organised by Everything Caravan and Camping and RVeeThereYet
Four months ago, Matt Sutton, owner of the Everything Caravan and Camping Facebook Group, came to me with an idea. He wanted to run independent caravan weigh-ins across the country, starting in his home town of Mt Gambier. I thought it would be a good idea, but I didn't think we would get too many takers in a small country town in SA. How wrong I was...!
Last weekend, we had the first of our weigh-ins and right from the start I knew we were in for a big day. When we arrived at the car-park where the event was run, there was already over 10 vans lined up waiting. By day's end we had weighed 48 rigs...!
Most of the rigs weighed were caravans, but we also had a few camper trailers and a couple of motorhomes thrown in for good measure.
The results...? Well we were quite surprised to find that most rigs were within 50kgs of their maximum weights. Given the margin for error in our scales, this is a very positive result. Most rigs were packed and ready for an extended trip with full water tanks and stocked fridges. There were around 10 vans that were well under their limits, which again is an excellent outcome. There were 4 vans that were well overweight, one being 400kgs over his ATM.
All up, it was an extremely successful day. We were fortunate to have great instructions of what to do provided by Graeme Shenton, the police officer who ran the recent operation in Newmerella, Victoria. We were also fortunate to have Matt's mate Kallen Westbrook, who worked tirelessly all day with me on the scales.
Special thanks go to Wendy and Steve McCallum and Rosie and Tony McKeough who bought us all coffees and snacks, and to Matt's wife, Paula, who who bought us lunch. Thank you for your support.
The next weigh in will be held in Melbourne at a location to be determined. Keep an eye out on the Everything Caravanning and Camping group and RveeThereYet.com for details.
Recently, we were driving home along Victoria’s Goulburn Valley Highway after spending a relaxing weekend with friends in Gough’s Bay, near Lake Eildon. For anyone unfamiliar with this road, it is a fairly typical B grade highway in Victoria, with a single lane in each direction and dotted with occasional overtaking opportunities, tight sweeping bends and varying gradients. During winter, this road is packed with skiers heading up to Mt Buller in their all-wheel drive Subaru’s and Audi’s. It’s the perfect road for a hot hatch. During summer, the snow melts in the mountains to reveal the vast eucalypt forests of the Victorian High Country, the exclusive domain of real 4WDs. These vehicles are the norm along the Goulburn Valley Highway this time of year despite not being so well suited to this type of road.
Not so Olaf, our Toyota Landcruiser 200. It seems to defy the laws of physics as it trundles along occasionally challenging the speed limit, eating up hills like they weren’t there and negotiating corners faster than a 2,800kg of BHP’s finest should be able to. I was really enjoying the drive home, revelling in the Cruiser’s silky smooth twin turbo V8 as it dispatched the miles behind us. Olaf had recently ticked over 30,000km and I started to reflect on just how good this car is and how much better it seems to get as time goes by.
First…a bit of a history lesson. I never liked Landsruisers and their owners annoyed me. I hated the way they seemed to make 4wding look easy. Then there was their smugness when I had to call on one of them to get me out of a bog or other situation where I lacked forward momentum. Their ‘generosity’ was always accompanied with the same mantra; “Why don’t you just buy yourself a Landcruiser?” It was like nails down a chalk-board. The fact of the matter was that I secretly coveted my neighbours’ cruisers but steadfastly refused to succumb to the temtation. I swore I would never buy one.
That was up until February 2015 when we ordered our new caravan. A 3,500kg town house on wheels. Our hand was forced into buying a new 4wd to tow it and our choices were few. On the list was the 200 series Landcruiser and as much as I wanted to continue by love/hate relationship with them, there was no denying it was the car for us. When we went for our test drive, I hoped it would be awful or that Kylie would find it too big for her to drive every day. None of that eventuated and today the prejudice was well and truly put to the past. We love Olaf and for good reason.
You see, unless you buy an American pick-up truck, there really are few options for a good, solid, full size 4WD towing vehicle and when you take into account the availability of service centres around the country, Toyota is as good as it gets and a long way better than all the alternatives. Nissan had a new Patrol on the market with a big V8 petrol engine which, by all accounts, is an awesome vehicle. Regardless, having experienced owning a petrol V8 4wd in the past, it would take a lot of convincing to get me to buy another one. The fuel use can be scary.
The Cruiser’s engine is magic and it seems to have loosened up considerably since we first got it. It feels smoother and more willing to rev. At first, I thought Toyota had got the transmission all wrong but now that I’ve driven it and gotten used to it, I reckon Toyota knew exactly what they were doing. You very rarely find yourself in the wrong gear. If you do, all it takes is a slight depression of the loud pedal and it kicks down a cog and rockets on in a satisfying swell of torque.
