Heading Bush With A Camper? These Top Tow Tips Will Keep You On The Straight And Narrow
Where some countries are done and dusted with a few hours on the Autobahn, in most places of Australia you’re that distance and then some again just from the nearest fuel stop, especially if you’re at one of the more iconic 4WD destinations. The result is we’re a nation of trailer-towers. From soft floor and hard floor campers right through to 22ft caravans, they’re all but a necessity if you want to punch out serious travel and keep the family comfortable. The downside is year after year countless vans end up in a ditch on the side of the road, but with a little Roo know-how yours won’t be one of them.
CHECK THE BALL WEIGHT – Everything you load into your camper affects the tow ball weight, but not everyone realises how much the tow ball weight affects the tow-tug. You’ll want around 10% of the trailers total weight resting on your tow-tugs hitch. With too much weight on the tow-ball the front of your rig can lift up giving less grip, shoddy handling and poor braking. Don’t have enough weight on the ball and the trailer is likely to sway. Something most people overlook is the placement of water tanks, as they go from full to empty and back again they can play havok with tow-ball weights.
MAINTAIN TYRE PRESSURES – Most seasoned 4WDers should know about setting correct tyre pressures to maintain grip off-road, but there’s a few things even the experts often miss. Tyres are essentially glued together with multiple layers of canvas, belts, and rubber. As the tyre deforms through weight or over obstacles these different layers tug at each other creating heat. When temps get too high the tyre can delaminate and fall to pieces. On the other hand, a tyre pumped up to higher PSI will ride rougher, and be more susceptible to damage. The 4psi rule is the golden ticket here for both tow-tug and trailer, but it’s important to know pressures are directly related to weight. A tandem axle 1800kg trailer can run lower pressures than a single axle 1800kg trailer, and you’ll need to run a higher psi in the rear tyres when towing compared to unladen.
KIT OUT THE DRIVER – 4WDers don’t skimp when it comes to kitting out their vehicle appropriately. Bull bars, tyres, suspension, dual battery systems and power upgrades all build a more capable setup, but there’s more to the picture than the vehicle. If you’re investing time and money into your 4WD you should do the same for the person at control of the wheel too. In Australia, you can go get your driver’s license in a 3.8m long 950kg hatchback then jump behind the tiller of a 13m long 7,000kg heavy 4WD and Caravan without an ounce of training. Not putting your family in a ditch is far more important than protecting an ego.
WATCH THE WEIGHTS – Alright this one is normally a little controversial, but tow ratings on modern 4WDs are bull. Sure, there’s the whole nonsense with gross combined mass and none of them actually being able to tow their full capacity at GVM, but the big issue is the trailer weighing more than the tow-tug. The result is the tail wagging the dog, where the trailer can push the tow-tug around making for a dangerous situation if things turn pear-shaped. Semi’s get away with the weight difference due to their 5th wheel hitch arrangement being naturally more stable than a tow-ball but with a modern dual cab ute aim for no-more than 2800kg in the trailer.
GET THE RIGHT HITCH – When it comes to towing off-road not all hitches are created equally. The big issue with a traditional ball is their limited range of movement. Under even mild off-road conditions they can bind either causing the hitch to pull off the ball, or for it to try and pull the tow-tug over with it. There’s a few different hitches on the market that range from poly-block couplings to more elaborate systems like the McHitch or DO35. While the shinier hitches offer higher strength and articulation over a tow-ball, they’re also often designed with simple hitching and un-hitching in mind making life off-road much easier.
ADJUST TRAILER BRAKES – You wouldn’t go careening down a mountain pass if you knew your 4WDs brakes weren’t up to scratch, but when it comes to the camper or caravan most people hitch up and hope for the best. There’s a few different types of brake controllers on the market so it’s important to follow the set-up procedures for your specific model. Bringing it to a qualified mechanic means we’re not only able to adjust the controller correctly, but check the adjustment of the actual brakes on your camper too. If you’re DIYing it the general rule is just enough to feel the trailer holding you back without feeling like you’ve dropped an anchor.
RUN A SAFE TUNE – More power makes towing easier, it’s as simple as that. Having the grunt available when you squeeze down on the loud pedal gives you the confidence to overtake safely, the ability to muscle a trailer around off-road and the throttle response to get yourself out of strife before you’re neck deep in it. The only downside is there’s plenty of fly-by-nighters out there all more than willing to push your 4WD to its limits. Unless you’re a fan of expensive tow bills the outback is no place to find out your tuner has pushed things a little too far. We know where the limits are, and know how close we can safely get to them.
KEEP UP THE MAINTENANCE – Most camper trailers and caravans are built tough and up to the task of 4WD tracks, but they’re not set and forget. Just like the tow-tug you’re lugging it around with, your trailer has many crucial components that require regular maintenance. From checking brake adjustment, tyre condition, suspension U-bolts, and wheel bearings. Failure on any of these can have even the best planned tripped cut short.
DON’T TOW IN TOP GEAR – While modern automatics are almost black magic there’s not a great deal of difference in how they get the job done. Various gear ratios give the engine a mechanical advantage till you’re up around the 60-80kmh mark and it’ll slot into a 1:1 ratio, above that and you’re in an overdrive gear. The problem is overdrive in a manual or auto is far weaker than the lower gears and can’t cope with the huge strains of rocketing up a long steep hill and will self-destruct. Let it kick into high gear on flat smooth ground, but if the engine needs to work knock it back a gear or two.
FIT AN EGT GAUGE – The biggest issue towing big loads is engine temperatures. The harder the engine is working, the more heat it’s producing. The big weak link with most factory setups is they take readings off the coolant temperature which is delayed information. An EGT gauge can tell you instantly how hard the engine is working, and how much heat it’s producing. It means you can watch the EGT gauge as you climb a hill and know to ease off the loud pedal before the temps reach 550c and before any damage can occur. For a couple of hundred dollars and an afternoon in the workshop it’s cheap insurance when you’re heading off-road.
TRUCKS OWN THE ROAD – Getting stuck behind a slow-moving truck sucks, getting pushed off the road by one is far worse. In most situations when you’re on the high-way you’re off getting away from it all in new territory, the bloke winding you up in the big-rig behind you runs these roads every single day and knows if he can just push past you up this hill he won’t be holding you up for the next half an hour. You’re on holidays so take it easy, give them plenty of birth and let them push on while you enjoy the scenery.