Towing Basics

When you start caravanning, weight becomes really important, no matter what caravan or tow vehicle you have, so knowing what all the different weights mean and how they’re calculated is vital.

All vehicles, caravans and campers have a certain weight they can safely – and legally – weigh. All components of every vehicle, camper and caravan is is engineered to withstand a certain weight, with a safety margin, before it fails. These legal weights cover several different parts of the rigs – their empty weight, how much load they can take, their total weight, and more.

When a vehicle or caravan manufacturer specifies weights, it becomes a legal requirement for the driver to adhere to this. As soon as you wheel the rig out on the road, you’re in charge of it and it is assumed you have taken adequate steps to ensure your rig is safe and legal. If you are randomly weighed by the state roads authorities or have a crash due to overloading, you can’t claim you didn’t know that the vehicle or van was overloaded. You’re supposed to check. And your insurance may be voided if you didn’t.

Generally, the caravan industry ‘standard’ that you can load into a van (called payload) is 300kg for a single-axle van and 400kg for a tandem-axle van. However, this is being strongly challenged by many modern caravanners who consider it severely insufficient.

As a consequence, some manufacturers are starting to give vanners a much more generous payload, in some cases up to 600 or 700kg – or even 1000kg in some cases! If you choose to load the van up to its maximum ATM, however, this obviously impacts on your choice of tow vehicle.

And this often causes confusion among vanners. Legally, the vehicle must be rated for the actual loaded weight of the van, not necessarily the stated ATM.