What continually amazes me is just how economic the Cruiser is. We don’t drive it like we’ve stolen it but we don’t baby it either. This trip, in particular, I drove a little more enthusiastically than I might otherwise and it still returned an average of 11.4l/100ks. Granted this is not as good as some of the other modern 4wds but for a big V8, this is outstanding. It challenges the fuel economy of my old 2.5l Discovery and is way better than our 3.0 Patrol…!
Overtaking on a road like the Goulburn is when you really appreciate the V8. Sink the boot in and the motor responds with a satisfying shove in the kidneys accompanied by a nice soundtrack. It feels unstoppable. Unrelenting. Awesome.
Putting the big van on the back changes the equation somewhat but the Cruiser takes this in its stride. The long travel accelerator requires a decent stomp to get the whole rig moving, but it does get going much better that you might expect. It will cruise all day at the speed limit with the van on the back and, apart from the shorter distances between fuel stops, it’s easy to forget the caravan is there.
We’ve done pretty much all the mods we intend to do for the time being. Dual battery system, UHF radio, drawer system, power outlets in the rear, tire pressure monitoring system, Scanguage, rear view camera and driving lights. The Lovell’s GVM upgrade suspension has proved to be a wise decision. Surprisingly, I reckon the Toyota steel bull bar is the best looking of all the alternatives. Once the warranty has run out we plan to up the performance a bit with a modified exhaust and performance chip. We did the same thing to our Patrol and the results of that were amazing.
Other mods we have planned are a catch can and perhaps a secondary fuel filter. For now, Olaf is doing the job extremely well. It’s powerful, comfortable, reliable, and reasonably economic to run plus it tows like a dream. You can’t really ask for much more…!
One of the most common questions asked my novice caravanners is “do I need towing mirrors?” If this question is placed on a caravanning forum or Facebook group, the ensuing responses, usually numbering in the hundreds, would confuse anyone posing this question. Most responders would say the answer is yes but a staggering number also argue the opposite and they cite many publications as evidence supporting their claims. The truth is often obscured by these comments, leaving the original poster without a definitive answer. In this article, we hope to put the myth to rest and provide you with a definitive answer.
The first thing we need to do is to establish exactly what the relevant laws are and how they apply to each particular situation. This EXCLUDES many of the towing guides that are published by the various state road authorities. These are guides only and are intended to provide advice that can cover a range of towing configurations, including those that do not require the fitting of mirrors. This is why many of them state that you may be required to fit extension mirrors. Do not rely on the guides. They are not the law.
The Act is Legislation that has been made and enacted by The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. Put simply, it is the law.
In order to register a vehicle, it must comply with the ADRs. Any modifications, alterations or additions to a vehicle, and attaching a caravan is an addition, has the potential to effect the vehicle’s compliance with the ADRs. If a vehicle is non compliant with the ADRs, it is essentially unroadworthy.
Now you can, if you feel the need, read all the relevant ADRs but the one that is applicable in this case is Vehicle Standard (Australian Design Rule 14/02 – Rear Vision Mirrors) 2006 Amendment 1. It states: The field of vision must be such that the driver can see at least a 4 m wide, flat, horizontal portion of the road, which is bounded by a plane parallel to the median longitudinal vertical plane and passing through the outermost point of the vehicle on the driver’s side of the vehicle and extends from 20 m behind the driver’s ocular points to the horizon. In addition, the road must be visible to the driver over a width of 1 m, which is bounded by a plane parallel to the median longitudinal vertical plane and passing through the outermost point of the vehicle starting from a point 4 m behind the vertical plane passing through the driver’s ocular points.
That may sound like a lot of legal mumbo jumbo, and it is, but the diagram below explains what this means:
So assuming that your chosen tow vehicle complies with the ADRs, it is your responsibility to maintain that compliance. When you hitch up a caravan, boat or other trailer to your tow vehicle, you potentially block your vision of the area as specified above. If the trailer is no wider than your tow vehicle, then it is likely that your standard mirrors will be sufficient, but if the trailer is wider, and pretty much all caravans are 2.5m wide, then you will need to fit extension mirrors. The following diagram gives a visual representation of what that means:
The area in green represents the area of vision that you must maintain. A simple test would be to attached your trailer to your tow vehicle and stand directly behind each of the rearmost corners at a distance of about 20m from your side rear view mirrors. If you can see each mirror in its entirety, then you are likely to be compliant. If the mirrors are partially obscured or completely hidden behind the trailer, then you must install extension mirrors.
Some people will argue that they have a camera fitted on the back of their vans and that it provides the additional area of vision required. This is not the case. As shown above, at best, a camera will show you what is directly behind the trailer and that may actually include some of the green area. What it won’t cover are the areas alongside the trailer and its rear most corners. These are the critical areas that you need to be able to see in order to avoid a collision with another vehicle when changing lanes, merging onto traffic or cornering around a dual lane roundabout.
Now, having been explained all that, many drivers will choose to ignore it and will continue to tow a caravan without fitting extension mirrors to the vehicle. Apart from the obvious safety issues, there is a very high likelihood that they will be pulled over by the Police and issued with an infringement notice. In Victoria, that infringement is 297(2) – fail to have a clear view of the road and traffic, ahead, behind and to each side of the driver RR 297(2) and it will set you back $233. A few drivers who were subjected to safety checks at Newmerella recently were fined for not having mirrors fitted where required. Given the low cost of a good set of towing mirrors, and the likelihood that, in future, there will be an increased focus on towing safety by police, if you avoid just one fine by fitting extension mirrors, they’ll have paid for themselves.
On the 4th and 5th of January, 2017, a police officer from the small town of Orbost in Victoria fired a massive salvo across the bow of the caravanning, camper and boating communities. With the help of a small team from Vic Roads, Victoria Police and a group of media and industry representatives, Acting Sergeant Graeme Shenton ran a standard roadside police stop during “Operation Roadwise”, a Victorian state-wide blitz over the Christmas holiday period. What made this unique was that he added the capacity to weigh caravans and other trailers by utilising Vic Roads personnel and portable roadside scales. Up until this day, this sort of operation, where caravanners were subjected to weight safety checks, was a myth of epic proportions. Graeme’s salvo may have crossed the bows of the general towing communities, but it scored a direct hit on the myth, making the possibility of being subjected to weight safety checks a reality for RVers across the country.
The event was widely publicised on social media. The details of the operation reached literally hundreds of thousands of people across Australia in a matter of weeks. The general reaction was overwhelmingly positive with the vast majority of posts on social media pretty much saying the same thing. There should be more of it. More importantly, those same people who were praising the operation were more than likely starting to question their own compliance with the law regarding their individual rigs. I know Kylie and I were. It prompted us to take our caravan up to a weighbridge and check out our weights. Like the many who were weighed at Newmerella, we were quite surprised by the results.
To put this into perspective, you have to look at the results from the Newmerella operation itself:
• 71 caravans were weighed across 2 days.
• 2 drivers knew all their ratings.
• Most had an idea of what their maximum allowable weight was (ATM) but were confused about how to manage weights.
• 3 knew what they actually weighed.
• 41 were overweight in one or more ratings (ATM, GTM, Ball weight).
• 5 were overweight by more than 20%.
• The majority of those spoken with were surprised at how heavy they were and had under estimated their actual weight.
It is worth noting that due to the time constraints of the day, no tow vehicles were weighed, however it is well known that many of the popular dual cab tow vehicles have some issues with GVM and GCM. Several were noted on the day with advise given to some who were obviously pushing their limits. If these had been weighed, then the percentage of overweight vehicles would likely have been much larger.
In many respects these figures were entirely expected but when you see them written down like that and understand they have come from a factual source, it is very confronting. Recognising that the sample from the weekend is not huge, if we were to apply a simple extrapolation of those figures to the wider RV community of over 600,000 registered vehicles across Australia, only 25,000 will actually know what they weigh. More troubling, out of the remaining 575,000 drivers who have little to no idea about what they weigh, nearly 350,000 are likely overweight in at least one category. Worse is that around 42,000 are, in all likelihood, overweight by more than 20%. Remember that is just RV’s. Consider drivers towing boats and other heavy loads and you can start to appreciate the magnitude of the problem.
Now there will be those out there who do not agree that this is a significant issue. In fact, many accuse law enforcement agencies conducting similar operations as nothing more than revenue raising. I saw one particular comment on social media where it was stated that the police should be patrolling caravan parks and camp sites to counter thieves and stop wasting time targeting a minority. To me, this shows that many people have absolutely no idea about the way law enforcement works and how agencies like Victoria Police have to spread their resources across many areas in order to meet public law enforcement expectations.
I have actually known of Graeme for about 4 years, but only met him in person very recently. Over the Christmas period, Kylie and I were holidaying in Bemm River, about 70ks from Orbost, and Graeme turned up at our caravan site at about 10.30pm on New Year’s eve, just to say gday. He had been on general patrol with his offsider checking caravan parks and camp sites in the area to ensure the safety of campers during festive celebrations. He is a fairly typical country cop. Extremely friendly. Loves a chat but you also get a sense that if the situation called for it, he would be a force to be reckoned with, as his towering frame would suggest.
