Car Advice

The Complete 4×4 Guide To Towing A Caravan Or Trailer

Everything you need to know about towing, manoeuvring and reversing a caravan or camper trailer.

(SPONSORED) Being able to drive a car doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be able to tow a caravan or camper trailer. It requires a different set of skills, indeed towing a caravan or camper trailer is a lot like driving two vehicles at once and for the first-timer it can be daunting.

There are numerous courses around the country that will help you to learn the basics of towing a caravan and even if you’re experienced at towing, it’s worth enrolling to brush up your skills. Let’s not beat around the bush here, towing is dangerous.

The key terms you need to know

Tare (or kerb) weight – This is how much the vehicle weighs, stock standard.

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GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass)  This is the maximum the vehicle can legally weigh. This is on the vehicle’s placard, and is a definite figure that is readily available for all vehicles.

Payload – This is the difference between the GVM and Tare weight. For example, with a Tare weight of 2494kg and a GVM of 3100kg (Ford Everest Titanium 4WD) the payload will be 606kg. Payload is everything that is put on your 4×4 or that you carry inside it, including people.

Front and rear axle load – This is how much weight can be placed on either axle. Usually the sum of the two axles is more than the GVM. This means there’s a bit of flexibility in exactly where the load is positioned over the axles. For the Everest Titanium 4WD, the maximum front axle load is 1480kg and the maximum rear axle load is 1750kg.

Braked tow rating – This relates to the maximum braked weight of the trailer the vehicle can tow. This varies significantly from vehicle to vehicle; for example, Ford Everest can tow 3000kg, whereas Prado is rated to 2500kg.

Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) – This is how much the trailer weighs when fully loaded and includes the towball download.

Gross Trailer Mass (GTM) – This is the mass transmitted to the ground by either the axle or axles when the trailer is loaded uniformly and coupled to the towing vehicle.

GCM (Gross Combined Mass) –  This specifies how heavy the combination of the vehicle and trailer can be. This should be, but isn’t always, the sum of the GVM and maximum braked tow rating (maximum ATM of the trailer). For the Everest Titanium 4WD, it’s 5800kg.

The basics… of towing with your Ford Everest

In some parts of the country there are speed limits relating to towing that aren’t the same as the posted speed limits. For instance, in Western Australia the maximum speed a vehicle can tow a trailer at is 100km/h. In the rest of the country, the posted limits apply… sort of, in NSW, for instance, if you’re towing a vehicle and trailer combination of more than 4500kg then the maximum speed you can drive at is 100km/h.

Towing a trailer off-road requires you to pay more attention to stopping distances and constant surface changes.

Occasionally, vehicle manufacturers impose towing speed limits on their vehicles. For instance, Ford Australia specifies you shouldn’t tow with your Everest at a speed greater than 100km/h even if the State you’re travelling in allows a higher speed limit, and that you shouldn’t tow with your Everest during the run-in period of 1600km.

The Ford Everest features Trailer Sway Control which is built-in to the stability control system and is there as a support system in case the trailer you’re towing starts to sway; it acts, like stability control, by braking individual wheels of your Everest to try and control the trailer sway, the system can also, if necessary, reduce engine power. It’s worth noting that shifting into low-range will disable the system as will activating the electronic locking differential.

If you’re going to be towing a trailer weighing more than 750kg then you’ll need to have electric trailer brakes fitted to your vehicle; your vehicle’s ABS doesn’t activate the brakes on your trailer. Your Ford service centre will be able to arrange for an electric brake controller to be fitted to your vehicle and integrated into the interior of your vehicle. 

The key weights you need to know for the Ford Everest Titanium 4WD are: GVM – 3100kg this means your Everest when loaded can’t weigh more than 3100kg; GCM – 5800kg this means your vehicle and trailer combined can’t way more than 5800kg; Kerb Weight 2494kg this is the weight of the vehicle with a full tank of fuel; maximum braked towing capacity of 3000kg with a maximum towball download of 300kg; payload of 606kg which is the additional weight allowance for passengers and gear. Use these numbers when determining whether the trailer you own or want to buy is within the limits of the Ford Everest Titanium 4WD

You need to be aware of…

All the things going on around you when towing a trailer; especially because the speed you’re travelling at won’t necessarily be the same as those around you.

Always leave a space ahead of you of at least five-seconds, at 60km/h that’s around 80 metres and at 100km/h that’s more than 130 metres. Always drive smoothly when towing and know the height of your rig to avoid catching it on low-hanging branches and remember that when you’re pulling out from an intersection or from the side of the road that you’ll need more room and time to get up to speed than if you weren’t towing.

A lot of people use cruise control when towing on the highway or on flat section of road, but you should know that using cruise control isn’t recommended when towing a trailer on hills or in the wet, or in town.

When cornering with your trailer, you’ll need to take a wider arc through the turn than you normally would as your trailer will cut the corner. And, the longer it is the greater it’ll cut the corner.

How to stop when towing with a trailer

Anticipation is key when stopping while towing. You need to brake early and slowly… look at the way semi-trailer drivers slow down before a set of traffic lights; they’re usually braking a long time before they need to stop to keep their rig under control while reducing speed, rather than trying to so it all at once.

