Caravan Safety

Overtaking

One of the biggest complaints made by truck drivers is that RV’s & caravanners try and help by slowing down when they are approaching an overtaking lane or opportunity.

They mistakenly believe that when they slow it makes it easier for the truck to overtake. In fact it makes it much harder for the truck driver.

By slowing down before the overtaking lane, the truck driver behind you, must also slow, therefore losing momentum and the engine may also slow to below its most powerful revs. It will then take longer to build up speed to overtake and it may run out of double lanes before it has completed the overtaking manoeuvre leaving the caravan or RV with nowhere to go when their lane ends.

Remember, many trucks are speed limited so cannot overtake at high speed.

The best way to help is maintain your speed until the truck is beside you in the other ‘overtaking’ lane, not behind you, and then ease off your accelerator to gently slow your rig. Keep your van straight and avoid heavy breaking that may cause the van to sway.

The rush of air from the passing truck can also cause caravan sway, so be prepared. See below for more information on air flow and how it impacts overtaking trucks.

This will help the truck get past faster, safer and without losing valuable engine power or speed, especially as many overtaking lanes are on inclines where trucks and caravans struggle to maintain their speed.

Once again, communicate with the truck driver and let them know what you intend to do BEFORE you do it.

Be sure to keep an eye on the rear view mirror and do a head check of your blind spot to ensure there are no other vehicles also wanting to overtake you at the same time tucked in behind the truck.

It is better to have them overtake and get away from you than have them constantly behind you getting agitated.

Agitated drivers have been known to overtake when it is not safe out of pure frustration – endangering the lives of themselves, you and the other road users.

There also may be that driver who tries to out run you before the end of the overtaking lane, so indicate early that you are running out of your lane and are moving back into the other lane when safe. Let them know your intentions early.

Other drivers will appreciate it and you will often get a “thank you” over the radio.

You will feel good knowing you have been Truck Friendly and have helped and brightened someone day.

BEING OVERTAKEN:

Be sure to give anyone overtaking you plenty of space and move as far left in your lane as you can safely.

Stay in your lane and do not move off your lane onto the shoulder due to rocks, and unsafe road surfaces. All drivers do not like having their windscreen smashed by the driver in front showering them with loose rocks from the side of the road. Keep your van straight and avoid heavy breaking that may cause the van to sway.

Gently back off the accelerator once the overtaking vehicle is beside you to help them get passed as quickly and safely as possible.

Communication prior to the overtaking is always good and let’s everyone know what is happening.

When you see the truck behind, let the truck driver know that you are aware they are there and you are ready to help when needed. They usually appreciate the offer to help and will let you know when they are coming around.

DO NOT USE YOUR INDICATOR TO TELL THE OTHER DRIVER THAT IT IS SAFE TO OVERTAKE. This is illegal and dangerous as you do not know the skill and experience of the other driver, you do not know the acceleration of the following vehicle and you may pressure them to do something that is not safe for them and putting all lives at risk.

Use your radio to talk to them is the best advice.

Often they are familiar with the road and they may be comfortable to stay behind you as they know a passing lane or small town may be coming up where it is safer to overtake or for you to pull over. Keep an eye on the rear view mirror and if you see a line of cars behind you remember it is safer to let them pass than have agitated drivers being held up.

When it is safe, pull off the road and let them all pass, especially if you are passing through a small town or village where there is plenty of safe places to pull over at lower than highway speeds.

This video explains about being overtaken by a truck.

https://www.sharetheroad.net.au/?p=187

Road trains can be very long and take a while for them to overtake you, or for you to overtake them. This video has some great tips on how to do it safely.

https://www.sharetheroad.net.au/?p=540&list

Check out the 3-2-1- Green reflectors article on how to find a safe place to pullover. https://truckfriendly.com.au/travelling-in-convoy

OVERTAKING:

Ask yourself the questions:-

  • “Do you really need to overtake the vehicle in front? Why do you need to overtake?”
  • “Are you or the vehicle in front likely to stop a little further up the road?”
  • “Are you due for a break and stop for a coffee instead?”
  • “Is there likely to be an overtaking lane or safer place to overtake up ahead?”
  • “Are you leaving enough space for other vehicles behind to leap frog around your vehicle and the one in front and therefore do not need to overtake?”
  • “Have you communicated your intentions with the truck in front?” They may say they are stopping ahead etc.

