Getting a level caravan and tow vehicle set-up isn’t just purely aesthetic, it’s a matter of safety.
A caravan absolutely should be level when towing because an unbalanced set-up will drastically increase the chance of losing control, jackknifing and crashing. Getting a caravan level for towing is a combination of correct tow ball weight and load distribution, as well as ensuring that your hitch and coupling heights marry up.
Here we’ll cover the common reasons that can cause a caravan to not be level when towing, plus how to check if your own set-up is level and how to fix it if it’s not.
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see our disclosures here.
Should a Caravan Be Level When Towing?
If you’re asking yourself, should a caravan be level when towing, then the answer is a definite yes. A level caravan keeps you and your family safe on the road by reducing the chance of losing control and having an accident.
There is a small allowance for the caravan nose to sit either 5º up or 5º down at the front, but it shouldn’t be anything beyond that.
Problems Caused by an Unlevel Caravan Set-up
When the Caravan is ‘Nose Up’
If the front of the caravan is ‘nose up,’ that means that the front of the caravan is too light and will cause the rear of the tow vehicle to lift off the ground if you have to break heavily or suddenly.
Think of the caravan as a ‘see-saw’ with the axles (wheels) being the pivotal point.
In addition, if the front of the caravan is too high, then it will push the rear of the caravan down low to the ground. Caravans that are too heavy in the rear are at a greater risk of the caravan ‘snaking’ or ‘swaying.’
When the Caravan is ‘Nose Down’
If the caravan is ‘nose down,’ it means that the caravan’s tow ball is too heavy, which is putting too much weight onto the back of the tow vehicle.
Or, it could indicate that there’s too much weight in the rear of the car and with the added tow ball weight from the caravan, it ends up being overloaded.
In this scenario, the weight is being taken off the front of the car and lifting the wheels off the road. This will dramatically affect the car’s ability to steer and brake effectively.
Reasons for a Caravan NOT Being Level
If the suspension in the tow vehicle is not the right gear for the job, then you will never be able to achieve a level caravan set-up for towing.
The car’s suspension must be able to support the extra 200 – 350 kg of weight that the caravan’s tow ball will put onto the rear of the car.
Generally speaking, standard suspension, even in 4WD’s is not equipped for heavy towing. It was always set up to create the best ride for passengers, a full fuel tank and general luggage.
Incorrect Hitch Height
If you start with a tow hitch that’s either too high or too low for the caravan coupling, you’re going to struggle to achieve a level ride when you connect them together.
The tow hitch and the caravan coupling shouldn’t have more than about a 50mm height difference when unhitched. You can use the instructions below to measure yours and see if they’ll work well together.
Incorrect Tow Ball Weight
Tow Ball Weight is the amount of weight that is taken off the front of the caravan and put onto the rear of the tow vehicle when you hitch up the caravan.
If that tow ball weight is too light, it will cause the caravan to be ‘nose up.’ If it’s too heavy, it will make the caravan sit ‘nose down,’ while putting too much weight onto the rear of the car.
Incorrect tow ball weight is a common cause for an unlevel caravan set-up.
Incorrect Load Distribution
Another massive factor that plays a part in caravans being unlevel is when the load has been packed incorrectly. This can apply to both the caravan and the tow vehicle.
If too much weight has been added to the rear of the tow vehicle and then the tow ball download of an extra few hundred kilos is also added to the back of the car, you’ll see massive sagging in the rear end.
Just like, if someone is trying to reduce their tow ball weight by shifting heavy items to the back of the caravan, you’ll end up with a sagging rear caravan, which is nose up at the front.
How to Check if Your Caravan Set-up is Level
The first thing is an easy logical check to make sure that you aren’t trying to pair up two completely ill-suited units.
For example, an on-road touring caravan is going to be way too low to the ground for a highly lifted 4WD. And vice-versa, an off-road hybrid camper is probably going to be too high to sit behind a standard-height tow vehicle.
Another visual way to see if your caravan is level for towing is to hitch it up to the tow vehicle, park on level ground then take a step back and have a look. The empty spaces in the tow vehicle’s wheel arches (between the tyre and the guard) should look even on both the front wheel and the back wheel.
