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Towing 101: What you need to know when towing

Towing 101: What you need to know when towing

Wow what a wonderful world we live in. Glamping is the new buzz word, technology is advancing at a rapid pace and the old Millard caravan has evolved into what can only be described as a home away from home. 

Caravans are much lighter and bigger, with so many creature comforts. Why would you stay at home? The average vehicle can now tow a much heavier load. 

Over 250,000 people are travelling around Australia with no fixed address chasing the sun and more and more people are doing it every day.

You may have driven a Toyota Corolla your whole life and now you have bought a 200 series Landcruiser which can tow 3500kg and the biggest caravan that you are allowed to tow. 

Now you are 6800kg on the road, well maybe your budget isn’t that big, but still what experience do you have with towing that huge dead weight? 

What skills do you have when it comes to setting up your combination to head off on your first trip?

People tell me that they can learn as they go. Is this the right way to go about it? Lately we have seen many news reports of accidents involving towing and they are on the rise. 

As an accredited towing training professional from Tow-Ed, I am astounded that there are no special licence requirements for those who tow. 

It has been mandatory to have an endorsed license in the UK, Europe and the US for many years and there are regular check stations to ensure that your trailer is safe. They also have speed restrictions for those who tow. 

Here in the lucky country we can tow a combination of up to 9000kg without having any extra training, speed restrictions or special license requirements. However, if you were driving a light truck or semi there are so many regulations you must abide by, special licenses and speed restrictions.


You’re probably asking yourself, ‘how am I going to tow my dream caravan let alone going forwards, but what about going backwards?’


‘What do I do if there is no drive through sites available at the caravan park?’



There are many people who are willing to help you, but are they going to give you the right information?


You have invested so much money in a lifestyle and if you invest a small amount on getting the right advice from a professional, job done.


Tow-Ed is the only towing training professionals who are backed by a large insurance company, CIL.


Tow-Ed is an accredited towing training company available nationally. We believe in less blah blah blah and more broom broom broom.


You do the theory at home and then you come to one of our Tow-Ed centres and spend 5 to 7 hours with an accredited instructor who can teach you the right way to manoeuvrer your pride and joy.


We cover so much in the course, you will go away with the knowledge and skill to be able to tow as if you have been doing it for years.


So what is exactly covered in a towing course? Here are just a few things.


Hitching and Unhitching your caravan


Whilst modern vehicles have in-built reverse cameras, you need to know what to do when it doesn’t work.


We cover the correct way in going about hitching and unhitching your caravan. There is a certain step by step process we recommend you follow. For example, we recommend you wear gloves before you hitch or unhitch your caravan or trailer from your vehicle to protect your hands from sharp objects etc.


Our tip is to always start from the front of the van and work your way forward to the vehicle when unhitching and always disconnect the chain off last, in case your caravan ever moves.


When hitching up, back your car up slowly and as you get closer, stop about 1m away from the hitch to check and adjust the alignment and height of your tow hitch. Get someone to help you with the alignment of the tow ball to the hitch.


 hitching and unhitching

Caravan pre-checks


There are some pretty obvious things you need to do before you drive away, however it’s worth noting them down and ensuring you do it each and every time.


Check your tyre pressure – the placard on your caravan will tell you what that needs to be, and no, not having time to stop at a servo is not a valid excuse.


Ensure the boot and windows are closed and locked – you do not want to be driving at 80km/h on the highway and find one of the windows has been blown out as a semi passes you. It’s also not safe either. This goes for your awning too and any other fixtures you have on your caravan.

 check windows are closed


Check your lights are all working including the number plate light.

 check brake lights are working

Never cover your external vents, especially the vents to your fridge as that is the only way oxygen gets into it while it is on gas. The fridge needs to draw oxygen from somewhere and that would probably be from inside the van. You could end up with a carbon monoxide problem on your hands otherwise.

 do not cover vents

Travel with your fridge on 12 volt, not on gas. Make sure the gas bottles are off. Check that the legs are up. Don’t forget to turn the water pump off because if the tap goes on while travelling, it will empty your tanks inside the van and you will have yourself a mobile bath.


gass bottle turne off


Inside the caravan, ensure there is nothing that can be thrown about and cause a mess or worse a possible danger. If I had a penny for every time I saw someone not take the glass microwave plate out, I could probably retire early! But seriously, it’s those little things that often get overlooked. Take it out, wrap it in a tea towel and put it in one of the cupboards as you do not want the inside of the microwave to get damaged.


