The best cars for towing a caravan for domestic holidays

JACQUELINE BELESKY
Sub Editor · 12 July 2021
Planning a family trip outdoors, or keen to pass some of your retirement time away from home, discovering Aussie scenery from the comfort of your caravan? Choosing the right wheels to get you from A to B is essential to making the magic happen, as a motoring expert shares with Canstar.

Whether you’d like to cruise the Great Ocean Road and marvel at the Apostles, discover our emerald Daintree or drive to our big Red Centre, Australia has so much to offer caravan owners planning their next getaway.

But how essential is it to choose the right car to tow your caravan? Aside from the scenery, the practicalities of driving on the road – and towing a sizeable load – are extremely important to consider. With COVID-19 leading to more of us considering locally inspired holidays and trips, we asked Queensland’s peak motoring body, RACQ, for expert insights.

In this article:

What are the best cars for towing a caravan?

Dual cab utes are increasingly a preferred option for towing a caravan, but there are also several four-wheel-drive wagon options that will do the job well. If you’d like to buy a four-wheel-drive wagon to tow a caravan, here are six of the best models available in Australia, according to RACQ:

  1. Toyota LandCruiser – 200 Series Sahara Horizon
  2. Nissan Patrol – Ti-L
  3. Land Rover Discovery – D300 S
  4. Toyota Prado – GXL
  5. Ford Everest Sport – 3.2 4×4
  6. Mitsubishi Pajero – GLS

Utes are practical and popular in Australia, claiming the top three spots in new vehicle sales for June 2021, according to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI). Nationally, the Ford Ranger, Toyota HiLux and Isuzu D-Max are three utes that are hot favourites among Australian buyers looking for a new ute. Models such as the Ford Ranger XLT dual-cab 3.2L 4×4 auto and Volkswagen Amarok dual-cab TDI550 Sportline 4×4 auto have made another motoring association’s top towing vehicle list recently.

Regardless of the towing vehicle that ticks the most boxes for you, RACQ advises it’s important to be aware of state government towing regulations, and to read the fine print of the owner’s manual for your car. You need to ensure you comply with relevant towing limits, restrictions and conditions.

Keep in mind too that the type of caravan you’d like should be factored in too. The Caravan Industry Association of Australia provides tips and insights based on whether you’d like to get a camper trailer, camper van, motor home, caravan, pop-top or tent trailer to explore the great outdoors.

What features should you look for when buying a vehicle to tow a caravan?

Russell Manning
Russell Manning, Principal Technical Researcher, RACQ

“Drivers need to make sure their vehicle has adequate towing capacity, including leaving a margin,” says RACQ Principal Technical Researcher, Russell Manning. “We suggest for frequent towing that the caravan weight not exceed about 80% of the vehicle’s towing capacity. However, for occasional towing, the safety margin can be less. Towing is hard on the vehicle, so it’s good to allow a margin to ensure the vehicle isn’t operating at its maximum capacity all the time. But we know that when it comes to bigger vans that margin may not be achievable, so it may be necessary to factor in some additional maintenance.”

What are some common mistakes when choosing a vehicle to tow a caravan?

The initial car you choose to tow a caravan matters, explains Mr Manning, who describes buying a vehicle and then “modifying it to be able to tow, rather than buying one that will do the job straight up” as not always leading to an ideal outcome. He says another possible pitfall is buying “the biggest, heaviest caravan the vehicle can tow”, as not leaving a safety margin can be problematic.

Other common mistakes Australians can make include not understanding towing specifications and how they impact the purchase decision, plus not thinking through what’s going to be carried in the tow vehicle itself. “Some [tow vehicles] have limited carrying capacity, which can impact not only what can be carried, but also what can be towed,” Mr Manning explains.

What checks should you make before caravanning?

Once you’ve purchased a suitable towing vehicle, there are other checks to make before you hit the road. Mr Manning says it’s important not to rely too much on the weights shown on the caravan plate, particularly if the van has been modified or had additional equipment fitted, and to avoid carrying too much. “Many caravans have much less payload than many buyers appreciate,” he says.

Towing your caravan correctly can keep you safe, plus it’s vital that you don’t overload it, Mr Manning says. Overloading is both illegal and unsafe. It could result in damage to both your car and your caravan, and there could be implications for your caravan insurance.

Mr Manning says you should never forget to weigh the fully loaded caravan and rig to ensure it’s legal. He adds that before you hit the road, taking a caravan towing course could be a helpful step towards ensuring you’ve got the necessary skills to navigate the road safely. “Learning on the road isn’t a good idea,” he said.

What are some tips for correctly loading a caravan?

Here are some tips from RACQ to help you correctly load a vehicle and caravan for a safe holiday ahead:

  1. Ensure you don’t exceed the caravan, tow vehicle and towbar specifications when you first pack the caravan.
  2. Once loaded, weigh the combination to confirm that all weights are within specification.
  3. Try and replicate an acceptable loading pattern each time, after you’ve developed it.
  4. Keep the centre of gravity low. You can do this by putting heavy items near the floor and, when possible, over the axle or axles.
  5. Bear in mind, some caravans can have a greater weight on one side, due to factors such as where a fridge and stove might be located. You can balance this by loading portable equipment on the opposite side.
  6. By using lightweight items, you’ll be able to reduce the load, plus save on fuel.
  7. Unless water isn’t available where you’re going, reconsider if you need to carry large quantities of it.
  8. Avoid having loose articles on the floor – they might move and cause damage.
  9. You’ll likely need food and equipment when you stop. Think this through and ensure any relevant supplies are easily accessible, including tools for hitching and unhitching your caravan.

What are some consequences if your caravan and vehicle combination is wrong?

Here are some consequences you might expect if you have a poorly chosen or incorrect vehicle paired with your caravan, according to Mr Manning:

  1. The rig can be unstable or even uncontrollable.
  2. Vehicle durability can be compromised.
  3. The combination may be illegal.
  4. It can be dangerous, with speed and load issues being common causes of caravan crashes and rollovers.
  5. There can be insurance issues if it’s an unsuitable combination.
  6. Overloading can result in structural damage to both the tow vehicle and the caravan.

Remember: not only is it illegal and unsafe to overload a caravan, but it can impact your insurance, plus lead to costly damage. The Caravan Industry Association of Australia explains that choosing your insurance policy is particularly important too, explaining, “bear in mind that your trailer may not be covered by comprehensive insurance if it fails to comply with legislation, or if its ATM exceeds your vehicle’s towing capacity, or if it is unroadworthy or overloaded”. Your ATM, or aggregate trailer mass, is the total mass of your trailer while carrying its maximum load, as recommended by the manufacturer.

Taking the time and effort to get things right can help you have the holiday of a lifetime if you are a first-time caravanner. It can also help you to enjoy another amazing adventure safely, if you’ve done this many times before.

Image source: Philip Schubert/Shutterstock.com

Sections of this article have been adapted with permission from RACQ and were previously published in its Road Ahead magazine. Additional reporting by Alasdair Duncan.


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