximum, mass of the trailer and data on the towbar which indicates the rating of that towbar. It should be noted that ADR 62 states that the rated capacity of the towbar shall not exceed the vehicle manufacturer recommendations. Below is a summary of the rules relating to towing weights which should assist in the selection of towing equipment and/or caravan and the towing speeds applicable to various states.
While there are some variations in the Road Traffic Regulations in different States, most agree on the following safety aspects:
The trailer must not be bigger or heavier than the driver can safely control,
- The total or laden mass of the trailer must not be more than:
- the maximum mass (A.T.M.) determined by the trailer manufacturer and as stated on the trailer plate,
- the load rating of the trailer’s coupling of the towbar fitted to the towing vehicle,
- the total load rating of all the trailer’s tyres.
The combination of tow vehicle and trailer must be properly set up. This means that there is a load of about 10% of the total trailer mass on the towbar and that the outfit has a level attitude. Generally this necessitates the use of a load distributing device.
- Exceeding the maximum towing load as recommended by the towing vehicle manufacturer can:
- Invalidate warranty
- Nullify insurance, and
- Effect long term vehicle safety and reliability.
National Towing Regulations
In December, 1998, agreement was reached by all State Ministers of Transport to implement National towing regulations.
In essence, the National rules state that: A motor vehicle with a Gross Vehicle Mass (G.M.V.) not exceeding 4.5 tonnes must not, without the approval of an authority, tow a trailer with a mass (including any load) exceeding;
The capacity of the towing apparatus fitted to the vehicle, or
A relevant maximum trailer mass specified by the vehicle manufacturer.
Put simply, the most you can tow is the amount specified by the vehicle manufacturer of the capacity of the towbar – WHICH EVER IS LEAST.
If you want to know how much your vehicle can tow, firstly check the owners manual or vehicle sales brochure for the manufacturer’s towing recommendations. Secondly make sure that the towing capacity is as least as much, if not more, than the mass of the trailer, including its load. If you are unsure how strong the towbar is, have a chat to a reputable towing equipment specialist.
In the case where a motor vehicle manufacturer has not specified a maximum towing mass, the limit is stated to be:
1.5 times the unladen or kerb mass of the motor vehicle if the trailer is fitted with brakes; or
The unloaded mass of the motor vehicle if the trailer is not fitted with brakes.
It should be noted, however, that the above will rarely apply as apart from using a truck, just about every vehicle that is likely to be used for towing a caravan, boat trailer, horsefloat or similar has a manufacturer’s towing recommendation.
Owners of 4WDs and light commercial vehicles should also be careful that they do not exceed the Gross Combined Mass (G.C.M.) of the vehicle. The GCM refers to the maximum vehicle plus its load, including a trailer, is permitted to weigh. It is possible that when a motor vehicle is loaded with, for example, five adults, their luggage and camping gear that the maximum allowable trailer mass has to be reduced so as to not exceed the GCM.
While this may sound a little confusing, it is important that this is considered so as to not void the warranty or insurance.
Speed Limits When Towing
Open road speed limit.
Please note that the normal open road speed limit is 100km/h unless sign posted otherwise.
Normal sign posted speed limits apply.
ACT, New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria & ACT.
As for South Australia.
90km/h when towing a caravan or trailer.
100 km/h when towing a caravan or trailer..
Safe speed for prevailing conditions on the open road.
Motorists should remember that in some cases motor vehicle manufacturers place speed restrictions on a vehicle when towing over a certain mass. Ford only permits 100km/h if the load is less than 1200 kg. At 1600 kg this drops to 90km/h. The speed further reduces until at 2300 kg, 80km/h is the maximum. Holden takes a similar approach but also ties the vehicle speed to the type of towing equipment fitted. Spending a few minutes reading the trailer towing section in the owners manual is highly recommended.
Another area of concern involves the fitting of other than original towing equipment, particularly where the car manufacturer has a ‘towing package’. Examples are the current model Commodore rated at 2100 kg towing capacity and the Falcon which is now rated at 2300 kg.
In the cases of the Commodore there are up to 15 items that make up the towing pack. Ford’s list somewhat fewer for the Falcon. Simply fitting a 2100 kg towbar to the former or 1 2300 kg to the latter does not automatically upgrade the vehicles to the respective capacity recommended by the manufacturer.
In this case manufacturer’s warranties could well be considered void if some damage was caused to the vehicle and it was discovered that the other required items has not been installed. Included in these are special brake pads for Falcons and underbody heat shield on the Commodores.
The above doesn’t mean that it is always necessary to fit genuine equipment. It is important, however, to consult someone experienced in towing equipment to ensure that the correct equipment is chosen and fitted.