Load distribution tips


Another factor to consider is the load distribution. Always ensure heavy items are stored low, secure and over or forward of the axle. Place light items up high and stored in storage containers or non-slip matting. Travel with your water tanks full as this helps keep the centre of gravity down low which will help stabilise your van.


If a trailer has a heavy mass at the front, then do NOT counter balance with a heavy mass at the rear of the trailer – doing so will create a “bell” effect that dramatically increases the chances of trailer sway. Speak to your caravan retailer or dealer about a Weight Distribution System (WDS). They are designed to help carry some of the ball weight, but more importantly to transfer the weight back on the front wheels of the car thus reducing tyre wear, better cornering and braking.


Driving and Manoeuvring


Towing a caravan can be very different compared to your normal day to day driving. Due to the increased weight and size, the vehicle combination will be slower to respond to acceleration and manoeuvring. This is why it’s so important to have a greater sense of your spatial awareness.


Always apply the 5 second rule when following another vehicle; this will give you better visibility and also plenty of room to stop.


When turning either left or right, be in the mindset that you’re driving a semi-trailer. For example, if you’re turning to the left bring the towing vehicle as far forward as you can then do a sharp turn. This will create the space required for your caravan.


If your combination is longer than 7.5m, consider fitting an ADR approved DO NOT OVERTAKE A TURNING VEHICLE sticker to the back of the van. This will then legally allow you to turn left from the right hand lane and vice versa. This sticker can be no higher than 2m above the ground and no further than 500mm in from the left hand side.


driving in a straight line




Ok, so this is probably the number one reason that most people signed up for a Tow-Ed course, and trust me, it’s worth every cent.


When reversing do not over correct the steering or swing too hard. If you are aggressive with the steering then the van will move aggressively. Try starting with ¼ turns. Go slow so you have plenty of time to react to the movement of the van, either left or right. If the van is moving to the driver side, then turn that way.

This will then make the van move to the passenger side and vice versa.


If you have a guide, then open the front window of your towing vehicle and have your radio turned off so you can hear instructions clearly from the person helping you.


reversing with a guide


Straight line


When reversing in a straight line, monitor the rear corners of the trailer, this will give you an indication of any trailer change in direction. Pick a point in the distance where you want the trailer to end up and aim the rear corner towards it.


Reversing in arc


Sometimes we get into this situation where we end up almost in a jack knife position, and it happens to us all for one reason or another. There are a few things you should do to get out of it.


1. Stop before you cause any damage

2. Turn the steering full lock away from the angle of jack knife

3. Move forward and this will straight the combination very quickly


getting out of a jack knife


Reverse Parking


At a Tow-Ed course we will set up markers on your van that will simplify your parking and with about 2 movements of the steering wheel you are in. But first you must:


  1.     Remove your Weight Distribution Bars prior to reversing into the parking bay
  2.     Identify any hazards in or around your site
  3.     Take it slowly and have a spotter to stop you from hitting anything or cause damage




As you can see, it’s not easy explaining all of this ‘pen to paper’, which is why we recommend enrolling in a Tow-Ed course. At the end of the day it is all about safety, and protecting your investment. If you have already done a Tow-Ed course, Tow-Ed offers refresher courses at a heavily discounted rate.


We would recommend that your partner does the training as well, because if something happens to the main driver (you), you may need to get them to help or to even give you a rest to avoid fatigue. So do yourself a favour and get the right information from the right people and only trust Nationally Recognised Training.


If you have any questions, please contact Tow-Ed on 1300 305 660 and safe travels.


Many thanks to Ricky Esser from Follow Me 4WD for the write up of this blog. For more info email [email protected] or phone 0437 88 19 67.


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Leave your comment
11/11/2016 9:01 PM
When we reverse, my wife takes a position towards the rear of the van, calls me on my mobile, my hands free in the 200 Series Landcruiser answers and we can have two way communication. When out of mobile range, a hand held CB does the job ok but it is not hands free for the driver.

Regards ... Anton.

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