Since 1989, all caravans that are sold on the Australia market (whether imported or homegrown), must have a caravan compliance plate (also called a VIN plate).
This is to ensure that each caravan meets the national road safety standards and provides consumers with important specifications and information about the trailer.
Here’s everything you need to know about caravan compliance plates and caravan VIN numbers.
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Caravan Compliance Plate Standards
What is a Caravan Compliance Plate?
The Australian Design Rules (ADRs) are our national standards for road vehicle safety, anti-theft and emissions.
All new road vehicles and trailers manufactured in Australia, plus imported new or second-hand vehicles and trailers must comply with the relevant ADRs when they are first supplied to the Australian market.
Here are the Compliance Plate Standards, as stated in the Vehicle Standards Bulletin VSB1 (Revision 5):
- Must be made from durable & non-corrosive metal
- Must be affixed to the vehicle in a position where it can be readily examined
- Must be permanently affixed by pop rivets, hammer drive screws or welding (adhesives are not acceptable)
- All information must be legible and embossed, indented, etched or engraved in letters and numbers not less than 2.5 mm high
- May also include additional information such as the tyre placard info
The caravan compliance plate should include:
- Manufacturer’s or importer’s name (whichever party takes responsibility for the certification statement)
- Trailer Model
- Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
- Date of Manufacture
- Aggregate Trailer Mass (kg)
- The Certification Statement (see below)
➤ Certification statement for new trailers:
“This trailer was manufactured to comply with the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989.”
➤ Certification statement for used imported trailers:
“This trailer is an imported used trailer. It has been modified and assessed as complying with the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989.”
Why Do We Need Caravan Compliance Plates?
A caravan compliance plate gives you, as the consumer, peace of mind that what you’re buying has passed all of the legal and safety requirements.
In July 1989 the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 (MVSA) and Motor Vehicle Standards Regulations made it illegal to import, sell or bring in new or used vehicles to the Australian market unless they met the national standards.
From that point forward, all approved vehicles had to be fitted with an identification plate including compliance information and a certification statement from the manufacturer.
From 1 July 2023, importers and manufacturers of road vehicles and trailers must hold a Road Vehicle Standards approval before bringing any vehicle to the Australian market. Road vehicles must be added to the Register of Approved Vehicles (RAV), which is replacing physical compliance plates.
However, Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) and vehicle plates for trailers and some heavy vehicles will continue to stick around.
Finding Your Caravan Compliance Plate
Locating your caravan compliance plate should be pretty easy. Common places to check include the drawbar, inside the front tunnel boot or alongside the stairwell just inside the caravan entry door.
Common caravan compliance plate locations:
- Front boot
- Tunnel boot
- Inside caravan entry door
What if a Caravan Has No Compliance Plate?
Caravans that were manufactured prior to 1989 probably won’t have a compliance plate, as it didn’t become compulsory until July 1989. Prior to that, manufacturers would put their own numbers on the chassis.
If you’re looking at purchasing a caravan that was made after 1989, steer clear of anything that doesn’t have a compliance plate.
If there’s no VIN or compliance plate, it’s possible that the caravan may have been ‘rebirthed.’ This is an illegal process that involves removing or changing the unique numbers of a stolen or written-off vehicle (including caravans) to hide its identity and disguise it as a different vehicle.
Telltale rebirthing signs:
- Marks where the chassis or VIN numbers have been ground off
- Fresh paint on the A-frame where a potential chassis or VIN number could have been
- No chassis number or VIN number at all
Getting a van registered without a caravan VIN number and compliance plate will be difficult, no matter which Australian state you live in.
Save yourself a potential financial loss and avoid caravans without compliance plates.
If it’s too good to be true, it probably is!
Your Caravan Compliance Plate Explained
Having a caravan compliance plate offers more than just the knowledge that your caravan has met all of the Australian road safety requirements.
Let’s take a look at a caravan compliance plate and explore what each item means.
