Don’t Get Caught Out With Caravan & Camper Trailer Weights

I’m tired of reading over and over again of weight issues that thousands of people are being caught out by. These relate to trailer weights, tow vehicle capacities and weight distribution, and if you don’t take the time to carefully look into it, you’ll be in a world of pain.

What are the issues?

Inaccurate Weight Ratings On Trailers

The first, and most annoying and unethical thing done by caravan and camper trailer manufacturers is giving false weight ratings. Every trailer you purchase in Australia should have a data nameplate on it, which specifies the empty weight of the trailer, its maximum weight, tyre sizes and axle ratings.

Time and time again this little nameplate is not true, mainly for the empty weight of the trailer (tare weight). Do not buy a trailer without first weighing it and seeing if the figure is correct. If its wrong, it eats into what you can carry on and in the trailer, and this is often already very low. On trailers where you might have 500kg of ‘payload’, sometimes they weigh 350kg over their empty weight, which gives you a measly 150kg to play with.

How is it possible for a trailer manufacturer to sell one trailer with a heap of additional accessories with an identical nameplate as another trailer with no accessories? They do this every day of the week! Nameplates are not individualised by most companies, and you are taking a shot in the dark by believing whats written on them.

Unfortunately this is not policed, and its causing people a lot of frustration, time and money. If you buy a trailer that weighs more than what it is supposed to, you lose some carrying capacity and the only way to get it back is to seek engineering or go back to the manufacturer. Either way, its not a path you want to have to take.


Shocking Payload Capacities For Trailers and Vehicles

A trailer is purchased with the intention of carrying things in it. If you are limited hugely by what you can carry, what good is it? What you can carry in a trailer is determined by removing the ATM (Aggregate Tare Mass) from the Tare mass. Your payload usually does not include water, gas and anything that is not bolted to the trailer.

I’ve seen caravans with a whopping 360L of water capacity, and only 450kg payloads. That’s real clever; fill your water tanks up and you can carry 90kg. Who designs these things?

If you buy a 3.5 tonne Caravan that can only carry 400kg, you are going to have issues.

Tow vehicles are usually pushed to their maximum already; if you plan on towing a reasonable weight trailer with a 4WD, passengers and gear you need something that has at least 800kg of payload (and even then that’s often not enough!).

Vehicle Sales People Who Lie Straight To Your Face

There’s nothing that annoys me more than sales people who omit key information. Remember the term ‘fit for purpose’, as its very important. When you buy something, it should do what you are told it will, or what a reasonable person would expect it to.

Those who are selling 4WD’s and saying they suit a family travelling around Australia with a 3500kg Caravan are lying straight to your face. Pretty much no normal 4WD is suitable for towing a 3500kg caravan around Australia with a few people in the vehicle, unless you do it with no gear.

Let’s Look At 4 Examples:

Ford Ranger

With a 6000kg GCM, towing 3500kg brings your maximum GVM down to 2500kg. Given the vehicle weighs in at 2200kg empty, you have 300kg to use in the way of passengers, gear, bar work, drawer systems, canopies etc. Impossible.

Toyota Land Cruiser 200

With a GCM of 6850kg, taking away a 3500kg trailer you are left with 3350kg. Take away the vehicles empty weight and you are left with 720kg. Seems fairly high, yes? You need to look at the GVM more carefully for this vehicle. The payload on a 200 series is 610kg, which when you remove the towball weight (10% of 3500kg) you are left with 260kg.

Nissan Patrol Y62

With a GCM of 7000kg, taking away a 3500kg trailer you are left with 3500kg. Looking good. Now, take away the vehicles empty weight of 2735kg, you have 765kg (which so happens to be their normal payload). Looking fantastic now. However, Nissan de-rate the GVM because of the extra towball weight, and suggest that when towing a 3500kg trailer with 350kg towball weight, you are penalised 130kg from your GVM.

This means your payload of 765 is reduced by 350kg plus 130kg, leaving 285kg.

Isuzu Dmax

With a GCM of 5950, taking away a 3500kg trailer you are left with 2450kg. Taking away the empty vehicle weight of 1920kg you are left with 530kg of payload. Not bad at all, but still not good.

Huge Towball Weights

The ‘guide’ in Australia is to keep the towball weight at 10% of the trailers mass. If you have a 2000kg trailer, the towball weight should be around 200kg. In other parts of the world this figure is normally 5%; we do it on the heavy side over here.

