Can My Car Tow a Caravan?

🚙 Can My Car Tow a Caravan? (5 things to check!)

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When trying to match up the perfect car and caravan combination, it’s kind of like the chicken or the egg. Which one comes first?

There’s no doubt about it, setting up a car and caravan is a costly venture, so if you’ve already got a suitable tow rig, that’s going to save you a tonne of money.

But, you’re probably wondering if your car can tow a caravan, or if you’ll need to change vehicles in order to accommodate your holiday home on wheels.

Things to check when researching if your car can tow a caravan:

  1. Car’s towing capacity
  2. Car’s towbar capacity
  3. Car’s max. weight limit (GVM)
  4. Car’s payload
  5. Combined weight of car + caravan (GCM)

Here’s everything you need to know when trying to figure out if your car can tow a caravan.

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see our disclosures here.

Can My Car Tow a Caravan?

Clearview Towing Mirrors, Barcaldine QLD

If you’re deciding whether or not your car can legally tow a caravan, have a look at the following five weight capacities on your vehicle and go from there.

Car’s Towing Capacity

Vehicle Towing Capacity

Towing capacity is the maximum weight that your car can legally tow. This weight is set by your vehicle’s manufacturer and cannot be changed without upgrading some underbody and suspension components.

However, it’s important to understand the difference between braked and unbraked towing capacities (or “towing limits”).

Unbraked Towing Capacity

Unbraked Towing Capacity = The maximum weight that a car is allowed to tow if the trailer doesn’t need its own brakes.

By law in Australia, the Unbraked Towing Capacity of a car is capped at 750 kg. This basically means that 750 kg is the maximum weight that any car is allowed to tow without the trailer having its own brakes.

Any caravan or camper that weighs less than 750 kg does not need to have its own braking system as the brakes from the vehicle are legally strong enough to pull up the trailer as well.

Some of the Teardrop Campers and Pod Campers have an ATM (max fully-loaded trailer weight) of 750 kg or under, which means those ones can be towed with a vehicle that has an Unbraked Towing Capacity of 750 kg.

Keep in mind that not all cars are able to tow 750 kg unbraked. Smaller cars will have a lower unbraked towing capacity, however, larger cars will all be capped at 750 kg.

For Caravans UNDER 750 kg
Find out your car’s Unbraked Towing Capacity

Braked Towing Capacity

Braked Towing Capacity = The maximum trailer weight that the vehicle can tow if the trailer does have its own braking system.

Any caravan that has an ATM (Aggregate Trailer Mass) over 750 kg must have its own braking system.

Most caravans and campers will be over 750 kg, so this is the towing capacity weight you’ll most likely need to look at when seeing if your car can tow a caravan.

For Caravans OVER 750 kg
Find out your car’s Braked Towing Capacity

Where to Find Your Car’s Towing Capacities

The braked and unbraked towing capacities for your car may be in your vehicle’s user manual. If not, you can find them on Redbook.

Redbook Towing Capacities

Find your car’s towing capacities on Rebook:

  1. Search for your car’s make, model & year
  2. Locate your exact car from the matches
  3. Scroll down to ‘Overview’
  4. Click on ‘Specifications’
  5. Open up ‘Dimensions & Weights’
  6. Scroll down to “Towing Capacity”
Towing Capacities Explained →

Car’s Towbar Capacity

Tow Bar Capacities (Ball Load & Trailer Weight)
Source: TAG Towbars

When you hitch up a caravan, there will be a transfer of weight from the caravan onto the back of your car. This is called ‘tow ball weight’ or ‘tow ball download.’

It’s important to know what your car’s towbar capacities are so that you know the maximum weight you’re able to tow.

There should be two weights listed on the Towbar Compliance Tag:

  1. Max Ball Load
  2. Max Trailer Weight

Max Ball Load

Max Ball Load is the maximum amount of weight the caravan’s hitch can put onto the tow ball (a.k.a “Tow Ball Weight”)

The acceptable tow ball weight (TBW) in Australia is about 10% of the caravan’s ATM (Aggregate Trailer Mass) or a maximum of 350 kg – whichever is lower.

To estimate a caravan’s tow ball weight (when you’re looking to buy), simply calculate 10% of the caravan’s ATM. The ATM will be stamped onto the caravan’s compliance plate.

If that 10% figure is equal to or less than the Max Ball Load on your towbar, you should be able to tow that caravan as long as the van is within its weight limits.

Using the 10% rule for tow ball weight is only an estimate though. In reality, your caravan tow ball weight will change every time you add, subtract and shift the caravan’s load.

It’s handy to have your own set of Ball Weight Scales so that you can regularly measure your own tow ball weight and play with the load as necessary.

