Caravan Crashes – Here’s our opinion why.
- 16 May 2017
We have been asked countless times why our Major Incident Response team seem to attend so many caravan crashes and each time what caused them. There are always thousands of different opinions, but we are going to step out and explain some major points we think contribute to these incidents. This may cause a stir with the “experts” and contradict some online information; as we all know just because it is on google doesn’t mean it is right. We will stress though this is our opinion, we are not engineers, nor do we have special tickets (other than semi-trailer licences), so take it as you like. This view is from a group of us who, outside of work, all travel with large vans and have also attended hundreds of caravan crashes at work. With each Caravanning accident we look at what we think caused it and often chat to the drivers about their experiences, what they did, how their van was set up and how different trailers are manufactured. Often we see and hear similar problems. We never wanted to express our opinion online of what we thought caused individual accidents, as in some cases manufacturer and aftermarket suppliers may be inclined to sue us for those opinions. This post is not about one particular caravan crash; it is an overview of caravan crashes in general.
Vehicle size and capacity
A vehicle of decent size (loaded correctly) is safer than a vehicle that has a piece of paper saying it can. A large 4wd wagon is a fair lump of a car, but a lot of lighter utes out there have a higher towing capacity. Just because it says on paper that it can tow 3.5 tonnes it doesn’t mean you’re going to even be able to pull even a 2.5-tonne van. For example, a standard Toyota Prado weighs 2.22 tonnes and can legally tow 2.5 tonnes but a standard D Max ute weighs just under 2 tonnes but can “legally” tow 3.5 tonnes. The main point is to ensure if you are using a ute to tow a large van, it needs to have a decent load in it, and we don’t mean a couple of fold up chairs and tables. Utes also have longer overhang compared to a wagon so when they start to get the wobbles it’s like a counter lever, it’s going to push your backside around with more ease. Of course large 4wds crash, but we generally see them with larger vans behind. There is no doubt the heavier the towing vehicle is, the smoother the ride. Legally we still say half of the 4wd caravan combinations we see out there would be over loaded, especially over their GVM and GCM weight, but that’s a whole new subject we could write a book on.
This is a big one. You need to aim to have around 200 to 250 kgs weight on your tow ball with larger vans. 10 percent of the caravan weight is a good rule of thumb for whatever size van you tow. Of course, you need to have the rear of your tow vehicle set up for this load, and ensure it is legal. If you have no or limited weight downwards from the van going onto the tow hitch of your tow vehicle you’re asking for trouble. Some vans are manufactured with nearly no tow ball weight; some are scary, do your homework before you make an investment. Some work on the front tunnel being loaded with gear and water tanks being full. In some cases, an empty or light loaded van ends up being more dangerous. It is crucial to check where your water tanks are and understand as they get emptier the tow ball weight is changing. If you have two full water tanks in front of the axle, they can make a significant difference to tow ball weight. But if you have one tank at the front and one at the rear it can act as another risky counter lever if you have the front empty and back full. Also, some caravans have waste water holding tanks at the back, so you could have camped and unknowingly just moved a 100 plus kgs of weight from your front drinking water tanks and put it in the rear waste tank. This causes a see-saw effect and could change your tow ball weight, to nothing, or even place a lift effect on the rear of the tow vehicle.
Buy yourself a tow ball weight scale (about $70), and check your weight, take note of where your items are in the van and your water levels. Learn how your caravan works at different times, some people will be shocked. Lots of set ups we collect after accidents (when they stay together) are evenly balanced with the tow bar up in the air, sometimes you are able to pick the drawbar up with one hand. This is a recipe for disaster, and we consider the biggest factor for a lot of crashes we attend. Toy hauliers that cart motorbikes etc. in the back are also often crashed, It goes to show you really have to think a bit more about what you are towing.
Towing Wobbles Leading to Caravan Crashes
A typical comment we often hear and is actually in many training manuals is “if you get the wobbles, speed up and it will pull out of it”. We have to pick this statement apart. Over three-quarters of the people, we rescue say, “it got the wobbles, I gently accelerated to get out of it, and it got worse quickly”. People get the wobbles up when they are going a bit quicker than their set-up can handle and often slightly downhill (will cover this soon). So going faster in these situations will only make things worse. An exception would be if you are positive that you can lock your trailer brakes up via your trailer controller, acceleration “may” only then help.
We still think the better emergency option is to press your emergency electric brake button or slightly press your brakes, so the trailer electric brakes activate, as going faster in these scenarios often doesn’t go well.
Electric brake controllers
When you’re on the highway turn them up high to provide solid braking to the trailer if you need to emergency stop you want the trailer to be pulling up faster and avoiding possible caravan crashes. If you go through town and turn them down due to brakes locking up at the lights, don’t forget to turn them up or they won’t be there when needed. The older style controllers had a large solid lever you could grab the slide button to lock the trailer brakes on. The new controllers have a push button; critical thing is the button on lots of models only activate the brakes to what you have them set on. If you have the brakes turned down from in town, the button won’t help if an emergency occurs. Lots of vans now have automatic emergency electronic stability control, these are great if operating correctly but make sure you don’t fall into a false sense of security, they are only one piece of the puzzle that may help. We have seen people go into emergency situations where they depended on the emergency stability control to help and appeared it didn’t. They run out of time to go back to the manual method of pressing the button on the brake controller, or slightly touching brakes, to activate the trailer brakes. It also needs to be mentioned trailer brakes of any type needs to be regularly checked, no matter what type you have fitted. If they aren’t operating correctly, you have an issue. It only takes a simple wire off to stop the process. A good tip is when you have a brake controller fitted to your vehicle, ensure it is in a very easy to access position while driving, it could be your lifeline.
Weight distribution hitch, another touchy subject. Do any of us have them? No. Do lots of caravan crashes we see rolled have them? Yes. With a heavily loaded tow ball, they can help. If you have low tow ball weight, we personally consider they make things worse. With their tension, they really could provide the opposite result and have a dangerous lifting effect on the rear of your vehicle. If you are getting them, make sure you know what you are doing, know your weights or go to reputable companies who can give you the time to assist in having the right ones. These should not be used as a solution to a problem, only another tool that may help your towing experience. If they are used with limited tow ball weight, we really feel you are making things worse. If you are getting them, make sure you know what you are doing, know your weights or go to reputable companies who can give you the time to assist in having the right ones. These should not be used as a solution to a problem, only another tool that may help your towing experience. If they are used with limited tow ball weight, we really feel you are making things worse.
Why are there so many accidents in our area?
A big factor we see is that we have sections of highway that are downhill with slight bends in 110 km zones, with some cross winds involved. Downhill people’s speeds unknowingly rise in these sections. The extra downhill speed with winds, plus one or more of the above factors discussed can lead to disaster. In real terms the number of caravan crashes on the road are no more than other vehicles, but the mess/disruption as well as the added stress of often being a travelling home puts them into the lime light. We do tend to see every accident has at least two of the above factors involved.
As we said to start with, this is personal opinion. Feel welcome to comment below if you agree or disagree with anything discussed in this post, we will try our best to give our thoughts. In the end, if sharing our real life experiences can help prevent even one crash with our fellow Caravanner our job is done.