Towing a caravan adds significant weight to your vehicle, requires careful planning and loading, and puts extra responsibilities on the driver to manage safety. There have been many recorded crashes involving towed caravans on NSW roads.
To lower your risk of being involved in a crash, make sure you know how to load and weigh your caravan, and drive safely while towing one. Non-compliances most likely affect your caravan insurance cover and if you don’t comply with safe loading laws, you risk being fined.
Must-do tasks before towing a caravan
- Understand how towing a caravan can affect your driving, your safety, and the safety of others on the road.
- Make sure your vehicle’s towing capacity is adequate for your caravan.
- Make sure you've weighed your caravan and your vehicle, identify your aggregate trailer mass (ATM) and gross trailer mass (GTM), as well as your towing vehicle's maximum tow capacity, tow ball weight and gross combination mass (GCM), if supplied. You must also know how to find and use a weigh station in NSW.
- Load your caravan to correctly meet safety requirements.
- Know the safety checks you should make before and during your trip.
- Attach a ‘do not overtake turning vehicle’ sign to your caravan if the combined length of your vehicle and caravan is 7.5 metres or more, This alerts other road users when you need to straddle lanes to turn.
Towing a caravan is different from normal driving. You need more spatial awareness of your vehicle and caravan, greater stopping distances, and to consider environmental factors such as high winds, wet roads, and uneven surfaces.
All these driving challenges can increase fatigue. Make sure you don’t drive when you're tired, and always plan for plenty of rest breaks on your trip.
Our Caravan Safety (PDF, 112.79 KB) brochure has information on safe loading, towing practices, and a handy checklist.
Find out more about towing a caravan on the NSW Government website.
Driving tips for towing a caravan
- Allow for the extra length and width of your caravan when you enter traffic or change lanes. Also allow for the extra road space you’ll need on corners and curves.
- Apply the accelerator, brakes and steering smoothly and gently to avoid sway – especially in wet or slippery conditions.
- Leave a longer stopping distance from the vehicle in front than normal driving. The longer and heavier your caravan is, the more stopping distance you’ll need. Allow even more distance in poor driving conditions.
- Use a lower gear when travelling downhill to control your vehicle and reduce the risk of brake failure.
- When reversing, have someone watch the rear of the caravan from a safe location. Reversing a caravan is difficult and takes practice.
- Be aware of the increased effects of crosswinds, passing heavy vehicles and uneven road surfaces that can cause your caravan to sway.
Towing a caravan can be more stressful than normal driving. To make your trip safer and more pleasant:
- Plan to spend fewer hours on the road each day when taking long trips and take more rest breaks. There are multiple designated rest areas in NSW. Note that these rest areas aren’t designated caravan sites and you can’t stay overnight.
- Keep left unless overtaking and don’t hold up traffic behind you unnecessarily.
- Look further ahead on the road than usual to anticipate changes in traffic or road conditions so you have more time to react. This is especially important when merging with traffic, responding to hazards, or stopping at traffic lights.
- Remember that fuel consumption increases for most light vehicles when towing a caravan, particularly at speeds over 90km/h. You may need to plan to refuel more often.
Before buying a caravan or towing your caravan with a different vehicle, make sure your towing vehicle is properly equipped to safely tow your caravan. You should know the gross combination mass (GCM) and/or towing capacity of your towing vehicle, as specified by the vehicle manufacturer. You should also know and the maximum carrying capacity of your caravan, known as the aggregated trailer mass (ATM), as specified by the caravan manufacturer.
The towing vehicle
Towing vehicles must be suited to the caravan they tow. Refer to your vehicle owner’s manual for the towing capacity as this must not be exceeded. Always follow the manufacturer’s requirements. If you need to change your vehicle’s towing capacity, seek advice from a certifier licensed under the Vehicle Safety Compliance Certification Scheme.
Towing vehicles must be properly equipped with:
- towbars and couplings of a suitable type and capacity
- electrical sockets to connect trailer lighting
- brake connections
- safety chains for driving in snow and icy areas.
If you're towing a large caravan, you may need extra mirrors for the towing vehicle. We recommend using a towing vehicle fitted with an electronic ‘trailer sway control’ safety feature to reduce the risk of the caravan swaying out of control.
All vehicles must comply with all relevant registration standards and be roadworthy at all times. Rear number plates and lights must be clearly visible and vehicle lights and number plates must not be obscured by the towbar when the caravan is disconnected. Find out more about towing a caravan on the NSW Government website.
The loaded mass of your caravan must not exceed any of the following:
- rated capacity of the towbar and tow coupling
- maximum towing capacity of the vehicle
- maximum fully loaded carrying capacity of the caravan (ATM)
- the combined mass of the tow vehicle and the caravan must not exceed the GCM if this figure is supplied by the tow vehicle manufacturer
- maximum rated carrying capacity of the tyres.
Make sure that the loaded mass of your caravan stays below the maximum capacity of all 4 criteria as specified by the towing vehicle manufacturer, towbar manufacturer (if different to the towing vehicle) and the caravan manufacturer. The maximum capacity of each may be different, but you must not exceed the maximum capacity of the lowest figure.
