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Planning on purchasing your first caravan?
Are you new to towing something larger than the average box trailer?
Read on for some safety tips that will improve your understanding of the changes in your vehicle, and your own skills as a driver.
The safety of you, your family and other road users is up to you.
Topics covered here are –
- Length, weight, acceleration and reversing
- Road courtesy
- Travelling in convoy
- Weight Distribution and loading
- Air bags
- The ‘D’ Shackle hoax
Length, weight, acceleration and reversing
Consider the extra weight and length of the entire rig. Remember you can be hauling up to an extra 3 ½ ton plus, and maybe up to an extra 8-9 meters. This extra weight and length will have an effect on your acceleration, braking and all other aspects of handling.
Take yourself on some overnight and weekend trips to learn how your rig behaves and how you respond. Don’t be afraid to do a towing course. There are schools in each state. Tow-Ed operate courses in each state. They are well worth the time and money. I’d even go so far as to say, not just a possible life saver, but also a potential marriage saver! And when it comes to reversing, well, that’s a whole new animal.
Reversing into a caravan park site or other tight area can be marriage straining as much as it can be entertaining for other campers. We’ve seen a number of incidents that could have ended better, if –
(a) the line of communication was understood better, and
(b) if well meaning ‘good Samaritans’ had have stayed away and not interfered.
Gentlemen, if you wish to have a win and have the last word on the debate when you park, the words you need to use are, ‘Yes dear‘. Below is a link to a bit of reversing fun and another showing an easy method of getting that van to go just where you want it to.
Are you a selfish driver?
Where possible pull over to the left as far as you can to allow others to overtake you. Avoid long lines of frustrated drivers behind you. There are more ‘pull off’ lane appearing on our major single lane road network where slower vehicles have the opportunity to keep on moving but still able to move over to allow some vehicles to pass. Sort of short overtaking lanes. We also look for safe roadside areas where we can pull off and allow a line of traffic pass. Truckies can see what we are up to and the respect is shown in the comments on the UHF.
Travelling in convoy – vehicle spacing
If you plan on travelling together with another family or group in convoy, ensure you allow plenty of extra distance between you and the vehicle in front. Leave space for other vehicles that may wish to overtake and slot in between you and the vehicle in front. Don’t leave them “nowhere to go”. Travelling one behind the other with no space for other vehicles is not only selfish, it is dangerous. It can promote frustrations in other drivers leading to road rage events and even traffic incidents.
Their is no advantage or logical reason to travelling in close convoy, is there? You can’t talk to anyone in other vehicles; there can be no comfort factor as you try to emulate the speed and maneuvering of the caravan or motorhome ahead of you. Your braking distances are far less, promoting the possibility of a rear ender if there is a sudden braking event. If you need to converse with other travelers in your group, then you use a UHF. In which case, you don’t need to be in visual contact.
Some state Traffic Regulations require long vehicles of 7.5 metres or longer to stay 60 metres behind another long vehicle. In ‘road train areas’, this increases to 200 metres. This not only provides safe braking space, but also leaves overtaking vehicles enough room to move left should a vehicle be coming in the other direction. Is your rig 7.5 meters or longer? Travelling in close convoy might give you the warm and fuzzies because you are ‘travelling together’ but it is frowned upon, selfish and dangerous.
When entering traffic, allow extra time and space. Don’t forget that with that extra weight, you don’t have the acceleration that you are used to. The unwritten law of ‘Zipper’ merging may not be relevant in your situation as you have the extra length and slower merging speed. You may have to be ready for that extra space between oncoming traffic before you can safely enter the traffic flow. Don’t try to force your way in. You don’t know how other drivers will respond to having you suddenly block their way. Remember, flowing traffic has “right of way”.
If you find yourself overtaking, allow plenty of distance to get the whole rig past before you move back to the left hand side of the road. Ease back into your lane – don’t ‘flick’ the rig back into the lane. Any sudden actions could result in loss of control and damage to your rig, you and your passengers, and maybe implicate other road users as well. If you have one, don’t be afraid to use your two-way radio to make sure you have passed the other vehicle before moving back over. I often radio overtaking trucks to let them know when their trailer has passed me and it is safe to re-enter the left lane. The drivers appreciate the teamwork.
Caravans and motorhomes have a large “sail area” and are affected by strong winds. Even overtaking trucks or other large vehicles can effect the stability of your van. Expect the unexpected!
Weight distribution and loading
When the subject of weight distribution arises, you may hear terms such as ‘anti sway bars’, ‘Load levelers’, and a few others. Most of the time we are talking about the same thing – Weight Distribution Hitches. (WDH)
Their purpose is to distribute weight from the rear of the tow vehicle to the front wheels. This achieves a number of things. The first thing you will notice if the WDH is set up correctly, is the caravan and tow vehicle are now pretty much level. Secondly, and importantly, as up to 40% of that extra weight is transferred from the rear wheels to the front wheels this gives better front traction, which in turn gives you better steerage control.
