Doing a “lap of Australia” is more than ever on the bucket list of retirees and younger travellers alike, but overlooking the need for proper preparation is dangerous.
4X4 driving and training consultant STEVE CASSANO outlines the top five biggest traps to avoid.
1 Choosing the wrong 4×4
It’s easy to fall in love with a beautiful new caravan at a show. The next thing you know you’ve bought it – without putting too much thought into whether you have the right tow vehicle.
You need to ensure the van you intend to tow weighs less than the maximum braked towing capacity of your tow vehicle, and at the same time, doesn’t make you exceed the Gross Combination Mass (GCM) of your 4WD. Gross combination mass is the maximum weight a car and trailer combination can be, as specified by the vehicle manufacturer – it’s legally binding. This capacity may be less that the sum of the vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) and your potential caravan’s Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) – the maximum each can legally weigh – so check carefully. Know your towing capacity and make sure you allow for a buffer when packing.
A too-heavy tow ball weight can also cause an imbalance in your car or 4WD’s weight distribution. This will lift weight off your front wheels and add it to your rear wheels, which could affect braking performance, steering performance, and even overload your rear axle. Consider your tow vehicle’s capacity, and if your front-end lifts noticeably, consider using a weight distribution hitch.
2 Not having the right driving skills
You might have been driving safely for 30 years and taking your caravan out regularly on weekends, but that doesn’t mean you’re equipped for the challenges you’ll face as you head off on a longer journey. Do an accredited towing course to gain the confidence needed.
3 Not reading the instructions
Most of us hate reading the user manuals and some of them are thicker than bibles, but it’s really worth the time to go over them.
4 Not understanding the brakes
It’s easy with modern 4x4s just to set and forget, hook up the van without giving the braking system a second thought, but they will save you in an emergency.
There are a number of different braking systems used on caravans, although most feature an electrically controlled drum brake that’s activated by an aftermarket electric brake controller fitted to the car, and within reach of the driver. These are adjustable and should be set to apply just enough braking force so that the caravan and car work together to come to a stop. Adjustment may need to occur during different conditions along the same drive, so be constantly vigilant. Driver’s should also familiarise themselves with the location of the manual override button, so it can be pressed without taking their eyes off the road in an emergency, or if the caravan starts to develop a sway.
5 Not securing the load
Travelling long distances and especially going on to gravel roads or off road, you need to make sure everything that moves is secured.
Balance your load, with heavier items placed over the axles where possible to improve the centre of gravity. Best of all, try to keep total weight to a minimum, which leads to better handling, safety and economy.
The time you invest before you travel will be returned many times over as you relax at happy hour with complete peace of mind knowing you’ve reached your destination safely.
Steve Cassano is an accredited 4X4 instructor and touring consultant
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