For example, say your vehicle has a maximum towing capacity of 3000kg, with a maximum towbar and coupling capacity of 3500kg, while the maximum loaded caravan carrying capacity (ATM) is only 2500kg. Even though the towing vehicle can tow more, the lowest figure of 2500kg is the maximum capacity this vehicle combination is able to safely tow.
Weigh your caravan each time you make a modification that adds weight, to make sure you comply with your safe towing capacity. Ensure that you understand the maximum carrying capacity for each of these factors as it will determine how much you can pack for your trip.
Weighing your caravan
Knowing the various weight criteria of your towing vehicle and caravan is important. While your caravan will have its tare mass, maximum aggregate trailer mass (ATM) and maximum gross trailer mass (GTM) noted on the vehicle plate and in the manufacturer’s handbook, you should still weigh your caravan to ensure you don’t go over these maximum capacities.
To help you in weighing your vehicle(s) accurately and maximise your safety on the road, use the examples below.
Several companies offer mobile weighing services. When weighing your caravan and towing vehicle, confirm the weighbridge is calibrated to make sure that your vehicles stay below the maximum carrying capacities.
Tare Mass is the total mass of the caravan with no load, unoccupied, and all standard equipment and any options fitted. Tare mass is measured with all fluid reservoirs (if fitted and required for transport), filled to nominal capacity for service. Non-transport fluid reservoirs such as water tanks and wastewater tanks fitted to caravans are measured empty. After-market optional add-ons (TV, mattresses, extra gas bottles, awnings etc.) aren’t included in the tare mass and are considered as a load, so must be included in your ATM measurement. You can find the tare mass weight of your caravan on the vehicle plate or in the manufacturer’s handbook.
Tow ball mass
Tow ball mass (or tow ball load) is the maximum mass allowed on the tow ball of the towing vehicle. You can find the tow ball mass capacity in your coupling manufacturer’s handbook. To measure the tow ball mass, use a ball weight scale. You must not exceed the tow ball mass capacity.
Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM)
Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) is the total mass of the trailer when carrying the maximum load recommended by the manufacturer. The ATM is measured with the caravan unhitched from your towing vehicle and resting on its jockey wheel. The maximum ATM of your caravan can be found on the vehicle plate or in the manufacturer’s handbook and must not be exceeded. Weigh your loaded caravan resting on its jockey wheel, including full water tank, gas tanks and everything you'd pack to go travelling to ensure the measured mass doesn't exceed your specified ATM capacity.
Gross Trailer Mass (GTM)
Gross Trailer Mass (GTM) is the maximum mass recommended by the manufacturer of your fully loaded caravan when it is hitched to your tow vehicle. The GTM of the caravan is transmitted to the ground by only the caravan tyres and excludes the mass distributed to the towing vehicle through the coupling. The GTM of your caravan can be found on the vehicle plate or in the manufacturer’s handbook and must not be exceeded. Weigh your loaded caravan when it is attached to your towing vehicle to ensure your measured mass doesn't exceed your specified GTM capacity.
Weighing your car
Gross Vehicle Mass
Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) is the maximum laden mass of a fully loaded motor vehicle as specified by the vehicle manufacturer. For some passenger vehicles, it's known as the Maximum Loaded Vehicle Mass (MLVM). To measure your loaded vehicle mass, weigh your fully packed towing vehicle, including vehicle occupants, with the caravan hitched and ensure it is less than your vehicle’s maximum GVM or MLVM.
Gross Combination Mass (GCM)
Gross Combination Mass (GCM) is the maximum combined mass of your loaded tow vehicle and your loaded caravan hitched together specified by your tow vehicle’s manufacturer. Not all vehicles are provided with a GCM, but if it is, it can be found in your vehicle manufacturer’s guide. Weigh your fully loaded towing vehicle, including vehicle occupants while hitched to your fully loaded caravan. Legally, you must not exceed the specified GCM capacity of your vehicle (if a GCM is specified).
Loading your caravan
Once you know how much you can pack/your payload, you need to weigh everything you load into your caravan. This includes water, gas, crockery, mattresses, TV, clothes, food, and drink – everything that's additional to the tare mass of your caravan.
You must also consider the extra weight you may accumulate while travelling, such as your grey water tank, cassette toilet waste and other items you've picked up along the way. Make sure you know your payload so that your caravan doesn't become overloaded during the trip.
Don’t overload your caravan
This table shows example weights of various items that may be part of a caravan’s payload, along with its tare and maximum carrying capacity. It demonstrates how to measure the safe carrying capacity.
What can you pack?
Maximum pack weight = 400kg
The total mass including what you pack/your payload, mustn't exceed the capacity of lowest rated component including towbar, towing vehicle, tyre capacity or caravan ATM.
Extras additional to tare
Total = 458kg (58kg overweight)
Make sure that the heaviest items are packed low and centred over the caravan’s wheel axles and the lightest items are packed up high and distributed across the vehicle. This will help to reduce the occurrence of ‘snaking’ or ‘swaying’ of your caravan when driving.
For more information
Rules and advice for towing a caravan or trailer on NSW roads. Secure your load, check for licence restrictions and follow safety standards.
The VSCCS licenses competent people to inspect non-standard vehicles and certify compliance with the relevant vehicle safety standards.