FAQ

Trailer Terminology

GTM: Gross trailer mass ie the total legal permissible weight of the trailer including its payload. The GTM capacity can be found on the trailers’ compliance plate.

TARE: The weight of the trailer when empty.
PAYLOAD: The allowable load the trailer can carry ie GTM – tare = payload
SINGLE AXLE: The trailer has one axle (2 wheels)
TANDEM AXLE: The trailer has two axles (4 wheels)
BOX TRAILER: A ‘box’ trailer is an open topped trailer with sides (and not a fully enclosed trailer).
OVER RIDE BRAKES: Brakes are activated by inertia via a sliding shaft to the trailer tow hitch acting on either  a hydraulic or mechanical (ie cable) connection to the brakes. A trailer braking control system to the tow vehicle is not required with this system. All of our braked trailers employ an override braking system.

Tow Vehicle Guide                                                                            Trailer Type

All 4 cylinder cars
All 4 cylinder SUV’s
4 cylinder petrol utilities <2.4 L

Single axle
6 and 8 cylinder cars
4×2 & 4×4 utilities 2.4L>, & larger 4WD’s
Tandem axle

How to back up a trailer

If you’re backing into something like a drive way (90 degree).

  • First if possible your drivers side should be on the side of your drive.
  • Next your hitch should be past the edge of the drive way.
  • Then arc out away from your drive until your vehicle is parallel with the drive or as far as you can then turn back a bit to the original direction of travel. This will put your trailer back at about a 45 degree angle and depending on the length of the trailer you may be lined up to back in. If not pull forward a little then back in.

To make the trailer go left, turn the wheel to the right (as you are looking toward the front of the vehicle). Turn away from where you actually want to go. Another way to look at it is, the bottom of the steering wheel directs the trailer. Facing backwards tends to help the backwards feel of steering the trailer. If you need to turn the trailer around a corner, steer the trailer toward the corner. Then you must steer slightly in the opposite direction to maintain the turning angle.

Back the trailer to the driver’s side (e.g. not the passenger side, which is harder to see. The most common backup is a right angle. If you are reversing in a straight line then be sure to make subtle movements often. If you see the trailer begin to move to one side, make a small correction straight away and it will be very easy to control.

Place your hands at the bottom of the wheel. As you reverse adjust the steering wheel to keep the trailer traveling in the right direction. Remember to go slow. Don’t be afraid to step out of the vehicle and check out the progress you’ve made.

  • It is important not to get the vehicle and trailer jackknifed, so do not let the turn go too far. Ideally, you can back into the space in one smooth motion. You almost always will have to stop and pull forward to achieve a more straight reverse.

Back up and pull forward as often as necessary until your trailer is in place. Try not to stress out if there are a lot of people checking out your progress. Keep your focus. Take your time and stay safe.

The video below from Supercheap Auto explains the basic concept:

Towing Checklist

Inspect the towing vehicle before the trip:

  • Roadworthiness – Is the vehicle generally roadworthy?
  • Suitability – Is it suitable to tow the particular load?
  • Tyre inflation – Check the vehicle handbook or the tyre placard for recommended tyre pressures when towing. If these figures are not available, the tyres should be inflated to about 15 kPa above normal.
  • Towbar – Is the towbar rating and coupling type correct for the trailer?

Check the trailer before the trip:

  • Wheel bearings – Firmly grasp the tyres and rock. Is there excessive movement that requires further investigation?
  • Load Mass – Does the trailer suspension look right, is the load properly distributed and balanced, and is it below the allowed weight limit?
  • Load Dimensions – Is the distance from the wheel hub (single axle) or centre of the trailer’s axle group to the end of the load less than 3.7m? Is this rear overhang equal or less than the front overhang? Confirm the projection cannot be deemed dangerous and is less than 1.2 m Is the load width constrained to the trailer width plus 300mm, that is no more than 150mm on each side? Is the width less than 2.5m?
  • Load Restraint – Is the load properly restrained? If in doubt, refer to the Load Restraint Guide
  • Brakes – Do brakes function correctly? Make one or two test stops from low speed to check the trailer brakes operate correctly.
  • Lights – Do all lights work properly? First check brake lamps, then left indicators, then right indicators, then park lamps, finally others. Carry spare globes. Check all lamps with tail lamps on.
  • Tyre inflation – Are tyres correctly inflated? Check the trailer handbook or the tyre placard.
  • Tyres – Do all the tyre sizes match?
  • Trailer coupling – Are the trailer coupling and safety chains securely fastened?
  • Chains – If two safety chains are fitted, are they crossed to help prevent the drawbar from contacting the road if the trailer becomes disconnected?

Projecting loads

Should projection of the load be required:

All projecting loads must be made easily visible and be unlikely to cause injury, obstruction or damage.

The load must not project more than 150mm beyond the trailer’s width or to more than 2.5m overall width, whichever is the lesser. (Loads in excess of 2.5m width can only be carried when a permit is issued by Main Roads WA.)

