Here are some crucial skills you need to learn both before you set off, and behind the wheel…
Beware of overloading
This is the most common mistake. As we mentioned in part one, the GVM, or gross vehicle mass, is not the weight limit of what you can load onto it. To work out the maximum mass you can load, you need to subtract the trailer’s tare mass (its actual unloaded mass) from its GVM. In other words, if your trailer’s indicated GVM is 750 kg and its tare mass 150 kg, the maximum you can load is 600 kg.
Assuming yours is a single-axle trailer, pack heavy goods as close to the axle as possible. Place them towards the rear and you’ll create lift at the nose, while mass near the front of the trailer compromises stability. The ideal centre of gravity is just ahead of the axle to give a nose loading of around 10% of the trailer’s GVM. Commonly accepted weights are between 75 and 100 kg. If your load shifts during towing (on a single-axle trailer), this alters the nose (also called the tongue) mass and affects stability, so be sure to secure the luggage. You can measure the load using a bathroom scale under the jockey wheel, as long as it can handle up to 150 kg.
Remember the jockey wheel
When you’ve hitched the trailer or caravan, don’t forget to raise the jockey wheel and secure it tightly with the clamp so that it doesn’t work loose and drop. There’s usually backup safety in the form of a steel spring clip inserted through a hole in the down tube. If there is no hole, have one drilled and pass a length of wire through it to secure.
Before each trip, check that the trailer lights work. The couplings and pins can develop poor connections due to rain and dirt ingress.
It’s a critical safety item. If you don’t have one, you’ll have to unhitch the trailer and leave your trailer/caravan while you seek assistance – never a good idea in high-crime areas.
Preventing and correcting trailer sway
Trailer sway is usually caused by an incorrect load, which results in the centre of gravity sited behind the trailer axle instead of ahead. Gusting winds amplify this and can even result in jack-knifing. If trailer sway begins to affect the vehicle you are driving, ignore your instinct to brake and accelerate slightly until stability returns before gently slowing down again.
This is definitely something you should practise, as it is not easy if you don’t do it regularly. It also helps to think ahead and plan your route; you wouldn’t want to have to reverse on a tight fuel-station forecourt, for example.
The basic rule of thumb is that, where possible, you should factor in additional turning radius to avoid clipping a kerb.
Another tricky operation. Always remember the combined vehicle length is much more than your tow car’s. Afford overtaken vehicles extra distance before you return to the left lane.
Towing a boat
If you carry boating goods that require reversing into sea water, remember that salt is not a friend of steel. Clean your trailer after each trip and check the wheel bearings periodically for adequate lubrication. A seized bearing will leave you stranded. Make sure the spare wheel is up to pressure and that you have a jack and spanner stashed.
Ensure your trailer or caravan has one and that it is in working order. Always place the safety chain over the tow-ball mounting before driving off. This will save a serious accident if the trailer hitch breaks.
Towing in SA : Here’s what the law say’s
Considering towing a trailer, boat or caravan? Ensure you stay on the right side of the law…
Check your driving licence now – if you have a code B licence, you are not allowed to go big when towing. In 2000, South Africa changed to the credit card format for driving licence and the codes changed, too. Code 08 was converted to an EB licence, which entitles the bearer to tow a medium to large caravan.
Individuals who passed their driving licence test after 2000, however, received a code B licence and aren’t allowed to pull a medium to large caravan. In this first instalment of a two-part series, we look at the legal aspects involved in towing.
But first: GVM vs. tare
Gross vehicle mass (GVM) is the maximum operating mass of a vehicle (or trailer) as stipulated by the manufacturer. This is the fully laden state. The tare mass is that of an empty vehicle (or trailer). Deducting the tare mass from the GVM determines the maximum mass that can be carried by the vehicle (or trailer).
Licence codes explained
Ignoring the tow vehicle’s mass for the moment, the following maximum trailer mass (GVM) may be towed:
Code B: 750 kg | 750 kg
Code EB: 750 kg | 3 500 kg
Max. unbraked trailer mass (GVM) Max. braked trailer mass (GVM)
Light luggage trailers weigh less than 750 kg, while most caravans and even off-road trailers exceed that threshold.
Limits on the tow vehicle
It’s important that the tow vehicle can control the trailer or caravan and ensure safe operation of the train. The National Traffic Act governs the trailer’s maximum-allowed GVM as a function of the tow vehicle’s tare mass. An unbraked trailer’s maximum GVM may not exceed half the tow vehicle’s tare mass up to a maximum of 750 kg. Confused? Have a look here:
• 1 000 kg | 500 kg
• 1 500 kg | 750 kg
• 2 000 kg | 750 kg
Tow vehicle’s tare mass Max. unbraked trailer mass (GVM)
The maximum GVM of a braked trailer may not exceed the tow vehicle’s tare mass up to a maximum of 3 500 kg, as follows:
• 750 kg | 750 kg
• 1 500 kg | 1 500 kg
• 3 500 kg* | 3 500 kg
Tow vehicle’s tare mass Max. unbraked trailer mass (GVM)
*B (or EB) licences do not allow driving of a vehicle heavier than 3 500 kg.
Licensing and reflective tape
Trailers (and caravans) must undergo a roadworthiness test when ownership is changed, with an annual road tax payable. Since 1 January 2006, all trailers and caravans must sport strips of reflective tape of SABS ECE R104 specification on the sides and rear.
How to get an EB licence
Upgrading a B licence to EB isn’t an easy exercise. Firstly, you have to rewrite the learner’s licence exam and then make an appointment for the driving test at an appropriate testing station. This assessment is conducted using a tow vehicle and trailer, and involves a pre-drive safety inspection, yard section and on-road evaluation. During the yard section, the applicant has to: execute a turn; reverse in a straight line; alley dock; parallel park (with the trailer unhitched); and start on an incline without rolling back.
What about a caravan AND a trailer?
It’s legal to simultaneously tow a caravan and a trailer if you adhere to the regulations governing one tow vehicle and two trailers. There are additional requirements stipulating the coupling and distances between the trailer and tow vehicle, but they do not impact a standard caravan-and-trailer combination.