Getting into caravanning requires a bit more research and knowledge than just how to hitch up and cruise down a highway at 100 km/h.
There are some important caravan towing laws and rules to become familiar with when caravanning in Australia. From towing mirrors and set-up weights to speed limits and fuel storage, it’s crucial to stay compliant so that you don’t get slammed with unnecessary tickets or void your insurance.
The purpose of these laws is not to make your life more difficult but to keep you and all of the other road users as safe as possible.
Here are all the caravan towing laws you need to know about.
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Caravan Towing Laws
Towing Mirrors are Required
The first of the caravan towing laws is that towing mirrors must be installed for the duration of towing.
The ADR (Australian Design Rule) states:
The field of vision shall be such that the driver can see at least a 4 m wide, flat, horizontal portion of the road, which is bounded by a plane parallel to the median longitudinal vertical plane and passing through the outermost point of the vehicle on the driver’s side of the vehicle and extends from 20 m behind the driver’s ocular points to the horizon (see Figure 6 – below).
In addition, the road shall be visible to the driver over a width of 1 m, which is bounded by a plane parallel to the median longitudinal vertical plane and passing through the outermost point of the vehicle starting from a point 4 m behind the vertical plane passing through the driver’s ocular points.
In simple terms…
When towing a caravan you need to have a clear, unobstructed view right down the side of your caravan. You also need to be able to see 20 metres beyond the back of it. This rear view needs to span 4 metres out from both sides of the back of the caravan.
Caravan towing mirrors are a legal requirement, set by the Australian Design Rules.
However, keep in mind that it’s illegal to keep towing mirrors on when not towing a caravan or trailer. Therefore, you will need to either remove your towing mirrors every time you unhitch the caravan or install extendable ones that can be pushed back in for non-towing use.
Do Not Exceed Your Towing Weight Limits
One of the most important caravan towing laws that you must know is how to calculate and remain within your legal towing weights.
Reasons for knowing your caravan weights:
- Towing an overweight caravan is illegal
- An overweight caravan puts strain on your chassis & running gear
- Being too heavy can cause instability, leading to ‘Caravan Sway‘
- If your caravan is overweight, you won’t be covered by insurance
- State transport departments can fine you and ground your caravan (meaning you either need to remove weight or a tow truck will be called to take it away)
Learning about towing weights can seem pretty complicated in the beginning, but once you start to familiarise yourself with the various terms and how to find them, it will become easier.
|CARAVAN TOWING WEIGHT TERMS|
|Kerb Weight||Empty Vehicle + Oil & Fluids + Full Tank of Fuel|
|Vehicle Tare Weight||Empty Vehicle + Oil & Fluids + 10L Fuel|
|Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM)||Max. Weight of Vehicle|
|Caravan Tare Weight||Empty Caravan Weight|
|Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM)||Max. Weight of Caravan (hitched)|
|Gross Combination Mass (GCM)||Max. Weight of Car + Caravan|
|Tow Ball Weight (TBW)||Weight that goes onto Vehicle’s Tow Bar when Hitched Up|
|Gross Trailer Mass (GTM)||Max. Weight of Caravan (unhitched)|
|Vehicle Payload||Weight Allowance for “Stuff”|
|Caravan Payload||Weight Allowance for “Stuff”|
|Towing Capacity||Max. Weight Vehicle Can Tow|
If you’ve never weighed a caravan before, it is an easy process using a public weighbridge (usually found at local council waste stations). All of the instructions are below.
Do Not Exceed Towbar Weight Limits
Next in this list of caravan towing laws is around towbar weight limits.
When you hitch up a caravan, some of the weight from the front of the caravan will transfer onto the towbar, on the rear of the car. This is called ‘tow ball weight.’
There are two tow bar weight capacities to look for on your towbar compliance plate, which should be located on your towbar.
Two weights listed on the Towbar Compliance Plate:
- Max Ball Load
- Max Trailer Weight
Max Ball Load is the maximum amount of tow ball weight that can be applied to the towbar.
Max Trailer Weight is the heaviest caravan weight that the towbar is rated to tow.
Don’t forget to also check the load ratings of your chains and shackles while you’re at it.
To work out which vehicles can tow a caravan, check out the article below.
Correct Braking Systems
It’s important to know exactly which braking system your caravan is legally required to have, which will be based on the weight of the van.
According to the Australian Government in the Vehicle Standards Bulletin 1 (VSB1):
15.1 Trailers that do not exceed 0.75 tonne GTM with a single axle
No brakes are required.
Note: Two axles with centres spaced less than 1 metre apart are regarded as a single axle.
15.2 All other trailers that do not exceed 4.5 tonnes ATM
These trailers must be fitted with an efficient brake system that complies with ADR 38/-. Except for over-run brakes, all brakes must be operable from the driver’s seat of the towing vehicle.
For trailers up 2 tonnes GTM, an efficient braking system is considered to have brakes operating on the wheels of at least one axle. Over-run brakes may only be used on trailers that do not exceed 2 tonnes GTM.
Every trailer over 2 tonnes GTM must have brakes operating on all wheels. The brake system must cause immediate application of the trailer brakes in the event of the trailer becoming detached from the towing vehicle. Under these circumstances, the brakes must remain applied for at least 15 minutes.
Here’s what this means in layman’s terms.
For Trailers up to 750 kg:
- No trailer brakes required
For Trailers 751 kg – 2,000 kg:
- Brakes operating on the wheels of at least one axle of the trailer
- Over-ride brakes are permitted
For Trailers 2,000 kg – 4,500 kg:
- Brakes operating on all trailer wheels are required
- Additional ‘Break-away’ system required (automatically activates if the trailer detaches from the tow vehicle)
- In this circumstance, the brakes must remain applied for at least 15 minutes
The article below goes deeper into the different towing capacities and caravan braking requirements.
Know the State Speed Limits
Unfortunately, the Australian states don’t all share the same towing speed limit laws, so it’s important to know the local information before moving across each border.
|STATE/ TERRITORY||TOWING SPEED LIMITS|
|Australian Capital Territory (ACT)||No Restrictions|
|New South Wales (NSW)||• Set-ups < 4.5t – No Restrictions|
• Set-ups > 4.5t – Max. 100 km/h
|Northern Territory (NT)||No Restrictions|
|Queensland (QLD)||No Restrictions|
|South Australia (SA)||No Restrictions|
|Tasmania (TAS)||No Restrictions|
|Victoria (VIC)||No Restrictions|
|Western Australia (WA)||100 km/h|
For more on state towing speed limits for those holding a Learners or Provision Licence, check out the article below.
Passengers Not Permitted Inside a Moving Caravan
One of the lesser-known caravan towing laws is around whether people (or pets) can be inside the caravan while it’s being towed.
Although the movies have glorified the freedom of walking around a big RV while it’s driving, those scenes have actually set a false reality in people’s minds.
In Australia, not only is it illegal to travel in a moving caravan, but it’s exceptionally unsafe to do so. All passengers must be strapped into their seats in the tow vehicle and sitting upright.
Here’s why it’s unsafe to travel inside a moving caravan:
- No passenger safety
- Possible projectiles
- Caravan sway can escalate out of control extremely quickly
- Caravans are not built for impact
For a deep dive into why it’s illegal to travel inside a caravan, check out the article below.
Correct Fuel Storage
When I was researching if we could store a spare fuel jerry can on the rear of the caravan, it was difficult to find a definitive answer.
So, I called the Queensland Department of Transport and after getting the internal run-around, here is the answer that I got.
Department of Transport Queensland
Q: “Is it illegal to carry fuel in a jerry can on the back of a caravan?”
A: “There is no law stating that it is illegal to carry fuel on the back of your caravan. As long as it is acceptable with your insurance company, then you are legally allowed to have it there.”
Then, I put the same question to my insurance provider, just to be sure we’d be covered.
Caravan Insurance Provider
Q: “Will we be covered in an accident if we’re carrying fuel in a jerry can on the back of our caravan?”
A: “As long as you’re complying with your state regulations, then yes, you’ll be covered.”
Although it seems to be a bit of a case of pass-the-buck, both the insurance company and the state transport department confirmed that there is no law against carrying fuel on the back of a caravan.
In summary, you can carry spare fuel both on the caravan drawbar and/ or rear bar, depending on what works best for your set-up. However, I recommend checking with your own state authorities and insurance company just to be sure.
Always use the correctly colour-coded container, so that if there is an accident or emergency, the contents are easily identifiable.
Standard Recognised Fuel Colour Codes:
🔴 RED = Unleaded Fuel
🟡 YELLOW / BLACK = Diesel Fuel
🔵 BLUE / CLEAR = Water
Additional Caravan Towing Rules
Correct Caravan Loading
A super important caravan towing rule is to make sure that it has been loaded correctly before hitting the road.
An incorrectly loaded van can increase the chance of caravan sway, which will result in jackknifing or rolling if things escalate out of control.
Here’s how to correctly load a caravan:
- Heavy Items – pack over top of the axles
- Medium Weight Items – pack under window height or near the middle
- Lightweight Items – pack up high and at the ends
For the full guide on loading a caravan, have a look at the following article.
Correct Tyre Pressure
Caravan tyre pressure is a detail that can be easily missed amongst all of the other tasks involved with getting the caravan onto the road.
If your caravan tyre pressure is too high, you’ll experience an unnecessarily bumpy ride, which can cause the caravan to “snake.” High tyre pressure is also a contributing factor to tyre blow-outs, which is not a fun experience when you’re travelling at 100 km/h down the highway.
With low caravan tyre pressure, your ride will be unstable, putting extra pressure on the sidewalls and causing them to bulge or delaminate.
Calculating the right tyre pressure for your particular caravan is a simple equation, using the figures that can be found on your tyre sidewall. Use the calculator below to work yours out.
Water Tanks Should Be Completely Full OR Empty
An important caravan towing rule when it comes to water tanks is to travel with them either full OR empty – but never halfway in between.
The reason why it’s never a good idea to travel with half-full (or half-empty) water tanks is due to the water sloshing around, which can increase the chance of trailer sway.
|FULL Water Tanks||EMPTY Water Tanks|
|• Lower centre of gravity|
• Increased caravan stability
• Majority of weight over the axles
• Helps distribute load
• Helps tow ball weight
• Eliminates water ‘slosh’
• Always prepared
|• Increased fuel economy|
• Less wear & tear on towing set-up
• Eliminates water ‘slosh’
• More payload for other items
There are pros and cons for travelling with full vs. empty water tanks, but the decision will come down to how much payload you’ve got available and which option gives you a more stable ride.
Towing a caravan with full water tanks gives you better stability, eliminates water slosh and keeps you well prepared.
However, towing with empty water tanks can give you better fuel economy and allow you more payload for other items.
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