Car Advice

Top 5 towing myths you should know

Towing a trailer is simple until it all goes wrong, and that might be avoided by not believing some of these myths.

 

Myth: You don’t need trailer brakes if the trailer is 750kg or less.

It is true that medium and large 4X4s typically have an unbraked tow rating of 750kg, which leads to a lot of 749kg ATM (aggregate trailer mass) trailers. However, that’s the legal maximum. Smaller vehicles may have an unbraked tow mass of as little as 300kg. Examples are pretty much any non-SUV or 4X4 – the Mazda 6 tows 550kg unbraked, and the Kluger can manage 700kg unbraked. Even if you’re technically permitted to tow an unbraked trailer, believe me, having brakes on the trailer suddenly becomes a really good idea when you need to stop in a hurry, and if you tow offroad.

Myth: The braked trailer weight is realistic.

For all sorts of reasons, the maximum braked tow rating often comes with caveats hidden in the fine print, which means the impressive headline figure may not be usable in the real world. Examples include payload restrictions on the towcar, use of special towbars, a weight distribution hitch, insufficient towball mass for a heavy trailer (say 100kg for a 2000kg trailer), or a speed limit when towing.

READ MORE: Why a 3500kg tow rating may not really be a 3500kg tow rating

Myth: As long as the towball weight is within limits, the trailer weight is ok.

No way. It is entirely possible to have an in-limits towball mass by putting a heavy weight on the drawbar, and another right at the back of the trailer. For example, on the drawbar: four jerry cans, two gas bottles, and a storage drawer. Then at the back, two large offroad tyres and some bicycles. You now have a balanced trailer with the dynamics of a weightlifter’s barbell.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about towing heavy trailers

Myth: Power and torque are all you need.

Powerful vehicles are not necessarily good towcars. Look at the HSV GTS which can tow a mere 1600kg yet boasts 430kW and 740Nm. On the other hand, the Land Rover Defender of 2004 managed just 90kW and 300Nm yet was good for 3500kg, and it really could tow that weight thanks to a strong transmission, cooling system, chassis and a short overhang with a longish wheelbase.

Myth: You can always recover from sway by accelerating.

The theory is correct, accelerate to reduce sway. The reality is different. Sway generally happens at higher speeds, let’s say 95km/h. How well do you think your rig will accelerate at that speed? Is it even safe or possible to do so? In the real world, it’s unlikely. Sway is best avoided in the first place by correct trailer setup such as all weights within limits and weight centralised.

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4 Comments

  1. GeeWhiz
    October 21, 2016 at 12:52 pm — Reply

    Thank you Robert. .As a newbie to the grey nomad set, and considering the “Grand Tour”, these articles are very useful to me….good work.

  2. SgtCarlMc
    October 23, 2016 at 8:45 pm — Reply

    So basically a 6×4 trailer is the limit, 750kgs + 250kgs payload = 1 tonne. Unfortunately a lot of ppl think the trailer can carry 1 tonne, like myself for instance, who dropped a massive 1 tonne of blue metal in the trailer, and off we went along the Bucketts Way.
    Unfortunately, roundabout the turnoff to Clarence Town I started swaying big time, STOP accelerating, keep your big hoof off the brake, try and steer in straight line, preferably on your side of the road, the whole car an trailer should SLOW down quickly. When coming to a complete STOP, catch your breath, have a smoke to calm down, if you hav’em, get out, walk around, get back in car and start again
    this time, nothing over 80kph, safe travels

  3. JaiNormosone
    January 14, 2017 at 8:22 am — Reply

    Another excellent article to start off the process for some people but a continuation is required. I’ve had a 5×3 trailer with an engine block in it start swaying on me so it’s not always size (turns out that someone decided that 7 leaf springs under it was a great idea….)
    Another thing is the ridiculous secrecy that surrounds the laws and changes to the laws for motor vehicle fines. An advertising article on page 37 of a newspaper while leaving it to hearsay between everyone else is not an acceptable way to do it.
    A perfect example is someone with an old trailer and the 1-7/8″ towball. To a degree, the old ball is more secure than the newer 50mm types as the bolt goes right through the middle – but they are illegal. Try and locate legislative information (easily) in relation to this!

  4. Ted
    November 8, 2019 at 10:40 am — Reply

    MYTH: Towing at 90kph is best.
    Utter hogwash- be considerate to other road users and either tow at the highway speed limit, or at 80kph so people can get around you.
    90kph only makes you a rolling road block and a hazard for anyone that needs to get past, requiring kilometres of open road to overtake, or risk a speeding ticket.
    I often hear the “it’s only 10kph, be patient etc”- but when you’re regularly driving for 10 hours in a day, that 10kph cumulatively makes a significant difference.

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Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper