1. MAXIMUM TOWING CAPACITY
When it comes to caravanning, the saying ‘never assume’ holds true for vehicle towing capacities more than anything.
Some vehicles have a different towing capacity according to the transmission and/or engine fitted. The Toyota HiLux dual cab, for example, offers varying towing capacities. The Workmate 2.4 manual is rated at 3200kg (auto: 3000kg), the SR and SR5 V6 auto is 3000kg, and the SR and SR5 2.8 manual are 3500kg (auto: 3200kg).
There are other catches to be aware of: Land-Rover, for example, allows a 3500kg (with 350kg towball mass) maximum towing capacity for most of its larger models but this is reduced to 1000kg/30kg when towing in genuine offroad conditions (steep tracks, etc.)
The lesson: do your homework on the vehicle before you purchase it.
2. MAXIMUM SPEED LIMITS
You can drive at the prevailing maximum legal speed, right? Wrong – in some cases.
Some tow vehicles have a lower maximum speed when towing, sometimes a lot lower than the prevailing legal speed limit. There are states, like Tasmania, where you can only tow a van at a maximum of 90km/h, if the prevailing speed limit permits it.
For some vehicles, you’ll have to drive even slower. Most Subarus (and the Holden Commodore, pre-VZ), for example, have a factory-set 80km/h limit when towing. The legal ramifications are a bit opaque; most highway patrol officers are not likely to know this limit, but if they do… well, if you’re driving faster, you’ll have some explaining to do. If you have a car still under warranty, and have a mechanical failure while driving at more than the factory-mandated towing limit, again, you might be on your own for the repairs.
Another curve ball for some vehicles is the maximum speed limit when driving up hill. Kia and Hyundai are the main culprits, as they specify a maximum speed of 70km/h when climbing a hill with a gradient of more than 40 per cent. How you’re supposed to know what a 40 per cent gradient looks like is one problem. Another problem: if your new tow vehicle overheats up such a hill, you might be out of luck with any prospective warranty claim.
3. TOWBAR CONFUSION
Some vehicle models have available a variety of differently rated towbars, so be careful as you might end up with a towbar that is not legally, or safely, up to the job.
For example, Holden and Ford offer buyers a number of towbar options for their large passenger cars.
The VFII Holden Commodore (automatic) can tow up to 2100kg (but only the 3.6 V6 and 6.2 V8, not the 3.0 V6), with 210kg on the ball. But not all buyers want to tow such a weight – some might just want to tow a small box trailer. Therefore, Holden offers a 1200kg and 1600kg towbar, as well as 2100kg towbar. Too bad if the dealer fits the 1200kg bar when you want to tow your 1800kg single-axle van…
Buying a used vehicle with a towbar already fitted also presents a trap for the uninitiated. The 80 Series Land Cruiser is a case in point. Models built before August 1996 models are rated to tow 2500kg but came factory-fitted with a towbar that was rated to tow only 113kg.
4. TOWBARS ARE NOT CREATED EQUALLY
You’ve bought a new or used vehicle and you’ve done your due diligence on the above points so you think it’ll be a done deal. Before you tick the towbar option box at the dealer, or sign for that used vehicle already equipped with a towbar, is the towbar design right for towing? Some towbars have a much longer tongue than others, for example, meaning that the caravan’s chains will be too short to reach the shackle eyelets with shackles attached. Even then, the towbar’s shackle eyelets might be too small for the correctly rated shackles (though it should be noted rated shackles aren’t a legal requirement – just a very good idea).
Other towbars are quite impractical, such as the goose-neck variety that have no discernible place to attach the shackles for the safety chains.
5. TOWBALL MASS
When you read that a vehicle can cope with 10 per cent of its maximum towing capacity on the towball, you’d think that’s all there is to it. But you’d better look at the small print, because all may not be what it seems.
Nissan, for example, reduces the Navara’s maximum towball mass according to vehicle loading.
With its Pajero, Mitsubishi allows 250kg towball mass when the weight of the trailer doesn’t exceed 2500kg. But between 2501kg and 3000kg, the maximum permissible towball mass is reduced to 180kg.
Almost all European passenger vehicles (and some SUVs) allow much less than 10 per cent towball mass. In fact, it’s common for them to have a maximum of 80kg towball mass, or 100kg if you’re lucky. This is despite some having a generous towing capacity, as much as 2000kg.