The distance from the centre of the axle or wheel group to the rear of the load must not exceed 3.7m.

The distance from the centre of the axle or wheel group to the rear of the load must be equal or less than equal to the distance from the centre of the axle or wheel group to the front of the load. At night a red lamp should be attached to a projecting load which cannot be easily seen.

Note: If your trailer is built to the maximum allowable dimensions, you cannot carry any projecting load. To reduce the chances of sway, large masses should not be located towards the ends of the trailer, even if the correct balance can be obtained. Loads should be kept as low as possible, and as close as possible to the axle. About 60% of the total mass should be forward of the axle centre.

For light trailers about 5% to 10% of the total mass of the loaded trailer should be supported by the tow vehicle coupling. The trailer drawbar should be level or slightly nose down.

However the downward force on the towbar should never exceed the maximum recommended downwards load on the towbar specified in the vehicle handbook. This can usually be achieved by careful repositioning of the load.

Load equalisers can transfer load from the towball to the front and rear suspension of the towing vehicle. This helps retain vehicle trim height and steering control. Consult manufacturers or dealers before you use load equalisers, as they can reduce the effectiveness of over-ride brakes and can overload the towbar. Projecting loads must not obscure lights/reflectors

Safety tips for drivers

The following procedures will help reduce risks and improve towing safety:

  • Remember to allow for the extra length and width of trailers and caravans, and their tendency to “cut in” on corners and curves.
  • The extra weight of your vehicle and trailer combination requires greater stopping distance when braking. Always allow for this when towing.
  • Brakes should not be applied more than very lightly when cornering or travelling around a curve, particularly when the road is wet or slippery.
  • Reversing a trailer can be difficult and requires extra care and practice. Directions from an outside observer watching the rear of the trailer can be helpful.
  • Trailers reduce a towing vehicle’s performance therefore greater care is needed when overtaking.
  • Accelerator, brake and steering must be operated smoothly when towing. Unnecessary steering wheel movement should be avoided because sway or “snaking” of the vehicle and trailer can result. If sway occurs the trailer brakes should be applied gently if they can be operated separately from the towing vehicle, otherwise a steady speed or slight acceleration should be maintained if possible, until the sway ceases. The tow vehicle’s brakes should only be applied as a last resort.
  • Drivers must heed any “Dangerous Crosswinds” signs. Road Authorities install these signs in areas where wind gusts can affect the stability of caravans. Reduce your speed accordingly.
  • When travelling downhill with a trailer or caravan, a lower gear should be engaged. This gives you greater vehicle control and reduces the load on your brakes.
  • Ensure your mirrors on both sides of your towing vehicle are properly adjusted to give a clear view of vehicles approaching from the rear.
  • To avoid a build-up of following traffic that is unable to overtake, consider pulling off the road where suitable to allow the faster traffic to clear.

Trailer safety requirements

diagram explaining aggregate trailer mass
Image courtesy of the Department of Infrastructure & Regional Development website. For more information, go to: https://infrastructure.gov.au

Your trailer must meet all the standards required for registration. New trailers must comply with the Australian Design Rules as summarised for small trailers in the Vehicle Standards Bulletin No. 1 issued by the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development.

The coupling must be properly designed in accordance with the appropriate Australian Standard for couplings to match the full trailer load capacity and it must be marked with the load capacity and the manufacturer’s name or trade mark.

“Quick Release Couplings” which can be engaged or disengaged without the use of tools must be used when the trailer’s ATM (Aggregate Trailer Mass) is less than 3500 kg.

Typical approved couplings include 50mm Ball couplings for trailers with ATM up to 2300kg (standard duty ball) and up to 3500kg (heavy duty ball), and Pintle Hook couplings for trailers with ATM up to 4500kg.

Trailers of ATM up to and including 2500kg must be fitted with at least one safety chain for connection to the towing vehicle. Trailers of ATM over 2500kg must be fitted with two safety chains.

Trailers having only a single axle and a GTM not exceeding 750kg do not require brakes. Trailers of GTM over 750kg must have brakes. Trailers of GTM over 750kg and not exceeding 2000kg must have braking on the wheels of at least one axle. Trailers of GTM over 2000kg must have braking on all wheels.

Over-ride brakes may be used on trailers of GTM up to and including 2000kg.

Trailers of GTM over 2000kg must have brakes operated from the driver’s seated position. Over-ride brakes are not permitted. These trailers must have a breakaway system by which the brakes are automatically applied if the trailer becomes detached from the towing vehicle.

Electrical lighting, wiring and reflectors must be manufactured and installed in accordance with Australian Design Rules.

Towbar safety requirements

Your towbar must comply with Australian Design Rules, Standards and Regulations.

The capacity of your towbar and coupling must be at least equal to the loaded mass of the trailer. A towbar fitted to a vehicle built after January 1992 must be marked with its load capacity and either the vehicle model for which it is designed or the towbar manufacturer’s part number.

