Tips, road rules and 4WD mods when towing in WA


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Summer is just around the corner, and there’s no better time to escape on a quick holiday. If you’re thinking of taking out the boat or caravan and enjoying some well earnt time away, it’s important that you’re prepared for how to tow safely and effectively.

This quick guide will give you all the required information, some handy tips, and great recommendations for 4WD accessories to make sure you’re towing safely and with ease. Don’t let your holiday become a headache, tow like a pro.

What Legal Requirements Are There in WA?

WA’s Road Safety Commission has only a few legal requirements for you to follow when you’re towing a load. Stick to these four points to help keep the roads safe for yourself and others.

1.      Know Your Legal Load Limit

It is incredibly important to keep within your legal load limit and ensure that your load is well-secured.

You can usually find your tow limit in your vehicle handbook. The Road Safety Commission recommends accounting for approximately 200kg worth of travelling gear, stores, and equipment being held in your trailer. So if your vehicle can only tow 500kg, don’t go buying a 500kg trailer or else you won’t be able to load it up with anything. You also need to ensure that every component in your vehicle/trailer combination can tow at the same capacity. That means making sure your towbar and towball can tow the same amount as your vehicle can.

Regardless of how much your vehicle can tow, if your trailer is not fitted with brakes then the loaded mass of the trailer cannot legally exceed 750kg.

If your load is either too heavy or poorly secured, you’re putting yourself in danger of a rollover or other accident. If that isn’t bad enough, a poorly secured load can also result in a $150 fine.

2.      Use The Right Trailer

All trailers need to meet the standards required for registration, with all new trailers complying with the Australian Design Rules. Requirements included in these rules are:

  • Quick release couplings must be used for trailers carrying less than 3500kg
  • Trailers of up to and including 2500kg must be equipped with at least one safety chain
  • Trailers of over 2000kg must have brakes operated from the driver’s seat
  • Electrical lighting, wiring, and reflectors must be built and installed in accordance with the Australian Design Rules

You can find these rules and other safety requirements provided in-depth online thanks to the state government.

3.      Don’t Speed

Keep in mind that you’ll be carrying a lot of extra weight when towing any load. Give yourself extra time to brake when stopping or turning.

Also be aware that you cannot exceed 100 km/h while driving, even if the sign posted speed limit is greater than 100 km/h.  

4.      Keep Your Distance

If the combined length of your vehicle and your load is longer than 7.5m you must keep at least 200m behind any other vehicles towing a load, or any long vehicles. You are still allowed to overtake.

If you do need to overtake any of these vehicles, ensure that you have at least 1km of open road ahead of you and do overtake quickly and with confidence. Also be prepared for strong winds as you move out from behind and around these larger vehicles.

Be aware that the legal requirements for towing are different depending on which state you are in. If you are travelling interstate, ensure that you research that state’s laws beforehand.

What Accessories Can I Get For My 4WD To Help with Towing?

It’s no secret that towing is a different beast entirely to driving normally. Thankfully, there are plenty of great accessories that you can add to your 4WD to improve the towing experience and make driving a lot easier.

Towing mirrors, suspension, and weight distribution hitches are just a few choices of 4WD accessories that you can add to your fourby.

Weight Distribution Hitches

These are a set of spring bars that attach to a trailer’s drawbar. These create a lever that helps to spread weight across the axles of both the trailer and your vehicle. Without these, the weight of the trailer is focused on the towbar which then creates a strain on the back axle of your vehicle.

If the added weight from your trailer is not properly spread it can create a lot of problems, especially if you’re towing a weight equal or greater than 50% of your vehicle.

Increased trailer sway, reduced braking effectiveness, and increased wear on your vehicle are all problems you can experience without the use of weight distribution hitches.

Be aware that weight distribution hitches should not be used with over-ride brakes.

Brake Controllers

If your trailer has a gross trailer mass of over 750kg it needs to be fitted with brakes. You’ll find that electric brakes are the most commonly used type of brakes. Electric brakes require brake controllers that need to be properly connected between the trailer itself and your vehicle.

Brake controllers work by sending signals from your vehicle to your trailer, allowing it to copy your vehicle braking simultaneously. This results in less strain on the brakes in your vehicle meaning safer brakes and reduced wear and tear.

The Redarc range of trailer brakes are very easy to install and super simple to operate, making them a very popular choice.

Towing Mirrors

It’s incredibly important that your wingmirrors are wider than your tow load, so that you can best monitor your vehicle and whatever you’re towing. This often means that you’ll need to replace the wingmirrors on your fourby, but you’re sure to love the how useful they are. Towing mirrors also give your rig a great boost to its aesthetic.

Clearview mirrors are a great option for towing mirrors due to their large size and their smaller convex which eliminates your blind spots. They’re easy to adjust and allow you to get a clear view of whatever you may be towing.

Long Range Fuel Tank

Whether you’re towing a boat, caravan, or trailer, you’ll be chewing through more fuel than you normally would be if you weren’t towing.

