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Caravan weights explained: Tare, ATM, and axle weight limits

Caravanning is a great way to experience Australia. What better way to see the sights than from the luxury of a camping home on wheels.

Caravans are also the perfect family-friendly accommodation option when taking a local road trip. For some inspiration on travelling Western Australia, check out a few of our favourite road trip itineraries:

Before purchasing a new or used caravan, we recommend taking into consideration the most important aspect – towing weights. You need to know the towing capabilities of your vehicle and understand various caravan weight measurements that are used to assess load capabilities.

This guide on caravan weights explained provides practical information to help you make the right decision and get you on the road exploring beautiful Western Australia.

Understanding common caravan weights

When deciding on which caravan to purchase, and the vehicle you’ll use to tow it, understanding caravan weights is essential. To assist in your search, we’ve highlighted a few of the most common caravan weight considerations when purchasing a caravan.

Tare mass

Tare weight caravan mass is the total weight of an empty caravan. It is also called empty weight or dry weight.

An empty caravan includes features and accessories provided by the manufacturer. It does not contain luggage, people, water in the tanks, or gas.

The caravan manufacturer provides the tare mass information. Additional aftermarket accessories are not included in this measurement because they are not original components.

Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM)

The aggregate trailer mass (ATM) is set by the caravan manufacturer. It specifies the maximum caravan weight limit and stipulates the highest weight that the caravan can safely hold when fully loaded.

The ATM weight that a caravan can handle includes people, fluids, luggage, and accessories. The tare mass is a part of the ATM.

Having the ATM exceed manufacturer specifications can result in an unsafe caravan. So, minimise risk by towing and operating your caravan below ATM. Should you need to file an insurance claim, your caravan and car insurers will verify that the ATM does not exceed vehicle towing capacity.

Gross Trailer Mass (GTM)

The gross trailer mass (GTM) is also set by the manufacturer and refers to the weight transmitted from the caravan axle or axles to the ground. This number will be lower than the ATM because some weight distributes through the tow ball. Exceeding the GTM can compromise your safety while on the road.

Tow ball weight

The tow ball weight aligns with the caravan tare weight. It refers to how much pressure the caravan weight applies to the tow ball connected to your vehicle.

The tow ball weight is measured when the caravan is empty aside from manufacturer specifications. Several factors can affect the tow ball weight, such as how you load the caravan and where water tanks, batteries, and caravan storage compartments are located. Axle positions and the location of appliances are also taken into consideration.

Maximum tow ball weight

The maximum tow ball weight is the most force safely exerted on the caravan tow ball. This is also referred to as the maximum ball loading.

The manufacturer specifies the maximum tow ball weight. You should never exceed this weight limit. The way your caravan is loaded can affect the maximum tow ball weight. The tow ball capacity of the caravan is separate from the tow ball capacity of the vehicle used to tow it.

Both tow weights are crucial to avoid a shift in balance that could compromise vehicle safety.

If these caravan weights vary noticeably, defer to the lowest capacity to ensure a secure tow. The tow ball maximum weight is lower on some vehicles when the overall caravan weight increases, so check with your dealer when purchasing a vehicle you will use for towing.

Load-carrying capacity

The load-carrying capacity is the maximum weight you can add to your caravan without exceeding its ATM or GTM. If the manufacturer does not specify this value, subtract the tare mass from the ATM to calculate it.

Aftermarket accessories that add weight to the caravan include spare wheels, toolboxes, bike racks, and extra batteries.

Follow the WA requirements for caravan towing. These laws require you to adhere to caravan and towing vehicle manufacturer specifications as outlined above. A caravan with a GTM of at least 750 kilos must be equipped with brakes since those on the towing vehicle may not be sufficient for the caravan.

Use a caravan weight for towing calculator for fast results. There are also some caravan and camping apps available on mobile app stores which can help you calculate maximum weights.

Choosing a vehicle suitable for caravan towing

Consider your caravan weight needs before deciding on a towing vehicle.

Check the towing weights listed on the caravan compliance plate. These include the tare mass, ATM, GTM, and tow ball weight. If you don’t find all the numbers on the compliance plate, consult the owner’s manual or manufacturer specification sheets. Additionally, contact the manufacturer if you have questions.

Operating a vehicle at or above towing capacity causes greater than normal wear and tear. The vehicle is also unable to handle unexpected conditions, such as poor road conditions and trailer sway. If you’re ever unsure, speak to the caravan dealer or vehicle dealer about caravan towing requirements.

Ready to hit the road?

Whether you’re a WA local or visiting from the east coast, Northern Territory or South Australia, Western Australia provides some of the country’s most scenic and exciting road trips.

Before hitting the road with a caravan in tow, make sure you plan out stops along the way at local WA caravan parks. Staying at local caravan parks provides access to power (if required) and local amenities to ensure you have a safe, relaxing and comfortable holiday. Read up on how to safely reverse a caravan before taking your next road trip.

Frequently asked questions

  • Can any car pull a caravan?

    This depends on the mass of your caravan. For safe towing as a novice, it is recommended to keep the laden weight of the caravan less than 85% of the kerb weight of the car.

  • What happens if you exceed tow ball weight?

    If you exceed tow ball weight this can lift up the front of the tow vehicle causing a reduction in steering response and a tendency to understeer when taking a turn.

  • Can an automatic car tow a caravan?

    Yes, today most automatic cars can tow without any risk of overheating as long as the towing limit is followed.

3 December 2020

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