Tow Ball Weight Scales
Ball Weight Scales (eBay) →

If you do find that your tow ball weight is too high when you load up your caravan, below are some tips for reducing your tow ball weight.

How to Reduce Tow Ball Download →

Max Trailer Weight

Max Trailer Weight is the heaviest trailer weight that your towbar is rated to tow.

To find the fully-loaded weight of a caravan just look for the ATM (Aggregate Trailer Mass) on the caravan’s compliance plate. If the ATM is equal to or less than your Max Trailer Weight, then you’ll be able to tow that caravan.

What is Caravan ATM Weight? →

Car’s Max Weight Limit (GVM)

Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM)

GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass) is the maximum weight that your car is allowed to be, which is set by the vehicle manufacturer.

Your car’s GVM should be stamped onto the vehicle’s VIN plate. If you can’t find it there, you can search for it on Redbook.

Your car’s GVM is important when figuring out if your car can tow a caravan because you need to know you’ll have enough weight allowance (payload) for all of your requirements.

Everything You Need to Know About GVM Weight →

Car’s Payload

Patrol set up
How much Payload have you got in the car for “stuff?”

Payload is the available carrying capacity that your car has (i.e. how much “stuff” you can load into it).

It’s important to know how much weight allowance you will have for everything that needs to be loaded into the car, as well as passengers, fuel and the caravan’s tow ball weight.

The tow ball weight of the caravan comes out of the car’s payload allowance because when it’s hitched up, that weight effectively transfers onto the rear of the vehicle.

Payload includes the weight of…

  • Driver
  • Passengers
  • Full tank/s of fuel
  • Luggage
  • Vehicle accessories
  • Caravan’s tow ball weight

If your car is still pretty well standard (with no after-factory accessories), you can find your payload on Redbook.

However, if your car has extra mods and accessories fitted, you’ll have to weigh it to find the current Kerb Weight.

Measuring Your Car’s Kerb Weight

How to Weigh a Caravan - Vehicle Kerb Weight

To find out the current Kerb Weight of your vehicle, you will need to empty it out of all luggage and gear and make sure the fuel tank/s are full. Then head to your nearest Public Weighbridge and weigh the vehicle using the instructions below.

How to measure KERB WEIGHT:

  1. Ensure the car is empty of all luggage, passengers etc., but has full fuel tank/s
  2. Drive vehicle onto weighbridge
  3. The driver must exit the vehicle and get off the weighbridge
  4. Record the weight

To work out how much weight you’ll have to play with in the car, take the vehicle GVM (maximum weight) and minus the vehicle Kerb Weight (completely empty car with full fuel tank/s).

NOTE: If you use Kerb Weight to work out your Payload, you have already accounted for your fuel. So, now your Payload is just for driver + passengers + luggage & accessories

Vehicle Payload = GVM – Kerb Weight

Or, use the Payload Calculator below to quickly figure out how much spare weight you’ll have in your car.


Combined Weight of Car + Caravan (GCM)

Gross Combination Mass (GCM)

Gross Combination Mass (GCM) is the maximum allowable weight of your car and caravan combined, which is set by the manufacturer of your vehicle.

In other words, GCM is the combined weight of both the fully loaded car plus the fully loaded caravan added together, this figure includes absolutely everything.

GCM Weight Includes:

  • Driver & passengers in the car
  • Tow ball weight of the caravan
  • Fuel tank contents
  • Water tank contents
  • Waste tank contents (black water, grey water & toilet cassette)
  • Hot water system contents
  • Full gas bottles
  • Food & drinks
  • Clothing
  • Linen
  • Toiletries
  • Cooking gear
  • Entertainment items
  • Camping furniture
  • BBQ
  • Jerry cans & holders
  • Tools, toolboxes & maintenance gear
  • Hoses & leads
  • Levellers & chocks
  • Annex walls/ privacy screens
  • Outdoor matting
  • Accessories
  • Upgrades (solar system, additional water tanks/ fuel tanks etc.)
  • Modifications

So, have a look at the GCM set by your car’s manufacturer, then take out the weight of your fully loaded car (GVM) and what you’re left with is what your car can tow behind it.

GCM Weight Explained →
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Can My Car Tow a Caravan – CHECKLIST

Use the table below to figure out the maximum weight caravan that your car can tow.

ITEMWEIGHT (kg)
My Car’s TOWING CAPACITYUnbraked –
Braked –
My Car’s TOWBAR CAPACITYMax Ball Load –
Max Trailer Weight –
My Car’s GVM (max weight)
My Car’s PAYLOAD
My Car’s GCM (car + caravan)

Ask yourself the following questions to narrow down the type of caravan that your vehicle can tow. From there, you may have to reassess your tow vehicle if you can’t tow the caravan that you really want.