Make sure you keep a good distance between you and the vehicles in front of you, allowing for the weight of your trailer which under brakes will see your vehicle working harder to control the weight. And, then, as your vehicle is slowing right down you can ease off the brake pedal very slightly, you want to just reduce the amount of pressure you’re applying so that you can still stop your rig but not cause the brakes to snatch at the end at the weight transfer to cause your vehicle to pitch.

Always brake in a straight line when towing a trailer

If you’re towing off-road then you need to keep your vision up and scan the road for pot holes and then, if possible steer a path through or around them. Try and brake in a straight line, and this is good for advice for braking in all situations. If you’ve driven through water it’s a good idea to give your brakes a touch after you’ve driven through the water to ensure they’re operating at their optimum.

Controlling sway…

It’s probably the most frightening thing that’ll ever happen to you while towing a trailer… the dreaded sway. It’s usually caused by a poorly weight distributed trailer, including either too much or not enough weight on the towball.

While your brain will likely tell you to jump on the brakes as soon as you feel your trailer starting to snake that’s the worst thing you can do and will end up making it a whole lot worse. Rather:

  1. Try and steer as little as possible, by trying to counter the sway you could end up making it worse;
  2. Don’t touch the brake pedal but ease off on the accelerator and activate your hazard warning lights to indicate to other drivers you’re in trouble;
  3. Manually apply the brakes on your trailer very gently. This will help to align the tow vehicle and trailer. If your rig is swaying too much, you might need your passenger to reach over and apply the brakes for you; and
  4. Once you’ve controlled the sway, pull over to the side of the road and check your trailer for issues.

If you can’t determine what might have caused the trailer sway then slowly continue your journey and head to a service centre for a check-up.

How to reverse a trailer

When reversing a trailer you should always get out of your vehicle and check the spot you’ll be reversing back into and your speed should when reversing should be no more than walking pace.

The best way to start is always with towing vehicle and trailer pointing in a straight line; you don’t want the trailer kinked to one side before you start. Place your hands on the steering wheel in quarter-to-three position and turn the wheel no more than half a turn when manoeuvring. Check your mirrors as you’re inching backwards so that you can easily correct the trailer beginning to swing.

But which way should you turn the wheel? When you’re looking in your side mirrors the trailer should appear even on both sides; if it start to kick out and appears more in one mirror than the other then you want to point the top of the steering wheel towards that mirror and vice versa for the other mirror. So, if you see the trailer in your left-hand side mirror then point the top of the steering wheel at left-hand mirror; this will counter the trailer’s movement.

The Ford Everest's reversing camera allows you to reverse your vehicle perfectly under the trailer hitch

What about towing off-road?

Driving and towing a trailer off-road place a lot more pressure and strain on the towing vehicle than if it was just off-road on its own. If you’re not confident driving off-road then you certainly shouldn’t try and tow a trailer off-road.

In Sand – When driving an Everest 4WD you should roll the Terrain Management System dial around to Sand Mode to set up key car systems to work optimally for sand. But, you should also ask yourself whether it’s necessary to take ‘this’ sandy route or whether you might be able to find another way around. If you can’t then make sure you lower the tyre pressures on your vehicle to between 12-20psi and to around 10-20psi on your trailer; you want the trailer’s tyres to be at a lower pressure than the tow vehicle’s tyres. Make sure you maintain momentum rather than speed; if you’re losing momentum then stop… if you keep going you’ll end up bogging in.

Towing a caravan with a Ford Everest Titanium

Top Towing Tips:

 

  1. Match your trailer to your tow vehicle. Know what all the key weights of both trailer and vehicle are, the payload available to you, and the towball download to determine if your vehicle can actually safely tow your trailer.
  2. Ensure you vehicle is top condition; check the oil, water, transmission and brake fluids, indicators, lights, tyres on vehicle and trailer, drawbar for rust or cracks, check the wheel bearings (that the wheels spin freely) that the lights are working on your trailer, and that the electric brake controller has been calibrated.
  3. Remember to take corners wider than you would if you weren’t towing – your trailers wheels won’t follow the same path as the towing vehicle.
  4. Control sway (or snaking) by slowing down (and not touching the towing vehicle’s brake pedal), keeping the steering straight and using the trailer’s brakes.
  5. An ordinary car travelling at 100km/h can take around 80m to come to a complete stop. Add in a trailer and you can double that distance.
  6. Always try and maintain a five-second gap between you and the vehicle in front and always check your mirrors and surroundings.
  7. When stopping, keep your rig straight, braking a turning severely could cause your rig to jack-knife.
  8. When reversing a trailer use slow small movements as they’re easier to correct.
  9. Keep the weight low and over the trailer’s axle and ensure that weight is spread evenly from side to side of the trailer.
  10. Make sure you allow plenty of room when overtaking and then moving back into your lane; cut it too fine and you could clip the vehicle you’re overtaking with your trailer.

The Ford Everest is a great towing vehicle whether you're on- or off-road


Practical Motoring

Practical Motoring