Is a Weight Distribution Hitch nessesary? This link will take you to a video which explains the need and set up of a WDH.
Do I need a WDH – Video – Time 30s
What is a Weight Distribution Hitch?
Typically, it comprises of a WDH ball mount, 2 or 4 Spring bars and chains, 2 Snap up Brackets and a Snap Up Handle. There are different styles to suit different weight vans. No point in having a set of bars that are rated at 350kg when you are towing something like a small A Van. The hitch needs to be matched to suit your rig.
Setting up you WDH – Video – time 7m 51s
Loading your van
Checking water, oil, tyres, etc. is all part of trip preparation. The way you load the inside of your van or motorhome is just as important. If you don’t have your load distributed correctly around the vehicle, it will impact not only on long-term wear and tear, but important safety aspects of stability, braking and handling – and potential for a major negative impact on your holiday or travels.
So where do we start? Firstly, look at the placard in the front boot of your van and it with give you the load capacities that you need to work in. The image here is an effective and easy visual explanation.
What you’ll need to be aware of is that the ‘tare’ or ‘curb’ weight is the weight of the van as it comes out of the manufacturers doors – i.e.. not including gas bottles, no water in the tanks, not ‘your bits and pieces’ – nothing! So when you start to load it all these in, be very aware of what it all weighs. Two full 9kg gas bottles can weigh around 30kg, then there is water at 1kg for every litre – lets say 180kg. If you have about 400kg allowance, you could have already blown over half of your load allowance! Add to this food, drinks, the kitchen gear, clothes, computer/tablets, books and all the other little nick-knacks that make your van your home. An average twin axle caravan normally has a limit of about 400kg limit. Not much is it?
Once you’ve established allowable weights, how should you load it? You can see by the image on the left that the heaviest should go over the axles and slightly toward the front; medium weight gear kept low around this; and the light-weights the upper areas. Remember this though – just because the space is there, it doesn’t mean it has to be full!
Something else to keep in mind. Many caravan builders only staple and lightly glue their cabinetry together. Too much weight in them combined with a bumpy road, could see you beloved possessions scattered throughout the van……
There has been a lot of comment on the use of air bags for tow vehicles, with opinions ranging from ‘best thing I did‘ to ‘don’t use them -they bend vehicles‘. Comments made by people who are just repeating opinions of others without necessarily doing some fact-finding for themselves.
Our personal experience – we have air bags, and have had on all three tow vehicles. They do what we want, when we want. Pump them up when we tow, reduce the air pressure when we are not towing. We have enjoyed a safe stable, level ride when towing, and a softer stable ride when we don’t have the weight of the van hooked up. You would be surprised how much difference 10 -15 PSI makes in this set up.
But what about all those bent twin cabs? The main factor with bending a twin cab is the weight loaded in the back. Overloading, regardless of air bags or not, will bend them. Its the owners responsibility to be aware and consider safe load limits.
We recently read an article that was accompanied by independent and objective reports that support the above comment. The following are excerpts:
A cracked or bent chassis can only occur with Excessive Load (Over Loading) and positioning of load as well as vehicle operation. See below PDF Download from 3rd party engineers who have completed a chassis analysis report on how bent chassis can occur. This was tested with and without air suspension installed, with over 20 years of Airbag Man and working with air suspension and thousands of satisfied customers we have never come across our air suspension being the cause of a bent chassis.
Our airbags are positioned where the vehicle manufacturer expects the bump stop impact load to be taken.
THE INCORRECT RUMOUR
“If you fit airbag suspension to your vehicle it will bend the chassis”
INDEPENDENT ENGINEERING ANALYSIS RESULT
“Fitment and use of Airbag Man air helper suspension WILL NOT adversely affect the vehicle chassis”
Vehicles with and without airbags have experienced chassis damage.
Excessive load and or an unusual operation is usually the cause vehicle or chassis damage.
The Analysis Report: https://www.airbagman.com.au/…/AirbagManChassisReport.pdf
Weight Distribution and Airbags:
The ‘D’ Shackle Hoax
There has been a lot of publicity on social media over the last few years that appears to be confusing some drivers in regards to rated ‘D’ shackles.
The first time this appeared was in 2014 as a poster advertising that Gympie Police were fining drivers for not having ‘rated D shackles’ on their safety chains. This was eventually proven to be a hoax and various government authorities publicly announced it was nothing but a hoax. However, every year some clown finds the poster and sets off the whole debate again.
No, don’t get us wrong, we use rated shackles – but that is our choice. You can still use unrated shackles providing the shackles are designed to take the weight you intend them to take. No point in fitting shackles that are designed to take 150kg when you may need 300kg strain.
Here is one of the many links that will explain the hoax. Another urban myth busted!