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Hook up and tow

October 21, 2004
Hook up and tow

There is no freedom quite like touring with a caravan behind.

It is an exciting way to GoSeeAustralia and New Zealand. It is also unique as you choose your destination and retain the choices in the matter of how much you spend.

But towing any trailer needs, preparation, thought and skills. So regulations have to be imposed to ensure the safety of both the operator and other road users.

In Australiaa national agreement on the maximum trailer mass and speed limits applying to a trailer towed by any given vehicle came into effect in December 1998.

FC Holden and Dityz caravan
FC Holden and Dityz caravan

Most regulations relating to trailers manufactured or newly registered after July 1st, 1990 are consistent throughout Australia.

Although the National speed limit for vehicles towing a trailer with a Gross Trailer Mass (GTM) less than 4.5 tonnes, is the posted speed limit there are variations.

In Western Australia the maximum speed limit is 100kmh for vehicles towing a trailer with a GTM over 750kg.

GSA lunch stop at Cooma, bound for Tumut and Lake Hume via the Snowy Mts. Hwy
GSA lunch stop at Cooma,
bound for Tumut and Lake Hume
via the Snowy Mts. Hwy

There are also a number of vehicle manufacturers who, after extensive testing, have applied a speed restriction to their vehicles when towing trailers with an Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) exceeding the vehicles unladen mass. Check the vehicles handbook or ask the dealer.

All trailers with an ATM of 750kgs or more must have brakes. All trailers over 750kgs GTM, (regardless of the towing capacity of unladen mass of the towing vehicle) must have an effective handbrake system fitted. All brakes must be operable from the drivers seat of the tow vehicle except for over-ride brakes.

If the manufacturer does not recommended a tow mass, then the vehicle may tow one and half times its unladen mass if the trailer has brakes.

Coromal Silhouette 390
Coromal Silhouette 390

If no brakes are fitted then the one to one rule applies. The ATM is the total laden weight of the trailer. This includes the tow ball mass and whatever is added as payload.The manufacturers recommendations must be respected, as they only nominate high mass ratings for their vehicles after exhaustive test programs to determine a safe speed at which the vehicle can tow a specified mass.

Throughout Australia, the allowable ATM is either the tow vehicles towbar rating (towing capacity and ball weight) or the tow vehicle manufacturers recommended towing capacity and ball weight, whichever is the least.

Vehicle owner/drivers, who do not adhere to these recommendations, may be:
Penalised for driving a vehicle in a dangerous manner i.e.: not adhering to the manufacturers recommendations.

Belinda Kiers little van from Sydney. She pulls this little beauty with a 1972 Austin 1800
Belinda Kier's little van from
Sydney. She pulls this little
beauty with a 1972 Austin 1800

  • Refused manufacturers warranty if a fault arises due to towing a trailer in excess of the manufacturers recommended mass or speed.
  • Refused insurance if an accident occurs as a result of towing a trailer in excess of the manufacturers recommended mass or speed. Towing heavy trailers at speeds higher than 80km/h requires a level of skill and concentration above the average required for driving a vehicle on its own. It is also essential that your vehicle and trailer combination is set up correctly in regard to tyre pressures, brake equipment; tow ball height/mass, mass distribution equipment and correct placement of load within the trailer. Trailers that are not normally subject to sway and other undesirable side effects at 80km/h or less may experience these problems at highway speeds up to 110km/h.

So before hooking up and heading off take a look at:

  • The towing capacity of the tow vehicle.

    Camp site at Bimbi Park
    Camp site at Bimbi Park

  • The towbar fitted and the maximum load capacity of the coupling. (As a general rule of thumb about 10 per cent of the trailers total laden weight should be on the towbar).
  • Check that what you are towing meets trailer regulations.
  • Consider fitting stabilising equipment.
  • Check the trailer is correctly loaded with the drawbar weight in mind.
  • Learn the driver skills that make towing safer.
  • Make safety checks before and during the trip.
  • Seek insurance that suits your towing needs.
  • Trailers less than 2500kgs must have one safety chain of at least 9.5mm diameter that complies with AS 4177-4. Trailers over 2500kgs ATM must have two safety chains of at least 12.6mm in diameter.

    The chains must have their capacity stamped on them.
    Tow balls for weights up to 3500kgs must be 50mm in diameter and meet AS 4177-2.

    GoSeeAustralia takes Satellite TV on the road
    GoSeeAustralia takes
    Satellite TV on the road

    The tow ball must be one-piece and its shank should be 22.2mm in diameter and stamped with weight 3500kgs or 3.5 tonne and tow ball diameter 50mm.

    The tow ball unit must be fitted to the vehicle with a locking washer and an appropriately sized nut.

    Editors Note: There are variations and differences between Australia and New Zealandin towing requirements and loading safety in New Zealand please check the NZTA website for full details.

    In New Zealand the NZ Transport Agency and provides the Glovebox Guide to safe loading and towing for light vehicles. Land Transport NZ is now part of the NZ Transport Agency

    The NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) is a Crown entity established on 1 August 2008, under the amended Land Transport Management Act 2003, bringing together the functions of Land Transport New Zealand and Transit New Zealand to provide an integrated approach to transport planning, funding and delivery.

    The NZ Transport Agency contributes to an integrated, safe, responsive and sustainable land transport system, in support of the updated New Zealand Transport Strategy.

    NZTA works in partnership with regional and local authorities, the transport industry and communities to achieve this.
    The NZ Transport Agency is focused on delivering four key outcomes: integration, safety, sustainability, value for money.