Always try and ensure the vehicle in front is aware that you are there and intend to, or are overtaking. Many truck drivers will assist by letting you know when the road ahead is clear and safe to pass.

Make sure there is enough room for you and the caravan or RV to overtake safely.

Accelerate smoothly and watch out for caravan sway during and at the end of the overtaking manoeuvre.

If passing, or being passed by a large truck there will be a suction effect behind the truck and an air wall in front of the truck. This suction and then push effect can cause the caravan to be sucked into the truck at the start and then pushed away from the truck when completing the overtake.

An unstable or badly loaded caravan can start to sway and it can quickly escalate out of control, especially at speed. Check out the link to the Caravan Sway video above

Many caravans and tow vehicles have been caught on trucks dash cams swaying and eventually rolling from this suction and push effect of the air around a large vehicle travelling at speed.

Give plenty of room before you pull back into the left lane and remember the length of your caravan needs to be allowed for plus a safety buffer for the vehicle you have just overtaken.

All movements should be smooth to help avoid caravan sway.

Have a look at this video on overtaking a truck.

https://www.sharetheroad.net.au/?p=206

Other drivers will appreciate your professionalism and everyone will have a better journey by being Truck Friendly.

Travelling in a Convoy

It is very common for 2 or more RVs or caravanners to be travelling together or one caravan may have just caught up with another slower caravan on the road.

The golden rule of convoy travel is to leave plenty of space between the vehicles.

I cannot understand why anyone would want to follow closely to a vehicle in front for any distance. As soon as the vehicle in front touches their brakes the vehicle behind has to also brake. There is not an adequate view of the road ahead to see signage and make decisions.

If travelling in convoy, often caravanners communicate by UHF radio. If your UHF is so weak that you cannot communicate with another caravan 1/2 a kilometre further down the road then it may be time to upgrade your radio or check your aerial.

Most caravan clubs have strict policies about distances between vehicles travelling in convoy.

Leave enough space for a truck or b-double to safely leap frog around you and move between you and the vehicle you are following. Keep in mind that they need safe distances to slow after they overtake and there should be a safe distance between all vehicles when the overtaking is completed.

A safe distance between cars on the highway is 2 seconds; however this should be extended to at least 4 seconds for heavy vehicles or or vehicles towing a caravan or trailer.

Pick a marker on the side of the road and as the vehicle in front passes count 1,000 and 1, 1,000 and 2. If you have passed that same marker before you finish counting then you are following too close. For towing or wet weather repeat for 4 seconds instead of 2 seconds. as a minimum.

Check to see if there is a second vehicle that is also overtaking. If so, leave extra space for them.

Queensland laws state that vehicles (this includes caravan and tow vehicle) over 7.5 metres must have a distance of at least 60 meters between following vehicles increasing to 200 metres if in an area used by road trains.

Many trucks, cars and other road users get frustrated when they are following two or more RV’s or caravans, travelling slower than the rest of the traffic and that have not left enough space to pass.

To overtake, a driver therefore needs to overtake the two caravans and tow vehicles at the one time. This is extremely dangerous for all involved including the vehicles being overtaken and has resulted in many fatalities over the years.

One truck driver tells of when he came up behind 6 caravans following in convoy together that had not left any safe distance between them for other vehicles to overtake. They were travelling at approx. 70-80 km per hour in a 100km zone on the open highway out western Queensland. It took him an extra hour to get home and that was an extra hour out of his regulated 14 hour legal driving allowance. He nearly didn’t get home to his family before he had to stop, by law, for his regulated rest break.

This situation is a frustration for ALL road users.

