For the most part, caravanning is one of the safest ways to holiday. However, towing big trailers around our big winding country does have its risks. One of the leading causes of caravan accidents is that of caravan sway – when a caravan takes the opposite path set by your 4×4, fishtailing until it hits a critical mass and rolls over. According to the Suncorp Group, one of Australia’s largest insurers, 72 people claimed for rollovers, with an estimated 195 claims estimated as a total Australia-wide. So how can you stop caravan sway and the dreaded rollover? Here are some tips to help reduce and eliminate caravan sway on your next trip.
1. Slow Down
The biggest cause of caravan sway is speed. You should never exceed 97km/h while driving, as faster speeds magnify course changes and will cause the entire rig to tip over. Take your time and be careful – and this goes for the driver too. Driver fatigue can also cause speeding and eventual tipping.
2. Lighten Your Load
Most conventional caravans have an upper weight limit of 1600kg, and it’s dangerous to overload your caravan past that limit. Know your manufacturer limit and stick to it – or pay the piper.
3. Use Correct Weight Distribution
If you don’t use a weight distribution hitch to distribute the load across your 4×4 chassis and the caravan, it causes an imbalance and increase the likelihood of sway. Your tow ball must also be of adequate mass to prevent swaying. You should also distribute the load in your trailer adequately, as this will also cause swaying.
Pictured: Hayman Reese Heavy Duty Towbar
4. Overhung Hitching
The overhang on the hitch needs to be as short as possible when hitching a trailer. When the tow vehicle swings one way, that overhang causes the caravan to sway the opposite way and vice versa.
Oversteering can cause significant sway, especially when over the speed limit. Flexi Steer, a device that helps stop oversteer, can be invaluable in preventing sway. It counter-balances oversteer with more force, to stop swaying.
6. No Automatic Sway Control
Most modern caravans now come equipped with automatic sway control such as friction pads, round bars, or anti-skid systems. These aren’t a “magic bullet” but can be used to reduce sway to get dangerous situations back to a manageable point. Other Auto Sway Control units include auto traction control and automatic adjustment controls.
7. Other Things to Look Out For
Many inexperienced drivers will start to panic when noticing their caravan (and massive investment) fishtailing and swaying. They will slam the brakes or make sudden swerves to the road shoulder. DON’T! Make slight adjustments in speed and direction – remember, 1600kg worth of caravan is not going to stop on a dime. Don’t immediately apply tow brakes either.
You should drive with care in wet or adverse weather; slow down when being overtaken by a larger vehicle, as it creates an updraft; and windy or gusty conditions, which can also increase sway.
A relaxed and prepared attitude can help a lot!