COPING WITH THE WET SEASON (season and weather)
Exploring the northern part of our extensive country during the ‘wet’ season can be a worthwhile experience. Places like Kakadu and Katherine Gorge are at their best and greenery is abound. However, there can also be drawbacks as rain usually falls daily and roads or tourist spots can be inaccessible. Camping spots can be closed and humidity uncomfortably high.
Whenever conditions are wet, the chances of something going wrong increase. Driving conditions need to be suitably modified and drivers must be vigilant at all times. But with the right preparation can also come rewards. For example, rainy conditions bring out flora that cannot be seen during the drier times. Don’t be put off by the wet conditions but consider carefully if other times of the year may be more suitable.
While Australia is generally considered to be a ‘dry’ country, there can be many occasions when intrepid caravanners may encounter wet conditions. These can consist of the ‘wet’ season in the northern regions of the country, rainy wintery conditions or flooded roads.
In a broad sense, any of these should be avoided if possible. Wet conditions certainly increase the likelihood of an accident or damage to equipment. Driving, or more importantly towing, when it is raining or the roads are covered with water requires a lot of care. Road surfaces can be slippery and visibility reduced. When water floods the road, the underlying surface can be badly damaged.
There is also the possibility of aquaplaning . This is a condition where the tyres are actually raised off the road surface by a layer of water. The result is complete loss of directional control or braking. Even when tyres do stay in contact with the road, braking distances will increase when the surface is wet.
Time spent on preparation never goes astray. Ensuring that the RV is waterproof should have a high priority. An RV that keeps out the water when standing still, may well let rain in when it is assisted by high wind pressure while out on the road.
The average caravan, camper trailer or motorhome should not be considered as being suitable for travel along flooded roads or through creekbeds when the water level has risen. A few manufacturers make special off-road units that have features like increased ground clearance that are designed to cope with these conditions. In some cases modifications may be able to be carried out on existing touring caravans but advise from experts is needed.
When having your RV serviced it is a good idea to tell the business owner where you intend to go and asking if any items need special attention. Checking the condition of sealants on older caravans is highly recommended.
Never leave home without first checking the road or likely weather conditions, particularly if venturing in to unfamiliar territory. During the ‘wet’ season and when rain is likely to fall, a dry road or track can become treacherous very quickly. Where possible consult locals or check with someone who has travelled in the opposite direction.
In regard to safety, by far the most important components are the tyres. Contrary to popular belief, the tyre tread does not provide grip or traction – not unless you are driving a tractor that is. The sole purpose of the tyre tread is to remove water from the road so that the tyre itself has contact with the road surface. So the greater the depth of tread, the more water can be removed.
Tyre experts suggest that there should be a minimum of 1.5mm of tread depth. Many tyres have tread depth indicator bars that show up once the tyre reaching its minimum depth. Ask a tyre specialist to point these out to you.
Correct inflation pressures are also important. The car’s tyre placard will show the recommended tyre pressures for maximum load conditions. Accurate tyre pressures for the caravan or trailer can only be determined after weighing the unit. A tyre dealer should be able to assist in determining the most suitable pressures for the load carried. It is not necessary to deflate tyres just because the road is wet.
When it is raining or there is a likelihood of water over the road, travelling slower is a must. Slower driving reduces the chance of aquaplaning and makes it easier to maintain control. While driving with the headlights on is recommended, make sure that the headlights are switched to low beam.
Avoid sudden braking or change of direction. All actions should be gradual and smooth. While engine power is being applied it is easier to maintain control over the car/trailer combination. On slippery surfaces, applying the brakes can cause loss of control. Never brake while negotiating a corner or turn.
Any puddles should be considered as potential danger. Where possible drive around these or straddle them. You never know how deep the hole might be. When it comes to creek crossings or deep floodways, always stop and check out the depth. Sometimes there are roadside depth markers. Alternatively wait for another vehicle to go through so as to establish the depth. If in doubt as to whether to proceed, walk through the crossing to check the depth and look for snags or areas that may be washed away. Do not drive through if there is strong water flow.
As explained in the previous article on off-road driving, a UHF radio is high recommended. The story can be found under the heading ‘Off The Beaten Track’
Fit new windscreen wiper blades
If windows fog up switch on the air conditioner and heater to remove moisture from interior.
Don’t venture along roads or tracks that are “Closed”
If venturing onto unsealed roads carry adequate provisions in case the road becomes impassable and you need to wait for dryer conditions.
If unsure whether a road or track is passable check with local authorities or a motorist coming in the opposite direction.
More information can be obtained from State motoring organisations, Transport Departments, local police stations and tourist information offices.