Pull over if you are holding up traffic. It is safer for you and the other road users.

How do you know there is a safe place to pull over coming up?

3-2-1- Green Reflectors

There are now in place on highways throughout the country many locations where heavy vehicles, caravans and RVs can safely pull off the road for a short rest or to allow other traffic to pass.

NOTE:- THESE LOCATIONS ARE NOT FOR OVERNIGHT OR LONG STOPS. THEY ARE FOR SHORT OR EMERGENCY STOPS ONLY, TO LET TRAFFIC PAST, CHECK YOUR VEHICLE OR REST BREAK IF TIRED ETC.

The locations are clearly identified by the use of 3-2-1 Green Reflectors on the guide posts leading up to the rest area.

While these areas are not always full maintained they are usually a flat level and off the road rest spot.

They can be identified by 3 green reflectors on a guide post 500 metres before, two reflectors 250 metres before and one green reflector as you come to the rest area. Therefore giving the driver plenty of time to indicate and slow from highway speed to safely pull over. Communicate your intentions early to other road users by UHF and indicators.

For more information of 3-2-1- Green Reflectors please click on the following link.

https://www.nhvr.gov.au/about-us/safety-campaigns/green-reflectors

Be Truck Friendly and think about the distance you follow other vehicles and allow plenty of space for others to get around you. Pull off the road and let other vehicles pass whenever possible.

Lights

    Remember that when you attach a heavy caravan on to your car’s tow bar your car will sag at the rear to some extent. This will have the effect of raising the front of your tow vehicle and altering the angle of your headlights. Low beam will now look like high beam to oncoming drivers and may blind them. 

There is no substitute to correct loading of your caravan however a good set of properly adjusted weight distribution bars will help limit this tow vehicle sag and make life more comfortable and safer for approaching drivers. This will also help reduce driver fatigue from drivers constantly looking at oncoming bright lights.

Check out this video on driving at night.

https://www.sharetheroad.net.au/?p=200 

Weight Distribution & Other Towing Accessories

WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION HITCHES OR LOAD LEVELLERS ARE NOT ANTI-SWAY BARS. The two are different and do different jobs. Many people get the two confused and I shudder when people give advice about something that they do not even know the name of.

A weight distribution hitch, (WDH) helps shift weight from the rear to the front on a tow vehicle when the rear suspension sag is not at a safe level. This in turn restores traction to the front steer tyres and shares the load more evenly on the tow vehicles suspension.

There is much on the internet on what they do, but very little on how they do it, which can be very misunderstood. The stresses that they place on a vehicle can be very damaging if not used on the correct vehicle and caravan and set up correctly.

An Anti-sway bar however, helps reduce sway on the caravan or trailer and does not affect weight.

You can buy combined WDH and anti- sway units, but they are not as popular as just the WDH by itself. Many caravanners use a WDH with not so many using anti-sway bars.

A WEIGH DISTRIBUTION HITCH SHOULD NOT BE USED BY ALL CARAVANNERS DESPITE WHAT YOU MAY READ FROM SOME CONTRIBUTORS.
I have used them on some van setups when needed and many drivers report that the rig feels more stable with them fitted, however they are not a fix for all problems and all vehicles.

Several vehicle manufacturers do not recommend the use of weigh distribution hitches on their vehicles for various reasons.

This is no reflection on the vehicle but just non compatibility with certain aftermarket accessories.
Some specify that a WDH must be used to tow a van at maximum weight capacity.

These reasons can include but are not limited to:

1. The possibility of failure of the factory fitted tow hitch due to the excessive UPWARD stresses they place on the unit, vehicle and fittings.

2. Potential damage to the chassis from the very high stresses they put on the vehicle chassis. My panel beater has had numerous people get very angry when the INSURANCE DOES NOT COVER the damaged chassis repairs.