If your towing set-up has passed the visual tests and you’re sure you’ve got a good match, it’s time to actually check some measurements.
Firstly, you need to get the caravan completely level.
How to Get the Caravan Completely Level:
- Make sure the caravan is parked on level ground (unhitched from tow vehicle)
- Put a spirit level on the drawbar & wind the jockey wheel up/ down to get the caravan completely level
- Double-check that it’s level by making sure the front of the chassis & the rear of the chassis are both the same distance from the ground (using a tape measure)
Next, you need to see if the vehicle’s tow hitch and the caravan’s coupling are the same height.
You’ve already got your caravan level, so you just need to make sure that the car is also on completely level ground before taking the following measurements.
Measuring the Vehicle Tow Hitch & Caravan Coupling Heights:
- Measure the distance from the bottom of the vehicle tow hitch (where it receives the caravan coupling) to the ground
- Measure the distance from the bottom of the caravan coupling (where it locks on to the tow hitch) to the ground
If the uncoupled heights of the vehicle tow hitch and the caravan coupling are more than about 50mm apart, you will struggle with getting a level caravan set-up with this hitch configuration.
How to Level Your Caravan for Towing
Achieving a level caravan is crucial for safe towing on the road. Here’s how to make sure your set-up is level, safe and legal.
The main problem when dropping a caravan onto your tow ball is the ‘sagging’ that happens 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 capabilities.
The way to counteract this sagging is to upgrade your suspension so that it can support the extra weight.
You can either opt for upgraded rear springs with a higher load rating or you can go for airbag suspension.
When we were setting up our Patrol for towing a caravan, we installed coil-assisted airbags. They worked really well for our set-up and enabled us to have a level ride as needed.
Three years later, we decided to upgrade to Airbag Man’s Full Airbag Suspension with in-cab controls. They gave us the ability to air the bags up and down with the flick of a switch inside the cab, which made hitching up quicker and easier. Full airbags also offered a smoother ride than the springs, so it can often come down to budget and personal preference.
You can read more on the different airbag suspension options below.
Correct Hitch Height
If you find that the height of your tow hitch is not going to line up well enough with the caravan coupling, you will need to change your hitch.
Some hitches can be turned upside down, which is an easy way to either ‘lift’ or ‘lower’ your hitch height, depending on what you need.
However, you must make sure that your particular hitch is actually engineered to be used either way. If you flip your hitch and it’s only load-rated for one way, you will be putting way too much pressure on a piece of metal that isn’t designed to take it, which is a massive safety issue, not to mention illegal!
Many people opt for an adjustable tow hitch so that you can get it to sit in the correct position to suit your caravan coupling.
At the end of the day, if your tow hitch isn’t sitting within around 50mm of the caravan coupling, go and talk to a professional to get the correct hitch fitted.
Correct Tow Ball Weight
Caravan tow ball weight (TBW) is the amount of weight that is transferred from your caravan onto your tow vehicle when you hitch up. Tow ball weight is a fluctuating figure, which changes every time you add, subtract or shift the load in your caravan.
The acceptable tow ball weight in Australia is about 10% of your caravan’s fully-loaded weight (when unhitched from the tow vehicle) or a maximum of 350 kg – whichever is lower.
They say “about 10%” because it can realistically range anywhere from 8 – 12 % and still be safe and correct for your towing set-up.
There are three different ways to weigh your tow ball, which you can get instructions for in the article link below.
If you have an incorrect tow ball weight, that’s where you’ll see the front of the caravan either pointing skyward or down towards the bitumen.
Correct Load Distribution
The final, yet equally important factor in maintaining a level caravan when towing is to make sure you’ve distributed your load correctly.
How to Correctly Load a Caravan:
- Pack all of the heaviest items over the axles as that is the pivotal point
- Pack medium-weight items under window-height and closer to the axles
- Pack lightweight items at the ends & up high
- Pack the caravan evenly on both sides (left to right)
While it’s one thing to ensure that you’ve packed the various weighted items accordingly, at the end of the day, your set-up needs to be within its weight limits.
If you don’t know how to find your caravan weights, check out the article below for step-by-step instructions.
To help with weights and sorting out your caravan payload, use the Caravan Packing List below.
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