By Ellen Morgan
Published: Wednesday, March 31, 2021
South Aussies are embracing life on the road, with an increase in caravan registrations showing we’re more excited to hop in a home on wheels and explore our stunning state. But are we loading our caravans safely and legally?
In the last decade, there’s been a 40% increase in caravans on SA roads, according to the Department for Infrastructure and Transport.
In 2020, 52,712 caravans were registered in South Australia – a significant jump, compared to the 37,600 listed in 2010.
“It’s fantastic to see so many South Australians embracing road-trip travel,” says RAA Manager of Safety and Infrastructure Charles Mountain.
“But it’s a timely reminder for us to keep up-to-date with the road rules and safety regulations around caravanning.”
One of the most important regulations and safety considerations to keep in mind? The load limitations when towing a caravan or camper trailer. Not only is overloading your vehicle with a hefty caravan unsafe, it could land you a fine.
How do I know if my vehicle or caravan is overloaded?
There’s a lot that goes into calculating whether or not you’ve overloaded your vehicle.
“Before heading off, make sure that neither your towing vehicle or your caravan is overloaded,” Mr Mountain says.
“It’s important to consider the gross vehicle mass (GVM), the gross combination mass (GCM) and the maximum tow ball weight for your vehicle prior to hitching up a caravan and heading out on the road.”
The GVM is the maximum legal weight your vehicle can be – including passengers, items on roof racks and equipment that might be loaded into it. This figure can be found in your vehicle’s handbook.
The GCM will also be detailed in your vehicle’s handbook. This is the maximum combined weight of your vehicle (the GVM) and the caravan or trailer it’s towing.
Included in your GCM is the maximum tow ball mass, which refers to how much downward force can be placed on your tow ball. You can check the load on the tow ball (with your caravan or trailer attached) with a towbar weight scale, to ensure you’re not exceeding the recommended limit for your car’s tow ball. These are available to purchase from Repco.
How do I avoid overloading?
“We’d recommend familiarising yourself with your vehicle’s GVM, GCM and maximum tow ball weight prior to purchasing or hiring a caravan,” says Mr Mountain.
“If you’re in the market for a caravan, you’ll need to stick within the weight limits prescribed by your vehicle’s manufacturer.”
While most caravan dealers should discuss weight and loading with you prior to purchase, it’s best to keep this front-of-mind before considering any caravans specifically.
Your vehicle may not have the capacity to safely, and legally, tow some of the heftier caravans on the market.
With all the mod-cons now available for a home on wheels, they’re getting heavier – an important consideration when you’re dreaming up your ideal road-trip setup.
Local caravan hire companies like Getaway Caravan Hire will assist you with your towing needs. They’ll check your vehicle’s towing capacity to make sure it meets weight specifications. That way, you won’t drive away with a load that’s too heavy to handle.
Don’t forget, there’s a lot more than just the weight of your vehicle and caravan to think about.
“People also forget to consider the weight of their personal belongings, water stores, oil and generators,” Mr Mountain says.
All this additional weight needs to be incorporated into your overall GCM, so we recommend choosing a caravan that comfortably fits within your maximum weight. This will leave plenty of wriggle room for any extra supplies or items you pick up along the way.
If you’re unsure about anything, speak to your preferred caravan hire company or dealership about their recommendations, or chat to our Technical Advisory team who can help with any tech queries.
We also recommend having your setup weighed prior to hitting the road. There are a number of public weighbridges in South Australia, including at Nuriootpa, Mitchell Park and Wingfield. Here, you can drive your car and caravan or camper trailer onto the weighbridge and find out its GCM.
These days there are even services that can come to you and weigh your setup. Nifty!
Keep in mind, your rig’s weight isn’t just a safety issue. Overloading can potentially hurt your hip pocket too, as shown through a recent blitz in Victoria.
“We’ve recently seen Victoria Police conduct random testing of vehicle and caravan combinations, finding many to be significantly overloaded beyond manufacturer’s recommendations,” Mr Mountain warns.
“This is concerning, as overloading can put a significant strain on your vehicle, can reduce the safety of your combination, and possibly even lead to a fine.”
Overloading can also put the weight distribution of your vehicle out of balance, which can cause further safety concerns and legal issues. For more information on weight distribution requirements and tips, check out our Caravanning 101 article.
If you’d like more information and practical support, RAA offer training courses in safe caravan and trailer use.