3. The non-compatibility of the vehicle’s electronic stability control.

4. Incomparability with the vehicles pump up / self-levelling suspension.

5. WHD can place excessive and very sudden stresses on the vehicle when driven over gutters and culverts, or dips in the road etc or when not adjusted correctly. This can cause failure to vehicle components that would otherwise be ‘fit for purpose’.

6. The vehicle manufacturer does not test how their vehicles react and cope with the fitting of non-genuine after-market accessories.

WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION HITCHES CAN BE USED AS A LAST RESORT. If you have a suspension problem, then I strongly recommend that you FIX THAT PROBLEM FIRST.

At Truck Friendly caravan road safety program, we advise TO FIX THE PROBLEM AND NOT THE SYMPTOM.

Even some internet sites that may seem to be a reliable source of information can fuel confusion with inaccurate or out of date information.

It is very hard for people new to caravanning to know what or who to believe when they are setting up a tow vehicle and towing a caravan.

Even some of the caravan industry web sites have suspect information on their sites which do nothing more than confuse the new caravanner.

For example: – The Caravanning and Camping Industry Association of South Australia, on their web site has the following statements about the use of weight distribution hitches.

This article is also on the CIL Insurance web site. Both these organisations have been contacted several times by email and phone and asked to correct this information over the past 18 months, but the incorrect information remains.

My intention is not to shame but point out serious concerns with accuracy of some information.

https://www.caravanandcampingsa.com.au/hints-and-tips/towing-tips-hints/
“These weight distributing bars are necessary on all but the lightest camper trailers”.

“People who boast that they do not need or use weight distributing bars are either not aware of the implications or do not have safety as their utmost concern.”

However: – several motor vehicle manufacturers do not recommend the use of weight distribution hitches on their vehicles. Isuzu is one and several other manufacturers of vehicles with automatic adjustable suspension, and/or stability control also do not recommend their use.

There are also several videos on respected caravan industry and insurance internet sites explaining how to use weight distribution hitches and using an Isuzu D-Max as the demonstration vehicle despite the manufacturer not recommending their use.

https://www.isuzuute.com.au/owners/faq
“Isuzu UTE Australia cannot recommend or endorse the use of a Weight Distribution Hitch or load levellers for vehicles other than the 21MY Isuzu D-MAX.
21MY Isuzu D-MAX models are compatible with the Isuzu UTE Weight Distribution Hitch, available as a genuine accessory.”

QUESTION:- Does your insurance company cover you if you do not follow the vehicle manufacturers recommendations?

ANTI-SWAY TECHNOLOGY SHOULD BE ONLY USED AS AN EXTRA SAFETY LAST RESORT FEATURE. If you have caravan sway, then you have a problem.

Identify the cause, and fix the problem, NOT the symptom. The problem will still be there after you fit the ani sway technology, unless it, ‘the cause’, is fixed.

By all means fit anti-sway technology to your caravan, and it now comes standard on many vans for a good reason, however: – do not rely on it to solve your problem. The weight distribution problem or whatever is causing the sway will still be there and fighting the traction of your caravan and endangering your life and the lives of other road users.

Caravan recovery companies (tow companies) still recover rolled caravans with anti-sway technology fitted.

DO NOT BELIEVE ALL THE ADVICE ON SOCIAL MEDIA. While much of it is given with the best of intentions and from some people with experience in towing their individual caravan rig, they usually do not have enough information, and know next to nothing about your individual set up, tow vehicle model, condition, caravan weight, model, weights, loading, load distribution and how and where you drive, your skills and experience. One person’s light weight van may be another’s heavy van depending on what you are used to towing.

DO NOT LISTEN TO ADVICE RECOMMENDING THAT YOU DO ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES.

For example, it is illegal and very dangerous to do your own 240-volt electrical work on your caravan or extension leads no matter how long you have been towing a caravan. If you are replacing the brittle power inlet socket fitting, then it is very possible that the wiring to that socket has brittle insulation. When you move the socket for replacing. it could easily damage the insulation and allow the bare wiring to liven up your caravan with 240 volt electricity.