However, having a towball that is excessively heavy is a big problem for the average Joe. You’ll have issues carrying gear in the tow vehicle and staying under the legal weights , and it puts a lot of extra stress on the back of your vehicle.

The reason behind this is pretty simple; towball weight is deducted from your vehicles payload (or GVM). If you buy a 4WD that has a 600kg payload, and you have a trailer with a 350kg towball weight you are left with 250kg to play with. Absolutely ridiculous at best, considering your passengers, extra fuel, bull bars, roof racks and any other weight you add into your 4WD has to come off the payload.

If you are buying a trailer with a towball weight empty that is more than 10%, question it. Consider what is going to happen when you load the trailer up too; so many forward fold camper trailers weigh well over what they should on the towball.

It’s all well and good to have a massive toolbox sitting on a big drawbar, but if you load it up your towball weight is going to increase exponentially.


Huge Difficulty Figuring Out Rules & Information

A few weeks ago I came across a discussion about the towing capacities of the new Y62 Patrol. There’s a table that Nissan were displaying with the towball weights, which for any normal person looking at it implied that you could put 250kg on the tow ball without it affecting the GVM.

We know this isn’t possible; any weight you put on the towball has to come off your GVM, but there were people swearing black and blue that it was what Nissan meant. Some of these are owners too, who have spent a large packet on an amazing 4WD with what they thought was an exceptional towing package because of the above.

I did some digging (a lot actually), and found a response from the Engineer who designed the tow bars, and got a totally different response; Nissan actually penalise your GVM on top of the towball weight once you hit the 300kg tow ball weight

If its that hard to find out whats actually right and whats not for me, how is the average Joe supposed to get on?

Exceeding axle weights

As if it weren’t complicated enough, your 4WD is also rated to take a certain amount of weight on each differential (your front axle has a rating as does your rear).

Just because you have a 900kg payload does not mean you can plonk that all on the back of your vehicle. The manufacturer assumes that you will evenly load the vehicle, and adding a heavy towball weight when towing works very hard against that.

Look up your individual vehicle and see what the maximum axle weights can be. Remember, if you add weight to the front, it reduces the mass applied to the rear axles, and vice versa.

Add the weights up

Please take a minute to look at your setup. A big educational blitz was done over East a few months back, and about 70% of vehicles towing trailers were illegal. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

You are at huge risk if something goes wrong and you aren’t legal. It’s not worth it.

Article from 4WDING Australia


Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Comments 14

  1. this is one of the best,if not the best article on this subject.Fantastic,now we need the manufacturers to do the right thing,to give everyone a chance at carrying more than a spare pair of undies,as you just might need them if something goes wrong,and it could.I myself was mislead by a van dealership,they knew what my van would weigh and new what extras i was putting on including the weight of each item and surprise,surprise the van weighed 400kg more than i was told.No good for me as i had to rethink my whole system of loading.It should not be this way.Good on you for writing this article.

    1. Your comments & experience mirror my own after specifically pointing out to the Dealer that I only had a 120 Series PRADO to tow it with. It wasn’t till I took it to a Public weight bridge after the purchase months later as I wanted to add a generator and grey water tanks and still be within the law of compliance.
      The Dealers did not want to know about it. I have sent my complaint & experience of to the Federal & State Ministers of Transport to try and have the licensing authorities insist on the dealers providing a current certified Certificate to match the TARE compliance plate attached.
      Well done to the author for the article and research.

  2. Hi
    All of the above is easy to understand, but!!!
    Of all the articles I have read in relation to tow, carry weights it has never been explained what happens to the tow ball weight reduction transferred from the van/trailer to the carry weight of the tow vehicle.
    If the fully loaded van ready to go weighs in at its GVM of say 3500kgs across the scales minus the tow vehicle attached then when the van is attached to the vehicle can one load the extra 350 kgs onto the van bringing it back up to the GVM of 3500 kgs and still be legal or is my logic flawed ???.

    1. Your logic is flawed because the ATM is measured disconnected from the tow vehicle and is always that totally allowable weight.

      ATM is the total allowable weight on the wheels AND the jockey wheel when disconnected from the tug.

      If you did what you say and it was weighed it would be over ATM (the correct term) by the amount of the ball weight that you added

      Same with towball weight It is measured standing alone and no matter what you do is always that weight. Where it is distributed to on the rig is slightly influenced if you use a WDH but the weighed weight remains the same.

      A WDH does NOT lighten ball weight.

