There are over 20,000 caravans made in Australia each year. Each year the number of nights people spend caravanning and camping is almost 10% higher. The best of all – no one has regretted hooking their caravan and exploring as early as possible.
Enjoying the comfort of your own accommodation all around Australia, whether you’re in the outback or on the shore, comes with thorough preparation. We wish it was as easy as purchasing a 4WD, a caravan and hitting the road. However, there’s essential information you need to check and follow first. So we’ve listed and simplified every detail to help you learn about caravan weights and towing.
Important Car & Caravan Weights
Finding the perfect caravan requires time, research and patience. So when you do find the one that suits your family, is within budget, and near you, you might jump on it! But before you make the final decision, learn how to calculate the standard caravan weights.
Maximum Braked Towing Limit
When choosing a caravan, you need to pay attention to its braking system, as well as your car’s. The maximum braked towing limit is the upper limit of what your car can pull if the caravan has its own braking system. This helps you choose the category of caravan or camper you can buy since you can’t tow heavier than the limit. Your car and caravan must match weight-wise. If that’s not the case, you’d need a new vehicle or caravan, which can burn a hole in your pockets before setting off on your adventure.
Maximum Unbraked Towing Limit
Already have a caravan that’s not fitted with brakes? Then you’ll need to know the maximum unbraked towing limit of your car. This is how much can your unbraked caravan weighs, including the loads. Got your eyes set on a vintage camper? You can still take it on the road! Most 4WD cars can tow up to 750kg, but newer models and electric vehicles can have lower limits or can’t tow an unbraked caravan at all. If you don’t plan on investing in a new, more powerful car, make sure to check the caravan’s braking system before making a decision.
Gross Combination Mass
The Gross Combination Mass or GCM is the maximum total combined mass of the vehicle – its load, passengers, luggage and the total weight of the caravan its towing. The car’s manufacturer specifies this weight limit, and you can’t go over it. To adjust to the limit, sometimes, you need to compromise. For example, you can use the maximum weight for the camper and lower the load in the vehicle. However, if you do try and go over the GCM limit, you’re risking your safety as too much gear puts stress on the car’s engine, suspension, transmission, and braking system.
Gross Vehicle Mass
The Gross Vehicle Mass or GVM comes after the GCM and is the maximum allowed mass of a vehicle defined by the manufacturer. This includes the passengers, luggage, fuel and the weight of the tow ball. After loading, your car can’t pass the Gross Vehicle Mass. However, there are some modifications you can do to your car to increase the GVM. But keep in mind that a raised GVM won’t affect the towing capacity, GCM or maximum braked towing limit.
The kerb weight is exactly what the name tells you – the weight of the unloaded vehicle, including only the car’s fluids and a full tank of gas sitting on the kerb.
Tare weight is the weight of an empty caravan or car with only the essential fluids and a small amount of fuel. It’s also known as dry weight. The tare weight includes the appliances and features provided in your caravan; however, it doesn’t include any added luggage or water in the tanks. The manufacturer is the one that will provide you with the tare mass info.
Load Capacity Maximum
As you can see, the difference between the kerb weight and the GVM is the load. The load capacity is the maximum weight of passengers, luggage, appliances and features you can add to your caravan. These can be spare tyres, backup batteries, tools, bike racks etc. In case the manufacturer hasn’t provided the load capacity, you can calculate it on your own. Simply subtract the tare weight from the aggregate trailer mass (which we’ll explain below).
Tow Ball Mass
The tow ball mass is the range of how much weight can be directly applied to the tow ball. The maximum tow ball weight is the highest point of power safely applied on the tow ball, and it’s specified by the manufacturer.
It’s usually around 10% of the maximum braked towing limit or lower in some vehicles. The tow ball capacity of the caravan is different from the tow ball capacity of the car you’ll be using to tow it. But, both tow weights are crucial to avoid a shift in balance that could compromise your safety down the road. The maximum tow ball mass is directly related to the load you have in your vehicle – the more load, the less weight you can apply to the ball and vice versa. You should never exceed this limit.
Maximum Axle Weights
The maximum axle weights are important since it’s easy to overload the rear axle. The axle weight is measured as the mass on each axle when weighted independently. If you want to know the weight of each axle separately, you park the two front or rear wheels accordingly on the scale. The part to be cautious about is overloading the rear axle. Even if you’re under the GVM, it’s easy to put too much load in the back of your vehicle. After all, that’s where we put our luggage and any additional tools, spare tyres and other road assistance accessories. So, make sure you don’t push the limit and choose a caravan suiting your car’s maximum axle weight.
Aggregate Trailer Mass
Cars have GVM, but caravans have Aggregate Trailer Mass. It specifies the maximum caravan weight limit and the highest weight that the caravan can safely carry when fully packed. The caravan and its load can’t go over this limit; otherwise, they’re illegal. Commonly the ATM of a braked towing caravan won’t go over 3,500kg. For unbraked caravans, the limit is 750kg or less.
However, the ATM and maximum towing capacity are not related. For example, if the car’s maximum towing capacity is 3000kg, it can tow a vehicle with a 3500kg ATM that’s not fully loaded, but it can’t pull a caravan with a 3000kg ATM even if it’s not loaded. Therefore, you should always pack the caravan under the ATM limit to minimise the risk. If something happens and you need to file an insurance claim, your company will first check if you exceeded the ATM.
Tow Ball Download
Also known as ball load, hitch weight or tow ball weight, this is the weight the caravan applies at its hitch. The manufacturer clearly states the car’s tow ball mass limit, while the tow ball download in caravans is declared but not legally backed up.
How, what and where you load your caravan affects the ball load weight. For example, the more water you fill in your tanks, the more the tow ball download increases. A good measure is again 10% of the caravan’s weight while under tow. Too much tow ball download can cause the front of your vehicle to rise, reducing the braking and steering performance.
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Why Are Caravan Towing Weights Important
Caravan weights are essential for keeping you safe, stable and abiding by the law while traversing Australia. Incorrect caravan and towing vehicle weights can lead to unstable towing, poor braking performance and poor steering feel.
Avoiding learning about appropriate weights and towing is not an option when purchasing a caravan and hitting the road. Choosing to keep an unsuitable vehicle and caravan combination can come with a high cost. Your vehicle will wear and tear fast, and your insurance is useless.
Adequate weight distribution helps you keep your car and caravan in excellent condition longer, saving you money and additional worries.
If you think packing lighter gives you the green card not to worry about caravan weights, you’re mistaken. Down the road, many things can happen, and even if it’s not your fault in the first place, you can end up severely damaged because you chose an unsuitable combination of car, caravan and excessive load.
If it sounds too overwhelming, don’t worry. Your insurance company, caravan and car dealership will be happy to help you make a good choice and understand the terms better.