Caravan weights and towing
One of the most confusing things about buying a caravan are the myriad of towing weights involved, which are designed with safety in mind.
Basically, you must ensure your vehicle can legally tow your van. Start by checking your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity, whether that’s 1,200 kilograms for common four-cylinder cars, 1,700 to 2,500 kilograms for 4WDs, or up to 3,500+ kilograms for heavyweight tow-tugs.
The legal maximum loaded weight of your caravan is called the Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) and is dictated by the manufacturer. The ATM is the combination of the tare weight (the van’s unladen weight without gear, water or gas) and its payload (the maximum weight of equipment, food and so on that the manufacturer deems safe to be added). Your van’s ATM must be less than the vehicle’s maximum towing capacity to be legal and safe.
Your vehicle manufacturer will also specify a Gross Combination Mass (GCM), which is the maximum combined weight of the car and the caravan. The GCM can be found on your car’s documentation. This number is set so that you don’t overload your car or caravan with too much gear, and it is illegal to exceed it.
You also need to be conscious of the ball weight, which is the maximum pressure you can put on the towball of your vehicle.
Check with your dealer or manufacturer about weights (it’s a complex topic) and check how heavy your combination is at a public weighbridge to be certain.
The smart way to buy a caravan
Do your research carefully when purchasing a new or used caravan. Investigate each brand to check whether they are members of RVMap, the Caravan Industry Association of Australia's national accreditation program.
Be wary of new or used models that have water damage or rust, and always ensure a second-hand van passes an inspection from your state’s transport body, which is required for registration. Consider getting an inspection prior to purchasing a second-hand caravan.
Caravans are made from a variety of materials, from lightweight and generally less expensive timber frames to more durable aluminium frames and composite panel construction. Carbon-fibre is a lightweight construction material used by a only a handful of manufacturers as it does hike the price. Look for strong warranties and great customer feedback.
You can always ask other owners for their opinion via caravan social media groups and forums - or try a few out for yourself. There are several peer-to-peer platforms such as Camplify and Outdoorsy where you can rent someone’s pride and joy for a weekend to road-test different layouts and styles.
To buy, seek out your local dealerships, manufacturers (visit the factory if possible) or online marketplaces such as TradeRVs, Caravan Camping Sales, or even Facebook Marketplace if buying second-hand.
Before you head away, make sure your emergency roadside assistance subscription includes caravan and trailer assistance, too.