The towbar must not protrude dangerously, or have sharp corners that could be a safety hazard when no trailer is fitted to your vehicle.

Towbar chain attachments must be able to withstand the rated load capacity of the towbar.

The safety chain attachments must be mounted adjacent to the tow coupling and arranged so as to maintain the direction of the trailer in the event of coupling failure or disconnection.

In the event of coupling failure or disconnection, the safety chain(s) should support the drawbar and prevent it dropping to the ground.

Towbars with a removable towing lug should be fitted with safety chain connections on the non-removable part of the towbar. If the chain connections are on the removable lug then the lug must be restrained by an additional chain to prevent disconnection from the towbar if the lug attachment fails.

How to equip your vehicle for towing

Your vehicle must be suitable and properly equipped for the type of trailer to be towed, with towbars and couplings properly designed and fitted.

Electrical sockets for trailer lights, must be fitted to the towing vehicle, and where necessary suitable brake connections.

If you are towing a wide trailer or caravan extra mirrors may be required on your vehicle. (These should be removed when not towing).

Vehicles with automatic transmission may require extra transmission oil cooling.

To tow heavy loads some vehicles may need strengthening, and/or special transmission and suspension options. A load distributing device may also be required. You should check the vehicle handbook or consult the manufacturer or the vehicle distributor regarding these requirements.

How much can you safely tow?

Aggregate trailer mass (ATM): Is the total mass rating of the trailer (unhitched) when it’s carrying the maximum load recommended by the manufacturer.

Gross trailer mass (GTM): Is the total mass rating that can be imposed on the trailer’s axle when the trailer is fully loaded and coupled to the towing vehicle.

Tare mass: Is the actual weight of the trailer. It will be stamped on the vehicle by the manufacturer.

Trailer ball load: Is the maximum allowable weight that a loaded trailer can impose on the tow bar of the towing vehicle.

Most manufacturers specify towing limits for their vehicles in their handbooks. For vehicles of Gross Vehicle Mass 4.5 tonnes or less the following limits are applicable:

Towing limits specified by the vehicle manufacturer must not be exceeded, otherwise safety will be compromised. Excessive loads may also damage your vehicle.

If the vehicle’s towing capacity cannot be determined, the loaded mass of the trailer must not exceed the empty mass (tare) of the towing vehicle, excepting where the trailer is fitted with brakes in which case the loaded mass of the trailer must not exceed 1.5 times the empty mass of the towing vehicle.

If the trailer is not fitted with brakes then the loaded mass of the trailer must not exceed 750kg.

The loaded mass of the trailer must not exceed the towing capacity of any component in the vehicle/trailer combination, including the towbar and towball.

The loaded mass of the trailer must never exceed the trailer’s ATM. (Aggregate Trailer Mass)

A tow bar fitted to a vehicle built after January 1992 must be marked with its load capacity and either the vehicle model for which it is designed or the tow bar manufacturer’s part number.

Towing Information

Before towing a trailer you need to know your vehicle’s towing capabilities, otherwise you risk costly damage and accidents.

It’s also important that you understand how to equip your vehicle, as well as how to fit and load what you intend to tow.

  • How much can you safely tow.
  • What laws do you need to be aware of.
  • What are the overtaking rules.
  • What are the towbar and trailer safety requirements.
  • Safe driving and loading tips.

Towing is different from everyday driving. Towing requires more knowledge and skill than normal driving. It can be more stressful and is likely to cause the early onset of fatigue.

Be sure to plan your trip, get plenty of rest before embarking, and take regular breaks to avoid fatigue.

Remember, the correct matching of the towing vehicle and the trailer is essential for safe towing.

Some laws that you need to know

  • Vehicles, trailers and caravans must meet registration standards and must be roadworthy.
  • All trailers or caravans must have a rear number plate and a registration label holder fixed to the left side of the body so that the label faces outwards or forwards.
  • The coupling and towbar must not obscure the number plate or lights on the rear of the towing vehicle when no trailer or caravan is attached.
  • Regulations prohibit towing more than one trailer at once.
  • Nobody is allowed to ride in normally registered trailers or caravans.
  • When towing a trailer or caravan the maximum speed at which you may tow is 100 kilometres per hour. You must of course obey the posted speed limits.
  • Following distances outside built-up areas – On roads outside a built-up area that do not have more than one lane in the direction you are driving, there are specific minimum following distances for long vehicles. If your vehicle is 7.5m long or longer (including any trailer and load) you may not follow closer than 200m to a similar vehicle in front of you. The exception is when you are overtaking.
  • Stopping on carriageways – If your vehicle including trailers and load is longer than 7.5m or has a total mass of more than 4.5 tonnes you may not:

Stop on a carriageway in a built-up area for longer than one hour unless engaged in picking up or setting down goods… or

Stop on a carriageway outside a built-up area except on a shoulder or in a truck bay or other area set aside for parking of goods vehicles.


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