Wiring it incorrectly could have the same result. This illegal work could easily kill yourself, loved ones or other innocent people. Get a qualified electrician who will test it and give you a certificate

Towing a caravan or trailer at over 100kph is illegal in some states and can be extremely dangerous. We all hear from drivers who boast about towing at high speeds. Reaction time severely diminishes at speed while sway etc can happen a lot quicker and have far worse results.

So those who state they do it all the time and recommend that you travel at the speed of the other traffic may be suggesting you break the law. Always travel at the speed that you feel comfortable at but have consideration for others and regularly communicate and allow them to overtake.

DO NOT MAKE SUGGESTIONS ON SOCIAL MEDIA ON HOW TO DO UNSAFE THINGS. For example: – you will often see posts on social media where people ask for advice on how to mount a heavy item on the rear of their caravan.

There was one who wanted to mount a heavy motorbike on the rear of his caravan. With a bracket that would have to be at least 150kg. The average caravan does not have a load carrying capacity to handle that load as well as water, food, annexe, chairs, tools and all the other items that the average caravanner carries. Usually around 450 to 650 kg is average.
The fitting of a storage box on the rear of your caravan may also be illegal due to vehicle overhang law restrictions. There are a lot of unroadworthy caravans and RV’s currently on the roads.

Placing such a heavy load like a motorbike, storage box etc. on the rear of a caravan is extremely dangerous and will make the caravan very prone to dangerous caravan sway and endanger not only the lives of the driver and passenger but you and I, and other road users.
With estimated well over 60% of caravans are currently already overweight this is just irresponsible and dangerous.

WHY DO TRUCKS SPEED? Many people report that they are tailgated by or overtaken by trucks when they are doing the speed limit. I do not condone tailgating by any vehicle, it is extremely dangerous and illegal. Leave 4 seconds between you and the vehicle in front if towing, more in bad weather. Many heavy vehicles must leave 60 meters by law.

Many trucks use GPS for speed control which is far more accurate than the usual car speedometer.

Cars depend on mechanical means to record speed; however, this recorded speed can easily be out by up to 10%. The wear on your tyres for example affects the rolling distance and will therefore affect distance travelled per rotation and the recorded speed. There are other factors also that will affect readings. I changed tyre size on an old Hilux I had many years ago and the speedo reading changed by 12%.

I am not for one-minute stating that all drivers, including caravanners and truck drivers are angels, and all keep to the speed limits, but there can be other reasons why the maximum allowed speed may seem different for different drivers.

Please all be cautious on where you get and give advice. Double check all social media advise with several industry experts / reliable sources who is not trying to sell you something.

I am concerned that once the lawyers get involved. I do not know who will be held responsible for loss of life caused because someone followed social media advice.

Will it be the person who followed the advice, the person who gave the advice (assumed to be correct) or the administration of the social media page who published the advice? Only time will tell, but we will find out one day.

While I do not claim to be an expert, I am a researcher, and do thoroughly research all articles from multiple reliable industry sources and apply a bit of common sense and easy to understand terminology before publishing.

Tyres

Ken recommends the popular 4psi guideline.

1.Before a trip, when tyres are ‘cold’, pump them up to the recommended pressure as stated on the vehicle’s tyre placard. This is a starting pressure only at this stage. I also recommend that you purchase a good quality tyre gauge and use it each time, so you have consistent readings. Service station gauge readings will vary from place to place.

2. Drive for approx. ¾ to one hour so your tyres are at normal operating temperatures and check the pressures again. (preferably with the same gauge) Your goal is to achieve a pressure after approx. one hours driving of 4psi above your cold starting pressure. If you achieve this on your first attempt, go buy a scratchy. Your lucky today. If you have a pressure above 4psi from your cold starting pressure, your tyres have built up too much heat from friction and are underinflated. You should add more air up to the 4psi above cold start pressure. If you have a pressure below 4psi from your starting pressure, your tyres have too high a pressure and you should let some pressure out until you have 4psi above the cold start pressure.