This increased fuel consumption means that you’ll need to be stopping to refuel more often than you might be used to. Be prepared with a long range fuel tank for your 4WD and worry less about when you’ll next see a service station.

The range of Poly Long Range Tanks are lightweight yet tough, and have great fuel capacity. These are the go-to choice for long range fuel tanks for a reason.

Fire Extinguisher

A fire extinguisher might not be the coolest addition to your rig, but it is necessary. Towing like a pro means being smart and being prepared. Keep a fire extinguisher on hand so you can be ready for any situation.

Towbar

You need to trust your towbar when you’re towing. It doesn’t matter how far you’re going or what you’re towing. Before you tow anything make sure that your towbar is in great shape as it is going to be bearing a lot of weight and be placed under a fair amount of strain.

If you’re not confident in your current towbar, look at getting a new towbar fitted that will suit your needs and lifestyle.

Safe towing starts with a strong towbar.

What to Do Before You Head Out

There’s a lot to know, and a lot to get right. It’s not surprising if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed at beginning the process of checking that everything is good to go.

To make things a bit easier, use this checklist of what to do before you head out:

  • Check your wheel bearings – Grab your tyres and give them a firm shake. There shouldn’t be any excessive movement.
  • Check your tyres – Are your tyres properly inflated to suit your vehicle and trailer? You can check the recommended tyre pressure on the tyre placards on both the vehicle and trailer/caravan.
  • Check your load weight – Is your load weight below the limit? Have you loaded your trailer sensibly? Is your suspension properly distributed and balanced?
  • Check your brakes and brake fluid – Are they working properly? Is your brake fluid at the correct level?
  • Check your handbrake – Have you properly released the handbrake on your trailer or caravan?
  • Check the coupling – Are the trailer coupling and safety chain(s) securely fastened?
  • Check your safety chains – If you have 2 safety chains fitted ensure that they are crossed as to prevent the draw bar from touching the road if the trailer becomes disconnected.
  • Check your awnings – If you have awnings on your caravan ensure that they are locked away.
  • Check your jockey wheel – Make sure that you have removed the jockey wheel and properly stored it away. Your jockey wheel may also simply lock into a travelling position if it cannot be removed.
  • Check your stabilisers – Ensure that your stabilisers have been put into an upward position and you have stored the winder in a secure place.
  • Check your lights – Make sure that the lights on your vehicle and trailer all work and that you have some spare globes ready.
  • Check your gas cylinders – Make sure that you have turned all gas cylinders off and that gas levels are correct.
  • Check your oil and water – make sure your oil and water levels are looking good.
  • Check your mirrors – Make sure you have vision of the entire road and of the rear of your vehicle and trailer.
  • Check for passengers – Nobody is allowed to stay in your caravan, trailer, or boat while you are towing it. Make sure everyone has gotten out before you take off.

Tips for Towing Off-Highway

Driving while towing can be hard, and it can be even harder if you’re off-highway and off-road. It’s recommended that you avoid off-road towing unless you are very experienced.

Keep some of these tips in mind when towing off-road:

  • Match your speed to the terrain. Don’t rush yourself, especially if driving across unsecure or loose ground. Specific vehicle setups or driving techniques may be required for difficult terrain such as narrow tracks or steep paths.
  • Set the bias for your trailer brakes so that the trailer wheels lock up before the wheels on the tow vehicle do. This will stop the trailer from trying to continue to move past the car, and make braking much easier and safer.
  • Know your approach, ramp over, and departure angles that work for both your drawbar and trailer. Don’t force any unnatural or unsafe angles.
  • Be aware and take care of any vulnerable points underneath both your vehicle and trailer.
  • Use a suitable vehicle. A low range capable vehicle is often the best choice for most scenarios.
  • If you’re towing a caravan, make sure that it’s suitable for off-road driving. Not all caravans are built to go through harsh off-road environments.
  • Avoid slopes.
  • Carry appropriate recovery equipment.
  • Do not travel alone.
  • Carry maintenance equipment such as a jack, as well as replacement parts such as bearings, wheel nuts, studs, and tyres.
  • Be realistic as to where you are travelling. Caravans and boats may be unsuitable for many 4WD trails due to their height, and may come into contact with low branches or tight pathways.
  • Check if your vehicle has an off-road capacity or speed restriction.

It’s good to keep in mind that towing is a skill, and you’ll improve with practice. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when reversing or parking, and remember to drive within your limits.

Equipping your fourby with useful accessories such as towing mirrors and electric brakes are also fantastic ways to improve the towing experience.

If you’re eager to learn how you can get the most out of your 4WD for towing your caravan or boat, or simply have a question or two, have a chat with the expert team at Total 4×4. With over 30 years of experience, Total 4×4 is the leader in Western Australian 4WD equipment.

Want to read more about towing a boat or a caravan? Read our articles picking the 4wd for towing.