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How to avoid common tow vehicle traps

Good towing habits include making sure your tow vehicle is legally allowed to tow whatever you're planning to tow.
Marcus Craft
Editor - Adventure
CarsGuide

4 Jul 2018 • 10 min read

As with many sections of society, the world of recreational towing is unfortunately influenced by rumour, misunderstandings and misinformation. A good way to sidestep any less-than-accurate advice is to avoid believing hyperbole or taking campsite opinions as gospel.

Always independently check vehicle weights, equipment ratings and your owner's manual, with regards to operating within the parameters of the law.

Here are some of our expert tips on how to avoid common tow-vehicle traps.

Different models within the same range may have different maximum towing capacities. Different models within the same range may have different maximum towing capacities.

Know your vehicle's maximum towing capacity 

These figures are somewhat misleading and do not constitute one-size-fits-all guidelines. For example, different models within a range may have different maximum towing capacities. A manual HiLux, for instance, has a maximum towing capacity of 3500kg (braked), but its auto stablemate has a maximum towing capacity of 3200kg (braked) – that's 300kg less.

Also remember to always keep in mind your vehicle's real-world capabilities, including its GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass; the maximum your vehicle can legally weigh, fully laden) and GCM (Gross Combined Mass; the maximum your vehicle and trailer combination can legally weigh). 

For example, if you get anywhere near your vehicle's maximum towing capacity you won't be able to load much more of anything in your vehicle before you're illegal. Remember to factor into your towing equation that your vehicle will be fully loaded with driver, passengers, camping gear and more.

Here's a tip: use your local weigh bridge before setting off anywhere towing a caravan, boat or trailer load.

For more on vehicle weights, read Mark Oastler's yarn.

Make sure all of the components you use when towing are correctly rated to suit the vehicle and the load being towed. Make sure all of the components you use when towing are correctly rated to suit the vehicle and the load being towed.

Only use towing components with a correct rating

We recommend you use rated equipment for all vehicle-related scenarios, whether it's a recovery or towing.

To be safe and legal, make sure every towing component has the correct rating - and that applies to not just the vehicle's tow rating, but to the towbar and towball, as sometimes these components are rated at a figure less than the tow vehicle's maximum towing capacity.

Most vehicles' maximum towball mass is assumed to be 10 per cent of the trailer's ATM, but that's not always the case. Most vehicles' maximum towball mass is assumed to be 10 per cent of the trailer's ATM, but that's not always the case.

Get your maximum towball mass right

A vehicle's maximum towball mass (or download, or load) is "the proportion of the trailer weight that is applied to the rear of the tow vehicle", according to the RACQ. "A vehicle's Ball Load specification will be found in the vehicle's handbook and will be listed as a weight in kilograms or as a percentage of the trailer's ATM*." (*ATM - aggregate trailer mass - is a trailer or caravan's maximum towing weight as specified by the manufacturer and can't be legally exceeded.)

Most vehicles' maximum towball mass is assumed to be 10 per cent of the trailer's ATM, but not all actually are. For example, some vehicles (Hyundai Santa Fe, et al*) may have a 2000kg maximum braked towing capacity but their maximum towball mass is listed as 100kg in standard set-up, meaning they won't be able to legally tow that 2000kg. (*The addition of a manufacturer's tow-pack will improve those figures somewhat; the Santa Fe's maximum towball weight moves up to 150kg if the vehicle has a genuine Hyundai accessory assist kit fitted.)

The Pajero Sport, as another example, has a towball mass of "between five and 10 percent of the maximum towing capacity", Mitsubishi states, and the Sport's maximum towing capacity is listed as 3100kg.

If you've got too much weight on the tow ball, the whole vehicle-and-trailer combination may become unstable on the move.

Remember also that whatever weight is on the tow ball must be subtracted from your payload total: if your allowable payload is 700kg and your towball download is up to 350kg, then, when towing, you'll only be able to put 350kg in the vehicle and that includes driver and passengers.

Subaru drivers are advised to "never exceed 80km/h ... or the legal speed limit, whichever is lower" while towing. Subaru drivers are advised to "never exceed 80km/h ... or the legal speed limit, whichever is lower" while towing.

Know your vehicle's speed limits for towing

You'd reckon it'd be safe to assume that anyone towing is allowed to do so at signposted speed limits, whether that's 80km/h, 100km/h or 110km/h. Well, you'd be wrong. 

Some manufacturers impose speed limits and/or conditions on their vehicles when it comes to towing. For instance, Subaru advises in its owner's manual that Subaru drivers, while towing, "never exceed 80km/h ... or the legal speed limit, whichever is lower. Exceeding the speed limit could cause loss of vehicle stability and/or could lead to an accident." 

Ford recommends that Territory drivers stick to an 80km/h limit if towing the vehicle's maximum loads, which can be up to 2700kg for an AWD version.

Do you have other towing traps to avoid? Tell us in the comments below.

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