3. Repeat on your next trip with the new cold start pressure above or below your original start pressure depending on how much air you had to put in or take out to achieve the 4psi increase.

It may take a couple of goes but you will soon get a very accurate correct pressure for your car and van tyres that increases by 4psi after they reach operating temperature. Once you have established this pressure you can use it each time you check your cold tyre pressures.

My tyre guy in Bundaberg is Peter Walton and he and Cooper Tires recommend the same procedure but with a 6psi difference if using light truck tyres such as on a caravan.

Remember – incorrectly inflated tyres can be a major cause of dangerous caravan sway.

When should I change my van tyres?

Caravan tyres are tow along tyres and not drive tyres so do not attract as much wear as the car tyres.

This is where you should be cautious if buying a second-hand caravan.

“The tyres may have plenty of tread, so the tyres are OK”. WRONG.

The caravan tyres will deteriorate with age especially if they have been sitting in one place for a long period in the sun like many caravans. They can gain a flat spot. Once over 5 years old they are at risk of blowing out while on the highways. This can cause severe damage to the caravan floor and wheel arch or other vehicles if they blow out at high speed.

I had an old tyre blow out at about 95kph once, luckily on a dual axle van. By the time I could slow and find a place to pull over off the road the tyre tread had separated and rolled in between two oncoming cars. If it had hit a car going at 100kph it may well have caused a severe accident, injury and huge repair bill for my wife and I. Yes, it happened on a weekend, so it was also hard to get a replacement or four new tyres that day. My tyres were well past their use by date and should have been replaced ages ago. My first 2nd hand van and I learned from my mistakes.

Lesson 1, replace your tyres every 5 years whether they have good tread or not. I have just replaced 4 tyres and my spare that has never been on the road as it was 7 years old and original.

Lesson 2, rotate your tyres, including your spare, so you get some money’s worth out of the tyres you have purchased.
How do you tell how old your tyres are?

All tyres sold in Australia must have a date of manufacture stamped on the tyre.

Put simply, each tyre will have a DOT number followed by a stamped 4-digit number in a recess on one side of the tyre. It could be inside or outside.

The first 2 numbers are the week of the year it was made, (1 to 52) and the last 2 numbers represent the year it was made.

If the number was, as in the picture above, 1418 then this tyre was manufactured in the 14th week of 2018.

If the number was, for example 1215 then that tyre was manufactured in the 12th week of 2015.

Please check your tyres and tyre pressures so that you, your family and others can stay safe on our highways.

Buying a New Caravan

There is a lot of media interest in the legality of many caravans on the roads at present. Police and State roads authorities are also doing random educational road side weight checks.

A recent voluntary weigh-in in Brisbane found 58% of vans weighed were overweight and therefore unroadworthy. I can assume that many of these would not have all been fully packed for holidays with food, extra water, generators etc. that many carry on a trip.

After the double fatality in NSW early 2019, I believe it will become a topic of enforcement in the very near future.
It is therefore vitally important that when buying a new caravan that you check the tow vehicle and caravans load carrying capacity and expected tow ball weight when loaded, prior to purchase.

It is recommended to have a tow ball weight of approx 10 – 12 % of the ATM (Loaded weight) for most common size vans on the roads in Australia.
Remember, it can be very expensive reselling your van and buying a new one that is legal to tow with all your usual items and accessories on board once enforcement is increased.

If you are one that carries a lot of personal items, have extra van accessories, and do a lot of free camping (batteries, solar, water etc). you will need a large load carrying capacity.

ATM minus tare gives you load capacity.
As a guide, approx. 600kg is common and currently suits most caravanners. Below that and you may need to have a close look at what you carry.

DO NOT RELY ON TARE WEIGHT. Have your caravan properly weighed when fully loaded to get accurate figures as TARE can vary on what is included and does not include water in the H/W and pipes. It may also not include many dealer accessories etc.

Check your own van compliance plate for this information.

Remember water, mattress, gas are all load as well.

FOR EXAMPLE: – If you are currently looking at purchasing a new caravan and have looked at many brands and models. You may want free camping ability and some space to live in for a couple of years on the road.

Let’s look at one van at random, the Coromal EV632S / RTV that may suit some peoples needs.

You may also add some extra solar and battery capacity and a grey water tank as personal preference.

The tow ball weight is 190 kg at tare of 2,235 kg and has an ATM of 2,885 kg.
Therefore load carrying capacity of 650 kg.
This also gives this van a tow ball weight of approx 8.5% at tare or when unloaded.
The like many, caravans it has a generous front boot plus this model has a compartment on the A frame for 2 x gas bottles and extra storage for what ever you may want to put in there.

The 8.5% tow ball weight at tare allows for us to put some load in the front boot and A frame storage which will add extra weight onto the tow ball.

As long as we are sensible and don’t load it with concrete blocks we should end up with around the 10 to 12 % tow ball weight which is the industry safe towing recommendation for that size van.
If you choose a van without a front boot you will have to do different calculations for the above.

A 2013 BT50 dual cab tow vehicle for example, has a towing capacity of 3,500kg, tow ball load max of 350kg, a GVM of 3,200, Kerb weight of 2,103 which gives a payload of 1,097kg without a van on the back.

Remember, the load carrying capacity needs to have the driver and passengers included as load. (150 – 200kg approx)
On paper at first glance this looks like a good match.

The BT50 also has a GCM (Gross combined mass ) of 6,000kg which means that when the BT50 is fully loaded it can tow a van with the maximum total weight of 2,800kg. (GCM 6,000kg minus BT50 GVM fully loaded 3,200kg = 2,800kg)

So as this BT50 (fully loaded) can only tow 2,800kg and the Coromal van (fully loaded (ATM) is 2,885kg the BT50 would not be legally allowed to tow it if both were fully loaded. There would be no safety margine even if you took 85kg out of the van or BT50.

Remember, we were also looking at adding extra weight to the van in solar panels, extra battery and grey water tank which is all load to the van and needs to be calculated into it’s total actual weight.

While it would be foolish to load both vehicles to their maximum it is unfortunately not uncommon as the recent caravan weigh-in clearly showed with over 58% of rigs being overweight.

Remembering that the people who take their vans to be weighed are already interested in road safety. Imagine how many overloaded caravan with boats, generators and other items may be on the roads currently overweight and unroadworthy.

Your insurance PDS usually excludes cover for overweight and unroadworthy vehicles.
For best towing safety the tow vehicle should also be heavier than the caravan it is towing. The tow vehicle should be heavy enough to resist being thrown around by a wobbly or badly loaded caravan.
Match the van to the tow vehicle. Your lives and those of other road users may depend on it.

Hope this helps in what to look for in buying a new van and do not just buy a new van based on the large screen TV, colours, nice layout or other heavy luxury items designed to ‘sell’.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK FIRST.
If it is not going to be legal to tow it is a big cost item to have just sitting in the yard.
Please share this article with anyone new to caravanning.

Communication

   One of the easiest ways to help other drivers is by communication: talking with the truck drivers via a UHF radio, and them talking to you. If you have a caravan or RV it is a very good idea to invest in a high quality UHF radio for the tow vehicle or RV. You will also find it a great investment in an emergency when you are out of mobile phone range.

The accepted ‘Highway Channel’ used by most truck drivers throughout Australia is Channel 40.

However, if travelling on the Pacific Highway, some other areas and Pacific Motorway in northern NSW and southern Queensland you may find channel 29 is used more frequently by truck drivers and others travelling in those areas.

There is also some valuable information passed on via Channel 40 like road conditions, animals on the road, car accidents, wide loads ahead, roadblocks to avoid up ahead, speed camera locations, cyclists riding two abreast on the highway, and other things of safety interest.

Traditionally, caravanners have been using channel 18 to talk amongst themselves but will need to change to Channel 40 to talk with the truck drivers and hear what is happening up ahead or behind, and how you can help.

You will not make any friends by clogging up Channel 40 with a long conversation or swapping recipes and will often be asked, (not always politely) to change to another channel for a chat.

For these reasons, I strongly recommend that you have your radio tuned to Channel 40 and change to 18 or another channel for a longer chat with a fellow caravanner or RV driver. Keep it brief and to the point is the rule on Channel 40.

Always keep an eye on your rear vision mirrors and be aware of who is coming up behind you and immediately tune the UHF to Channel 40 so you can hear any truck drivers trying to talk to you.

Having the “I’m Truck Friendly”, large round green sticker on the rear of your van will help the following vehicle know that you are happy to work with them.

Depending on which Channel you normally have the radio set on it is always a good idea to have your name or nickname and UHF Channel 40 and /or 18 in large print (200mm) on the back and front of your caravan or RV. That way a driver behind or oncoming will know you have a radio ‘turned on’ and which channel you are on, so they can call you up easily and identify they are talking to the right person/vehicle.

When you want to communicate with a fellow traveller the best way is to let them know who you want to talk with and who you are.
A simple, “The green truck in front of the New Age van do you have a copy?” is usually all that is required.

If you are contacting a vehicle behind you and you have your name or nickname on the rear of your van, you may like to try, “The red semi behind Ken and Jenny in the van do you have a copy?”.

I like to use some feature of the truck so that the driver knows I am talking to him, and I may identify the truck as “Lindsay Brothers”, “the tanker” or another friendly characteristic.

At the end of the conversation, I often follow up with “stay safe” or “have a safe trip etc.” It normally gets a thank you or another friendly reply. This also helps when you catch up with them at the servo up the road and can help start a friendly chat.

Another tip is to also identify that you are ‘Truck Friendly’.

By using this term, it will help the truck drivers understand about the Truck Friendly program, the large green stickers and that there are many other drivers out there who want to help.

Other drivers will usually use a similar approach to contact you so keep the radio on to 40 so you don’t miss a call. The other driver may simply want to tell you your pushbike has come loose off the back of your van, you are leaking water, some other safety issue or that they are going to overtake.

I have unsuccessfully tried to contact a couple of vans on the highways. Both going the other direction on a dual lane highway. One had his hatch open in the rain and another had his pop-top unlatched. A friendly truck driver replied that he was behind the pop-top on the double lane and would try and let him know. I don’t know how much water damage was done to the one with the hatch open.

It was reported on another occasion that trucks and other caravanners were trying to contact the driver of one pop-top van rig out western Qld. to tell him his van top was unclipped and flapping in the wind. This driver did not have his radio on and nearly had many hundreds of dollars of avoidable damage to his van. He had gone to the effort of spending a few hundred dollars having a radio installed but then didn’t have it even turned on.

The UHF’s are a great tool to use, but only useful if turned on.

Choose which is the best channel for you and advertise it on the front and rear of your van, keep it turned on and volume up so you can hear someone trying to contact you. After all, that’s why you had it installed in the first place.

It can be quite entertaining at times with some comical characters on the air. There are some fools out there that clog up the airways with silly noises, and just being a nuisance. Please ignore them as they enjoy knowing they are upsetting someone and you reacting will just encourage them to keep going.

Be polite, keep it short and acknowledge that you have heard and understand the message is the best advice. If you are going to make any sudden changes like braking or turn off the road, let the driver behind know so they can be ready to brake if needed. They may be preparing to overtake and you are turning right or pulling off the road.

Give plenty of warning with indicators and a radio call, and remember a semi-trailer takes a long distance to stop or you may find their bull bar in your caravan’s bed.

Ken’s tip: – My previous vehicle was a BT-50 and the UHF aerial on the bull bar was the same height as the roof racks, so it also acted as a height gauge for low clearances like underground car parks and garages.

Stay Truck Friendly and follow up with a ‘thank you’ or ‘stay safe’ as you may meet them at the next stop down the road.