5 reasons why your caravan could crash
THE mess and destruction of a caravan crash is devastating.
The financial loss is great, with the added stress of having personal belongings scattered across the road and a holiday cut short.
The Clayton's Towing crew have attended hundreds of van crashes with an average of one a week in the Gympie and Sunshine Coast region each week.
Manager Mike Clayton said there many opinions about why caravans crash, but his team see recurring major reasons.
Mr Clayton said with an individual interest in caravanning, his team of tow-truck operators try to look into the reasons behind each crash.
He said after talking to the drivers about their actions and the set-up of their vans prior to crashes they have found five major reasons caravans crash.
Mr Clayton stressed though, it is their opinion.
"We are not engineers, nor do we have special tickets (other than semi-trailer licences), so take it as you like."
1. VEHICLE SIZE AND CAPACITY
"A vehicle loaded correctly of a decent size is safer than a vehicle that has a bit of paper saying it can."
Mr Clayton said ignore the bit of misleading paper saying what your vehicle can legally tow and stick to common sense.
"A standard Toyota Prado weighs 2.22 tonne and can legally tow 2.5 tonnes but a standard D Max ute weighs just under 2 tonne but can "legally" tow 3.5 tonne," he said.
If you are using a ute to tow a large van, it needs to have a decent load in it, he said (and a couple of fold up chairs and tables don't cut it).
He said there is no doubt the heavier the vehicle the better.
2. CARAVAN WEIGHTS
"How you load your caravan is a big factor," Mr Clayton said.
With bigger vans, the towing team recommends 200 to 250 kgs weight on the tow ball, with 10 percent of the caravan weight for whatever size van you tow a general rule of thumb.
"Of course you need to have the rear of your tow vehicle set up for this load, and ensure it is legal," Mr Clayton said.
"If you have no or limited downwards weight from the van going onto the tow hitch of your tow vehicle you're really asking for trouble."
He said some vans are manufactured with nearly no tow ball weight so recommends researching before investing.
The tow ball weight can change based on how full your water tanks are and where they are located, Mr Clayton said.
"If you have two full water tanks in front of the axle, they can make a great difference to tow ball weight.
He said vans with waste holding tanks at the back can add a significant shift in weight after use; something that shocks people.
"You could have camped and unknowingly just moved a 100 plus kgs of weight from your front drinking water tanks and put it in the rear waste tank," he said.
"This causes a see saw effect and could change your tow ball weight, to nothing, or even place a lift effect on the rear of the tow vehicle."
To get bit right, Mr Clayton recommends buying a tow ball weight scale (about $70) to check weight, take note of where items in the van are and watch what water levels are sitting at.
3. ELECTRIC BRAKE CONTROLLERS
The brake controller could be your lifeline, Mr Clayton said, so it's important to have it fitted in an easy-to-access position while driving.
When travelling high speeds on the highway, it's important to turn the brake up high to provide solid braking to the trailer, Mr Clayton said.
If they have been turned down when driving in town due to the brakes locking up at the lights, you must remember to turn them back up.
This is especially crucial in newer style vans where the trailer brakes are locked on with a push button rather than the older style lever.
"The critical thing is the button on lots of models only activates the brakes to what you have them set on. If you have the brakes turned down from in town, the button won't help if a emergency occurs," Mr Clayton said.
He also warned about not being complacent if your van has automatic emergency electronic stability control.
"We have seen people go into emergency situations where they depended on it to help, and it appeared it didn't.
"They run out of time to go back to the manual method of pressing the button on the brake controller, or slightly touching the brakes, to activate the trailer brakes."
He said trailer brakes need to be checked regularly because it only takes a simple wire off to stop the process.
4. WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION BARS (Often called Sway Bars but there is a difference)
While it is a touchy subject, weight distribution bars should only be used when needed, Mr Clayton said.
He said his team has seen numerous caravans with weight distribution bars that have rolled because coupled with low ball weight can have a dangerous lifting effect on the rear of the vehicle.
But with a heavily loaded tow ball they can help, he said.
He recommends going to a reputable company who can assist with the right choice.
"These should not be used as a solution to a problem, just something to assist," he said.
Speed is a big contributing factor to crashes in our region, Mr Clayton said.
Downhill sections of the highway with slight bends, 110 kmh zones and cross winds exasperate the situation, the experienced towie said.
The common belief to speed up to pull yourself out of 'the wobbles' can be really dangerous he said.
"Over three quarters of the people we rescue say after it getting the wobbles they tried to gently accelerate out of it but it quickly worsened."
He said going faster in a situation where the van is going quicker than the combination can handle could result in disaster.
Acceleration only a has a chance of helping if you can definitely lock the trailer brakes up via the trailer controller, but not always, he said.
The better emergency option is to press the emergency electric brake button or slightly press the brakes so the trailer electric brakes activate, he said.