But Graeme has another side to his life. He is a fellow caravanner and he, like many of us, is passionate about the lifestyle. He is quite active on many forums and Facebook groups, although he keeps his identity on Facebook, well…let’s just say low profile. He is very knowledgeable about the subject having gained a lot of experience from his own travels as well as from his police duties in Orbost. You see, Orbost sits right at the critical point between the major summer holiday destinations of Lakes Entrance in Victoria and the southern NSW coast along the busy and treacherous Princes Highway. Motor vehicle crashes involving caravans and boats are, unfortunately, a normal part of life in this area and Graeme has seen his fair share. In fact, the day we were heading up to Bemm River, there was a rollover involving a large caravan towed by a 4WD that Graeme attended. All were safe but it could so easily have been another tragic start to the holiday period for one family.
This puts Graeme right in the middle of the debate. He has a unique perspective where he can actually see the situation from both sides. It was this insight that gave Graeme the wisdom to run the operation, not as an enforcement exercise, but more as an education with the aim to raise awareness of the safety issues with drivers. Judging by the social media responses, he definitely achieved that. Thousands of RVers around the country took notice of what went on and have started to question their own status.
Evidence of this can be seen in the reaction on social media to posts, one by myself and the other by Mr Matt Sutton, who manages the very popular Caravanning and Camping Facebook group with in excess of 120,000 members. The posts showed ourselves weighing our rigs at public weighbridges. At last count, both posts had been viewed in excess of 270,000 times. Another subsequent post showing a link to our website where people can download a list of public weighbridges in each state received over 3,000 hits in 2 days.
I was present at the Newmerella operation and watched how the weight checks were conducted and how Graeme and his team interacted with drivers during the checks. They were patient, methodical, friendly, and willing to discuss the issues in a helpful and constructive manner. Others present included representatives from the Australian Caravanning Club who were also on hand to talk to drivers and assist with the overall goal of education. It was very impressive. Drivers were given advice on how to reduce weight and the effects of weight distribution on stability. All drivers were given printed information detailing a step by step process to assist them to establish their empty and loaded weights and how to use a weighbridge. All drivers were spoken to in regards to fatigue and taking rest stops. A TAC handout was given to drivers describing the effects of fatigue. I spoke to many drivers as well and everyone I spoke to said they were pleased with the approach and valued the advice given to them.
One area of concern that was addressed in a sterner manner was the lack of towing mirrors fitted to a number of vehicles. Many drivers who pulled up without towing mirrors defended their lack of compliance but found themselves loosing that argument very quickly. This is a subject for another day but one worth keeping in mind.
The outcomes from this operation are many but some stand out, in particular in relation to the overall desire of caravanners to become more knowledge about the safety aspect of their activity. In this respect, it is now up to the authorities, the media and industry associations to start to develop and publicise this information on a broader scale.
There is another outcome from Newmerella that I believe needs even greater promotion and follow up, and it relates to the manufacturing sector of the RV industry. The issues surrounding the accuracy (or lack thereof) of compliance plates on new caravans and campers are well known and have recently received a lot of main stream media attention through the activities of Ms Tracey Leigh and her Lemon Caravans and RVs facebook group. Others like Phil Sanchez of the Shonky Caravan Builders/Dealers facebook group have also been challenging the industry by publically naming and shaming builders and dealers who are allegedly involved in some decidedly dodgy practices. Industry experts like Mr Colin Young from the Caravan Council of Australia have also been extremely vocal in their condemnation of the industry and its severe lack of regulation. Newmerella should be a signal to the RV manufacturing industry that law enforcement agencies are now starting to look very carefully at the issue and realise that it will be only a matter of time before they become the focus of investigations.
Everyone involved in the RV lifestyle, from beginning to the end, has now been put on notice that the authorities are aware of the situation and are now prepared to do something about it.
So what happens now?
Well, that will depend on many things, not least will be the value placed on further activities of this nature by the authorities involved on the day. I know the recommendation in the follow up of Newmerella include conducting more weighing operations around the state of Victoria and to continue along the path of focusing on education before enforcement…for now. A closer examination of dual cab utes towing big loads is something that is being considered.
However, for Newmerella to be truly successful will require more than just further police operations. Those involved in the RV media and its representative bodies need to stand up and show their support for greater awareness, better adherence to the law and a genuine effort to further educate and prepare RVers of all types to ensure they are compliant with regulations and not overweight.