    2. Further to my reply if you load up close to ATM and then hook up you cant add more weight to the van as there are 3 weights or limits that are included in weighing a van

      TARE which should be the weight as delivered from the factory Anything added later by you or the dealer comes out of payload.

      GTM is the allowable weight limit imposed on the vans axles only. Is normally ATM minus ballweight. This is normally stated by makers as weight at TARE and will alter daily according to how you load the van and may increase up to 100kg.

      ATM is the max allowable loaded weight imposed on the vans axles AND the towhitch or Jockey wheel if you like.

      GTM and ATM are stated legal limits NOT actual weights

      The weight of your van at any one time is best described as ACTUAL LOADED WEIGHT

    3. Hey John,

      It is confusing, but I can make it pretty simple. Your van cannot weigh more than 3500kg. Whether it is coupled or not, the van doesn’t change weight, it just changes the position of the weight. If your van weighs 3500kg and your towball weight is 350kg, it doesn’t allow you to add more weight; you are already at the maximum weight the caravan can take.

      Beyond that, the 350kg comes off your vehicles payload; you cannot exceed the vehicles payload when hitched or unhitched.

      Last but not least, the total weight of your vehicle and van must not exceed the GCM. The towball weight is ignored here; its purely the weight of your van separately, and the weight of your vehicle separately.

      Hope that makes sense.

      1. Not quite correct Aaron The GCM if done on a weighbridge is the whole rig, tug and van hitched up and weighed together.

        EG your tugs GVM may be 3000kg and your van 3000kg ATM However your GCM may be 5800kg.

        You would be legal when hooked up as your GTM is ATM less ball weight which when hooked up is part of the Tugs payload

        The article is factually incorrect also as it says to get payload you deduct ATM from TARE????? Logically its the opposite ATM 3400kg Tare 3000kg Payload 400kg.

        They say Deduct ATM 3400kg from Tare 3000kg and you would get MINUS 400kg

        Maybe the same thing from a different angle but makes it confusing.

        So say your ball weight is 200kg it would bring it back as above.

        If however the manufacturer does NOT state a GCM you can tow at your tugs GVM plus the allowable towed weight. as in some Toyotas.

        My 100 ser had a GCM of 6680KG and a GVM of 3280. It had a towing limit of 3500kg
        However it could only tow 3400kg or it would exceed its GCM.

        Thats as I understand it

        They also dont mention axle ratings and limits which can be exceeded quite easily if you are not careful.

        Nor do they mention the older Patrols which had a reduced GVM if ball weight exceeded 250kg

        Hardly a really informative article

  3. I emptied my van out completely except one battery and ninety litres of water, went to the weigh bridge around the corner and it still weighed over limit. Spoke to manufacture and he sent me a new plate. One thing sad about this was the limits went down below what it was????. CAN’T be trusted. Put my gear back in and went on holidays.

    1. If you wanted the true Tare you should have emptied the water and if the battery wasnt in it from the factory , remove that to get what it should have been against the plate.

      There is a lot more than just fudging figures to get more payload.

      EG Brake sizes, axles ratings, tyre and rim ratings, Bearing capacities, Chassis weight limit.

      Ive done it so know what has to be done.
      Also in QLD at least you cant just “change ” the plate. You have to add the new one beside the old one. Been there done that with both the van and the tug.

  4. I think you need to redo the calculations on the D-Max if you want to have a fair comparison. You haven’t taken the 10% tow ball weight from payload of the vehicle, which when you do = 530Kg – 350Kg = 180Kg. Very poor I would say.

    For the question above, from what I understand you can’t take the 350Kg on the tow ball from the weight of the trailer and then add extra stuff into the trailer, as when you go to stop in a hurry the weight shifts from the a vertical plane (up and down on the trailer axil and tow bar) to a horizontal plane (pushing the vehicle forward), and it would then exceed the 3500Kg rating of the tow vehicle as some of the vertical weight on the tow bar would shift to pushing the tow vehicle forward.

    1. They state the TARE weight which is dry apart from water and 10 L of fuel The rest of the fuel is part of the payload as is the Bullbar and Drawers you add later

  5. All of these things the horse industry knows well
    Swaying unstable horse floats makes for sick horses. Stability, safety and comfort are the priority

    This is why most Horse trailers over 3000kg ATM are gooseneck or 5th wheelers and many use light and heavy trucks as well.

    It’s only matter of time before caravans get put over the scales on a regular basis and the issues you state will be there for all to see .

    Something that needs to be done with the fines that will go with it to educate many van owners to put more thought into towing safety than the bottle of wine they are having that night

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *