Towing a camper trailer: The risks and top tips

By: Scott Heiman, Photography by: Scott Heiman


If you don’t take care, towing a camper can turn a good day into a bad one very quickly.

Towing a camper trailer: The risks and top tips
Don’t overload your trailer. Keep it within its own GVM and that of the tow tug’s towing limits

A camper is a big box with wheels that attaches to your vehicle and weighs a tonne – literally. And it’s attached to a single point.

It’s true that manufacturers try to create for you the largest possible living space, while maintaining the lightest possible weight but if you don’t take care, towing a camper can turn a good day into a bad one very quickly.

Consider these risks:

• Overtaking – or making sudden lane changes – can send you out of control when you’re pulling a caravan or camper trailer.

• Swerving (to miss an animal, for example) can cause oversteer, taking you out of your lane and into other traffic.

• All caravans and some camper trailers have a large box-shaped side profile – in maritime terminology they call it a sail! So when the wind gets bad, you should get off the road.

• Sway is not a 1920s dance move. It’s the ‘fishtailing’ which can occur when the side forces on the trailer cause the trailer to move side to side behind the tow vehicle. Factors that may contribute to sway include wind conditions, the ball weight, hitch height and cargo distribution.

• The ‘bow wind’ of a passing truck can push the trailer sideways. Also (to a lesser degree), the vacuum created at the tail-end of a semi-trailer can pull a camper back toward it. Essentially, this is the same as wind, but the sudden intensity often catches the driver by surprise. And, since it hits the trailer before the tow vehicle, it magnifies the sway condition.

• Because your rig is heavier, your braking distance is now longer. So give yourself a little more distance between you and the vehicle in front. Try counting the seconds separating the two vehicles when you pass a guide post. If your trailer has independent electric braking then count to five. If not, count to seven or more. Then don’t get any closer.

10 top tips for towing

1. Ensure your tow vehicle and camper are correctly set up, balanced, level and appropriate for each other.

2. Reverse slowly and take your time. Practice makes perfect. Practise in car parks and take short weekenders before setting off on your dream holiday.

3. Check your towing speed, as some vehicles have a recommended or maximum towing speed in the owner’s manual.

4. Clean and service your camper or caravan before and after each trip.

5. Don’t overload your trailer. Keep it within its own GVM and that of the tow tug’s towing limits.

6. Fill up your water tank before leaving home – it will help keep a low centre of gravity.

7. Check your wheel nuts and tyre pressure on all tyres (including the spare) before setting off.

8. Check all latches are secure before setting off.

9. Compile a comprehensive hitch-up checklist and use it every time.

10. Stop, Drive, Survive. Driving and towing is fatiguing.

Check out the full feature in issue #102 July 2016 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.