More importantly we need the RV manufacturing and retail industry to get their heads out of the sand and take responsibility for their part in the issue.
Mr Gary Moreland, who writes for Caravan and Motorhome magazine, who was also present at Newmerella, said something on the day that resonated with me. He described how the trucking industry introduced a chain of responsibility when it came to safety. In essence it means that everyone in the chain from industry regulators, RV Manufacturers, dealer companies and the drivers share varying degrees of responsibility for safety and, likewise, share the accountability when safety is compromised.
Gary believes the RV industry in this country needs to adopt a similar approach. Rather than working in isolated silos, everyone needs to take ownership of their part in the problem and work together to find solutions. As is the case of a regular motor vehicle, the compliance plate on an RV, be it a caravan, a camper trailer, a boat or a motorhome, is a legal document and it should be treated as one and enforced as one.
Graeme’s operation at Newmerella is an enormous step forward in the path to safer RV motoring and will likely have already saved lives. But for this to be truly successful requires others in the industry, including those who are active on social media, to carry the momentum forward, but they must work together in order to achieve this common goal. As for the rest of us, the average motorist who just happens to tow a caravan, a camper or a large boat, we need to step up and take some responsibility for our own actions. We will not be able to plead innocence for ever or go on blaming the manufacturer of our RV for our situation.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse and right at this moment, the onus is on us to comply with the law.
I urge everyone who reads this to get your rig down to a weighbridge and get your weights checked. Even if you spend the effort to ensure you have not exceeded your tow vehicle’s gross combined mass (GCM), you will have achieved something and taken one big step forward towards ensuring your own safety and that of others on the road around you.
Following on from the Police operation in Newmerella where caravans, campers and boat trailers were weighed and drivers advised of their result against their vehicle's rating, there has been a flurry of activity on the various Facebook groups and caravanning forums with many drivers wanting to know where to go and get their rigs weighed.
Well, thanks to our friends at Victoria Police and Vic Roads, we have a list of all available public weighbridges in Australia. So if all the talk of police weighing operations has got you a bit concerned about your rig's weight, now you can find the public weighbridge closest to you.
You can view the list or download it for yourself using the links below. There's a couple of other links may be of interest as well.
Here’s a very brief update on the Police Operation at Newmerella where caravan, campers and other larger trailers were checked for compliance with weight restrictions and other general requirements.
Victoria Police worked together with Vic Roads and the Sheriff’s department to conduct a major road safety operation that included blood alcohol checks, licence and registration checks, outstanding fines or registration payments and, in particular, safety checks of larger trailers including caravans, camper trailers and boat trailers. This was conducted on the 4th and 5th January, 2017, at the rest stop in Newmerella Victoria on the busy Princess Highway.
With regards to caravan and trailer checks component of the operation, it was largely an education and safety awareness exercise. No one was fined for being overweight. I did see one defect notice issued to a driver who’s boat trailer had incorrectly rated tyres for the weight being carried.
There were fines issued for drivers who did not have towing mirrors fitted where required.
A full report will be issued by the police on the results of the operation but I can tell you that overall most trailers were either right on their maximum weight or were overloaded. Some vehicles were also overloaded in terms of their tow ball load and rear axel loadings. Interestingly, many camper trailers were overloaded and this was a bit of a surprise to those of us observing proceedings.
Most drivers were appreciative of the information and guidance provided with many not being aware of the critical state of their rigs. A few were not entirely pleased especially if they had recieved assurances from the manufacturer of ther caravan of its weight carrying capabilities.
The day was observed by representatives from the Australian Caravan Club Ltd, Everything Caravan and Camping Facebook Group, the Caravanners’ Forum and other organisations. All were very impressed with the operation and how it was conducted. It was agreed that further promotion of the operation and its associated safety message must continue and all agreed to collaborate on achieving this outcome.
From my perspective, it was an extremely worthwhile exercise and it was a privilege to be there to watch the dedicated members of Vic Police and Vic Roads go about their work in a professional and helpful manner. I spoke to a number of drivers who had been tested and they were all appreciative of the advice and assistance offered. Many were grateful for having the opportunity to get their rigs checked.
Of particular note was the number of drivers who had heard about the operation on social media prior to the event and came down specifically to get their rigs checked. This, to me, is an amazing outcome that just goes to show that attitudes are changing and that people are genuinely wanting to ensure their rigs are legal.
This was the first real, widely publicised, safety operation specifically aimed at caravans, boats and all large trailers. The social media campaign of this operation had, to this point, reached well over 250,000 people who are members of the RV and boating communities. It is the start of a whole new approach that could have far reaching implications, not just for folks like ourselves, but for the manufacturers, law eforcement in other states, industry regulators, and so on. This is great momentum for continued improvements in towing safety.
I’ll be publishing a more detailed report later. Until then, safe travels…!
Rumours have started to circulate that Vic Police will be running a blitz targeting caravanners with even the popular Caravan and Motorhome On Tour magazine running an article on the subject. Well, while nothing can be confirmed, we have been told there is definitely substance to the rumour.
Last May you will recall there was a specific operation in Cann River, Victoria that targeted (amongst others) caravanners where rigs were weighed on set of portable scales. The pictures we were able to obtain and share (with appropriate permission) showed in no uncertain detail what was happening, busting a national rumour that had persisted for many years.
Well, the word I have from the same source is that a similar operation is in the planning but, this time, it is part of an overall strategy to 'educate travellers about caravan and tow vehicle weights, general safety around towing and how to manage fatigue on long journeys'.
During holiday periods, police have found 'there is an increase in the number of motorists towing caravans and boat trailers, with many being first time towers' or lacking experience towing long heavy loads. Recent media stories and videos of incidents showing caravan rollovers has also raised police concerns.
Police are also very aware that the public perception can be that these operations are just an exercise in revenue raising. I know this is not the case as the costs associated with such an exercise, especially over the holiday period, would greatly surpass the total of any fines issued. So this time there is a real focus on the need to 'educate and generate discussion around towing safety and road safety in general'.
We have maintained that caravanners who do the right thing have nothing to fear from being asked to pull in for an inspection and we would encourage travellers to take advantage of the opportunity to find out whether or not they are in fact legal. Safety should be everyone’s number one priority on the roads especially when towing big loads.
Lately it seems every week there is a new dash-cam video of a caravan coming to grief on the road, usually as a result of an uncontrollable sway or fish-tail incident. These videos get plastered all over social media and they attract hundreds of comments usually questioning the skill of the driver involved or the recklessness of their actions. Some question the load distribution of the rig and whether or not the towing vehicle was up to the task. Personally I do not like these sort of posts mainly because they comments they attract are often misinformed and opinionated and come from people who have absolutely no knowledge of the facts leading up to the incident. For me it’s very easy to be an armchair expert with little regard to the effect those comments may have on the actual individuals involved.
It gets worse. A well-known current affairs program notorious for their lack of journalistic excellence, jumped onto the same bandwagon when the latest footage emerged on the net. Their comments and those of their experts we’re one thing, but the comments posted on their facebook page really only served to cast caravanners in a bad light. Nothing in the report really offered any guidance for others who might find themselves in a similar situation. It also featured footage from the UK and the US while stating that ‘we see this on our roads all the time’. One clip they showed was of a car and caravan skidding into the path of an oncoming truck. I know for a fact the incident in that instance did not result from any driver error but was due to the presence of oil on the road. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
The truth is, there is a variety of opinions about what a driver of a car and trailer should do in the instance the trailer gets the sways. The natural reaction of the driver, especially if they are inexperienced, would be to hit the brakes. That, in my opinion, would be the worst thing to do. Many guides state that you should try to accelerate out of the sway. This, again, is not always possible and I doubt it would work anyway.
Years ago, before I had any real idea about towing and weights and such stuff, I was towing a small box trailer carrying about 12 railway sleepers with a Diahatsu Feroza. Now before you all jump on me for my obvious stupidity, I was less than half my current age at the time and really didn’t know any better.
In any case, the inevitable happened and, while driving up the busy Hume Hwy, as I approached 70kph, almost without any warning the trailer started to sway quite violently. Fortunately I had some knowledge of 4wding at the time and one thing that gets drilled into you is not to panic when the proverbial hits the fan and DON’T slam on the brakes. Instead, I slowly released my foot from the accelerator and steadily slowed down, keeping the steering wheel straight, until the swaying stopped. As quickly as the sway had started, slowing down had an immediate opposite effect and brought the rig back under control.
Fortunately I have never been in a similar situation since then, however, I am absolutely convinced that my actions that day saved my life and that of my passenger, not to mention other motorists around me.
I don’t believe trying to accelerate out of the sway would have worked for 2 reasons.
I couldn’t even if I wanted to, the poor Feroza was struggling with the load as it was.
Even if I could, that would only introduce additional ‘energy’ into an already out of control situation and possibly would have made things worse.
Hitting the brakes would only have served to raise the speed difference between the car and the trailer leading to a worsening of the sway as the trailer tried to overtake the car.