The name of the manufacturer or importer – whichever party takes responsibility for the certification statement.
Date of Manufacture
The date that the caravan was manufactured. Usually the month and year will be stamped (e.g. 01/15 means January 2015)
Caravan VIN Number
The caravan VIN or Vehicle Identification Number is a unique 17-digit number, which is allocated to each caravan. No two VINs will be the same so that each caravan can be easily identified and tracked using its own individual number.
The caravan VIN is required in order to get it registered, making it an absolutely essential component for all caravan compliance plates.
The name of the caravan model, as built by the manufacturer.
Empty Ball Mass
Also known as ‘Ball Loading at Tare.’
Empty Ball Mass is the ball weight of the caravan when it was first manufactured and still completely empty.
As soon as accessories, luggage, water and gas are added to the caravan, the ball weight changes. Even shifting the load around inside the caravan can change the amount of weight that is being put onto the tow ball.
Max Ball Loading
Max Ball Loading is the recommended maximum ball weight when taking into account the caravan’s drawbar strength.
However, this is more of a guide than a strict legal requirement. In fact, many caravan compliance plates don’t even include Max Ball Loading.
In Australia, the acceptable tow ball weight around 10% of your caravan’s fully loaded weight (which cannot exceed the stamped ATM figure) or a maximum of 350 kg – whichever is lower.
People tend to aim for their tow ball weight to be about 10% of the fully-loaded caravan’s weight as an easy calculation, but it’s okay for it to be a bit over or under that. What’s more important is that the caravan is sitting level with the bulk of the weight being placed around the axles for a stable ride.
It’s important to get your tow ball weight correct. Here are some tips for ball weight reduction if you find that yours is over its limit.
There are three ways to measure your tow ball weight:
- Using Tow Ball Weight Scales
- Using a Public Weighbridge
- Using household scales
You can find step-by-step instructions in the article below for measuring your caravan tow ball weight.
Information related to the caravan’s tyres can include:
- Rim Size & Profile
- Tyre size
- Tyre Pressure (cold) – at Tare when the caravan is empty
- Tyre Pressure (cold) Max Loading – at GTM when the caravan is fully loaded
Tare is the weight of a completely empty caravan before any additional accessories are added and before any luggage, water and gas are loaded into it.
Think of tare as the weight of the van as it rolls out of the factory at the manufacturing level, which does not include anything that the dealer or owner add to the van afterwards.
Not all caravan plates will have the tare weight filled in because it’s not actually compulsory. The reason here is that as soon as a caravan has anything extra fitted to it after it leaves the factory, that empty tare weight will now be higher.
Check out the article below for easy steps on how to find your caravan’s tare weight at any time.
Caravan GTM (Gross Trailer Mass) is the weight of a fully loaded caravan when it’s hitched up to the tow vehicle. The maximum GTM weight is set by the caravan manufacturer and must not be exceeded.
To ensure that you’re under your GTM, you need to measure the weight of your fully loaded caravan while hitched up to the tow vehicle.
You can do this by taking the ATM and minusing your caravan’s actual tow ball weight. Or, you can weigh the whole set up at a weighbridge.
Caravan ATM (Aggregate Trailer Mass) is the maximum weight that the caravan is allowed to be when fully loaded and unhitched from the tow vehicle.
This figure is set by the manufacturer and cannot be changed.
It is the legal weight that the manufacturer’s engineers have calculated based on what the suspension and chassis are safely capable of carrying.
Axle Group Load Capacity
Axle Group Load Capacity is the maximum axle load that your trailer is designed to carry and must not be exceeded. This weight is set by the axle manufacturer and will be stamped onto the caravan VIN plate.
The Axle Group Rating can be the same as the GTM or it may even be higher.
However, just because the axles are able to carry a heavier load than what the GTM says, you are still not allowed to exceed the GTM.
For the full guide to all caravan weights, check out the article below.
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