Sometimes, a car in itself is not big enough to transport everything we want. This is particularly true if you have outdoor hobbies that include camping, boating or road-tripping. Or, if you have a horse (which is obviously difficult to transport). This is why attachments and trailers exist – to help us transport our caravans, equipment and of course, horses.
But in all seriousness, before using an attachment, there are some important factors to consider. First of all, is your car suitable for taking on attachments? Secondly, do you have the appropriate attachment and tools?
While all cars can hold an attachment of some sort, not all can withstand the weight of more cumbersome trailers or caravans. It is important to check the maximum braked towing capacity of your car by checking the driver’s manual or redbook. Do not exceed this weight. All equipment, attachment and gear included in your car and trailer should fall within this weight. If your trailer or attachment doesn’t fall within the weight specified by your driver’s manual, then it’s best to find an alternative car. Otherwise, find a lighter attachment.
It is also important to consider the effect this additional weight will have on your car and how it performs. For starters, heavy attachments chew up more fuel, so remember to check your fuel gauge for top-ups. Acceleration will feel slower and more lagging, as will breaking, so remember to keep a decent space between yourself and the car in front. Also, the general maneuverability of the car will be trickier. Don’t attempt sharp turns quickly, and ensure there is enough space while taking any turn. Swing wide to avoid your trailer going off-road. Always check your blind spot and ensure there is more than enough space for a lane merge – remember, you’re a lot bigger with an attachment.
In addition to your attachment, there are still other things adding weight to your vehicle. These include:
- Passengers (or animals)
- Towing equipment
- Gear in car
- Towing modifications (bull bars, long-range fuel tanks, supplementary batteries, roof racks, etc.)
- Gear in caravan/ attachment (gas bottle, food and drink, clothing, etc.)
So, what do people attach to their cars anyway? And what exactly can you attach to your car?
The following includes some of the more common units or rigs people attach to their car:
One of the most important things to remember when towing a caravan is to close everything and lock items into place (if possible). Close all doors and windows – don’t forget the shower door – and make sure loose items are secured or put away. For example, lock your TV in place if it’s retractable. Otherwise, put it away. You can guarantee that anything not secured will not be in the same place you left it on arrival! Always do a final check to make sure everything has been stored correctly. As part of your final check, it is important to ensure that the trailer plug is plugged in and that the coupling, safety chains and breakaway wire are all safely connected.
Generally, caravans weight around the 2000kg-2500kg mark (factoring in cargo). To find a more accurate reading, check the manufacturer’s manual or owner’s manual you should have received with the trailer. This will specify the ATM, or Aggregate Trailer Mass, which is the total weight of the rig and added ‘payload’, which might include luggage, water, gas, equipment, and more. Typically, manufacturers guesstimate around 300kg of payload per caravan, but this depends on the size of the caravan. As long as the ATM doesn’t exceed your car’s towing capacity, you should be good to go!
Towing a cargo is a little different than towing a caravan. The various pieces of equipment used to attach the trailer have different weight capacities. Then there’s the weight of your cargo trailer with actual cargo in it; this is hard to assess visually.
The first thing you need to remember when attaching a cargo trailer is that your towing system will only be as strong as your weakest piece, so it’s best to ensure that all of your equipment is suitable for the absolute heaviest trailer you will tow. The capacity of each component is usually labelled on the individual pieces of equipment, with some including multiple capacities. This is to show you the maximum weight a component can handle from a certain direction. For example, a hitch usually includes a maximum weight capacity (how much it can pull in regards to the trailer) and a maximum tongue capacity (how much weight it can handle pushing down on it).
Make sure the weight of each component, including your car, the hitch, ball mount, ball and safety chains (or other towing equipment pieces), is greater than the gross trailer weight (GTW). When loading your trailer, make sure the tongue makes up 10% of the GTW to ensure it will support your cargo. If you’re towing a heavy load, make sure you calculate the weight of each item to add to the GTW.
If you’re lucky enough to already have a set of roof racks on your car, then you’ll just need some hoisting equipment and you’re good to lock your bike down for a long trip. However, if you don’t have pre-installed roof racks, then it’s not the end of your cycling days. It’s relatively simple to purchase and install racks that enable you to transport not only bikes, but your snowboards, skis, paddleboards, surfboards, and more.