Slowing down gradually by just releasing the accelerator enabled the energy already in the system to dissipate equally from both the car and trailer, taking energy away from the sway and returning the rig to a state of control. If I had trailer brakes operated remotely from the car, activating them would have had the same result, a controlled slowing down and dissipation of the energy in the sway.
So my suggestion is to avoid the situation happening in the first place. This is done by following some simple suggestions:
Ensure both your car and trailer are roadworthy and any servicing is up to date.
Ensure the load is correctly distribution across the whole rig.
Ensure your tire pressures across the rig are set according to the manufacturers’ instructions
Ensure your trailer connections are working especially any electronic braking system
Fit a weight distribution hitch. This will ensure that control of the rig is on the front wheels of the tow vehicle, enhancing stability.
Get your rig weighed to ensure you haven’t exceeded any limits on the tow vehicle or the trailer
Take your rig for a test drive somewhere away from heavy traffic and gradually work up to normal cruising speeds.
You can consider fitting a sway control device such as friction arms or trailer mounted electronic stability control but keep in mind these can induce a false sense of security. You don’t want to be relying on these features. Setting up the rig correctly in the first place is far more important.
Passing large trucks can expose your rig to some pretty strong forces such as the wind turbulence coming from the front of the truck and down along both sides. This turbulence or pressure wave can have a detrimental effect on your rig’s stability as you pass through it. If you have to overtake a truck, give yourself plenty of room to manoeuvre and don’t cut back in front of the truck until you are well past it. Give the truckie plenty of warning by contacting him/her on UHF Ch.40.
I would also recommend you don’t exceed 100kph especially when towing a trailer in excess of 2500kgs or if the trailer is at the limits of your tow vehicle’s capabilities.
If you do experience trailer sway:
Remain calm. Do not panic.
Don’t touch the tow vehicles brakes and don’t try to control the sway by steering input.
Keep the steering wheel pointed straight ahead as much as possible.
Gradually release the accelerator and reduce speed until the swaying stops.
If the trailer is fitted with electronic brakes, activate them manually using the override feature.
Once the vehicle has regained stability, slow right down and pull off the road at the first safe opportunity.
Check over the rig for anything that may have contributed to the situation. Tire pressures, load balance, etc.
Something else to keep in mind is that some caravans require a load such as water in their tanks to be completely stable. It can be a sign of poor caravan design but many vans are like this. If you have any doubts, fill the front most water tank and retest your rig to see if the stability has improved. Check with the manufacturer if you have any doubts.
Having previously owned both diesel and petrol vehicles and also having towed with both, I thought I had this question well and truly sorted out in my own mind years ago. These days, I think the answer is not so clear cut. Let me explain:
I once owned a Land Rover Discovery V8 petrol 4WD. When I had it, I was earning a pretty good wage and I had never experienced owning and driving a diesel before. The only diesels I had ever driven were naturally aspirated Landcruisers and Patrols and these wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice custard. As a busy sales rep buzzing around the state, I needed something that was capable of keeping up with Melbourne’s traffic. The Disco was a lot of fun to drive. The 3.8l engine was small by V8 standards but, shuffling through the gears, it revved pretty well and propelled the large 4wd very nicely indeed. It would never set the tyres alight but, for a 4wd, it was very respectable. The noise from the exhaust was also quite pleasing. All this performance came at a cost. A hefty one. 80 litres of fuel would be gone in 450ks. That’s 17.7l/100ks on a good day….! For a boy who had not owned anything bigger than a 2l Camry, this sort of fuel consumption was a shock to the system, and the hip pocket. The limited range was also a major headache when venturing off road. Even a short weekend in the Victorian Alps had to be planned to include a fuel stop along the way at some point. Failure to do so would leave my heart in my throat and my eye on the fuel gauge. Not a lot of fun. When I started towing even a modest load, the story was even worse. 20l/100ks on the open highways was as good as it would get with our sub 2t Bush Hopper trailer in tow. For outback travel, this sort of range was completely unsatisfactory. I had to do something.
I changed the V8 over to a diesel version of the same car. The Discovery with the 300tdi engine was a complete revelation. For a 2.5l 4 cylinder diesel engine, it had sufficient poke to keep up with the traffic. It was not as quick as the V8, but it didn’t feel like it lacked for any power, such was the low end delivery of its substantial torque. Best of all, you could give the engine the beans all day and it would consistently return fuel consumption figures of 10l/100ks every single fill up. That’s twice the V8’s range. Towing the same trailer, this figure would rarely rise above 13l/100ks. I was very happy and kept this car for over 11 years. As far as I was concerned at the time, anyone not driving a turbo diesel 4wd was kidding themselves.
