Hitting the road and towing a caravan this holiday season? If you’ve put the Sunshine State on your itinerary then be prepared – Queensland Police has issued a stern warning: abide by your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity or risk being ordered off the road. Not only are there hefty penalties and fines for hauling an overweight caravan, but in the unfortunate event of an accident, a non-compliant caravan could also void your caravan insurance.
“In the lead up to and throughout the duration of the Christmas holiday period, Queensland Police will be focusing upon safe travel behaviours,” a Queensland Police spokesperson said.1
“This will include conducting random and targeted vehicle intercepts and inspections to ensure the safety of everyone on the road. Vehicles that are found to be unsafe, overloaded, or noncompliant … are liable for fines or being grounded and ordered off the road in the interests of road safety.”
A recent test showed that an estimated nine out of 10 vehicles towing caravans on Queensland roads exceeded their towing capacity,2 with a Queensland Police spokesperson saying they had observed caravans growing in size and weight as caravanning became increasingly popular.
“This can lead to serious safety issues where vehicles are not designed or certified to tow the weight of the modern caravans,” the spokesperson said.
“Overweight vehicles or uneven distribution of weight can cause serious vehicle safety risks for the driver, their passengers and other road users.”
Jason Plant, Caravan Trade and Industries Association Queensland Chief Executive, said overweight caravans were an increasing safety issue and it was important people educated themselves on topics such as loading and towing.2
“We’re absolutely surprised with what we see sometimes in caravans and in the vehicles themselves – generators, barbecue, the lot,” Plant told the ABC.
“It all adds up and can make that product extremely heavy and exceed the critical rating, which is dangerous, and could void your caravan insurance as well.”
Aussies love a road trip
In recent times, more families have turned to caravanning to explore their own backyards. The number of caravan and camping trips grew by 67% in the decade before COVID-19,3 and in March 2023 there were around 800,000 caravans and campervans registered in Australia.4
Considering the hearty appetite for this type of travel, it makes sense that police in Queensland are focused on safe caravanning in the Sunshine State. And no matter which state or territory you’re travelling to or from, there are penalties for exceeding your car’s maximum towing capacity. We’ll explore that more later.
How to calculate your caravan towing weight
Almost half of all crashes involving an at-fault vehicle towing a caravan in 2020 and 2021 were caused by either the caravan or tow vehicle losing control.5 Want to know how to safely tow a caravan? Understanding the weight of your caravan and the towing capacity of your vehicle is essential.
While your vehicle’s towing capacity should be listed in the owner’s manual, there are a number of different measurements that might be helpful to know concerning your caravan. Here are the essentials:
- Tare mass: The total mass of the caravan with no load, unoccupied, and all standard equipment and any options fitted.6
- Aggregate trailer mass (ATM): The total laden weight of a trailer, which includes the tow ball mass and whatever you add as payload e.g. water, gas, luggage. Check the trailer plate for this information.7
- Gross trailer mass (GTM): Your caravan’s actual weight when you have it fully loaded and hitched to the tow vehicle.8 The best way to get an accurate recording of this is to use a public weighbridge.9
- Tow ball weight (TBW): The amount of weight the fully loaded caravan puts on the tow bar of the tow vehicle. The accepted tow ball weight in Australia is generally around 10% of your ATM.10
- Towing capacity: The maximum weight a vehicle is allowed to tow if the caravan has its own braking system. Older or micro caravans sometimes don’t have their own brakes, so you’ll need to find out the maximum unbraked towing limit of your car.8
State-by-state penalties for exceeding towing limits
Aside from the safety risks of towing an overweight caravan, the penalties could be harsh (especially if double demerit points apply). Here’s a state-by-state breakdown of the demerits and fines for hauling a caravan that exceeds safe towing weight:
New South Wales: $514 and three demerit points11
Northern Territory: Although NT Police have confirmed that they don’t generally issue infringements for caravan loads, Motor Vehicle Registry inspectors may issue penalties for overweight caravans at manned weighbridges12
Queensland: Up to $309 and three demerit points13
South Australia: $515 and three demerit points14
Victoria: $288 to $1,92316
Western Australia: $100 to $80017
What’s the speed limit when towing a caravan?
Specific speed limits for towing vehicles only apply in WA and NSW where vehicles are limited to travelling at a maximum 100km/h, even when the speed limit for other vehicles is 110km/h.18
Is your caravan insurance up to date?
Before you take your caravan on the road, you might want to check that your caravan insurance policy is up to date for your current needs and circumstances. Check out this handy guide to the approximate cost of caravan insurance to get you started, or consider starting a quote with Youi today for cover that’s a bit more you-shaped.
1 Information provided by a spokesperson for Queensland Police Service, November 23, 2023
2 Source: ABC News – Queensland caravan owners urged to check weight regulations, learn towing skills, 2023
3 Source: Australian Government – Caravan and camping data
4 Source: Caravan Industry Association of Australia – Caravan & Camping Holidays Surge in Face of Economic Uncertainty, 2023
5 Source: Qld Police – Don’t tow the line of safety when it comes to your trip: hints and tips for towing, 2022
6 Source: NSW Government – Caravans
7 Source: Qld Government – Buying a caravan – be van aware
8 Source: RV Daily – Understanding caravan weights made simple, 2022
9 Source: Australian Government – Find a public weighbridge
10 Source: RV Safe – Tow Ball Weight, 2021
11 Source: NSW Government – Offences and penalties
12 Information provided by a spokesperson for Northern Territory Police Force, November 22, 2023
13 Source: QLD Government – Demerit point schedule
14 Information provided by a spokesperson for South Australian Police Force, November 22, 2023
15 Source: Tas Government – Traffic Offences - Filtered
16 Source: Vic Government – Fines and Fees
17 Source: WA Government – Road Traffic (Vehicles) Regulations 2014
18 Source: ABC News – Road safety concerns over increasing number of caravans and heavy vehicles speeding on highways, 2022