If you’re only looking to transport two to three bikes, then a trunk rack is your best bet. These are perfect for smaller cars, such as sedans and hatchbacks, and only cost around the $100 mark. One of the only potential downsides is that they are very temporary. Unlike roof racks, which are permanent fixtures attached to the roof of your car, trunk racks are made to be efficiently installed and removed. If you’re not taking frequent trips with your bike, then this might be ideal for you; however, for those more outgoing, you might want to consider a more permanent option.
As you’re probably already aware by now, knowing your towing capacity and towing weight is crucial; this applies for boat towing as well. Along with checking that your boat’s weight falls within your vehicle’s towing capacity, you should also check the tongue weight. Much like the cargo trailer attachment, make sure your tongue’s weight amount to 10-15% of your boat’s weight to inhibit trailer sway.
To save a little extra weight and help your car drive a little more smoothly, don’t fuel your boat until you’re near the water. This will save your car a little fuel on the way. Overall, a typical boat might weigh around 1,500kg without additional gear and equipment, batteries, and fuel. This ‘payload’ weight is usually approximated to 300kg, so give yourself this leeway when looking at your towing capacity.
Luggage on the Roof
For those that have had roof racks installed, or have purchased a car with roof racks, carrying excessive luggage becomes a breeze. This feature becomes especially valued when big life events (such as moving house) take place. Next time you need to transport large amounts of luggage, take advantage of your good old roof racks!
Some items you may need when strapping luggage or other cargo to your roof include: ratchet straps or cam straps (unless you know how to tie a good knot), netting or tarp, and possibly some rope or bungee cord. The only issue with rope and cord is that it might be unstable, particularly if you’re new to securing luggage. Netting or tarp, on the other hand, is a must-have as it makes sure no debris gets away. Finally, it’s a good idea to get some helpers, especially if you’re handing extremely heavy luggage. Don’t compromise your own health and safety in the process!
Remember to check your car’s manual for the roof load weight capacity before travel. Carrying excess weight can compromise your safety, as well as the safety of other passengers. Cars can typically hold only around 70-80kg on the roof before the structure of the car is weakened. Even though your car might feel fine while static, the force of acceleration when turning, breaking or speeding up may lead cargo to become displaced, or your car to come off the ground.
When adding an attachment, the last thing anyone wants is to have their caravan detach and roll behind, or have their luggage fall off their roof racks. I’m sure this is everyone’s greatest fear – especially those driving behind you. To ensure you attach all rigs safely and effectively, it is important to use all the correct tools and equipment. Below we’ve added a list of equipment you’ll probably need to attach your trailer. Depending on the rack or trailer you are hoping to install, double-check for these tools.
Equipment needed for attaching these additional vehicles. Remember, you might not need all of these but it’s important to check.
- Hitch balls
- Hitch pins and locks
- Attach trailer accessories
- Ropes and tie-downs
- Fifth wheel hitches
- Tow dolly
- Tow bars and couplings of a suitable type and capacity
- Electrical sockets for lighting
- Suitable brake connections if required
- Extra mirrors for towing large trailers if required.
What your trailer attachment should look like
How to safely navigate car with these attachments
Driving with extra weight is a whole new experience for most drivers. To avoid getting into trouble, remember our tips for driving safely with an attachment.
- Ensure the attachment is sturdy and fixed.
- Keep greater distance between vehicles than normal
- Take wide turns
- Try not to reverse your car with an attachment
- Avoid small or narrow parking lots
In accordance with the Queensland Government’s regulations, it is important that the vehicle towing and the item towed are both registered and road-worthy. Make sure you get your attachment registered before taking it on the road or risk getting fined – a sure-fire way to ruin a great road trip!
As such, the attachment must also have a visible number plate that it is registered under. The number plate should be installed on the rear so that is visible to other vehicles. It is also critical that no towbars or couplings cover your vehicle’s licence plate or rear lights when the trailer is not attached.
Some of the other legal requirements go without saying. For example, there is a limit to only one attachment per vehicle (common sense, right?). Also, no one should be riding inside the attachments, or on top of the car (despite how fun it looks in movies).
So, that’s our quick guide for towing caravans, trailers or cargo. Ultimately, it’s imperative to follow correct installation procedure, regulations and legal requirements to keep yourself and others safe. Our final tip is to always take regular rest breaks and follow the road signs to ensure you make it to your destination ready and fully intact.
Getting those last minute checks in order before your next trip? Don’t forget to check for signs of chipping, cracking or wear on your windscreen. Contact Novus for a fast and easy repair just in time for your next holiday!