Other 4wds at the time seemed to confirm my theory. The 80 series Crusiers were mainly being bought with the 4.5l straight six and even with twin cams and multivalve fuel injection, they still sucked down fuel at rates comparable to the old Disco V8. Even when Toyota and Nissan started turbo charging their 6 cylinder diesels, their fuel consumption wouldn’t get anywhere near the Disco’s.
Move time along another 10 years. The good old Disco was gone and we were 8 years into owning a Nissan Patrol 3.0CRD. Time had come to upgrade to something with a lot more grunt and towing capacity. I was still convinced a diesel was the way to go and we eventually settled on a 200 series Crusier V8 diesel and it hasn’t disappointed us in any way thus far. Its fuel economy is remarkable given the power this engine produces. It’s a fantastic vehicle. However there are a few caveats on this. Its fuel use can get into the higher end of the diesel spectrum if you give it the beans on a regular basis. We don’t drive it like we’ve stolen it, preferring to enjoy the relaxed nature of the big 8, but I have no doubt that if we were to partake in the traffic light drags a bit more, this consumption around town would go into the 13l/100k territory. That is still not bad for a 2.6t V8 auto full size 4WD…!
With a van on the back, obviously fuel consumption increases. Our Roadstar Safari Tamer is near on 3.5t fully loaded and this can see our fuel use increase to between 17.5 and 22l/100ks. By today’s standards that’s fairly high for a diesel but it’s not unreasonable. Many factors come into play here. Road conditions, prevailing winds, higher speeds all conspire to increase our fuel use.
So…back to the question of petrol or diesel. Until recently, there wasn’t a lot of choice if you wanted a full size 4WD. The 200 series cruiser was basically it and the petrol variant gulped down fuel like it was happy hour at the brewery. I’ve read about one fellow who’s petrol Cruiser managed to gulp down 39l/100ks driving into a stiff head wind towing less than 3t…!! He said he could actually see the fuel gauge move as he drove along.
Now there’s a new Nissan Patrol on the market, the Y62. Its 5.6l V8 is, by all accounts, a gem of an engine. Its capable of sedan like speeds and can effortlessly tow big loads up to 3.5t. But early reports about its fuel consumption quickly scared off buyers. I saw one report where a tow test resulted in fuel consumption of an eye watering 34l/100ks…! That’s around 450k range from 150 litres of fuel. Fuel consumption on that scale is nothing short of frightening.
The Y62 Patrol has been with us for a while now and it seems some of those early reports may have been a bit anomalous. Still more recent reports and feedback from actual users varies greatly but in real world conditions, for a given circumstance, the Y62 will consume anywhere between 5 and 7l/100ks more fuel than a diesel 200 series Landcruser. But the Patrol can be purchased for around $20,000 less than a Landcruiser of similar spec. You can buy a lot of fuel for $20,000….! Actually, at around $1.50 per litre, that’s about 13,000 litres. Even at 20l/100ks, that quantity would be sufficient for around 65,000ks to get to the breakeven point. Looking at those sort of figures, why the hell would anyone buy a diesel Landcruiser?
Well…the answer to that is simple. How many people would actually put aside $20,000 in the bank purely to be used for fuel over the lifetime of vehicle ownership? Not too many I don’t think. It’s just not a practical solution. No matter how you look at it, you still have to put fuel into that large fuel tank and you’ll be doing it more often than you would with a diesel powered vehicle. Then there’s the outback travel thing I’m always on about. It is still possible to have to travel 500ks or more between fuel stops. If you want to avoid smaller isolated fuel stops, you could increase those distances to 800ks or more in many instances. As a result, touring range starts to become a real issue. Then there’s the availability of unleaded fuel. The Y62 loves higher octane 95RON. While it is much more widely available than it may have been 15 years ago, it may not be available everywhere. Even in some remote areas, petrol may not be available at all. You be forced to fill up with Opel fuel or Avgas. Both of which have their own nasty issues. On the other hand, diesel is literally available everywhere.
Now I can hear the chorus of petrol owners out there carrying on about fuel contamination and water in diesel and, yes I acknowledge it’s an issue, but, I maintain that it is far easier to eliminate this risk by the use of additional filters. Further, the fact a diesel has more chance of getting to major fuel stops separated by greater distances reduces this risk considerably.
At the end of the day, the decision is up to the individual and what they value most. If you’re not venturing too far away from the major centres and you can live with more frequent trips to the bowser, then save your money and buy the Patrol and enjoy that glorious V8 engine. But, if you’re travelling outback, towing a big load and want to get further on your litre of fuel, then the extra investment in a diesel is the way to go.