Questions to ask yourself:

❓ Does my car have a high enough Braked Towing Capacity for the caravan that I want?
❓ Does my towbar have a high enough Max Trailer Weight for the caravan that I want?
❓ Does my car have enough Payload for passengers, luggage, fuel & tow ball weight?
❓ Does my car have a high enough GCM (combined weight) for the caravan that I want?

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What Upgrades Does My Car Need for Towing a Caravan?

Getting Airbags Fitted
Replacing the old Coil Assisted Airbags with Full Airbag Suspension

Now that you’ve narrowed down the size caravan that your car can tow, it’s time to look at what upgrades will need to be done to accommodate the caravan.

Here are six basic things that will take your car from a daily driver to a tow vehicle.

Towing Mirrors

When towing a caravan in Australia you must have towing mirrors, especially if you want to be covered by insurance in the event of an accident. But, more importantly, you need to have full view around your vehicle and caravan while towing.

Towing Mirrors
Towing Mirrors (eBay) →

There are 3 types of Towing Mirrors to choose from:

  • Clip on
  • Door mounted
  • Extendable

To browse the types of towing mirrors available in Australia, check out the article below.

10+ Best Towing Mirrors →

Electric Brake Controller

It’s a legal requirement in Australia that any caravan weighing over 2,000 kg must have its own electric brakes fitted and they must be able to be adjusted from the driver’s seat of the tow vehicle.

Hayman Reese Electric Brake Controller
Electric Brake Controller (Caravan RV Camping) →

Electric brakes means that your caravan will have it’s own braking system, so that your car isn’t having to do all of the work. Without electric brakes on such a heavy van you would be at an increased risk of jackknifing and crashing.

To be able to control the caravan brakes from the driver’s seat, an electric brake controller needs to fitted to the tow vehicle. From there, you are able to turn the caravan’s brakes up and down as needed.


Breakaway System

A Breakaway System is an additional unit that is mounted to the caravan and connects to the tow vehicle with a metal cable.

Breaksafe Breakaway System
Breakaway System (Caravan RV Camping) →

In the event of the caravan uncoupling (“breaking away”) from the tow vehicle while driving, the Breakaway System will automatically apply the electric brakes to the caravan for at least 15 minutes.

Breakaway Systems are also a legal requirement for all caravans over 2,000 kg.


Anderson Plug

To keep the fridge inside the caravan running while you’re driving, you’ll need to connect an Anderson Plug from the caravan trailer to an Anderson Plug on the rear of the car.

Anderson Plug
Anderson Plug (eBay) →

While this won’t provide enough power to get your fridge any colder than it already was before setting off, it will definitely maintain the fridge’s temperature. It’s always best to make sure the fridge is already down at the optimal temperature before hitting the road.

You can also use the Anderson Plug on the car to plug in a solar panel while you’re stopped, which helps to maintain any dual batteries and keep the beer fridge running.


Reverse Camera/s

While reversing cameras are not essential for towing a caravan, let me tell you, they make life loads easier!

A standard reversing camera on the back of the car is so handy for reversing up to the caravan coupling so that you can hitch up.

Reversing Camera
Reversing Camera (eBay) →

If you want to go the extra mile, you can even put a reversing camera on the rear of the caravan to help with maneuvering into tight spaces.

Having a hand-held UHF radio is also the easiest way for the driver and the navigator to communicate while reversing a caravan.

UHF Radios for Caravanning →

Suspension Upgrade

Coil Assisted Airbags
Airbag Man Helper Kit (eBay) →

The main problem when dropping a heavy caravan onto your tow ball is the ‘sagging’ that occurs in the rear of the tow vehicle. Towing with a sag effectively lifts the weight off the front axles, which compromises your braking and steering.

We started out with Coil Assisted Airbags, which worked really well for the Nissan Patrol. This is where airbags are inserted inside the coil suspension, which helps to support the extra weight of the caravan.

Although that suspension was doing a good job, we decided to upgrade a bit further down the track, to Full Airbag Suspension.

With Full Airbags, the coils are removed and completely replaced with Airbags. The benefit of having Full Airbags is that they can support a heavier load, as well as giving you the ability to lower and raise the rear of the vehicle, to help with hitching up the caravan.

You can read more about the different types of Airbag Suspension for caravanning below.

Airbag Suspension Options for Towing →

Hopefully you’re now able to figure out the best combination of car + caravan for your situation.

Feel free to grab the Caravan Packing List below to help organise your payload!

Caravan Packing List

Caravan Packing List

Never forget a thing with the ULTIMATE Caravan Packing List!

  • Pre-filled with 600+ items
  • 17 categories
  • ‘Weight’ column (to organise payload)
  • PRINTABLE – fully customisable
  • DIGITAL – completely interactive
  • Download once, use it over-and-over
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