What To Know Before You Tow: How Much Weight Should You Be Pulling?

Posted by: Lydia on 21/12/2017

Category: General

Australia is a nation that loves all things automobile. With 18.8 million vehicles on our roads, we’ll gladly get behind the wheel for any task. And when it comes to towing things, whether a boat, a caravan, or a pair of dirt bikes, we’re on board.

Aussie enthusiasm for a towing task notwithstanding, there are actually a number of things you need to know before you tow, not only to ensure you get your gear where it needs to go safely, but also to do it without putting a strain on your vehicle or breaking the law. Here’s a look at all you need to know about towing, and a couple of crucial tips for prepping for a trip.

ATM, GTM, and the golden rule

Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, many Australian states began changing the regulations surrounding trailers. Today, every late model trailer should come with Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) and Gross Trailer Mass (GTM). The ATM is the total amount your trailer is permitted to weigh while in movement. The GTM is the amount your trailer can weigh while stationary, which is useful in case you want to put some extra goods in your trailer for storage while you’re not towing it.

As each trailer and the vehicle that tows it can vary in size, there are different rules surrounding weight limits. Nonetheless, there is a golden rule that applies to trailers and the vehicles selected to tow them in general: the bigger the trailer, the bigger the vehicle, and vice versa.

There’s certainly some flexibility here, but this should be your guiding star when considering what size vehicle to tow with. If you have a big vehicle, you should be able to tow just about anything comfortably. If you are using a smaller compact car? You may need to downsize the trailer or rent an appropriate vehicle instead.

For caravans, the Ball Load (BL) is also important to assess. The BL is the total weight your caravan places upon the tow bar of the vehicle. Like towing a trailer, the specific weight restrictions are different from one caravan to another, but it's vital to ensure your caravan is under those limits.

Otherwise, it could pose all sorts of dangers when you’re on the road. Many caravan dealers have special scales for weighing your trailer to help you find the correct weight. Once you’ve found the correct BL, it’s important to adhere to it and be careful not to add any major new weight in future travels that could disrupt the correct balance.

Tow cautiously and practise carefully

Every vehicle delivers a different driving experience, and trailers are no exception. The good thing is that 99.9% of drivers will make way for your trailer. Even the ones who aren't trying to win driver of the year award will still recognise that it would be no fun to crash into what you’re hauling.

This is important to keep in mind, as towing something the first few times can be a nervous experience. Remember, drivers will see you, make way for you, and take care to avoid you.

Before you start towing, it’s good to practise a little, especially with reversing.

This can be on your suburban street, or on some quiet coastal road or even a farm, if you’re picking up the trailer from somewhere outside of town. It won’t take too long to get the feel of driving with a trailer, but it’s best to avoid setting off on a major road or freeway until you feel comfortable with towing the rig.

Check your licence before towing

Are you a newly-minted learner driver? Just got your P plates? Congratulations, and welcome to the world of driving. You’ll have your full licence before too long, and no longer need to hang those plastic plates on your front and rear windows. Between now and then, though, you’ll need to double check your licence restrictions if you’re planning to tow.

As a general rule across Australia, if you’re not fully licensed you cannot tow. There can be exceptions, such as for P platers in Victoria if you’re required to tow as part of your work. Similarly, if you’ve obtained a permit or licence in South Australia, you can tow in the state, but are not necessarily permitted to do so outside of it, which means taking a caravan or a boat on an interstate trip is not possible.

Ultimately, restrictions on towing are one of those rare areas where some significant differences can exist between Australian states and territories. This can catch many Aussies travelling by surprise, as usually someone can travel freely from Perth or Hobart to Townsville without dealing with any major issues like customs and border control. Nonetheless, towing while unlicensed can still be a serious issue under the law, so check local laws beforehand to stay in the clear.

Check twice and have fun

It’s important to take extra precautions when towing. Be sure to double-check the weight limits of your trailer before you take off. Also ensure it’s properly secured to the vehicle. Then, check that all fixings and locks are also secured, to guarantee your trailer won’t lose any contents while in motion.

Once these tasks are done, there remains just one thing to do: have fun.

Whatever the reason you find yourself towing something, odds are good it involves something enjoyable. Any towing task that lines you up for a trip to the beach, a long weekend, or a summer road trip should be enjoyed. Provided you do so safely, towing is just another part of driving life.

What other tips do you follow when towing? Let us know in the comments below:

Image: Pixabay